Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“New Departures and High Mountains”

Note:  I find certain books in my Nietzsche collection of distinguished merit.  I have already mentioned Beyond Selflessness as an outstanding example of Nietzsche scholarship.  Another is Nietzsche in Turin by Lesley Chamberland.  I plan to review this work (and several others) when the philosophic-biography portion of this blog is completed.  In this post I quote extensively and exclusively from Chapter 6 of Chamberland's excellent work.  It is the best overall intimate summary of Nietzsche I have found regarding his life and work in 1888.  It fits perfectly between The Case of Wagner and Twilight of the Idols.

The Wagner Case, 'funny but at base almost too serious', had pressed upon him, but by the end of May Nietzsche was ready to resume his main task: to draw a line under the past, sum up his achievements, and consummate their message with a new work or works 'transvaluing all values'. To Resa von Schirnhofer he asked without further elucidation: 'Do you understand the trope?'  Perhaps they had talked over these long-standing ideas of his in Nice.  To Brandes, having already explained he was making a mission out of his disbelief in culture, and 'circling round this paramount problem of values, very much from above and in the manner of a bird, and with the best intention of looking down upon the modern world with as unmodern an eye as possible', he preferred to elaborate.

“'My problem this time is a curious one: I have asked myself what hitherto has been hated, feared, despised by mankind – and of that and nothing else I have made my gold...'

“He sought 'values' he believed would be more helpful to humanity than the Christian teaching concerning universal afflictions, loneliness, and suffering, which were so much his own. But 'values' is a difficult word to use when Nietzsche regarded them all as relative. It is better to say he scanned the psychological horizon for a vantage point, and point of stability, 'beyond'.  A man enlightened by seeing life from above, 'from beyond good and evil', could one day redescend to a full and excellent existence. Zarathustra showed the way.  But again enlightened, aufgeklart is a word in the wrong tradition.  Verklart the experience of Schoenberg's Verlart Nacht, 'Transfigured Night', seems closer to Nietzsche's transvalued world.

“The fullness and excellence of a transfigured existence was the goal of Nietzsche's art of life.  It was his only positive teaching that individual strength emanated from self-knowledge and self-management. He spoke of Herrenmoral and meant 'self-mastery morality'.  It mattered how a man ate, how he lived, how he organized his day.  It mattered for the sake not of his image but his soul. Between Nietzsche's view of the artistically shaped life and the popular notion of lifestyle today a qualitative gulf seems to yawn.  On the other hand Nietzsche at least maintained that 'image' was the only reality there was, and he might be called a lifestyle guru today.

“Zarathustra's favorite metaphor is of inner life overflowing its confines like honey from a jar.  There is poise, there is invigoration, happiness, sexual fulfillment, intoxication, sadness, pious love, hurt silences and deep quiet in Nietzsche's writing, and many other emtions and sensations besides.” (pp. 87-88)

“Thus originated the transvaluation task.  Its beginnings in a critique of self-inflicted human pain explain the title of the next book he would write in 1888, Twilight of the Idols. The 'idols' were concepts hitherto cherished by humanity, such as love and benevolence, selfishness and truth, which Nietzsche would now show had long since been turned into weapons against the full development of humane individuals.

“Destroying the idols, which would become Freud's totems, was the work of the psychologist in Nietzsche. The first Existentialist we might also call him.  The psychologist's role – to change the metaphor to another of Nietzsche's favorites from the classical world – was to point the ways out of labyrinth for souls who had lost faith I received moral guidance.  It was the same job of emotional reinforcement Dionysus had been doing in all of Nietzsche's work since The Birth of Tragedy, supplying an alternative to Christian faith and Schopenhauerian pessimism without resort to a too simple materialism.” (page 90)

