Monday, January 1, 2018

The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche: Part Two

Nietzsche arrived at Bonn with his good friend Paul Deussen.  It was partly because Deussen wanted to attend Bonn himself that Nietzsche chose that institution.  Not long afterward he became a fraternity “party” boy.  “Finding himself rootless and ignorant in a new city, Nietzsche, together with Deussen, sought out former classmates and found that a host of these had joined fraternity called Franconia.  On October 23, the Sunday after their arrival, the two young men were invited to a tavern and given a recruitment pitch by Georg Stockert, their former dorm-mate at Pforta.  Drinks were surely served, and the bar setting would have encouraged camaraderie and group dynamics.  By the day’s end Nietzsche, Deussen, and six others had signed up as pledges.  The recruiter no doubt stressed what the neophytes needed to hear – that the fraternity promised continuity, community, and enlightenment on the local scene.  Given the tavern setting, he probably did not need to describe the more roughhewn aspects of the fraternity – that they were notoriously rowdy and associated with drinking, fencing, and all kinds of festivity.  Frat boys got together nightly with their pipes to vie in beer contests, speeches, and song.” (pp. 183-184)

Soon after beginning his studies at Bonn, Nietzsche discovered a philosopher to who had a major impact on his life, Arthur Schopenhauer.  “He states that the aftermath of reading The world as will and representation he berated himself in ‘bitter, unjust, and unrestrained’ reproach and prescribed himself bodily penances.  For fourteen days in a row he never went to bed before 2 a.m. and then rose exactly at 6.  Later he would admit, only ‘the seductions of life, of vanity, and enforced regular study’ saved him from becoming ascetically unhinged.” (page 222)

Schopenhauer brought, among other things, the idea of philosophy as a possible life path and alternative to philology.  “Of course Nietzsche had read quite a bit of philosophy before but in a desultory fashion as shown by the influences to which he had been exposed: Christian apologetics, contemporary materialism, Feuerbach, Strauss, a few dialogues by Plato, and insights gleaned from the histories given by Schaarschmidt and Fortlage.  This collection lacks unity and suggests proportionately little sense of commitment or opportunity for progress.  By contrast, Nietzsche committed himself almost religiously to Schopenhauer, and even if he shortly saw through various aspects of his master, he did not shy from fundamental allegiance and single-minded investigation of his doctrines, Schopenhauer gave him a philosophic center of gravity, and the increasing sophistication he displays in both reading and letters suggests a confidence and burgeoning ability which he probably owed to development along a single path.” (pp. 222-223)

At Bonn, Nietzsche most admired the professorship of Friedrich Ritschl though he only took one or two classes under him.  They struck up a personal association and Nietzsche’s interest in philology peaked.  His life seemed to take on more definition. “Schopenhauer had given him a sense of spiritual foundation.  Ritschl offered a practical path and a career.  The Philological Society provided a ready source of suitable friends, and the household of his professor conferred a second family, inducting him into a more good-humored but disciplined world than any he had known.  Only a passionate relationship – or, at least, an intense male friendship – was lacking, and that too was soon to come.” (page 229)

Erwin Rohde became that close friend that, somehow, Deussen never quite was.  Nietzsche soon fell out of interest in the “party” fraternity activities as quickly as he had fallen into that lifestyle.  Apparently, it was just another life experiment for him.  More importantly, he was disappointed with the University of Bonn.  Both himself and Rohde felt the University if Leipzig had a stronger philology department, especially since Ritschl just accepted a position on the faculty there.  It turned out that Nietzsche, Rohde and Ritschl all moved more or less together to the University of Leipzig in 1866. 

“The two men had moved separately to Leipzig, and Rohde joined the Philology Society in mid-August 1866, although he and Nietzsche began to socialize the month before.  While the men were frequently together over the following months, they seem not to have been close until March 1867…Rohde records that they then had a breakthrough of sorts, which depended in June when they took horseback riding lessons together.  The following months were among the personally richest in both men’s lives. ‘We led an amazing existence all summer,’ Rohde wrote, ‘as though in a wandering magic circle, not closed outwardly in an unfriendly way, but associating almost exclusively with one another.’

The friendship with Rohde grew stronger.  “On the surface the two had much in common.  Rohde too had been smitten with Schopenhauer, and the men shared with that philosopher a saturnine temperament and a skeptical view of the so-called pleasures of life.  Both were emotionally labile – it was in defense against this instability that Nietzsche exerted so much discipline – but Rohde was perhaps more directly passionate, as his literary interests suggest.” (page 249)

But the change in schools did not generate renewed interest in philology.  Though he excelled at that scholastic discipline, it did not satisfy him.  “In fact, Nietzsche was not a ‘true philologist’ at all, as he would himself acknowledge in the future and as he must have known in 1866.  He might be a good one and he might enjoy its practice, but he hardly qualified as once who was ‘called’ to that profession.  Rather, he would observe, he had chosen it as an interim measure which would bring discipline and order to his life. ‘I longed for a counterweight to my shifting and restless nature of my earlier inclinations, for a field that would be advanced with cool sobriety, with logical iciness, with steady work, without the results directly touching the heart.  All of this I then thought to find in philology.  His ‘calling’ was not his ‘life’s task,’ but a substitute for one, a pose that he tried to make good.” (page 253)

