Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Nietzsche, A Man in Exile

Music to accompany this entry: Come, Gentle Night (Abel Korzeniowski)

Nietzsche was born in a village of Röcken, Germany, into a pious Christian family. His childhood memories of the Röcken idyll continued to exert an irresistible nostalgic pull on his soul for the rest of his life:
I was born in Röcken, near Lützen, on October 15,1844; I received in holy baptism name Friedrich Wilhelm. My father was the preacher in this village. […] Gifted in spirit and heart, adorned with all the virtues of a Christian, he lived a tranquil, simple, yet happy life, and who knew him respected and loved him. […] His leisure hours were filled by pursuit of science and music. He played piano with great skill, and was particularly adept at free variation... If there is one image that cannot be erased from my soul, surely I will never forget the familiar parsonage. For it was incised in my soul by a mighty stylus... (Juvenilia; 1, 4-5)
   But this idyll came to an abrupt end with the death of his father when he was less than five years old:
Heavy storm clouds towered over us, lightning flashed, and fatal blows from heaven struck us. […] In September 1848 my beloved father suddenly became emotionally disturbed. […] We sent for the famous doctor Opolcer who, to our consternation, took the illness to be a liquefaction of the brain... Finally, my father went blind and had to endure his suffering in eternal darkness. For long he was bedridden and [...] then he fell asleep quietly and blessedly †††† on July 27, 1849.  When I woke up in the morning I heard all around me weeping and sobbing. My dear mother came to me with tears and cried out: “Oh, God! My good Ludwig is dead!”... The thought that I would be separated forever from the beloved Father seized me, and I wept bitterly…
On the second of August the earthly remains of my father were consigned to the womb of the earth...At one o'clock in the afternoon the ceremonies began, with the bells pealing their loud knell. Oh, I shall never forget the hollow clangour in my ears. […] Through the church hall the sounds of the organ roared... (ibid).
   Nietzsche never recovered from this loss; he was exiled from this paradise forever.

   The family moved to the cathedral city of Naumburg. In recognition of his precocious abilities, young Nietzsche was offered a scholarship at the prestigious Schulpforta (a German Eaton), a few miles walk from his new home. Two poems composed during his adolescence could be regarded as leitmotivs of his life. One of them, entitled “To the Unknown God”, reads:

Once more, before I wander on
and turn my glance forward,
I lift up my hands to you in loneliness—
you, to whom I flee,
to whom in the deepest depth of my heart
I have solemnly consecrated altars,
so that your voice
might summon me again. [...]
I want to know you, Unknown One,
you who have reached deep into my soul,
into my life like a gust of a storm,
you incomprehensible yet related one!
I want to know you, even serve you.
(Juvenilia, 2, 428)

   It’s almost difficult to imagine that it was penned by a future Antichrist. I have written in depth about Nietzsche’s ambivalent relationship with God in my paper “Nietzsche Contra God: A Battle Within”.

   This second poem conveys Nietzsche’s sense of inner homelessness, which accompanied him throughout this life:

Fugitive horses carry
me without fear and hesitation
through the wild distance.
And whoever sees me knows me,
and whoever knows me calls me
the homeless man.
Never forsake me!
My happiness, you bright star!

No one may dare
to ask me
where my homeland is.
I am really not bound
to space and fugitive  hours,
I am just as free as the Aar!
Never forsake me!
My happiness, you lovely May!

That I eventually must perish,
must kiss bitter death-
that I scarcely believe.
Must I sink into the grave
and never again drink
the fragrant froth of life?
Never forsake me
my happiness, you colourful dream!             
(Without a Homeland, Juvenilia; 2, 87)

   I have visited the above places several times and on each occasion I felt shrouded by a mist of melancholy and loss. Few fit the description of Kierkegaardian despair more than Nietzsche, perhaps with the exception of Hamlet with whom he had a great affinity. Had Nietzsche read Kierkegaard’s works, he would have probably related to his Sickness unto Death where despair is regarded as a deadening emotion, which makes us want to escape from ourselves, to escape into an inner exile. Hamlet called it “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns”.

Nietzsche’s self-imposed external exile was secondary to the homelessness of his mind. Yet, his longings for ‘the paradise lost’ persisted and led to idealised friendships with Wagner and Lou Salome. Perhaps his creativity could be interpreted as a bridge between these contradictory states of mind.