Master Builders

A Typology of the Spirit

by Stefan Zweig

Translated from the German
by Eden and Cedar Paul
Viking Press, 1930


The Struggle with the Daimon


Excerpted from the introduction:

Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche are obviously alike even in respect of the outward circumstances of their lives; they stand under the same horoscopical aspect. One and all they were hunted by an overwhelming, a so-to-say superhuman power, were hunted out of the warmth and cosiness of ordinary experience into a cyclone of devastating passion, to perish prematurely amid storms of mental disorder, and one of them by suicide.

A power greater than theirs was working within them, so that they felt themselves rushing aimlessly through the void. In their rare moments of full awareness of self, they knew that their actions were not the outcome of their own volition but that they were thralls, were possessed (in both senses of the word) by a higher power, the daimonic.

I term “daimonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving—with tense passion—to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daimon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction. But in those of common clay, this factor of our composition which is both precious and perilous proves comparatively ineffective, is speedily absorbed and consumed. In such persons only at rare moments, during the crises of puberty or when, through love or the generative impulse, the inward cosmos is heated to the boiling point, does the longing to escape from the familiar groove, to renounce the trite and the common-place, exert its mysterious way. For the daimon cannot make its way back to the infinite which is his home except by ruthlessly destroying the finite and the earthly which restrains him, by destroying the body wherein, for a season, he is housed.

Thus it comes to pass that everyone whose nature excels the commonplace, everyone whose impulses are creative, wrestles perforce with his daimon. This is a combat of titans, a struggle between lovers, the most splendid contest in which we mortals can engage. Many succumb to the daimon’s fierce onslaught as the woman succumbs to the passion of the impetuous male; they are overpowered by his preponderant strength; they feel themselves joyfully permeated by the fertilizing element. Many subjugate him; their cold, resolute, purposive will constrains his ardours to accept their guidance even while he animates their energies.

Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche were the Promethean race which is in revolt against customary forms and tends thereby to destroy itself. There is no art worthy of the name without daimonism, no great art that does not voice the music of the spheres.

The first thing that is obvious in Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche is their detachment from the world. The daimon plucks away from realities those whom he holds in his grip. Not one of the three had wife or children, any more than had their congeners Beethoven and Michelangelo; they had neither fixed home nor permanent possessions, neither settled occupation nor secure footing in the world. They were nomads, vagrants, eccentrics; they were despised and rejected; they lived in the shadows. Not one of them ever had a bed to call his own; they sat in hired chairs, wrote at hired desks, and wandered from one lodging-house to another. Nowhere did they take root; not even Eros could establish binding ties for those whom the jealous daimon had espoused. Their friendships were transitory, their appointments fugitive, their work unremunerative; they stood ever in vacant spaces and created in the void. Thus their existence was like that of shooting stars, which flash on indeterminable paths, whereas Goethe circled in a fixed orbit.

For Kleist, Hölderlin and Nietzsche, living was not to be learned, nor worth learning. Fire became their element; flame, their mode of activity; and their lives were perpetually scorched in the furnaces which alone made their work possible. As time went on, they grew even more lonely, more estranged from the world of men. To the daemonic temperament reality seems inadequate: Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche, each in his own way, were rebels against the existing order.

The formula of Goethe’s life was the circle, a closed curve; that of an existence perfectly rounded and self-contained; the daimonics’ curve is the parabola: a steep, impetuous ascent, an uprush into limitless space, a brusque change of direction, followed by no less a steep, a no less impetuous decline. The climax, both in respect of imaginative creation and in respect to the artist’s personal life, is reached immediately after the fall. Goethe’s death, on the other hand, is an inconspicuous point in the circle; but the life of the daimonic terminates in an explosion or a conflagration. In the latter case death compensates for the material poverty of life.

Invariably, even in the most perplexing and most dangerous manifestations, the creative genius has a value supreme over other values, a meaning profounder than that of all other meanings.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:46 am  Comments Off on Master Builders  

A one-man drama

The tragedy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s life was that it happened to be a one-man show, a monodrama wherein no other actor entered upon the stage: not a soul is at his side to succour him; no woman is there to soften by her ever-present sympathy the stresses of the atmosphere. Every action takes its birth in him, and its repercussions are felt by him alone. Not one person ventures to enter wholeheartedly into the innermost sanctum of Nietzsche’s destiny; the poet-philosopher is doomed to speak, to struggle, to suffer alone. He converses with no one, and no one has anything to say to him. What is even more terrible is that none hearken to his voice.

