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The Life of Nietzsche - Page 3

The Birth of Tragedy is not a typical work in philology. It does not, for instance, present a classical text in its vernacular and interpret it; instead, around a philological theme, namely the birth of tragedy out of music and chorus, it builds a discourse derived from various sources such as modern philosophy and literature and keeps certain issues and problems of the modern age both in the background and the foreground. Some of the issues and notions Nietzsche brings forth in this book are the Apollonian, or principle of individuation, and the Dionysian, the state of intoxication (or the state where there is no individuation), dream and illusion, ecstasy and ecstatic experience, image-symbol relationship, art and creativity, plastic art and musical art, poetry, music and language, tragic culture, the tragic and tragedy, spectacle and how it is experienced, science and knowledge, Socrates and rationality, the relationship between art and science, truth and truthfulness, and the phenomenon of Wagner. Moreover, Nietzsche wrote two short essays in this period, which, though unpublished, develop parallel insights along with those of The Birth of Tragedy: “Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense” addresses the question of truth within the context of language, and “On the Pathos of Truth” is concerned with how we relate to what we call truth, that is, the experience of truth. In other notes of this period, Nietzsche deals with issues of culture and its make-up and brings out further insights on culture in general, and, in particular, on tragic culture in ancient Greece.

When this book was first published, the community of philologists condemned it; one of the first to criticize it and reveal its philological shortcomings was Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who later became a renowned philologist. Nietzsche's friend Rohde engaged in a polemic with Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, but Wagner was compelled to save his own face. These polemics revolved on the facade of Nietzsche’s work, namely the developmental-historical origin of tragedy, which is of minor significance compared to the major insights of the book. One such insight is the value and truth of the Dionysian and the ecstatic experience both for culture and for the individual; another one is the significance of art and creativity along with other human experiences. Yet another one is the importance of dealing with suffering, loss and death so as to retain a balanced existence in the world. During the polemics, Nietzsche kept silent; he must have been grateful to his friends who came to his defense, but not enthused by the way they had shown their support. However, The Birth of Tragedy had other shortcomings, some of which Nietzsche later noted himself and outlined in a new preface when the book was republished in 1886: the book was written under the influence of Schopenhauer and Wagner (some of Nietzsche's insights are masked by the language of Schopenhauer), and the last ten sections, for the most part, repeat the ideas and insights of the first fifteen sections, in addition to wantonly glorifying Wagner. Erwin Rohde later wrote and published a book on ancient Greek culture called Psyche. But, by this time, they were no longer friends, and neither The Birth of Tragedy nor Nietzsche’s name is mentioned in his work.

Untimely Meditations (published 1874-76, German title Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, literally ‘observations not conforming to the times’) in which Nietzsche critiques the modern age in its various aspects. After having developed an interpretation of ancient Greek culture, he would use the expectations of Dionysian-tragic wisdom as a barometer to appraise the modern age. In first meditation, David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer, he exposes modern cultural philistinism and modern complacency; modern man, he claims, is content with the information he receives from newspapers, his encyclopedic knowledge and with his operas; on account of these, he acts and feels like his culture is the best possible culture. In short, he is not a creative being, nor part of a creative culture which expects creativity from individuals. Nietzsche, on the other hand, posits the value of style and unity of style in the domain of culture; it is in this context that he critiques David Strauss as a writer. In the second meditation, On the Uses and Disadvantages for History for Life, Nietzsche re-evaluates the overestimation of the historical and the historical sense and posits, next to the historical, the relevance and significance of the unhistorical; this meditation is insightful regarding the intra-dynamics of the historical and the unhistorical, memory and forgetting. In the third meditation, Schopenhauer as Educator, the issues of education, learning, and knowledge are brought forth in relation to the life and works of Schopenhauer, whom Nietzsche praises as honest, cheerful and steadfast. As opposed to prescriptive learning, Nietzsche proposes an education based on ‘knowing oneself’ and explores its possibilities in the dynamics of culture where one would find its archetypes. In the final meditation, Wagner in Bayreuth, Nietzsche points to the importance of the phenomenon of Wagner and the spectacle of Bayreuth as a locus of culture where it can transform itself through the symbolic significance of a great artistic event.

