|Lou Salome and Nietzsche|
3 November Lou Salome and Nietzsche - Matthew Del Nevo
Lou Salomé (1861-1937); Nietzsche (1844-1900)
“The noble soul has reverence for itself.” Nietzsche (BGE, 287)
I presume you know a little about Nietzsche. The son of a Lutheran clergyman. His father died when Nietzsche was a boy and thereafter he was brought up in household of women: his mother, his sister, his aunt. At 24, a very young age, he was appointed professor of philology at Basel University. He hero-worshipped Wagner who was like a Father figure to him, and who treated Nietzsche quite like a son. Nietzsche left his position at Basel, at the end of the 1870s, suffering from ill health. His first academic publication, The Birth of Tragedy (1872) had been very poorly received and not the sort of book expected in Professorial circles, at least in the Philology department. The book was more philosophical than philological. While Nietzsche was being quietly side-lined by his University peers, more dramatically, he fell out of sorts with Wagner. By the end of the 1870s his prodigious early success in academia had turned sour. By 1879 Nietzsche was living in boarding houses on the North coast of Italy for health reasons. And yet he regarded himself as a philosopher, and not only that, a great one, with a world-shaking message. But he hardly had any friends and no c0nventional relationships, let alone a readership. He had written a couple of other short eccentric philosophical works which were disregarded, and unbeknownst to him he had 10 years left to work. In 1889 he would collapse into total insanity from which he would never recover. But in his last decade, the 1880s, living in pensiones, completely isolated and ill, Nietzsche wrote a series of stunning works that changed the face of philosophy. The Gay Science (1882/7), where the death of God is proclaimed; Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883/4) a Scripture for a world in which God is rather an absent presence, than a Supreme Being; Beyond Good and Evil (1886), a moral exhortation to the future of philosophy; The Genealogy of Morals (1887); The Twilight of Idols (1889); Ecce Homo (written in 1888, published 1908), largely about himself; and lastly, The AntiChrist (1888, withheld and published 1895). Before he went mad Nietzsche was still doing battle with his surrogate father, Wagner, in The Wagner case (1888) and another short work published as Nietzsche contra Wagner (1895). After his death, many of Nietzsche’s notes from the 1880s were collected into a volume by his sister, and published under the title, The Will to Power (1901, 1905 2nd enlarged edn.). Nietzsche’s philosophy which always has a moral bent or at the very least a moralistic ring, is constellated around attack: on God, on Wagner, on every other worthwhile philosopher and philosophy he can lay his hands on, and an elevation and glorification of his own philosophical prowess. The Sections of Ecce Homo are entitled: Why I Am So Wise; Why I Am So Clever; Why I Write Such Good Books. Even the title of this book Ecce Homo, meaning “Behold the man!” the words of Pontius Pilate, the man Nietzsche admired most in the New Testament, are words said of Jesus Christ that Nietzsche applied to himself.
Nietzsche’s reception has been firstly to reach a much broader readership than any other philosopher of his century or even of several centuries before him, and secondly to divide and confuse all those who have read him. To this day there is no consensus as to what Nietzsche’s philosophy is, or what any of his basic doctrines such as “will to power” or “the revaluation of all values” or “the eternal return” even mean, at best there are “schools of thought” on it – so it has been hard for evaluation to be anything more than a personal appreciation or deprecation (as the case may be). One thing people do agree on however is that Nietzsche was a great literary stylist of the highest order. Ironically, and oddly, it is precisely Nietzsche’s style that has allowed so many professional academic writers of books and articles on him to completely ignore things that Nietzsche makes a big point of saying and to make him say whatever it is they are saying, or at least to line up with it, as if Nietzsche were somehow, their “precursor”; but I think this is very far from the case. They do this by attributing ideas of Nietzsche which are completely contrary to their own as “stylistic” rather than substantial. The Nazis did it by having collections of his sayings that edited out the ones they didn’t like. The method is still in vogue. Not that we have edited collections, but our contemporaries instead gloss over, whatever doesn’t fit their prejudices, as if it wasn’t there. There are some incredible examples of this genre, but here is not the place to go into them.