In this unique tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche had neither fellow-actors nor audience, neither stage nor scenery nor costume; the drama ran its course in a spaceless realm of thought. Basel, Naumburg, Nice, Sorrento, Sils-Maria, Genoa, and so forth are so many names serving as milestones on his life’s road; they were never abiding-places, never a home. The scene having once been set, it remained the same till the curtain was rung down; it was composed of isolation, of solitude, of that agonizing loneliness which Nietzsche’s own thoughts gathered around him and with which he was entrapped as by an impenetrable bell-glass, a solitude wherein there were no flowers or colours or music or beasts or men, a solitude whence even God was excluded, the dead and petrified solitude of some primeval world which existed long ago or may come into being æons hence.

At first, while he was professor of Basel University and could speak his mind from the professorial chair, and while Wagner’s friendship thrust him into the limelight, Nietzsche’s words drew attentive listeners; but the more he delved into his own mind, the more he plunged into the depths of time, the less did he find responsive echoes. One by one his friends, and even strangers, rose to their feet and withdrew affrighted at the sound of his monologue, which became wilder and more ecstatic as the philosopher warmed to his task. Thus was he left terribly alone, upon the stage of his fate. Gradually the solitary actor grew disquieted by the fact that he was talking into the void; he raised his voice, shouted, gesticulated, hoping to find a response even if it were no better than a contradiction.

Thus the drama was played to a finish before empty seats, and no one guessed that the mightiest tragedy of the nineteenth century was unrolling itself before men’s eyes. Such was Friedrich Nietzsche’s tragedy, and it had its roots in his utter loneliness. Unexampled was the way in which an inordinate wealth of thought and feeling confronted a world monstrously void and impenetrably silent. The daimon within him hounded him out of his world and his day, chasing him to the uttermost marge of his own being.

Nietzsche never tried to evade the demands of the monster whose grip he felt. The harder the blows, the more resonantly did the unflawed metal of his will respond. And upon this anvil, brought to red heat by passion, the hammer descended with increased vigour, forging the slogan which was ultimately to steel his mind to every attack. “The greatness of man; amor fati; never desiring to change what has happened in the past; what will happen in the future and throughout eternity; not merely to bear the inevitable, still less to mask it, but to love it.”

This fervent love-song to the Powers smothers the cry of his heart. Thrown to earth, oppressed by the mutism of the world, gnawed by the bitterness and sorrow, he never once raised his hands to implore a respite. Quite otherwise! He demanded to be yet further tortured, to become yet more isolated, to be granted yet deeper trials; the greatest to which mortal man can be put. “O will of my soul that I call fate, thou who art in me and above me, take care of me and preserve me for a great destiny.”



These are only excerpts of a chapter of The Struggle with the Daimon, as in earlier or later installments of this series. A new edition of Zweig’s book, with syntax modified for readers of our century (I prefer the 1930 edition that I quote by direct typing from the text), is now available in the market.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:29 am  Comments Off on A one-man drama  

Twofold portrait

To obtain a real likeness of the man, we need to see him in his actual surroundings. What were they? A dinning-room in some modest boarding-house, quarters in an equally modest hotel among the Swiss mountains or on the Italian Riviera; insignificant fellow-boarders, for the most part elderly females, experts in small talk.

Quietly and even timidly he sought the place reserved to him at the table, and he remained shrouded in an uncanny silence during the meal. One felt that this was a man who dwelt among the shadows, a man beyond the pale of human society and conversation, one who winced at the slightest noise. He would bow courteously to his fellow-guests, wishing them politely “God day”; and in return his fellow-guests would with equal polite indifference greet “the German professor.” There was never any wine or beer or coffee served where he sat; he smoked neither cigar nor cigarette after meals.

Immediately the meal was ended he would retire to his room, a typical chambre garnie, exiguous and chilly and dowdy. The table was usually littered with sheets of manuscript, with jottings on scraps of paper, with proofs. Not a flower, not an ornament, hardly a book, seldom a letter would be found.

One fine day he might take a stroll, but he would invariably go alone, alone with his thoughts. Never did he encounter a soul to cheer him, never did he have a companion, never did he meet an acquaintance. He hated gray weather, rain, snow which dazzled his eyes; and during such inclement days he would remain a prisoner in his dingy room. He never paid calls, never came in touch with other human beings. Of an evening he supped on a few biscuits and very weak tea, which having swallowed, he would resume his endless communing with his thoughts. A gulp of chloral or another soporific, and he would snatch at sleep, a sleep which is the facile boon of those who do not think overmuch and who are not perpetually harassed by the daimons.

Everywhere he went, the chambre garnie was the same. The names of the towns he visited changed from Sorrento to Turin, from Venice to Nice or Marienbad, but the chambre garnie remained identical, a rented room, a room totally lacking in any feeling of home.