“The most complete statement of his philosophy, Beyond Good and Evil, had been published two years now and still he had only a handful of readers worldwide and so few people understood.  Twilight of the Idols was yet another attempt to explain his whole outlook in one short excursion, and only after it could he sit down to The Antichristian. This post-Christian send-off for readers still actively seeking the meaning of life he designated the first 'transvaluation' volume. Into it he would put all his sympathy for human pain and all his hatred of the Christian church for exploiting that pain as a means of 'herd' control – the opposite of 'self-mastery morality'.  Twilight would form, as Nietzsche's books so often did, one to another, once again a kind of prelude, an introduction.  A magnificent recapitulation of the Dionysian, sweeping across the millennia from Aristotle on tragedy to what would become Freud on Eros and Thanatos, the life urge and the death wish, ends Twilight. Nowhere better does Nietzsche set out the finally modulated psychology of inner plenitude, that keen sense of joy he had despite a wretched life.” (page 91)

“Before we can watch Nietzsche resume work as a poet and philosopher, German writer, psychologist and artist, we have to get him up into the Swiss Alps from Turin for the summer.  He left on 6 June and was still complaining about the dislocation in mid-July.  Only this time, after the personal trauma of the journey, the reasons for his misery were shared by all the early season visitors to the Upper Engadine village of Sils Maria.  The weather played such cruel tricks that some guests went home, not seeing, as Nietzsche observed, why they should pay to freeze in the snow-enveloped hotel in July when they could be more comfortable at home in Hamburg.  He took another moment of unwonted worldliness to wonder how the hotels would survive the loss of income, before allowing his own problems once again to close in.  Until the weather improved he would go through a debilitating period of depressed introspection, to which he gently attached the label melancholy.  No work would be done until August.” (page 92) 

“He had been coming to Sils and round about for more than eight years, and there had written parts of The Science of Joy, Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Genealogy of Morals.  So he set off in a good heart, with a new suitcase and some lean continental sausage...supplied by his mother to provide for his evening meals.  Grocery supplies in Sils were very limited, he knew from experience, and to eat in the hotel twice a day was beyond his meager budget.  The correspondence with his mother over the next month would be dominated by the need for more sausage from Naumburg, of a higher quality than the first batch which was too dry and the second which was too salty.  He also requested and received a tablecloth so that he might eat his solitary suppers in an orderly and pleasing fashion, and some Zwieback (French toast) for his breakfast, equally impossible to buy in Sils.” (page 93)

“...the problem in 1888 was that sickly Nietzsche was quite the opposite of his own ideal.  In 1888 he only sat post-chaise, queasy, locked into himself, and thinking.  The landscape passed him by.  In Sils moreover he began a bout of migraine.

“But at least he could collapse into familiar lodgings. An austere wood-pannelled upstairs room with a small window facing south, furnished with a bed, a table and washstand, he had made his own for several years now.  He rented it from the Durisch family and left 'a basket of books' each year for his return....Nietzsche often shivered in that room and several times resolved to find another warmer one, but for such troublesome things as moving he didn't have the will.” (page 94)

“Weather, because of its apparent bearing on his health, was another of his obsessions, and made even devoted Koselitz sigh.  Yet when the atmosphere lifted Sils was once again Nietzsche's perla perlissma, 'with a definite Latin quality' and 'a wealth of colors, in which it is a hundred times more southerly than Turin.'  The colors were in June the brilliant deep pink of the alpine rose and intense blue hues of gentian.  He put on the new horsehair hat bought for the purpose in Turin and walked out to inspect the damage of recent avalanches.” (page 95)

“He would have walked anywhere, though he did love Sils. He had a childlike joy in motion and that same vitality was reflected in his hardy pleasure in cold water, a quality he passed on to his 'son' Zarathustra. Nietzsche plunged into pools when others found them icily forbidding, and sluiced himself from a cold jug every morning.  Such a constitution gave him a natural kinship with Epicurus, which is to say his highly reactive body prompted him to enjoy the world, not reject it, and to admire in all ages thoughtful connoisseurs of happiness.  His physical vitality, despite his sickness, was one of his chief instinctive weapons against Christianity.” (page 96)

“High mountain metaphors, especially in Zarathustra, show Nietzsche straining after energy, grandeur, and resourcefulness, which, palpable in the material world, would also express human spiritual strengths and give inspiration for the Ubermensch, a creature undoubtedly born of the view from 'higher up' rather than the idea of dominating his fellow men.  As if to reinforce the connection between posterity between his human ideal and his ideal landscape, Nietzsche said of Sils: 'I know nothing so suited to my nature as this piece of Over-Earth [Ober-Erde].'” (pp.97-98)

