on March 22, 2003
Nietzsche's writings have been interpreted, misinterpreted, translated, mistranslated and mutated to serve many individual interests - from the evils of the Third Reich to the man's only sister, 'editing' his work to suit her personal, social and political gains. Like Freud, Nietzsche has been used and abused as a platform in the creation of 'new' philosophies, some citing his work as inspiration, while others, in a fit of intellectual dishonesty, claim his ideas as their own. It has been said many times that he is the most misunderstood philosopher of the modern age. From my readings and experience, this claim is not far from the truth. This brilliant book, however, in a single brush of elegance and heart, re-examines Fredric Nietzsche and his work in a gentle, unpretentious though concise way, and attempts to introduce or re-introduce readers to this intriguing, inspiring and highly complex mind.
Chamberlain writes with passion and intuitive insight about the last sane year of Nietzsche's life while he lived and worked in the beautiful city of Turin. This was more than any other a happy and productive time in the professor's life. This is much more than a biographical narrative, but a brave exploration by Chamberlain into the sights, sounds, thoughts and relationships of this fragile though contradictory philosopher. This book is not so much a cerebral approach to the man and his thought, but an emotional, visceral appraisal of a unique thinker striving to understand the human condition.
Of the many biographical narratives about Nietzsche's descent into madness, Chamberlain is the most sensitive without the sentimentalism or coldness similar to the many other descriptions I've encountered. It strikes at the heart with precision and leaves a lasting impression.
If you are a philosopher or merely interested in a unique approach to telling the story of a thinker who has shaped modern philosophy in the twentieth and twenty-first century, read this text. It will be well worth the time, money and effort.
on December 25, 1998
lesley chamberlain, a traveler, food critic, and philosopher, is admirably equipped to write about a man who was also those things. we see turin almost through nietzsche's eyes, the hotels, bookstores,theaters and grocery stores, the weather and even the predominant colors. we see the overman himself getting lost on trains, smiling at comic operettas, and surviving on sausages mailed to him by mom. we also see the working philosoher in his final productive year, reaching a crescendo of creativity at the same time he struggles to evade syphlitic madness. chamberlain has an eye out for his weak points: are his books mad, was he a proto-nazi and an anti-semite? chamberlain suggests that war and the military, of which nietzsche had personal experience, were frequent metaphors for him, and can lead to misunderstanding when nietzsche's style turned as heated and shrill as at last it did. a book full of color, thought, ompassion, and not a little criticism, too.
on March 21, 2009
Lesley Chamberlain redefines Nietzschean scholarship. This is a breakthrough work that I very much doubt will see any scholars follow after soon. In one fell swoop she has left behind the stale, dry academicians and given Nietzsche heart, mind, soul and breath. We come to know Nietzsche through her feeling, piercing, brilliant gaze. It is one of the most intelligent, brilliant works of its kind that I've ever read. It is Nietzsche unmasked, Nietzsche revealed, Nietzsche understood in a way that others only dreamed of accomplishing.
Lesley Chamberlain is a supremely talented thinker, and writer, who has written a definitive masterpiece for understanding Nietzsche.
on December 20, 2008
I bought this book expecting a discussion of Nietzsche's day to day life in Turin in 1888 while writing three of his most important books. I wanted some insight into his actual life; stuff I couldn't get elsewhere. The first few dozen pages are like that, and they are very satisfying. Then, unfortunately, the book descends into a very long, very tedious discussion of Nietzsche's relationship with Wagner, his love of Wagner's music, and more half-baked theories about music's role as an existentialistically transcendent phenomenon than I could count. Really disappointing, although there are a few gems scattered throughout. It was a chore to get through, and I was expecting it, as I live and breathe Nietzsche, to be a delight.
lesley chamberlain begins her biography of nietzsche by saying that she writes to befriend him. how far then is one expected to read before dispelling the expectation of a séance? or is she being intellectually coy with reference to uncanny coincidences between the subject matter of ibsen's Ghosts and details of nietzsche's life? cold, austere nietzsche, mountain dweller, who in later years, chamberlain tells us, knew strindberg--perhaps their knowing involved a `befriending'?
in his final years of sanity, nietzsche lived in turin, what we may call his dream city. in turin he could hear music and walk among architecture from the 17th century. in his own words, "But what a dignified and serious city it is! It has nothing of the capital city, and nothing modern, as I feared: it is rather more a residence from the seventeenth century, which had the court and the nobility, and a single prevailing taste in everything..."
it was in turin his health improved, where he was to get work done, completing Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Gods, and The Antichrist.
and it was in turin where his good friend, lesley chamberlain, described events of his life. her emphasis is on family influences and family substitutes, her choice of discipline is psychology. the death of the musically inclined pastor father a few months before young nietzsche turned five; the household of spinster women, the widow who never married, a couple of aunts, a maternal grandmother, and elizabeth, his sister, younger than he by two years, privy to all that psychic estrogen, born in july the same month their father died, oh how historians regret not knowing more of their early years together, how psychologists regret freud resisting a study of the nietzsche children; and the search for a father figure and an object of erotic desire.
the apotheosis of the nietzschean quest was reached in his meeting the wagners at the time, prior to their marriage, they were an adulterous couple. oh, but what a couple, cultured, passionate, intelligent, wagnerian music was paradigmatic and cosima was gracious and beautiful and sexually attractive. chamberlain describes how even after nietzsche broke free from the spell of richard wagner, that he was never completely free, from richard or cosima, the woman to whom in the years bordering sanity and insanity nietzsche wrote never posted love letters, addressing her as his wife.
enduring physical pain for most of this life, and psychic pain, he developed a regimen of travel and diet and exercise, and writing of overcoming negative values especially when masked as positive values. chamberlain shows us the pastor's son who proclaimed the death of god, the musician never as good as his father figure, the ex-soldier unhappy with german politics, and the man who loved his mother and sister so much, that even as he wandered from place to place, symbolically he never left his mother's home, nor stopped listening to his sister. in biographies favoring nietzsche, elizabeth has been sacrificed for the sake of clearing her brother's maligned reputation as all around bad guy. maybe she loved him beyond posterity, hateful as that makes her seem, especially when she married a man who expressed interests not in the best interests of her brother.
nietzsche, complicated stuff, as a writer and as the subject of biography, chamberlain does bring a couple of insights. we read too much into his strategies to overcome, what she refers to as his needing to prove he was a man. well, nietzsche was a man, mercurial in moods, desirous and lonely, wanting sexual gratification from all the wrong women, the married cosima, the intellectual ascetic lou salome, and settling for prostitutes. he could say that god was dead, that values needed to be evaluated, and show us how tough he was, but he could not go beyond the shame and guilt of getting sexual activity where he found it available, and that failure ultimately may had shortened his working years, happy or not.