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5.0 out of 5 stars Descent into madness., November 23, 2010
This review is from: Nietzsche: A Critical Life (Paperback)
Author Ronald Hayman traces Nietzsche development from brilliant but stubbornly independent student to profound (tho still struggling) philosopher. Much of the change took place while Nietzsche, and famous composer Richard Wagner, held a personal friendship. Nietzsche would say (tho not reported here in this biography) the greatest achievement of his life was his friendship with the Wagner's. Nietzsche would later grow critical of the philosophy behind the music, writing at least one book that was critical of Wagner. Once, Nietzsche sets a manuscript of a rival composer down on their table saying, 'now there is a real composer'. Wagner pretends to be offended. When discussing Nietzsche later among other friends, Wagner says his problem must be that 'he masterbates too frequently'. The author places the context inside of a tat between the two men, however, I suspect Wagner is being serious. The Wagners would always seek out Nietzsche's friendship, tho Nietzsche became distant from them. According to Hayman both parties had mostly kind things to say of each other in private conversations. In the later portions of his life Nietzsche drew comfort from music. When caregivers were asked what kind of music he listened to the response was 'mostly Wagnerian'.

At times it appears as though Richard Wagner and his wife, Cosima, were humoring young Nietzsche. His Advise to Nietzsche would be, 'find a rich girl and get married'. Later, when Nietzsche, 38, is in an open love triangle with a young student far from her home in Russia, Lou Salome, it appears Nietzsche and his friend, Paul Ree, also courting the young girl, it appears they may be humoring her. Even though I suspect both were humoring Salome, trying to make her feel better, it's possible one of them might have married her if she had accepted. Though Salome and Nietzsche were in a platonic relationship he allegedly proposed to her by saying he wanted to protect her honor and her good name. For all his controversial writings, he only became concerned he might lose his pension over the appearance of this affair, apparently. His sister Elizabeth didn't like Salome or approve. He's known to have proposed to two women in total both of whom turned him down.

We sometimes hear about welfare causing dependency. . . but could Nietzsche have desired the life of his friend Wagner? Perhaps he felt (unconsciously) that Wagner's life, as a thinker and artist, was within his grasp? Nietzsche was the more well-read or educated of the two. The pivotal moment of Nietzsche's life seems to be when, just before the publication (it was at the printing press) of his first major book 'Human, All Too Human, a Book for Free Spirits' he quits his job as a university professor, taking a medical disability pension, and seemingly, dedicating himself to being a professional author. None of his books would sell over a hundred copies, during most of his life, and he ends up living in relative poverty. One of his ambitions, and he lives most of his life in unheated boarding rooms, is to afford a room facing the rising sun and it's relative warmth. His pension (for only 8 years of teaching) was nearly as large as his previous salary, though it would never substantially raise. In many ways he seems to have lived quite well. He was able to afford many doctors (for his endless, most likely psychosomatic, illnesses). He often traveled to different cities all across Europe.

This book was quite interesting for it's portrayal of the day to day life of Nietzsche and his friends. The book easily earns 5 stars from me though I do not recommend it. There must be better books covering day to day life in Romantic Europe and others that go into greater detail into Nietzsche's philosophy.

On occasion in the book (if not throughout) Hayman observes Nietzsche from the vantage point of a Freudian mindset or belief system. Hayman notes that both Freud and Jung felt Nietzsche's mental illness was brought on by repressed homosexuality.

There's incredible detail into Nietzsche's life: nearly every day his location and activities seem to be known. There's even a discussion of what he ate on certain days. There were a couple of points where I questioned the authors motives (there was a fair amount of emphasis on Nietzsche's anti-racism). At the point (and it may have been about the same place in the book) the author discusses the contents (and the color) of his sock drawer, I think it was, the book had me wanting to scan back to glance at the copyright page (which I literally didn't need to do). I don't expect this would be the reaction of most readers but I do suspect the author may have been going for some kind of reaction here.

Much of what Nietzsche and his friends would say is across the border of pompous, but perhaps 'carefree' is the better word to use? One can almost sense his sister and mother sacrificed for Nietzsche yet, tho there's no sense of it, most likely they were the ones who severely traumatized him too. I was reading another author recently who wrote, "How do women manage to instill in men this sense of pride and superiority that inspires them to ever greater achievements"?

I would call Nietzsche a 'realist'. He would claim even christian piety was in fact selfishness. Even our goodness, was evil, "false humility prompted by covert vanity". That our love for others, and our children, is really a love of ourselves. He would reverse sayings in the bible. Perhaps he was the first 'deconstructionist', taking the new, negative philosophy to a ridiculous extreme.