“The Ubermensch was the one who could get, as far as is possible for a human being, 'beyond' the world which his humanity obliged him to contemplate. Whether Nietzsche's message is metaphysical here, suggesting some possibility of conscious transcendence, is very difficult to determine.  It was less a two-tier value system he sought to compensate for the apparent limitations of human existence, rather a better way of seeing that that existence was indeed limited.  The high vantage point gave him not a sense of the world below being inferior to some higher realm, but a sense of the sheer relativity of judgments. The paradox was that the realization of limitation was liberating.” (page 99) 

Zarathustra was a hilltop survey of the resentful spirit and the impoverished spirituality of the modern world, with its unthinking mass movements, its vengeful class antagonisms, its insensitivity to nature and poetry, its hidden and institutionalized brutalities, insipidness, false righteousness and cultural feebleness,  Nietzsche's other books exuded the spirit of the mountains too, whenever they were saying a Yes to the Over-Life, and a No to the subordinate, enslaved one.” (page 100)

“To demolish religion and philosophy as if they were rickety old buildings, he swung a lump of iron through the air, knocking through the venerated outer walls and exposing the insides as empty.  In Twilight under the heading 'What I owe to the Ancients', Nietzsche seemed to see his own explosiveness even emerging from within the Greek midst, that is, from wherever reason was breaking down:

“'I saw their strongest instinct, the will to power, I saw them trembling at the intractable force of this drive, I saw all their institutions evolve out of protective measures designed for mutual security against the explosive material within them...The Socratic virtues were preached because the Greeks had lost them...'

“I cannot doubt, given the fascination most of us feel watching buildings crumble, that Nietzsche found his huge philosophical project exciting.” (page 102)

“So far the demolition of reason.  As a self-proclaimed immoralist Nietzsche hammered away at moral philosophy too, abjuring selflessness and compassion and a fixed notion of the good.  Here too there is a kind of brutal toughness at work which repels, while a sensitive spirit sets out a cogent case behind the combative facade.  Nietzsche's famous rejection of pity (Mitleid), for instance, demonstrates how pity diminishes the integrity of the other.  If I flood another person with pity I may dull his or her ability to find strength from within, for pity is a crippling kind of sympathy which confirms misfortune and woe, expressing the idea: 'Yes, hasn't life treated you badly, you deserve to feel sorry for yourself.'” (page 103)

“There is no pity on the world of Dionysus.  Dionysian life positively celebrates human capacity by looking absurd existence in the eye.  In all this it is difficult not to side with Nietzsche.  To reject pity is not unloving, rather the contrary: it is the only way to treat the other as an equal and whole person.

“Moreover, I bring myself in here as the lingering friend because at last with the transvaluation of pity we come very close to Nietzsche as a philosopher and man.  Menacing was not only the self-pity which obviously threatened him as he lay vomiting in strange, dark rooms about Europe, without friends and without success, but also the legacy from his Pietist childhood.  We only have to remember that morally stuffy German front room in which he grew up, a devout lad at the mercy of a disappointed mother, two unmarried aunts and a grandmother, tofeel with him the desire to open all the windows and eventually blow up the vicarage....Franziska Oehler-Nietzsche's son, until he came to his independent adult senses, was pious and obedient to the  on this point of ridicule.  But, lord, how the then burst out, released by Wagner and by philosophy!  That was the explosion, the dynamite in his own life and having experienced it he knew what kind of good he wanted to bring to humanity.

“It was good.  Nietzsche's detractors overreact to the mere idea of a person not feeling pity as being somehow monstrous,  Nietzsche's new moral alchemy was more subtle, converting pity into a value which might be called 'the integrity of the personality'.  In the 'flatland' Nietzsche confronts us with social problems as fresh today as they seemed to him over a hundred years ago.” (page 104)

“'Man is something that must be overcome' was Zarathustra's teaching.  Nietzsche's position was founded on such compassion for the suffering human race, such a strong vision of misery human beings faced, that he required them to be strong in themselves.