During all the years of his pilgrimage he never once put up in friendly and cheerful surroundings, never at night felt the warm body of a woman pressing against him; never did the sun rise to see him famous, after a thousand nights of dark and silent labour. How immeasurably vaster was Nietzsche’s loneliness than is the picturesque highland of Sils-Maria where between luncheon and tea our tourists wander in the hope of capturing some of the glamour that clings to a spot sanctified by his presence. Nietzsche’s solitude was as wide as the world; it spread over the whole of his life until the very end. Conversation wearied and irritated him who constantly gnawed at his own vitals and whose hunger for himself, and himself alone, was never satiated.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:25 am  Comments Off on Twofold portrait  

Apologia for illness

That which does not kill me
strengthens me.

Nietzsche’s body was afflicted with so many and varied tribulations that in the end he could with perfect truth declare: “At every age of my life, suffering, monstrous suffering, was my lot.” Headaches so ferocious that all he could do was to collapse onto a couch and groan in agony, stomach troubles culminating in cramps when he would vomit blood, migrainous conditions of every sort, fevers, loss of appetite, exhaustion, hæmorrhoids, intestinal stasis, rigors, night-sweats—a gruesome enumeration, indeed. In all his correspondence there are barely a dozen letters in which a groan or a cry of lamentation does not go up from every page.

A time came when his vocabulary of superlatives was exhausted, and he found no words to describe his anguish. The rack called forth monotonous cries, repeated with increasingly rapidity and becoming less and less human. They reach our ears from the depths of what he described as “a dog’s life.” Then, suddenly, like lighting in a clear sky—and none of us can fail to be taken aback by so unprecedented a contradiction—he announced in his Ecce Homo: “Summa, summarum, I have enjoyed good health” (he is referring to the fifteen years which preceded his mental death)—a fine expression of faith, strong, proud, clear-cut, seeming to tax with falsehood the groans of despair that had gone before. Which are we to believe, the cries of distress or the lapidary aphorism?

His vitality was less resistant during rainy and overcast weather: “grey skies make me feel horribly depressed”; heavy clouds disturbed him “to the very inwards”; “rain takes all the strength out of me”; dampness enfeebled, drought renewed his vigor, the sun brought him to life again, winter was for him a kind of “lockjaw” and filled his mind with thoughts of imminent death. The fluctuations of his nerve-barometer were like those of April weather, rushing from one extreme to another, “he triumphed and he saddened with all weather.” What he needed was a serene, a cloudless landscape, high up on a plateau of the Engadine, where no wind came to disturb the peace and calm. In this livest of thinkers, body and mind were so intimately wedded to atmospheric phenomena that for him interior and exterior happenings were identical.

Soon, however, the “dry” climate of Nice lured him south again, and after staying there for a while he went to Genoa and Venice. Now he longed for the woodlands, then he craved for the sea; again he wished to live on the shores of a lake, or in some quiet and little town where he could procure “simple but nourishing food.”

I wonder how many thousands of kilometers Nietzsche traveled in quest of the fairyland where his nerves might find repose. He pondered over huge works on geology, hoping to find the exact place where he might win repose of body and tranquility of mind. Distance was no obstacle to its attainment: he planned a journey to Barcelona, and voyages to the mountains of Mexico, to Argentina, to Japan. Notes were made on the temperature and the atmospheric pressure at each place he selected; the local rainfall was scheduled to the uttermost exactitude.

As soon as his mind had ceased to pity his body, no longer participated in its sufferings, he recognized that his life had acquired a new perspective and his illness a deeper significance. Consciously, well knowing what he was about, he now accepted the burden, accepted his fate as a necessity, and since he was a fanatical “advocate for life,” loving the whole of his existence, he accepted his sufferings with the “Yes” of his Zarathustra and, as accompaniment to his tortures, sang the jubilant hymn “again and yet again for all eternity!”

He discovered (with the joy he invariably felt in the magic of the extremes) that he owed to no earthly power so much as to his illness, that, indeed, it was his tortures that he had to thank for his greatest blessing. “Illness itself frees me,” he wrote; illness was the midwife that brought his inner man into the world, and the pains he experienced were labor pains. Henceforward the tortured poet-philosopher sang a pæan of gratitude to “holy suffering,” recognizing that through suffering alone can man attain to knowledge. “Great suffering is the ultimate liberator of the mind, it alone constrains us to plunge into our innermost depths,” and he who has suffered “even unto the agony of death” has the right to pronounce the words: “I know life better because I have so often been on the verge of losing it.” It was out of torment, it was when he was upon the rack, that he formulated his creed.

