Curt Paul Janz on Nietzsche, 2

nietzsche_after_catastropheExcerpted from Curt Paul Janz’s last volume of his biography, Friedrich Nietzsche. Biographie. Band 3: Die Jahre des Siechtums, Chapter “The Catastrophe”:


On Sunday January 6, 1889 Jacob Burckhardt received a long letter from Nietzsche. While it is true that, from the Genealogy [On the Genealogy of Morals] at least Burckhardt had not followed Nietzsche’s philosophical way, he did continue to be humanely united to his former colleague. For long Burckhardt had watched with concern his state and inquired about it, but this turn towards mental disturbance surprised and deeply affected him.

Burckhardt did immediately what was in his hand: he went immediately with the letter to see Franz Overbeck, whose close contact with Nietzsche he knew. Although their houses were not far apart—from the suburb of St. Alban to the Sevogelstrasse there are only a few hundred meters—, Burckhardt had never felt moved to walk that way. But now, the terrible impression he received prompted him to overcome that barrier. Also for Overbeck it was an alarming surprise to see Jacob Burckhardt into his home.

Following a review of the two letters to Burckhardt and Overbeck, Wille [Prof. Dr. Ludwig Wille, a psychiatrist] had no doubt about how he had to try the case and what they had to do. He urged Overbeck that, without loss of time, to bring the friend from Turin to Basel, before he disappeared in any one of the dubious Italian centers.

Overbeck immediately followed the advice, which seemed more like an order. By doing so he had to weight two considerations: firstly the question of costs. Neither he nor Nietzsche were doing well economically. Professorial fees were then rather scarce. And besides, surely it was not easy to a conscientious teacher to leave without official dispensation for a few days.

In spite of everything, in the night of January 7 he parted to Turin, where he arrived the next day around 2 pm. Given his perennially poor health, the feat demanded a great effort from Overbeck, especially in the middle of winter. 18 hours in those times when trains, insufficiently heated or not heated at all during the night (no sleeper), meant a real sacrifice. But the worst still awaited him.

By his own efforts Overbeck found Nietzsche’s housing in a city unknown to him. The landlord, Fino, was absent. Nietzsche, with his behavior, had finally put Fino in a state of despair, and he was now seeking help from the German consulate and police. The whole family was scattered so that it took some time for Overbeck to find the wife. Only then he approached his friend. In his letter of January 15 to Köselitz he narrates the encounter:

It happened in the last time when it was still possible to get him without official impediments, except his own state. I pass over the moving circumstances in which I found Nietzsche as a pupil of his landlords; which seem to be also characteristic of Italy in general. With the terrible moment as I saw Nietzsche I come again to the principal issue: a terrible moment like no other, and totally different from everything that happened afterwards.

I see Nietzsche in a corner of the armchair, curled up and reading—as it was apparent later, the latest proofs of Nietzsche contra Wagner—, tremendously deteriorated in external appearance. He sees me and rushes towards me, recognizing me he hugs me tightly, and becomes a sea of tears. He goes back then, in convulsions, to sink himself into the armchair. Neither do I find strength, because of the shock, to pull myself on my legs. Did it open at that moment the abyss in which he finds himself, or better, into which he has fallen? In any case, no such thing has been repeated. All of the Fino family was present.

Just as Nietzsche returned to rest there, moaning and with convulsive contractions, the watered bromide that was on the table was given to him. Instantly he relaxed, and, laughing, began to talk about the great reception that was prepared for him at night. Thus Nietzsche moved in a circle of delusions from which he never came out after I lost sight of him; being always clear of mind about me in general and other people, but caught in a full night about him. It happened that, exalting himself without measure, and with strong songs and frenzies on piano, shreds of the ideas were recovered from the world in which he had lived lately.

Then, in short sentences, uttered in a tone indescribably flat, he had us hearing sublime, wonderfully visionary things and unspeakably terrible about himself as the successor of the dead God, tapping all, so to speak, at the piano. Afterwards the convulsions and fits of indescribable suffering returned. But, as said, this only happened in rare and fleeting moments. While I was present, generally the profession statements that he awarded himself dominated: to be the jester of the new eternities, and he, the incomparable master of expression, was unable to represent the enthusiasm even from his joy otherwise than through the most trivial expressions or by a ridiculous dancing and jumping.

Overbeck’s report in his memoirs and letters to Köselitz is very summary. Carl Albrecht Bernoulli was able to complete it:

He then wrote to Peter Gast [Heinrich Köselitz] everything that happened in Turin during the terrible encounter; his hand refused to transcribe to paper the latest and most sordid details. Although occasionally he alluded to this in the most intimate circles, and to me personally he completed by word the description.