As mentioned in part one, throughout his youth and into early adulthood, Nietzsche did not live in a solitary fashion as he did late in his life.  He was a social person who preferred few special friends.  Rohde remained of singular importance. “Nietzsche was not averse to festivities, and he enjoy himself considerably that spring and summer [1867].  He, Rohde, and members of the Philological Society frequented the Schutzenhaus, a spacious dining establishment with multiple decks, both indoors and outdoors, where they drank, dined, and listened to concerts.  Along, the two young men took walks in the Rosental, a park south of the university, where they sat on the banks of the river Pleisse and baptized an especially placid spot ‘Nirvana.’  They also spent evenings in the theater and later would exchange letters regarding notable actresses.  Rohde recalled that during the summer the pair spent half and even full days in ‘real laziness,’ idle times that in his eyes brought ‘the richest profit.’  Profitable or not, all this entertainment, coupled with Nietzsche’s preparation for a lecture to the Philological Society on Homer and Hesiod, took its toll.  As August 1, the deadline for the Diogenes Laertius paper approached, Nietzsche found himself seriously behind.  Fortunately, he was adept at quick composition, and late into the deadline’s eve and ‘with not another hour to be lost,’ he wrote down his findings and ran with the manuscript to the home of his friend.  Rohde was waiting with glasses and wine.” (page 267) 

In late 1867, increasingly disenchanted with his field of study, Nietzsche signed up for one year of military service in a Prussian artillery unit near his mother and sister at Naumberg.  “One might expect Nietzsche to dislike military service, since it was unsuited to his talents and it removed him from his friends.  Instead, in the beginning at least, he proved acquiescent and even appreciative.  This partly reflected as admiration for the army that had begun in childhood when he enjoyed watching soldiers at their drills.  This esteem was reinforced in 1866 when he cheered the Prussian troops during war.  In the aftermath of that conflict, he wrote [Carl von] Gersdorff, who was under arms, that to switch to military life after academia seemed a healthy alternative, for it offered ‘an effective contrast’ to school.” (page 271)

“He had been assigned to a cavalry artillery unit, and although he frequently wrote about horses and even kept a little list of equine anatomy in his notebooks, he rarely mentioned munitions in his letters and not at all in his private papers.  With his poor eyesight, he was unlikely a good shot, and if he had been skilled with powder and shells he would have said so.  He did claim to be liked – ‘Everyone here from the captain to the gunners wishes me well’ – and he was told that as a horseman he had the best seat in the unit, a compliment of which he was understandably proud.” (page 272)

“In early March, 1868, five months into his service, Nietzsche suffered a serious accident.  He had been housebound throughout the winter and when spring arrived, he was anxious to resume horseback riding.  One day, while working with what he called ‘the most fiery and unruly animal in the battery,’ he tried to leap upon its back and missed, his chest striking the front of the saddle.  He sensed a quivering tear on his left side but tried to ignore it.  After a day and a half of mounting pain he twice fainted; and on the following day he found himself ‘almost nailed to the bed’ with severe pain and high fever.  The military doctor discovered that he had torn a couple of muscles and bruised the breastbone.  It was soon evident that he also suffered from internal bleeding and infection.  For ten days Nietzsche endured pain, fever, and eventually enterogastritis.  Not only was the bleeding internally, but the pus exuding from the infection was subcutaneous as well and had no way to exit.  The doctor had to cut repeatedly through the skin in order to leech it, and eventually a drainage canal was installed so that the liquid could discharge externally.  During this time Nietzsche received morphine nightly so that he could sleep, and his letters indicate that he occasionally passed out.  Writing Ritschl, he stated that he had to relearn how to walk.  Worse, his wounds did not heal, and eventually physicians diagnosed damage to the sternum." (page 286)

His thirst for knowledge remained strong and he was published in a minor scholarly journal.  “On April 1, a little over a month after the accident, he received his only military promotion, from private to private first class.  Such an advance might be viewed as ironic since, given his pain and weakness, Nietzsche was surely incapable of performing any military duties.  Instead, he seized the opportunity to rechannel his sufferings into an extraordinary burst of productivity.  Unaware of the accident, Rohde had sent him a study ‘The ass,’ a work at the time attributed to Lucian and he asked for comments.  Despite his medical condition, Nietzsche obliged, writing a half a page critique, while citing authorities and correcting infelicities in his friend’s presentation.  During the following month (between April 3 and May 12), he read a dissertation on Kant’s view on freedom of the will,” reviewed and edition of Hesiod’s Theogony for a Leipzig journal, added an addendum to his Diogenes Laertius article, gathered materials for a proposed dissertation, ‘The concept of the organic since Kant,’ and he reworked his Simonides essay into an article for the Rheinisches Museum.” (pp. 286-287)