Lou Salomé was born in St. Petersburg of French Huguenot and German descent. She spoke and read in French, German and Russian and had a smattering of other languages, eventually when she was to marry, it was to Carl Andreas a German professor of Oriental languages. These propensities would not be lost on Nietzsche, who had been Professor of Philology at Basle University during the previous decade. Nietzsche met Lou in Rome in May 1882. She was there with her mother, and Nietzsche’s best friend Paul Rée who had become infatuated with her. She would have been 21, he would have been 17 years her senior. When she was only 17 years old her private tutor, the local married priest, a man old enough to be her father, fell so madly in love with her that he promised to leave his wife and children. Lou coolly refused him; when eventually she did marry in 1887, she had that same pastor officiate the service. In 1880 Lou’s mother took her out of harm’s way to Zurich, where the University was the first to open its doors to women. However, the completion of her studies was cut short by signs of tuberculosis and it was this, among other reasons, that led mother and daughter south to Rome, where in May 1882 she was to meet Nietzsche.
First Lou met Paul Rée in literary and intellectual circles in which they moved and Rée urgently beckoned his friend Nietzsche, who was in Italy to come up to Rome, which eventually he did. , He had huge moustaches and a Saxony accent. He read aloud to them from The Gay Science, which he was writing. She probably would have heard him read aphorism 125, The Madman, in which the event of the death of God is dramatically proclaimed. For the first time in his life, Nietzsche fell in love. Now both men were in love with the girl! Rée wanted to marry Lou - Lou said she didn’t believe in marriage; Nietzsche would propose to her at least twice, but she would refuse both of them and want just to be intellectual companions. Salomé advocated a three-way relationship between them. By May Mrs Salomé was finding Rome too hot and wanted them to wend their way back via Switzerland and Germany to Russia. The two men followed. En route, Nietzsche found perfect romantic moments to propose to Lou, but to no avail. The meanderings of the three of them, occasionally altogether, often all apart, often just two of them, either Nietzsche or Rée, continued until October in Leipzig. The famous photo of the so-called “Holy Trinity”, Lou holding the whip, was taken in Lucerne. Leipzig was the last time Nietzsche saw Lou. She and Rée started living together, her mother went on to Russia by herself and Lou moved in with Rée to a flat in Berlin. In 1886 Carl Andreas came on the scene and stole Lou away from Rée. Against her principles Lou married Carl Andreas, but she never consented to have sex with him. They had a childless marriage and carried on sexual affairs outside the marriage, at least Lou did, one only assumes Carl did, but he may not have done. Rée became a doctor eventually, but was depressive and died tragically on a mountain hike in 1901.
We have Nietzsche’s word, one of the greatest European intellectuals of the nineteenth century, that he considered Lou his equal. Rilke and Freud, two other men of genius, will say much the same when their turn comes to enter her life.
In her lifetime, Lou wrote about 15 books, some novels, some on the more academic side. Her book on Nietzsche is probably the first book about him. She wrote it before The AntiChrist or Ecce Homo or The Will to Power were published. But she had known him and he had loved her. Her book was published in 1894. In her memoirs, written in her 70s, in the 1930s she admits to not fully understanding Nietzsche until after their break-up 50 years previously, and the subsequent study of his works, which she was among the first to read. She says in her memoir, looking back on Nietzsche and that time, “The will of the times transformed the exactitude of logic into a psychology with its own exactitude.” The “exactitude of logic” would have been that of Kant and the Kantians, and of Hegel and the Hegelians, those of the left and those of the right, each with their version of the Wissenschaft der Logik and its ruthless dialectic. Lou speaks of the will of the times transforming such logic “into a psychology” with its own exactitude; and this is how, in a nutshell she places Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, the life of the philosopher parallels his philosophy, and when you put the two side by side (the philosopher and the philosophy), Nietzsche doesn’t think a powerful philosophy can be produced by an insipid life; for this reason Nietzsche doesn’t think philosophy produced by professional paid academic philosophers is even worth mentioning or reading for the most part. He only mentions the very greatest names, and then will not read their philosophy in abstraction from their biography.
I want to now turn to Lou’s Nietzsche book. We can’t discuss the whole book, so I’m going to make 3 main points. These points, or headings, frame Lou’s view of Nietzsche. But I believe these three points are good orientations into reading Nietzsche, especially given, as I’ve said, that confusion about his philosophy reigns.
1. The thinker and the thought (biography and philosophy)
She says, “And so we must direct our attention to the human being and not the theorist in order to find a way in Nietzsche’s works. In that sense, our contemplation will not gain a new theoretical world picture [ as in Kant or Hegel I would add] but the picture of the human soul in all its greatness and sickliness.” (N. p.29 [my emphasis added]). So with Nietzsche’s philosophy we don’t get a new theory or world picture, but a picture of the human soul – a diagnosis.