Overbeck was also more forthcoming with Möbius, who visited him on April 10, 1902. Möbius informs us:

In Turin he met a Jewish man who volunteered as a caregiver of the crazy (but he was not) and that with the help of his intervention they carried out the risky venture. Nietzsche was in bed and refused to get up. The Jew told him that they were prepared for large receptions and festivities, and Nietzsche got up, dressed and went to the station with them.

There he wanted to embrace all people, but the companion explained him how it was not appropriate for such an important man: and Nietzsche calmed down. Using large quantities of sleeping pills the patient remained quiet during the trip, and thus came the three happily to Basel.

Another visitor to Overbeck, the writer Eduard Platzhoff-Lejeune, based on an earlier conversation with Overbeck, presented the episode thus:

The Turin police was already aware, and only a true kidnapping could prevent a forced entry into a center of that place.

Then, miraculously, a stranger, a German Jew, apparently offered himself [for a fee] to transport the sick. Overbeck agreed and did not repent of his acceptance. With surprising touch the stranger immediately got influence on the wayward sick, something that the friend was not able to.

Nietzsche obeyed as a child, left the bed and dressed. A new outburst became a torture for Overbeck on the way to the station. Shouting and chasing them, Nietzsche was addressing the curious crowd, at the point of nearly thwarting the traveling. The train left while Nietzsche sang a fishermen’s Neapolitan song [?]. That deeply touched the excited friend. The caregiver tried a suggestion: “You’re a prince. In Basel station a festive crowd is expecting you. Come in before it without greeting to the car that is waiting to you!”

The trick worked better than expected. The morning of January 10, 1889, around 8, Nietzsche and his caretakers arrived to Basel. A ready-cab took them to “Friedmatt” where the patient could be entrusted to the care of specialists.

With that Nietzsche stopped being a person acting autonomously.

Werner Ross on Nietzsche

nietzsche

Excerpted from the prologue of Werner Ross’s Der ängstliche Adler
– Friedrich Nietzsches Leben
(1980):


I

The two-volume work of Heidegger on Nietzsche begins with the lapidary phrase: “Nietzsche, the thinking man testifies to the content of his thought.” But in the following hundreds of pages he does not appear, only his philosophical activity.

Nietzsche had the misfortune to go down to posterity as a philosopher whereas he would have liked to do it as an apostle or officer of artillery; a lyric poet or composer; a revolutionary or reformer; ultimately, as a buffoon or a god.

Nietzsche argued against the claims of truthfulness of all doctrines, including his. He ardently sought for results: a reversal of all relations, the abolition of Christianity, the beginning of a new era. His aspiration was to divide the history of humanity with a single stroke into two halves. Instead, it has been classified with others; and in college textbooks his name appears next to Leibniz and Kant.

II

At the height of his self-consciousness, of his “delusions of grandeur,” Nietzsche came to think that the mere dissemination of his doctrine would cause the disintegration of the tablets of the law and of our civilization as the trumpets of the Israelites had caused the collapse of the walls of Jericho. But the earth did not shake nor the sun darkened when, in early January 1889, he went crazy.

Obviously, great works take time. Nietzsche indeed contributed to the destruction of something that, at the time, many wanted ardently: “the fundamental values.” He was convinced that his ideas were dynamite, but all blasting is, ultimately, a child’s play compared to the persistent action of erosion. And if no revolution took place after Nietzsche, at least he caused a radical change in the general climate.

III

Nietzsche became famous overnight the same year he was admitted to an asylum. But the person immediately disappeared behind the work, behind the exposed and fought doctrine. This work moved the spirits and divided them in twain; it also marked the beginning of a new era, which provided mottos and slogans. The literature on Nietzsche, for and against, increased greatly…

IV

In the circle of collaborators responsible for the historical-critical edition of his complete works, whose first volume appeared in 1934, the project finally came to publish a full biography of Nietzsche. This was undertaken by Richard Blunck during the Second World War. The owner of the Archive [Nietzsche’s sister] had died in 1935; Hitler had already visited her before and had brought with him as a gift Nietzsche’s swab.