Nietzsche met Richard Wagner, the man who would most influence is late-youth, following his military service and return to the University of Leipzig.  Wagner highly-regarded the young philology student.  “Wagner could be extraordinarily entertaining, and he charmed Nietzsche that night, making fun of effete conductors, the Leipzig dialect, and university philosophers, even as he confided that he too was an aficionado of Arthur Schopenhauer.  He also played and sang passages from Meistersinger both before and after dinner, and at the evening’s end he read autobiographical accounts of his student life in Leipzig – stories that so amused Nietzsche that he could not think of them afterward without laughing.  Wagner also invited the young man to visit him at his villa on Lake Lucerne…” (page 300)

As Nietzsche gravitated toward Wagner and Schopenhauer, his fading interest in philology, despite already being a published scholar, manifested itself aggressively as distaste toward Professor Ritschl.  “Within two weeks of that dazzling evening, he was reading Opera and drama, a manifesto by the composer; and at the end of January 1869 he would attend a performance of Die Meistersinger in Dresden.  He further found in Schopenhauer characterizations of ‘the genius’ which be believed eminently suited to Wagner.  He may not at the time have envisioned meeting the great man again, but his imagination had been inflamed.  He may also have begun subtly to reconsider his loyalties, for this was a period in which his anger with Ritschl boiled over so badly that for the first time he made his displeasures known even to the professor himself.” (page 301)

“Ritschl’s shock during the meeting with Nietzsche shows that he was largely and perhaps wholly unaware of the distance his pupil had traveled over the preceding fifteen months.  In his eyes, the young man was still his loyal student.  He certainly did not know that the latter had recently referred to him as ‘a pander for philology,’ an insult referring to his habit of wooing students through praise and interesting projects.  Nietzsche’s process of disenchantment have developed largely in the lonely precincts of Naumberg – far from the reach of the teacher.  When, as would shortly occur, Ritschl would warmly endorse this pupil, he would be unaware of the latter’s recent disillusionment.” (page 302)

Nietzsche’s verbal diatribe against Ritschl did not lessen the professor’s appreciation for Nietzsche’s talent in philological scholarship.  “One month after the confrontation with his protégé, Ritschl received a letter from Adolf Kiessling, a former student who taught classical philology at the University of Basel.  Kiessling had accepted a job [and] brought up the name of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose articles he had seen in the Rheinisches Museum, and Ritschl commended hi pupil in the strongest terms.” (page 303)

“Ritschl had believed himself obliged to inform Nietzsche of his possible appointment, for Basel needed to know whether he was amenable before proceeding.  Nietzsche, hearing the news, believed that he had no real choice but to consent.  However, his emotional response was from the beginning mixed – he describes himself as both pleased and dismayed – and ultimately negative.  He was flattered by the expected stroke of good fortune.  He was also shocked and eventually angered by this early and to him premature promotion into the grim world of professional responsibility.  At the very point when, in his own mind, he had stepped onto a grander stage, outgrowing philology as currently practiced, Ritschl had remanded him to a world he found pinched and dreary.”  (page 305)

Carl von Gersdorff also became close to Nietzsche during this time, often socializing with Rohde as well.  “A letter to Gersdorff is more revealing.  ‘My dear friend,’ it begins, ‘the final deadline has arrived, the last evening I will spend in my home; early tomorrow it’s out into the wide wide world…in a difficult and oppressive atmosphere of duty and work.’  The writer worries that he will become a ‘philistine,’ a dull and blinkered member of the adult world that students like to mock.  Nietzsche believes that his philosophic seriousness will preserve him from so dire a fate, but certain forms of professional deformation will take their toll.  He is clearly aware of doors about to close, and the best he can hope is to communicate this sense of ‘the true and essential problems of life and thought’ to his students. ‘[L]et us try to use this life so that when we are happily redeemed from it, others will bless it as worthwhile.’” (page 312)

This last acclamation betrays that Nietzsche still sought to be “redeemed” in his life, to strive for and attain something that would allow him to live so others would “bless” his work as “worthwhile.”  Philology was a clear talent, Nietzsche was remarkably gifted in classic literature, totally competent in Greek among other languages.  Philology provided Nietzsche with a pursuit other than theology, the profession his family expected him to pursue.  But this act of rebellion ultimately failed to satisfy him.  He was more interested in music and poetry and philosophy than he was ancient languages.

Yet, before he could escape the promise of his great talent, he was offered a professorship in philology.  It was too good of an opportunity to turn down.  So, he entered his profession as a rising star, never having written his dissertation nor even taken his exit exams.  Seemingly in a flash, he was Herr Professor, Dr. Nietzsche, wonder student made teacher.  He still quested for some purpose in his life.  The path he took was not the Christian path, but he needed something to fill the void that his former religion once filled in his life.  He thought he might have found it in Wagner and his music and Schopenhauer and his philosophy but something still wasn’t right.  The void left by Christianity remained, and that void would remain for almost a decade to come.  

Of course, that last part is merely my personal perspective and remains beyond the purview of The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche.  But Blue’s research and perspective brings Nietzsche’s youth into sharper focus.  He was very different in many ways from who he would become, but the groundwork for his ultimate inward quest was already laid and his passion for truth and its application to life was burning bright with youthful exuberance in spite of his acceptance, due to mere circumstances, of a career that ultimately failed to satisfy him.  We can thank Daniel Blue for showing us this.