Saturday, March 13, 2010

Teaching Nietzsche II

Editor's Note: This is the second of two posts that I originally wrote two years ago on my philosophy blog, "How to Philosophy." I have decided to re-post them here in hopes that they might get me off my butt and writing philosophy again. I hope you enjoy.

In 1879, Nietzsche officially "retired" from his post at the University of Basel, at the age of 35. He would never work again, and would spend the rest of his life living off of the meager stipend that the University provided for him. 1879 also saw the publication of the second volume of Nietzsche's second book, Human, All-too-Human, the first volume having been published the previous year. This book signaled not only Nietzsche's turn away from the aesthetics and the philosophical pessimism of The Birth of Tragedy, but also his break with the art and the philosophy of Wagner. As a result, Nietzsche also lost one of his few friends and allies.

Following his retirement, Nietzsche spent the next several years traveling across southern Europe, searching for warm and mild climates that might be hospitable to his poor health. Between 1879 and 1887, he either visited or lived in Venice, Genoa, St. Moritz, Sils-Maria, Rome, Sorento, Nice, and Turin. (Meaning that he spent most of his time between France, Italy, and Switzerland. He would occasionally visit friends or family in Germany, but not very often.)

It was also during this time that Nietzsche would meet two of his closest friends, the German author Paul Rée and the Russian-emigré philosopher Lou Andreas-Salomé. These would prove to be very productive years for Nietzsche: in 1882 he published The Gay Science, in which he first proposes the concept of fashioning a "cheerful... philosophy of the morning" and in which some of his most famous (or infamous) ideas make their first appearances: the will to power, the übermensch, and the eternal return of the same. In 1883 Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, the more literary complementary work to The Gay Science, much of which was written in the span of only ten days.

The end of this "middle period" of Nietzsche's career can be marked by the death of Wagner, in February of 1883, and his break from Rée and Salomé in October of that year, after Salome repeatedly rejected Nietzsche's (probably frightening) marriage proposals. Both of these events took a toll on Nietzsche's psyche. These breaks also forced him to associate more with Ernst Schmeitzer, his editor and publisher, and his sister Elisabeth.

In 1886, Nietzsche broke with Schmeitzer because of the latter's anti-Semitism and over control of the editing of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Therefore, Nietzsche decided to publish his next book, On the Genealogy of Morality, entirely on his own, burdening all of the costs of production personally. Although friendless and penniless, Nietzsche seemed encouraged by rumors of a growing readership across Europe. Over the next three years, he would write The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and the autobiographical Ecce Homo. Nietzsche's good spirits were encouraged by his correspondence with Georg Brandes, a Danish professor and Kierkegaard scholar. It was Brandes who introduced Nietzsche to the writings of Dostoyevsky and suggested that he read Kierkegaard, although it is doubtful as to whether Nietzsche ever got around to that. In 1888, Brandes delivered what was probably the first ever lecture on Nietzsche's philosophy in Copenhagen.

However, soon after this brief flurry of writing, Nietzsche suffered a major mental breakdown. Again, quoting from Wikipedia:

On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche exhibited signs of what was perceived as a serious mental illness. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground. The first dream-sequence from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (Part 1, Chapter 5) has just such a scene in which Raskolnikov witnesses the whipping of a horse around the eyes.[11] Incidentally, Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn."[12]

A week after his collapse, Nietzsche was moved to a psychiatric hospital in Basel. What followed was a long and protracted battle between Nietzsche's mother, his sister, and his former colleagues over control of the editing and publishing of his later works. Twilight of the Idols was published in January, 1889, but The Antichrist and Ecce Homo were withheld because of their controversial content. After serious and controversial editing, The Antichrist was published in 1895. During this time, Nietzsche wrote several barely coherent letters to some of his acquaintances, in which he ordered Bismarck to be "abolished" and commanded that the German Emperor travel to Rome to be shot.

In 1893, Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche returned to Germany from an Aryan colony in Paraguay and began to take control of his estate. Upon the death of their mother in 1897, Elisabeth had her brother moved to Weimar, where she openly invited other philosophers and intellectuals of the day to come and observe him.

Nietzsche died of a stroke on August 25, 1900, at the age of 55. It is generally agreed that his long-term madness and degenerative psychological state was caused by syphilis. After his death, Elisabeth collected and edited his notes and published them as The Will to Power in 1901. She also edited Ecce Homo and had it published in 1908. It is generally agreed that Elisabeth's influence here would ensure the initial reception of Nietzsche's thought as being - ironically - Nationalistic and anti-Semitic.

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