In Basel, Nietzsche had met Paul Rèe, the author of Psychological Observations and Origin of Moral Feelings. He became friends with him and, during his leave from the University for one year (1876-77), traveled to Italy with him where they stayed with Malwida von Meysenbug in Sorrento. There they read (usually Rèe would read aloud to Nietzsche) the works of the French moralists such as Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld and Vauvenargues. Inspired by Rèe and the French, Nietzsche wrote aphorisms which were brought together and published as Human, All Too Human, I & II in 1886 (originally, there were three books: Human, All Too Human, Assorted Opinions and Maxims, and The Wanderer and His Shadow) and Daybreak (1881). In these aphorisms, Nietzsche expresses his thoughts on moral feelings, sensations and prejudices, and the nature of art and artistic production, among other issues. Some of the moral prejudices that Nietzsche reveals in these aphorisms are pity, altruism or selfless love, revenge, shame, and vanity. He expresses many other thoughts in these aphorisms, and this period can be said to be the experimental period. He himself describes this period, in retrospect, as convalescence, recovery from the romanticism and pessimism of Wagner and Schopenhauer, two of his primary and most significant influences. In 1879, Nietzsche retires from the University with a pension due to health reasons and will begin his peripatetic existence, wandering through Germany, Switzerland (especially the Upper Engadine region), the south of France, and various cities in Italy, writing, over the course of next ten years, some of the most groundbreaking philosophical works, all while suffering and overcoming the most agonizing, if not extremely debilitating physical conditions.

Relieved from academic duties, Nietzsche finishes the two books of aphorisms and starts a new book called The Gay Science (1882), another book of aphorisms, yet significantly different from the previous two; many thoughts and ideas Nietzsche had been living with are transformed in this book, while he also further explores the problem of aesthetics and the crisis of art. Nietzsche develops a different notion of knowing and learning here, which he calls la gaya scienza (a phrase adopted from the Provencal poets’ lo gai saber), and some of the themes and notions that become crucial to his philosophy make their first appearance in this book; namely, the death of God, amor fati, and the eternal return. Furthermore, it is here that Nietzsche, for the first time, calls morality problematic; what he calls morality will later be coined as the ‘morality of good and evil,’ the world-view or perspective which claims that there is only one truth or one true interpretation of existence. His more rigorous study of morality will come later; with The Gay Science, he is making preparations for Thus Spoke Zarathustra, of which Nietzsche said, “among my writings - stands to my mind by itself. With that I have given mankind the greatest gift that has ever been made to it so far.” (Ecce Homo, Preface).

In the spring of 1882, Nietzsche met Lou Salome (who would become Lou Andreas-Salome in 1887 after marrying Carl Friedrich Andreas, a philologist) in Rome (at St. Peter's) through his friend Paul Rèe. Salome was part of a group of idealistic young women, called the ‘Roman Club', formed by Nietzsche's friend Malwida von Meysenbug. Lou Salome was an extremely bright, attractive, and enterprising young Russian woman, who was a student at Zürich University aspiring to be a writer and would later become the confidant and lover of Rainer Maria Rilke and friend of Sigmund Freud. Nietzsche, Rèe and Lou formed an intellectual bond which Lou called the ‘Trinity.’ The attraction of both men to Lou would create tensions in the ‘Trinity,’ and Nietzsche’s desire to live with Lou, to be her teacher and his expectations from her to bring him out of his hermit-like life style, remained unfulfilled. The disintegration of the ‘Trinity,’ aided in one sense by the intrusions of Nietzsche’s sister, would cause terrible suffering in him: “I am straining every fiber of my self-control, but I have lived alone too long, fed too long on my own fat, so now I am being broken as no one else could be on the wheel of my own passions” (Letter to Franz Overbeck, 25 December 1883). Thus Spoke Zarathustra, already conceived before the encounter with Lou, with whom Nietzsche discussed its central themes, would be written on top of yet another layer of suffering.

The eternal return, which is the fundamental conception of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), came to him as an insight by Lake Silvaplana in the Upper Engadine; he used to spend some of his time in this region while staying in a house in Sils-Maria (it has been made into a Nietzsche-Haus (there is another in Naumburg) and is open to the public). Of this insight, Nietzsche said: “this highest formula of affirmation that is at all attainable, belongs in August 1881: it was penned on a sheet with the notation underneath, ‘6000 feet beyond man and time.’ That day I was walking through the woods along the lake of Silvaplana; at a powerful pyramidal rock not far from Surlei I stopped. It was then that this idea came to me” (Ecce Homo). Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a unique work in terms of both its genre and its depth and simplicity, and is one of the most inimitable poetic texts of the 19th century, while also functioning as a stunning and uniquely singular parody of the Bible. Here, Zarathustra, a type that Nietzsche reconstructs out of the historical figure Zarathustra, the ancient Iranian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, traverses the path of self-knowledge by teaching the eternal return and the Overman, the new meaning of existence, in order to overcome the morality of good and evil.

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