Like all those possessed by the daimon, he was a slave to his own ecstasy. Health! Health! This was the device inscribed upon his banner. Health was the standard of every value, the aim of life, the meaning of the universe. After ten years of groping in the dark, suffocating with torments, he quelled his groans so as to intone a hymn of praise in honour of vitality, of brute force, of power-intoxicated strength.

In Ecce Homo he boasted of his unfailing health, denied that he had ever been ill; and yet this book was penned on the eve of his mental breakdown. His pæan was not sung to life triumphant but, alas, to his own death. No longer are we listening to the ideas of a scientifically trained mind but to the incoherent words of the daimon which had taken possession of its victim. The euphoria of this penultimate phase is a well-known symptom preceding the final collapse.

Ideas flowed from him like a cascade of fire, his tongue spoke with a primitive eloquence, music invaded every nook and cranny of his being. Withersoever he looked, he saw the reign of peace. Passers-by smiled at him as he roamed the streets. Every letter he wrote conveyed a divine message, glowed with happiness. In the last letter he was fated to write, he said to Peter Gast: “Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and the heavens rejoice.” Out of the same heavens came the bolt which laid him low, mingling in an indissoluble interval of time every suffering and every beatitude.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:23 am  Comments Off on Apologia for illness  

The Don Juan of the intellectual world

What is of genuine importance is
eternal vitality, not eternal life.

Knowledge was Kant’s daily and nightly companion; she lived with him and bedded with him for forty years on the same spiritual couch; he procreated with her a family of German philosophical systems whose descendants still live with us in every middle-class circle. His relationship to truth was essentially monogamous. The urge that brought Schelling, Fichte, Hegel and Schopenhauer to philosophy was a desire for order, a desire which has nothing daemonic about it, but is typical of the easy-going German nature, objective and professional, tending to discipline the mind and to establish a well-ordered architectonic of existence. They love truth, honourably, faithfully, durably. No selfishness has any place in this love, there is nothing erotic about it, no desire to consume or be consumed in the furnace of passion. Each of them built a house.

Nietzsche’s craving for knowledge arose from a totally different emotional world. Everything allured him; nothing was able to retain his interest. So soon as a problem had lost its virginity, had lost the charm and mystery of maidenhood, he forsook it pitilessly, without jealousy, for others to enjoy if they cared—as did Don Juan, his brother so far as the impulsive life was concerned, in the case of his mille e tre. Nietzsche yearned to seduce, to lay bare, to penetrate voluptuously, and to violate every spiritual object—“to know” in the Biblical sense of the word, when a man “knows” a woman and thereby filches her secret.

Nietzsche, therefore, never set up house with knowledge so as to economize and preserve; he built no spiritual home over his head. Maybe it was a nomadic instinct which forced him into a position of never owning anything. Other German philosophers lived in a quasi-epic tranquility; they spun their theories quietly from day to day, sitting commodiously in an armchair, and their thought-process hardly raised their blood-pressure by a single degree. Kant never produces the impression of a mind seized by thought as by a vampire, and painfully enduring the terrible urge of creation; Schopenhauer from thirty onwards, after he had published The World as Will and Idea, seems to me a staid professor who has retired on a pension and has accepted the conviction that his career is finished.

Now, what renders this life unique and tragical is precisely the absence of repose in Nietzsche’s searchings, his incessant urge to think, his compulsory advance. These make his life a work of art.

Nietzsche’s complaint, therefore, moves us profoundly. “One falls in love with something, and hardly has this something had time to become a deep-felt love than the tyrant within, which we should do well to name our higher self, claims our love for the sacrifice. And we yield to the dictator, though ourselves consumed in a slow fire.” Don Juan’s natures have ever to be wrenched from love’s embraces, for the daimon of dissatisfaction incessantly urges them to further exploits—the same daimon that harried Hölderlin and Kleist and harries all those who worship the infinite.

For the first time in the ocean of German philosophy the black flag was hoisted upon a pirate ship. Nietzsche was a man of a different species, of another race, of a novel type of heroism; his philosophy was not clad in professorial robes, but was harnessed for the fray like a knight in shining armour.