“We have moved on heedlessly since his day.  An over-abundant or perhaps misplaced sympathy: is it not on this that the prevalent cure-all belief in social psychotherapy is founded?  Psychotherapy as an attitude of life encourages many people to assume that forces outside their doing are to blame for the disturbances within.  Does it thereby create strong, responsible individuals?
Psychotherapy has become incorporated into the Welfare State.  How Nietzsche, with his sensitivity to language, would have balked even at the name, which might be translated back into German as der Mitleidsstaat, and given a Nietzschean reading as the state which killed God.  He retaliated eloquently in advance, in Twilight, only flipping over into excess with a manic statement open to gross misinterpretation out of context: 'The sick man is the parasite of society.'

“Arrogance is built into Nietzsche's mission and his style....What comes over from a reading of Nietzsche's works of demolition is therefore actually a great love for philosophy and a fine sense of irony.  He took the whip to cant and its purveyors, but only like Christ to the erring children of God.  Nietzsche's position was a radical modesty, quite new to a philosophical tradition dominated by the self-centered 'I think therefore I am' and 'therefore the world is'.  'What do I matter!' stands over the door of Nietzsche's thinker of the future in Daybreak.  Nietzsche's radical modesty meant philosophy would never be the same again.  It could barely trust its own words.

“In Sils, having settled down, he would work on Twilight towards the end of July, pointing out the error of assuming there even existed a determining 'I', supported by something called the individual will, which then caused events to happen in the world.  The so-called inner life was murkier or perhaps simply empty:

“'The “inner world” is full of phantoms and false lights; the will is one of them.  The will no longer moves anything, consequently no longer explains anything – it merely accompanies events, it can also be absent […] And as for the ego!  It has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words: its has totally ceased to think, to feel and to will!...What follows from this? There are no spiritual causes at all.'

“'Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word.' he had written in Beyond Good and Evil.  Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of readers who have appropriated 'will to power' as the exercise of blunt, brute force.” (pp. 106-107)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wrestling with a Demon

We have already covered Nietzsche's close association with Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima here and here, among other places earlier in Nietzsche's life. In the final months of his sanity, Nietzsche veered off course from his Revaluation of All Values project. Cultural “strength” and the threat of “decadence” were two overarching themes which he revisited (as he would in more detail in his next work, Twilight of the Idols). It was from this perspective that he became obsessed with Wagner again or, perhaps more accurately, he chose to write about an old but constant intimacy. He had never fully dealt with his indisputable adoration (as a young professor) of the composer, nor with the falling out between the two that culminated around 1878. He devoted two short works to the subject of Wagner and his music in 1888. 

The first published piece was The Wagner Case or The Case of Wagner, in May 1888. It is a tedious attempt to demonstrate the limitations and inadequacies of Wagner as an artist. Later, Nietzsche contra Wagner (completed on Christmas Day 1888) featured excerpts from previous writings, in order to prove that the first work was part of a process of thought - not some spontaneous ravings of a disgruntled former disciple who now referred to Wagner as “one of my sicknesses.” For Nietzsche, Wagner became the epitome of cultural decadence. 

Julian Young writes: “Towards the end of the Turin spring, Nietzsche decided to take time out from work on the 'masterwork' to write The Wagner Case. Why he did this is unclear. On the one hand, he describes it as 'recreation', on another as (yet another) 'declaration of war' on Richard Wagner....The truth, I think, is that relative to the – as Nietzsche was finding – increasingly difficult task of making the Will to Power the masterpiece he wanted it to be, descent to the level of polemics was a relaxation, a release of intellectual tension. 

“War with Wagner, and all he stood for – German chauvinism, anti-Semitism, decadence in art – was, then, one motive for the work. But another, pretty clearly, was the desire to be noticed. In the 1880's Wagner remained a 'hot' cultural topic. The German Emperor (Friedrich) had declared the Wagner movement a matter of national importance. Moreover, the last of Nietzsche's works to be widely read was his Wagner at Bayreuth - a work in which he appeared as a protagonist for Wagner. Why not, then, re-enter the fray, but this time on the other side? Anything to do with Wagner, one way or the other, could be guaranteed to sell.” (Page 492) 

