Here’s a review of a new Nietzsche biography, The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche. The review (astutely titled “Nothing Nazi About Nietzsche”) wastes no time mentioning the damage Nietzsche’s sister did to his (Nietzsche’s) reputation:
Rabidly anti-Semitic (in later years she would support Hitler), Elisabeth rewrote and restructured Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscripts so as to make this anti-racist internationalist read like a Nazi before the fact. Worse, says Blue, most of Nietzsche’s biographers have written books bent out of shape by their unthinking acceptance of Elisabeth’s ‘statements and stories as uncontroversial facts’. Hence The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche, a volume which ‘aspires to be the biography that Nietzsche himself might have composed if he had possessed the inclination and the time’.
Yet Nietzsche did write autobiographies at various points throughout his life, and they all apparently feature his mother:
‘Autobiography’ was what Nietzsche wrote ‘in order to see who he was’. On the evidence adduced here, what he was was a mummy’s boy. As late as her son’s undergraduate days, Franziska Nietzsche was still lecturing him on what coat and trousers to wear in the rain. And whenever a more metaphysical storm broke, mum was always Nietzsche’s first port of call.
And while the review is not exactly a rave one, it does laud what I’m intending to do here, i.e. actually read Nietzsche’s work:
But does Blue offer as radically new a portrait of Nietzsche as he claims? On the whole, I’m afraid, no. In essence, what this book does is translate into biographical terms the more analytical findings of Walter Kaufmann’s still groundbreaking study Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Prior to the publication of that book in 1950, it was a critical commonplace that Nietzsche was a crazed Teutonic supremacist whose poetic ranting was of no philosophical worth. Kaufmann went back to the original texts to show how, far from being a proto-dictator, Nietzsche (who once called himself the ‘last anti-political German’) was in fact a proto-existentialist — a rationalist moralist who believed that the only thing worth conquering was the self.
“A rationalist moralist who believed that the only thing worth conquering was the self.” What an elegant description!
I haven’t read Nietzsche in months (too busy with Infinite Jest and, now, The Goldfinch). If nothing else, this review has reminded me to continue this project. After all, I didn’t really set an end date, and Nietzsche, in my experience, is best processed by periods of long reflection and brisk walks. In fact, I can think of no better way to celebrate the end of another work day by bringing my anthology down to the bar and revisiting the father of (modern) existentialism—during timeouts of the basketball game, of course.