He was a member of no creed, had never sworn allegiance to any country. With the black flag at his masthead and steering into the unknown, into incertitude which he felt to be the mate of his soul, he sailed forward to ever-renewed and perilous adventures. Sword in hand and powder-barrel at his feet, he left the shores of the known behind him and sang his pirate song as he went:

I know whence I spring.
Insatiable as a flame,
I glow and consume myself.
All I touch flashes into fire,
All I leave is a charred remnant.
Such by nature am I—flame.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:21 am  Comments Off on The Don Juan of the intellectual world  

Passion for sincerity

Early in his career Nietzsche had planned to write a work entitled Passio nuovo, or the Passion for Sincerity. The book was never written; but, what was perhaps better, it was lived in Nietzsche’s own person. For throughout the philosopher’s years of growth and change, a fanatical passion for truthfulness remained as the primitive and fecundating element of all he undertook. For such reasons the sincerity of a man like Nietzsche has nothing akin to the trite honesty of a carefully trained gentleman. His love of truth is a flame, a demon of veracity, a demon of lucidity, is a hunting beast ever on the prow.

Such an attitude of mind accounts for Nietzsche’s detestation of those who, through slackness or cowardice in the realm of thought, neglect the sacred task of straightforwardness; hence his anger against Kant, because that philosopher, while turning his blind eye to the postern, allowed the concept of the godhead to slip back into his system. Lacking sincerity, we cannot hope to attain to knowledge; lacking resoluteness, we cannot hope to be sincere. “I become blind from the moment when I cease to be sincere. If I wish to know, I must be sincere, that is to say, I must be hard, severe, narrow-minded, cruel, inexorable.”

Like all fanatics, he sacrificed even those he loved (as in the case of Richard Wagner, whose friendship had been for Nietzsche one of the most hallowed). He allowed himself to become penurious, solitary, detested, an anchorite and miserable, solely with a view to remaining true to himself, in order to fulfill his mission as apostle of sincerity. This passion for sincerity became, as time elapsed, a monomania in which the good things of life were absorbed.

Nietzsche practised philosophy as a fine art; and, as an artist, he was not concerned with results, with definitive things, with cold calculations. What he sought was style, “morality in the grand style,” and as an artist he experienced and enjoyed the pleasures of unexpected inspiration. It may be a mistake to apply the word philosopher to such a man, for a philosopher is “the lover of wisdom.”

Passion can never be wise. More appropriate to him would be the appellation, “philaleth,” a passionate lover of Aletheia, of truth, of the virginal and cruelly seductive goddess who never tires of luring her admirers into an unending chase, and finally remains inaccessible behind her tattered veils. Nietzsche, as the slave and servant of the daimon, sought excitement and movement pushed to an extreme. Such a fight for the inaccessible has a heroic quality, and heroism almost invariably ends in the destruction of the hero.

Excessive claims for truth come into conflict with mundane affairs, for truth is implacable and dangerous. In the end, so fanatical an urge for truth kills itself. Life is, fundamentally, a perpetual compromise. How well Goethe, in whose character the essence of nature was so exquisitely poised, recognized this fact and applied it to all his understandings! If nature is to keep its balance, its needs, just as mankind needs, to take up an average position, to yield when necessary, to concede points, to form pacts.

He who presumes the right of non-participation, who refuses to compromise with the world around him, who breaks off relationships and conventions which have been slowly built up in the course of many centuries, becomes unnatural and anthropomorphic in his demands, and enters into opposition against society and against nature. The more such an individual “aspires to attain absolute integrity,” the more hostile are the forces of his epoch. If, like Hölderlin, he persists in an endeavor to give a purely poetical twist to an essentially prosaic existence, or if, following Nietzsche’s example, he aims at penetrating into the infinitude of terrestrial vicissitudes, in either case such an unwise desire constitutes a revolt against the customs and rules of society, separates the presumptuous being from his fellow-mortals, and condemns him to perpetual warfare which, splendid though it may be, is foredoomed to failure.

What Nietzsche named the “tragic mentality,” the resolve to probe any and every feeling to the uttermost, transcends spirit and invades the realm of fate, thereby creating tragedy. He who wishes to impose one single law upon life, who hopes, amid the chaos of passions, to make one passion (his own peculiar passion) supreme, becomes a solitary and in isolation suffers annihilation.

Nietzsche recognized the peril. But, as a hero in the realm of thought, he loved life precisely because it was dangerous and annihilated his personal existence. “Build your cities on the flanks of Vesuvius!” he exclaimed, addressing the philosophers in the endeavour to goad them into a more lofty consciousness of destiny; for the only measure of grandeur is, according to Nietzsche, “the degree of danger at which a man lives in relation to himself.” He only who takes his all upon the hazard has the possibility of winning the infinite; he only who risks his life is capable of endowing his earthly span with everlasting value. “Fiat veritas, pereat vita”; what does it matter if life be sacrificed so long as truth is realized? Passion is greater than existence, the meaning of life is of more worth than life itself.