The Wagner Case is a relatively slight work. To someone familiar with his earlier works from Human, All Too Human onwards, most of the Wagner-critique is familiar, even tiresomely so: Wagner is the purveyor of cheap feelings of transcendence-to-bliss that offer his world-and-work-weary audience a vague substitute for the no-longer-believable 'redemption' of Christianity. (In 1888, of course, hardly anyone was familiar with those earlier works, so readers then would have found nothing tiresome in the critique.)” (page 493) 

“Wagner is an interesting case-study, Nietzsche holds, because the 'decadence' of his art sums up – and its overwhelming success proves – the 'decadence' of modernity in general....Nietzsche defines decadence as a 'neurosis' in which the 'exhausted are attracted by what is harmful to life.” (page 493) 

“Nietzsche says [Wagner] is infected by the 'decline in the power to organize' characteristic of all aspects of modern life. The result is that his works are structureless – the principle of 'infinite melody' is merely an attempt to make a virtue out of necessity. In reality Wagner is nothing more than a gifted 'miniaturist'....The 'democratization' of Western modernity has reduced it to an 'anarchy of atoms'. And since it lacks the disciplined unity of a shared morality (a 'game-plan' as I called it) that is necessary to survive in a competitive world, it suffers from 'declining life', and is moving inexorably towards collapse and death.” (pp. 494 – 495) 

“The second passage in which The Wagner Case offers something more than the routine case against Wagner is section 4, which offers 'the story of the Ring'. An analysis of the genesis and nature of his Ring cycle....Like all Wagner's operas, Nietzsche observes, the four operas of the cycle add up to a 'story of redemption'....Wagner's 'ship' struck the 'reef' of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Under Schopenhauer's spell, Wagner realized with shame that what he had done was to 'translate optimism into music'. Redemption in the Ring is thus transformed from socialist utopianism into death and nothingness – which is what makes a work of decadence par excellence.” (page 495) 

“A notable deficiency in The Wagner Case is the absence of any suggestion of any discussion, any mention, even, of The Mastersingers, Wagner's most obviously life-affirming, un-transcendentalist, celebration of a community and art flexible enough to accept novelty while preserving tradition. Even if the Ring ends up being decadent, it would be most implausible to apply that epithet to The Mastersingers. This, one suspects, is precisely why Nietzsche pretends it does not exist: its admission would destroy the simplicity of the polemical flow. 

"A further weakness in the work is the absurdity of calling Wagner a musical 'miniaturist', incapable of large-scale organization. It is true that his music is not unified by the logic of Mozart and Haydn. But...Wagner was in the business, not of following the old, but of inventing a new musical logic. Nietzsche's denying him the right to do so merely reveals, once again, his pwn innate musical conservatism. The person who really was a miniaturist was Nietzsche himself.” (page 496) 

R. J. Hollingdale echoes Young in seeing the theme of “decadence” in the heart of The Wagner Case. (page 209) “The discussion of this polemic has usually neglected to distinguish between the personal motives for Nietzsche's attack on Wagner and the substance of that attack – or even more often has ignored the substance altogether....The similarity in method between The Wagner Case and the Untimely Meditation on David Strauss has not been sufficiently noted, nor that the ungentlemanly treatment accorded Wagner is the same kind of treatment accorded Strauss, with whom Nietzsche was not personally involved: on the contrary it was assumed from the first that The Wagner Case owed its existence solely to its author's inability to forgive Wagner for once having enslaved him. Those of his friends who were still Wagnerians were offended on Wagner's behalf at the disrespectful tone of the work: 'I have given my nearest and dearest a dreadful shock,' Nietzsche wrote Brandes on the 20th October. 

“That Wagner had been dead five years – he died in February 1883 – seemed to aggravate the offense, and it was to meet the charge of apostasy against the dead Master that Nietzsche prepared Nietzsche contra Wagner, which consists of passages drawn from each of his books from Human, All Too Human to Genealogy designed to show that his opinions on Wagner had not changed since 1878, five years before Wagner's death. 