Nietzsche writes, 'the evolution of language had been determined by the dominant groups, who had used their name-giving prerogative to glorify themselves and their qualities, while denigration those of other groups. 'Good' had been cognate with noble, 'bad' with plebeian". Nietzsche is actually in favor of a return to this, seeing ancient Greek culture as superior to our own and saying that Christianity had ennobled weakness and restraint instead. We're quite unchristian, today, yet 'victim' groups do push this same Christian agenda? Wealth equals dishonesty, etc? Might Nietzsche's ideas be compatible with Christianity? At least it's idea of original sin and Nietzsche's understanding of human selfishness?

Nietzsche was only concerned with reforming the upper classes? He was pleased when another writer referred to his work as "aristocratic radicalism". Nietzsche wrote in a time when class divisions where extreme and he studied ancient times where even slavery was considered a prerequisite for civilization. Of course we live in a time now where people don't seem to look up to or emulate the upper class at all.

One reviewer writes, of Beyond Good and Evil, "Imagine sitting down and simply writing out every random thought that comes to mind. That is this book -congratulations- you are now a world-famous philosopher!" Some of what Nietzsche says is just word play, some of it I don't understand, some of what he says about the human condition is very profound. Sigmund Freud (who the author claims learned from Nietzsche) writes, 'Nietzsche achieved a degree of introspection never achieved by anyone else and never likely to be achieved again'. It's said of the Marque De Sade, 'No souls has ever been so free'. The divine Marque, Nietzsche the prophet? Hayman did biographies of both Nietzsche and De Sade. Camille Paglia claimed De Sade's work was actually a kind of self-parody. That he was warning us. The 'libertines' in his stories would engage in greater and greater acts of sadism. Reality has proved the opposite. There's greater interest today in it's opposite?

Nietzsche is often called a 'moralist' a word normally used in the last Century to describe Christians and normally used in a derogatory manner. Apparently, he felt popular belief in the afterlife imbued the present with a sense of meaninglessness, yet the 'death of God' also led to nihilism and loss of meaning (evil?). Some say his criticism of Christianity was meant to produce a better morality. That he was trying to create a better world. The (always noble) Nietzsche certainly grew into being a kind man. Nietzsche never completed his final work 'Reevaluation of all values' only finishing the first part 'The Anti-Christ' before descending into madness. Critic Harold Bloom felt he may have been leading to an as yet undiscovered philosophy.

Ronald Hayman writes, "no previous explanation of laughter had been as plausible as Nietzsche's is. After centuries of conditioning to extreme danger, the human animal reacts with exhilaration to an abrupt transition from fear to reassurance. The tragic phenomenon is the opposite - a transition from exuberance to fear. We also take pleasure in nonsense, when experience is harmlessly transformed into it's opposite".

Though Nietzsche himself was arguably on the political right, it's surprising those on the right haven't done more to tie his more subversive ideas to Nazism to discredit them. But those on the right are pretty silent about everything but 'low taxes'. The last person (on the right) to effectively criticize another was probably Joe McCarthy. Philosopher Bertrand Russell claimed Nietzsche was "vulgar" and a "megalomaniac" his ideas being a precursor of the Nazis and fascists. Author Alan Bloom claimed (as part of what seemed like a series of backhanded-compliments) that Nietzsche is the single most important figure to study when examining our own modern era. Bloom's statements can be found on a video about Nietzshce posted on YouTube.

Nietzsche's works began to get some positive reviews in German newspapers after Beyond Good and Evil although most of the reviews were negative. The Bern newspaper wrote of Beyond Good and Evil, "intellectual explosives, like the other kind, can be very useful. . . . But it is as well to put up a warning sign where they are being stored: 'There is dynamite here'." According to Hayman, Nietzsche underlined the phrase dynamite in the review and asked his friend Malwida Von Meysenbug not to read the book, saying "Let us assume that people will be permitted to read it in about the year 2000".

Might Nietzsche have been some kind of provocateur, actually in service of the church and establishment? Nietzsche himself suggests this, writing in a letter, "It is not at all necessary or even desirable to side with me; on the contrary, a dose of curiosity, as if confronted with some unfamiliar plant, and an ironic sense of resistance would be an incomparably more intelligent position to adopt". His publisher (Heinrich Koselitz) would use the pen name 'Peter Gast' on all of his works.

Two of his friends felt he was faking his mental illness late in life. The physician recording his death felt Nietzsche had symptoms consistent with brain damage brought on by syphilis. I should admit, I have only a superficial understanding of Nietzsche's philosophy, and probably will never know what he was really trying to accomplish, but myself, I go against 'intelligence' and kind of favor Hayman's interpretation here, or what Hayman has laid out here. I don't know, but perhaps Nietzsche meant (much) of what he said, and mental illness (perhaps exacerbated by other illness) led to his demise.
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