The last few steps he took into this sphere were the most unforgettable and the most impressive in the gamut of his destiny. Never before had his mind been more lucid, his soul more impassioned, his words more tipped with joyful music, than when he hurled himself in full consciousness and wholeheartedly from the altitudes of life into the abyss of annihilation.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:20 am  Comments Off on Passion for sincerity  

Transformation in search of the true self

A snake which cannot slough its skin is
doomed to perish. So likewise, a mind
which is prevented from changing its
opinion ceases to be a mind.

Goethe’s life expanded around a fixed point, just as year by year a circle invisible to the outer world is added to the trunk of a tree. Patiently, thanks to an active though stubborn concentration of his energies, Goethe attained his maturity; he resolutely guarded his ego while defending his proper growth.

Nietzsche, the changeable, was perpetually obliged to destroy himself that he might reconstruct himself wholly.

Each of Nietzsche’s spiritual earthquakes destroyed the whole edifice of his convictions, and the philosopher was obliged to start building anew from the foundations. Nothing even grew quietly and imperceptibly and naturally with him; his inner being was never given a chance to develop and extend by a process of stealthy labor. Invariably he is struck “as if by lightning”; always his universe must be annihilated in order that the new cosmos may emerge.

“My books tell the story of the victories I have gained over myself.” They relate his manifold transformation, his spiritual pregnancies and lyings-in, his deaths and resurrections; they are tales of the merciless warfare he carried on against himself, the punishments and summary executions he inflicted upon his own being; they are the biographies of all the creatures Nietzsche impersonated during the twenty years of his mental existence.

What makes Nietzsche’s transformations so peculiar is that they seem retrogressive. If we take Goethe as the prototype of an organic nature in harmony with the forward march of the universe, we perceive that this development is symbolical of the various ages of life. In youth he was fiery and enthusiastic; as a man in his prime he was actively reflective; age brought him the utmost lucidity of mind. His mental rhythm corresponded in every point with the temperature of his blood. As with most young men, he began in chaos and ended his career in orderly fashion, as is seemly with the old. After going through a revolutionary period he turned conservative, after a phase of lyricism he became a man of science, after being prodigal of himself he learned how to be reserved.

Nietzsche took the opposite course. Instead of aspiring to an even more complete integration of his ego, he desired complete disintegration. As he advanced in years he became increasingly impatient, vehement, revolutionary, and chaotic. His outward aspect was in strident opposition to the customary evolution of a man.

While his university companions were still delighting in the usual horseplay of undergraduates, Nietzsche, though but twenty-four years old, was already a professor, aspirant to the chair of philology at Basel, that famous seat of learning. At twenty-four, Nietzsche’s intimates were men of fifty and sixty years of age, sages such as Jakob Burckhardt and Ritschl, while his closest friend was the most celebrated artist of the day—Richard Wagner. He deliberately put the brake upon his poetical aspirations and upon his love of music. Like any other pedant, he sat over his Greek texts, revising pandects, and compiling erudite indexes. From the outset, Nietzsche’s eyes were turned towards the dead past. Old before his time, a confirmed bachelor, he had no true joy in life. Professorial dignity swamped his cheerfulness, dimming what should have been his natural exuberance. He was wholly immersed in printed texts and in dryasdust problems.

His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was completed when he was twenty-seven. Herein he breached into the present, though his face was still wearing the mask of a philologist.

At the age of thirty, when most men are starting life, when Goethe became a minister of the State, and when Kant and Schiller were full-fledged professors, Nietzsche had kicked over the traces of his official duties and, with a sigh of relief, had quitted the chair of philology at Basel University. Now at last he came to grips with himself, seeking to penetrate into his personal universe, undergoing an initial transformation, rupturing old ties, and making his début as an artist. This initial step into the realm of the present was the moment when the real Nietzsche was born.

By the time he had reached his thirty-six year, Nietzsche had become an outlaw, an amoralist, a sceptic, a poet, a musician. He had regained “a better youth.” Such a course of rejuvenation is almost unprecedented. Having reached his fourth decade, Nietzsche’s language and his thoughts, his whole being, indeed, possess a freshness, a colour, a fearlessness, a passion, and a music he had never known as a lad of seventeen. The recluse of Sils-Maria had a lighter touch, his words soared on freer opinions, his feet danced more joyously through his works than had those of the prematurely old professor of twenty-four summers.

He could find no halting-place for his restless mind. Hardly had he settled down somewhere when he felt his “skin chapped and rent.” He himself felt as if he were confronting a ghost when someone referred to “Professor Friedrich Nietzsche of Basel”; it was hard enough even to remember that he had been such a person twenty years before. Has any human being, before him, made so trenchant a cleavage between past and present? Does not this severance account for the terrible solitude of his latter days? He had broken all the links which attached him to the past, and the furious rhythm of his life and of his ultimate transformations was too ardent for him to create new ties.