“It seems to me of some importance, then, to try to establish what The Wagner Case is about. It is, of course, an attack on Wagner, and an attack from several sides. In 1888...Wagner was in the process of deification not simply as a great composer, or even as the creator of Bayreuth, but as a man....Nietzsche knew, of course, that Wagner was no saint...Wagner also stood in high esteem as a thinker. He himself brought out his own 'collected works'...Nietzsche's protest of Wagner's 'literature' is another aspect of The Wagner Case with which no one today can have ground to quarrel. 

“A third object of attack is Wagner's ambiguity: his insistence that his music was more than just music, that is contained unspeakable depths of meaning; his obfuscation where his own work was concerned. Nietzsche contrasts the world of Wagnerian music-drama with that of Carmen and says he prefers the latter. The antithesis is so extreme that its polemic intent is obvious, Nietzsche's genuine admiration for Bizet notwithstanding: Wagner is of course a much 'greater' composer than Bizet – a fact Nietzsche never thinks of denying – but his god is Wotan, 'the god of bad weather', and with all his power and genius he cannot achieve what Bizet achieves easily: 'la gaya scienza' light-footedness; wit, fire, grace;...the shimmering light of the South; a smooth sea – perfection'. 

“Fourthly, there is Nietzsche's assertion that Wagner was an actor, and that he represented the 'arrival of the actor in the music world'. The claim is debatable but not outrageous or absurd; it is, on the contrary. One with which many would agree. 

“The gravamen of Nietzsche's polemic is, however, none of these charges; it is that Wagner is 'decadent'. There is no ambiguity about what he meant by 'decadent' in this case: he meant that Wagner was part of the artistic decadence of the latter half of the nineteenth century.” (pp. 209 – 211) 

“Wagner, the 'artist of decadence', became conscious of himself through the 'philosopher of decadence', Schopenhauer, and thenceforth followed the path he had previously followed blindly. 

“Nietzsche attempts to relate all the prominent characteristics of Wagner's nature and art to this basic thesis that he was neurotic: so, for example, he asserts that 'the musician now become the actor' and that 'this total transformation of art into play-acting...is a decided symptom of degeneration (more precisely, a form of hysteria)'. The title of the work, too, it should be noticed, refers specifically to this thesis: Wagner is a 'case'.” (page 212) 

“The virulence of The Wagner Case is, as I have noted, similar to that of the polemic against Strauss, and in both works Nietzsche is criticizing, by means of prominent figure, the Germany of his day: the difference between them is that in the case of Wagner there is a background of personal association. 

“In his last year of sanity his opposition to Wagner's world-outlook changed into antipathy towards the man himself, in the same way as the critical attitude he had adopted towards the Reich from its foundation changed into detestation of the German people as such. The cause was similar in both cases: in the later it was the failure of his countrymen to show the slightest appreciation of him or his work, in the former the humiliating sight of Wagner's increasing fame and popularity.” (page 213) 

“More than all this, Wagner's persistent association of eroticism with death was a predilection the 'decadents' knew how to appreciate: although on the deepest level a symbol for perfect sexual union, it appealed in a more literal way to a generation of writers who saw in it an expression of their own profound nihilism. 'Have you noticed,' Nietzsche asks, 'that the Wagnerian heroines have no children? - They cannot have them...Siegfried “emancipates women” - but without hope of prosperity'. This remark is not as irrelevant as it may seem....Wagner's heroines do not live for love, they die for it; and their 'redemption' is be found only in annihilation.” (pp. 214 – 215) 

Der Fall Wagner is a protest in advance at the course art was to take during the closing decade of the century; and it should be clear why Nietzsche did not draw back from the 'tastelessness' of making it: the decadence of which he accused Wagner was the most influential expression then current of the nihilistic tendency of contemporary Europe and of the Reich in particular, which he saw as the gravest danger this civilization had ever faced.” (page 216) 

Rudiger Safranski inquires: “What is decadence? For Nietzsche, it is a major cultural force, like the Dionysian and Apollonian, shaping not only the artist sphere but all areas of life. Decadence can be summed up as the attempt to draw subtle pleasures from the phantom pain of a vanished God. 'Everything that has ever grown on the soil of impoverished life, all the counterfeiting of transcendence and of the beyond, has it most sublime advocate in Wagner's art''.” (page 309) 

“Decadence is more the pleasure in pleasure than pleasure itself, and more suffering in suffering than actual suffering. Decadence is religion and metaphysics that blink.” (page 310) 