The optimum philosophical picture of a man’s health is spelt out in Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. The idea of the eternal recurrence stated by Zarathustra in Nietzsche’s book of that title is the idea that everything we do, right down to me giving this talk tonight, eternally recurs. People have always wondered what this could mean. Is it meant in a cosmological sense? Is it some kind of hypothesis? No, I think it is a fable that speaks of the absolute coalesence of personal character and destiny in one truth. Let me explain. When my personal character perfectly expresses the truth that all my creativity can allow me to become, then it is logical that I would will the eternal recurrence of the same. When all the possibilities and potentialities of my being have become actual and real, then, nothing greater can I do; except, at that point to will the eternal recurrence of the same, thereby validating forever all that I have become and should be. This is what Nietzsche means. Everyone who in their deepest heart doesn’t or can’t will the eternal recurrence is, in effect, a creative abortion; they fall short of a complete unification of personal character and their destiny. This situation is typical of herd man, the rabble, that Nietzsche despised, just as he despised democracy and populism and public media that promote a herd mentality and a rabble. Were Nietzsche alive in our day, I believe he would see globalization as nothing more than the triumph of the rabble, evidence of those he called, in Zarathustra, “the last men”. These are the pathetic creatures who are happy with mediocrity and call their mediocrity happiness and want everyone to have it. Their complacency and fatuousness is mocked by Zarathustra.
2. The mask of the philosopher and the philosopher of masks
The discrepancy between Nietzsche’s inner life and his outer life show that the outer is a mask. Lou says, “I remember when I first spoke with Nietzsche during a day in the Spring of 1882 in St. Peter’s in Rome, his studied, elegant posture surprised and deceived me. But not for long was one deceived by this recluse who wore his mask so awkwardly, like someone who has come out of the wilderness and mountains and who is dressed conventionally. Very soon a question surfaces, which he formulated in these words: ‘Whenever a person permits something to become visible, one can ask: “What does it hide? From what does it wish to divert someone’s gaze? What preconception should it arouse? And further: to what extreme does the subtlety of this disguise go? And, does he misperceive himself in all that?” ’ ” (D. 523; N.p.10)
With this stance, everything that is objective reality, or taken as such, or is interpreted as a fact, has to be reevaluated as an appearance. Nietzsche’s revaluation of all values starts here and revolves around this centre.
Nietzsche, quoted by Lou: “People who think deeply feel themselves to be comedians in their relationship with others because they first have to simulate a surface in order to be understood.” (HATH, II, 232; N. p.11)
LS. “Nietzsche’s thoughts… resemble a skin [which in his words] ‘reveals something but conceals even more’ (BGE, 32 my emphases) because, he says, ‘one either hides one’s opinions or one hides behind them’ (HATH, II, 338). He finds a lovely designation for himself when he talks in this sense about those ‘hidden under the cloaks of light’ (BGE, 44), referring to those who cloak themselves in the clarity of their ideas.
In the light of what Lou has said, I think this aphorism, which I give complete, says something about both points one and two that we have looked at so far, (i) the relation of thinker and thought, of the philosopher and his biography and (ii) philosophy as the love and wisdom of masks:
“One always hears in the writings of a hermit something of the echo of the desert, something of the whisper and shy vigilance of solitude; in his strongest words, even in his cry, there still resounds a new and more dangerous kind of silence and concealment. He who sat alone with his soul day and night [Nietzsche is talking autobiographically here I believe] year in year out, in confidential discord and discourse, and in his cave – it may be a labyrinth, but is may be a gold-mine – became a cave-bear or treasure-hunter or a treasure-guardian and dragon, finds that his concepts themselves at last acquire a characteristic twilight colour, a smell of the depths and of must, something incommunicable and reluctant which blows cold on every passer-by. The hermit does not believe that a philosopher – supposing that a philosopher has always been first of all a hermit – has ever expressed his real and final opinions in books: does one not write books precisely to conceal what lies within us? – indeed, he will doubt whether a philosopher could have ‘final and real’ opinions at all, whether behind each of his caves there does not and must lie another, deeper cave – a stranger, more comprehensive world beyond the surface, an abyss behind every ground, beneath every ‘foundation’. Every philosophy is foreground philosophy – that is a hermit’s judgement: ‘there is something arbitrary in the fact that he stopped, looked back, looked around here, that he stopped digging and laid his spade aside here – there is also something suspicious about it.’ Every philosophy also conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a hiding place, every word also a mask.” (BGE 289)
Nietzsche is talking about the personal intimacy of the philosopher qua philosophy, which means the intrinsic solitariness of the occupation; and he is talking about the height and depths of philosophy, saying truth is qua these heights and depths – not “foundations”, which are always superficial in that respect. “Every philosophy conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a hiding place, every word also a mask” – that is any philosophy worthy of the name, which for Nietzsche, most philosophy, and more particularly religion, is not. And this saying goes for his philosophy too; for his philosophy perhaps, above all.