His ruthless amputation of the Wagner complex proved to be an extremely perilous surgical intervention, one that was almost fatal, because it came so very close to the heart. For, precisely at the moment when the form of his being was stretched to the utmost, his mental tensions culminated in disruption. The primitive and daimonic power exploded, annihilating the superb series of incorporations which he had created form his own blood and out of his own life while storming the hidden battlements of the infinite.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:08 am  Comments Off on Transformation in search of the true self  

Discovery of the south

Since my object is to portray Nietzsche’s life, not as a biography but as a tragedy of the spirit, as a work of dramatic art, for me his true work began when the artist in the man was released and became conscious of enfranchisement. So long as Nietzsche remained in his professional chrysalis he was nothing more than a problem for professorial brains to cudgel themselves over. But the winged being, “the aeronaut of the mind,” belongs to the realm of creative intelligence.

Goethe’s impression of Italy was a mental and æsthetic affair, whereas Nietzsche’s was vital in the extreme: the former brought home with him an artistic style, whilst the latter discovered in the land of the sun a style of life. Goethe was merely fecundated, whereas Nietzsche was completely uprooted, transplanted, renewed.

“Among the many laudable things I have learned in the course of this journey is the fact that it is impossible for me to live alone and away from my own country” [Goethe]. Turn this dictum the other way about and we get substantially the effect the South produced upon Nietzsche. His conclusions are diametrically opposed to Goethe’s, since he finds that henceforward he can live only in solitude and away from his native land. Goethe, after making an instructive and interesting journey, returns to the exact point whence he took his departure, carrying in his boxes, his heart, and his brain things precious and delightful for a home, for his home in particular. But Nietzsche expatriates himself and finds his true self, the “outlawed prince,” happy at having no home, no possessions, cut off for ever from the “parochial interests of a fatherland” and released from “patriotic strangulation.”

Once a freeman, always a freeman. Having felt the limpid Italian sky over his head, Nietzsche could no longer bear a suggestion of “obscurity,” whether proceeding from the clouds or from a professorial chair, from the Church or from the army. Never again, so far as Nietzsche was concerned, would Germany be free enough and light enough as nourisher of the mind. The halcyon skies are limpidly radiant.

It seems to me that in no other German author was the style of his writing so swiftly and completely renewed. Certainly none other was so flooded with sunshine, or ever became so enfranchised, so essentially southern, so divinely light of foot, so full of a good vintage, so pagan.

To find a change as rapid we have to turn to a painter in search of a comparison. A similar miracle, wrought likewise by the sun of the South, took place in van Gogh. The passage from the lugubrious tints in brown and grey of his Dutch canvases to the violet, crude, and strident colours splashed so generously upon his pictures of Provence was just as eruptive a transition. Van Gogh’s sudden mania for sunlight, his sudden and complete transference from one style of painting to another, is the only analogy that comes to my mind in the least comparable with the illumination the South brought to Nietzsche’s entire being. These two fanatical lovers of change were intoxicated with light, absorbed light with the vampire lust of passion, gulped down light in rapid and inconceivable large doses.

Not satisfied with light, Nietzsche desired “super-light”; clarity must be “super-clarity.” He wanted to be burned by the sun, not merely to be illuminated by it. Language, in its turn, became too narrow a medium, too material, too ponderous. A new element was required for the Dionysian dance that had begun within him; he needed more far-reaching liberties than could be offered while he remained a thrall to the written tongue. He therefore turned back to his first love, to music.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:03 am  Comments Off on Discovery of the south  

Flight into music

For many years music remained a private amusement to which Nietzsche delivered himself up in a spirit of irresponsible pleasure, with the pure delight of an amateur, a pastime altogether outside his main “mission” in life. Music flooded his being only after the philological crust had been removed, only when his erudite objectivity of outlook had become disintegrated, when his cosmos had been shattered as if by a volcanic eruption.

Precisely because he had pent up these primal springs of his nature for so long behind the damns of philology, erudition, and indifference, did they gush forth so vehemently and penetrate into every crevice, irradiating and liquefying his literary style. It was as if his tongue, which had hitherto sought to explain tangible things, had suddenly refused its allotted task and insisted upon expressing itself in terms of music. Even his punctuation—unspoken speech—his dashes, his italics, could find equivalents in the terminology of the elements of music.