Blunck was unlucky: the whole edition of the first [biographical] volume, which was printed in early 1945, was destroyed during air raids. The volume did not appear until 1953. Blunck died in 1962, when he was working in the other volumes. Curt Paul Janz, a professional orchestra musician that had received a solid philological training at Basel, continued the work of Blunck. The result was the three-volume biography published in 1978-1979 by Hanser Verlag. This is a thorough study that collects all the facts and circumstances of the life of Nietzsche. My work has a lot to thank him.

Curt Paul Janz on Nietzsche, 1

Nietzsche_after_catastrophe

Excerpted from Curt Paul Janz’s last volume of his biography, Friedrich Nietzsche. Biographie. Band 3: Die Jahre des Siechtums, Chapter “The Catastrophe”:


Omens

In the last months before the disaster, acute disturbances of the understanding of reality and his identity increasingly piled up. A fact whose significance cannot be underestimated is that Nietzsche’s philosophical thought is definitely interrupted with the Antichrist on September 30, 1888. In a completely wrong assessment of the magnitude and significance of the matter, Nietzsche wants to see from that date a new beginning, a new measure of time, and what happens is the beginning, just for him, of a “new” time, a new and radically different consciousness.

What is perhaps the most significant part of his philosophy, the critique of knowledge, seems totally forgotten. Nietzsche no longer speaks of moral and cultural criticism; there are only vague memories of the world of Zarathustra (lyrical content is precisely what revives in some poetry). On the contrary, neither the “overman” or the “eternal return” are any longer defended.

With the alleged murder of Pauline Christianity as inverted Platonism and as a building for Jewish priestly power, Nietzsche believes he has finished the major philosophical work. Everything else, all “revaluation of all values” naturally follows that, so that he is no longer committed but to ensure the propagation of this final “knowledge.” With it, on September 30, 1888 philosophy is finished!

“It’s all over,” Nietzsche writes to Carl Fuchs on December 18. Even before, it shone occasionally, and strangely, this split regarding his own work. Thus for example on July 18, 1888, Nietzsche makes the arrogant statement to Fuchs: “I have given men the deepest book they possess, my Zarathustra” (which is also repeated multiple times to other recipients), and Nietzsche adds a few lines later: “Since then I do nothing but buffoonery to keep beating a vulnerability and an unbearable tension,” an idea—that of being the “jester of the millennium”—that continues well into the time of the transition into darkness. The strangeness toward his latest work, The Genealogy of Morals, can be captured more accurately in the letter of August 22, 1888 to Meta von Salis:

The first glance I threw inside surprised me: I discovered a long prologue… whose existence I had forgotten… Actually I kept in memory only the title of the three treaties: the rest, the content, was lost. This is the result of extreme intellectual activity… which, as it were, had brought a wall in the middle… Those times I underwent an almost uninterrupted state of inspiration, so that this text emerged as the most natural thing in the world… The style is passionate and disturbing, full of finesses: flexible and colorful as I had not written such prose before.

Nietzsche took another decisive step still further in this way when he confesses to Köselitz on December 9, 1888:

A few days ago I leafed thru my writing, for which only now I am mature… I’ve done everything very well, but I had never thought of it… Damn, how much is hidden in there! —In the Ecce homo you will find a discovery on the third and fourth Untimely Meditations that will put you on the willies, as it did to me. Both speak only about me, anticipating… Neither Wagner nor Schopenhauer appear there psychologically… I could only understand these writings four days ago.

The reference to Ecce homo is to be taken very seriously. For very valuable and significant the biographical and data regarding the history of his work are, in this letter the interpretations of his books are to be taken with extreme care. The Nietzsche of Ecce homo is no longer the Nietzsche who wrote a philosophical work. He is now facing a stranger. He “interprets it,” thinks he only now understands his work; that only now he has a feel for it. Unwittingly, with the signing of the letter he reveals that he is not the same: “Yours, the phoenix.”

Thus start the mystifying pseudonyms. For example, in the December 18 letter to Fuchs he is “the monster,” and after the collapse the pseudonyms take full possession of him. After philosophy, what Nietzsche first lost is his identity. Just two weeks later, on December 31, 1888 (to Köselitz) he does not already know his address: “Suppose it could be in principle the Palazzo del Quirinale.” Turin, from which emerged the young Italian kingdom, and Rome, from where it dominates now, merge into one before that blotchy look.

Later Nietzsche sees himself as the organizer of a European congress of princes, who wants to convene on January 8, 1889 in Rome, the heart of “Imperium Romanum.” He has already drafted the invitations: one for the Italian king Umberto II, another for Mariani, the papal secretary of state, and one for the “House of Baden.”

What remains for the moment is poetry and music. But even poetry could not be maintained for long…