Nietzsche contra Wagner is a carefully selected collection of critical material directed at Wagner in Nietzsche's previous works. There is nothing new in it. Walter Kaufmann explains: “The book was designed to show that The Case of Wagner had not been inspired by sudden malice, and that Nietzsche had taken similar stands. Nietzsche sometimes wrote in relative haste, though the difference between the books he prepared for publication and the notes others published after his death remains considerable. Nietzsche contra Wagner is perhaps his most beautiful book, and those seeking commentary to The Case of Wagner would surely have been referred to the later, still briefer book, had they asked the author.” (page 151) 

It is worth noting that the subtitle for Nietzsche contra Wagner is “Out of the Files of a Psychologist.” This is important as it reveals that Nietzsche saw himself as much as a psychologist as a philosopher. Indeed he may not have made much distinction between the two academic disciplines with regard to his work. He had claimed to make psychological insights at least as far back as Beyond Good and Evil. The only portion of the short work not taken (and reworked, mostly shortened) from Nietzsche's previous books is the introduction, dated “Turin, Christmas 1888.” 

Here Nietzsche states his intention to prove that he and Wagner are “antipodes.” He also takes the opportunity to vent: “...this is an essay for psychologists, but not for Germans. I have readers everywhere, in Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Copenhagen and Stockholm. In Paris, in New York – I do not have them in Europe's shallows, Germany.” Of course, the truth was that, although he was becoming better known, he still had few readers anywhere and most of those who knew him best from Germany had fallen out with him (for various reasons) long ago. So, this was Nietzsche's “all too human” whining and despair for Europe's disregard for him – reflecting his lonely state of mind just before insanity gripped him. 

Wagner remained a heavy weight upon Nietzsche, given the amount of energy and focus (will power) he devoted to the subject as he began his great revaluation of all values project, and given the fact that Nietzsche was still so obviously enamored with Wagner (his was thrilled by the overture of Parsifal in 1887, as previously mentioned) while being simultaneously repulsed by what Wagner had become in the end. A decadence of art and culture. 

A sample of Nietzsche's ramblings in The Case of Wagner should suffice before we move on. “Wagner increases exhaustion: that is why he attracts the weak and exhausted. Oh, that rattlesnake-happiness of the old master when he always saw precisely 'the little children' coming to him! “I place this perspective at the outset: Wagner's art is sick. The problems he presents on the stage – all of them problems of hysterics – the convulsive nature of his affects, his overexcited sensibility, his taste that required ever stronger spices, his instability which he dressed up as principles, not least of all the choice of his heroes and heroines – consider them as psychological types (a pathological gallery!) - all of this taken together represents a profile of sickness that permits no further doubt. Wagner is a neurosis. 

“Wagner represents a great corruption of music. He has guessed that it is a means to excite weary nerves – and with that he has made music sick. His inventiveness is not inconsiderable in the art of goading again those who are the weariest, calling back into life those who are half dead. He is a master of hypnotic tricks, he manages to throw down the strongest like bulls. Wagner's success - his success with nerves and consequently women – has turned the whole world of ambitious musicians into disciples of his secret art. And not only the ambitious, the clever too. - Only sick music makes money today; our big theaters subsist on Wagner.” (from Aphorism 5, The Case of Wagner) 

Finally, the significance of Wagner as a symbol of the wider problem of decadence in the arts and society is best exemplified in this quote: “When in this essay I declare war upon Wagner – and incidentally upon a German 'taste' – when I use harsh words against the cretinism of Bayreuth, the last thing I want to do is start a celebration for any other musicians. Other musicians don't count compared with Wagner. Things are bad generally. Decay is universal. The sickness goes deep. If Wagner nevertheless gives his name to the ruin of music, as Bernini did to the ruin of sculpture, he is certainly not its cause. He merely accelerated its tempo – to be sure, in such a manner that one stands horrified toward this almost sudden downward motion, abyss-ward. He had the naivete of decadence: this was his superiority. He believed in it, he did not stop before any of the logical implications implications of decadence. The others hesitate - that is what differentiates them. Nothing else.” (from the Second Postscript)