The details of each work are vibrant with music, and the works as a whole read like symphonies. They no longer belong to the realm of architecture, of intellectual and objective creations, but are the direct outcome of musical inspiration. Of Thus Spake Zarathustra he himself says that it was written “in the spirit of the first phrase of the Ninth Symphony.” And how better can I describe the opening of Ecce Homo than as a magnificent organ prelude destined to be played in some vast cathedral? “Song of Night” and “Gondolier’s Chanty” resemble the croonings of primitive men in the midst of an infinite solitude. When was his inspiration more joyous and dancing, more heroic, more like a lilting cadence of the Grecian music of antiquity, than in the pæan indited during his ultimate outburst of happiness, in the Dionysian rhapsody? Illuminated from on high by the pellucid skies of the South, soaked from beneath by the waters of music, his language became as it were a wave, restless and immense.

Music, limpid, freedom-giving, and light, became the dearest solace of Nietzsche’s agitated mind. “Life without music is nothing but fatigue and error.” “Was a man ever so athirst for music as I?” He, the solitary wanderer cast out by the gods desired only that they should not rob him of this one consolation, this nectar, this ambrosia which eternally refreshed and reinvigorated the soul. “Art, nothing but art! Art was given us that we might not be slain by truth.”

The world had forsaken him; his friends had long since gone their ways and ignored his existence; his thoughts strayed forth on interminable pilgrimages. Music alone walked by his side, accompanying him into his final, his seventh, solitude.

When in the end he fell into the abyss, she watched over his obliterated mind. Overbeck, coming into the room after the catastrophe, found the unhappy madman sitting at the piano, his fingers fumbling the keys in a vain effort to find the harmonies so dear to him.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:01 am  Comments Off on Flight into music  

The seventh solitude

A great man is pushed and hustled and
martyrized until he withdraws into solitude.


Nietzsche lived in many different towns; he travelled into countless realms of the mind; frequently he endeavoured to escape from solitude by crossing a frontier into a foreign land; but always his journeyings brought him back to solitude, heartsore, weary, disillusioned.

His solitude had become complete isolation, the final, the seventh, solitude, wherein one is not merely alone but also forsaken. A void surrounded him, an awe-inspiring silence; no hermit or anchorite in the desert was ever more abandoned. They, at least, still had their God whose shade dwelt in their huts. But he, “the murderer of God,” had neither God nor man to companion him. To the extent that he drew nearer to himself, he receded from the world; and, as his voyages extended, “the desert widened” around him.

Generally the works conceived and written in loneliness gain more and more ascendancy upon the minds of men; by a magnetic force they attract increasing numbers of admirers into the invisible circle of their influence. But Nietzsche’s books alienated even his friends. In Germany no publisher would any longer accept his manuscripts. During his twenty years of production, his manuscripts accumulated in a cellar and came to weigh many hundredweight. He had to draw upon his own slender resources in order to get his books printed. Not only did nobody buy the few volumes that were issued, but he found no readers when he gave them away. So vast was the chasm between this man’s genius and the pettiness of the time.

Practically no reviewer or critic took the slightest notice of Zarathustra, which the author described as “the greatest gift ever bestowed upon men.” One day he lamented: “After such an appeal as my Zarathustra, a cry that came from my heart, it is terrible not to hear a responsive word, to hear nothing, absolutely nothing, to be surrounded by silence, to be a thousand times more isolated than heretofore. This is a situation exceeding all others in horror; even the strongest might die under the strain… And I am far from being the strongest. Sometimes it seems to me as though I were indeed wounded unto death.” This gnawed at his vitals, undermining his proper pride, inflaming his self-assertive impulse, consuming his soul. Lack of recognition was the shaft which poisoned his isolation, and raised his temper to fever-heat.

“Prolonged silence has exasperated my pride.” At all costs he wanted response, sending letter upon letter, telegram upon telegram. Blindly and wildly he flung his missiles far and wide, never looking to see if they hit the mark. Since he had slain the gods, he set himself up as a divinity. “Must we not become gods if we are to be worthy of such deeds?” Having overthrown all the altars, he built an altar for himself in order to praise himself, seeing that no one else would acknowledge him. He chanted his own dirge with enthusiasm and exultation, mingling it with songs celebrating his deeds and his victories. To begin with, a twilight covered the landscape of his mind as when black clouds stalk up from the horizon and distant thunder growls; then a strident laugh rent the sultry air, a mad, violent, and wicked laugh full of despair, heartbreaking: this was the pæan of Ecce Homo.

As the book develops, its cadences become increasingly spasmodic, the yells of laughter are more shrill amid the glacial silence; he is, as it were, outside himself. His hands are raised, his feet stamp rhythmically; he breaks into a dance, a dance over the abyss, the abyss of his own annihilation.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 3:00 am  Comments Off on The seventh solitude