3. The inner substance of Nietzsche’s philosophy
She describes this self: “All of Nietzsche’s knowledge arose from a powerful religious mood and was insolubly knotted: self-sacrifice and apotheosis, the cruelty of one’s own destruction and the lust for self-deification, sorrowful ailing and triumphal recovery, incandescent intoxication and cool consciousness. One senses here the close entwining of mutual contradictions; one senses the overflowing and voluntary plunge of over-stimulated and tensed energies into chaos, darkness, and terror, and then an ascending urge towards the light and the most tender moments – the urges of a will ‘that frees him from the distress of fullness and overfulness and from the affliction of the contradictions compressed within him’ (“Attempts at Self-Criticism” BT.5) – a chaos that wants to give birth to a god, and must give birth to one.” (N.p.24)
The proclaimed death of God in Nietzsche has nothing to do with validating unbelief and atheism, it has to do with what Nietzsche saw as a crisis of creativity in man… in philosophy… in culture… in the bourgeoisie… in Christianity…. That is why Nietzsche repeatedly says of God, that “we have killed him” [his emphasis, see GS. 125). His point about the death of God is that our shameful crisis of creativity does not make us fit for gods. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra points the way beyond the crisis. He is a fictional prophetic figure. To an extent Nietzsche’s philosophy and Nietzsche as philosopher wears a prophet’s mask. He is not a prophet, his mask is.
LS. “Through the words of Zarathustra during Nietzsche’s last creative period, he provided himself with an answer to his outbreak of torture and yearning: ‘All gods are dead: now we want the superior man to live!’ (Of the Gift-giving virtue,’ Z, I [my emphasis]) And with these words Nietzsche expressed the inner substance of his philosophy.” [N. p.27]
Who is the superior man though? The Nazis thought it was the blonde beast, the SS man. In Christianity, the Perfect Man, literally, is Christ. Nietzsche, in a letter to his sister in mid-May 1885, said that no-one can love him because “this requires the precondition that a person knows who I am.” Those last words “who I am” are underlined in the letter. He goes on to say in the letter, “I find the founder of Christianity superficial in comparison with myself.” (p.lviii) Who is the superior man? The superior man is the great creator of values – which brings us back to Christ again, and for Nietzsche, Goethe, and, more importantly, himself. “There are two kinds of genius,” Nietzsche writes, “above all, one which begets and another which will gladly allow itself to become fertile and will give birth” (BGE, 248). “Undoubtedly”, Lou says, “he belonged to the latter.” (N. p.29) We would put this by saying Nietzsche’s genius is in being a great fertile source of inspiration. This is why we are still drawn to Nietzsche and why we still read him.
LS. “And so we must direct our attention to the human being and not the theorist in order to find our way in Nietzsche’s works. In that sense, our contemplation will not gain a new theoretical world picture but the picture of the human soul in all its greatness and sickliness.” (N. p.29)
In the Preface to The Genealogy of Morals, a book in which Nietzsche is reevaluating values, he wrote: “For cheerfulness – or in my language gaya scienza – is a reward: the reward of long, brave, industrious and subterranean seriousness, of which, to be sure, not everyone is capable. But on the day [of the discovery of moral truth] we can say with all our hearts, ‘Onwards! Our old morality too is part of the comedy!’ we shall have discovered a new complication and possibility for the Dionysian drama of ‘The Destiny of the Soul’ [so-called] – and one can wager that the grand old eternal comic poet of our existence [God] will be quick to make use of it!” (Kaufmann Transl. GM.7)
Matthew Del Nevo
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