Wordcarpenter Books

Non-Fiction

I Am Nietzsche
 
The life of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is explored in this biography, looking at his teaching life and the wandering years during his most productive phase. Written as a story, Nietzsche's Life takes the reader into the inner walls of the great thinker's life and re-examines his cause of physical and mental paralysis. Know the man and you will know his philosophy.
  

Röcken

(1844-1858)

  Chapter One

My First Years

It was said of me as a baby I learned to speak late, at age two and a half, due no doubt to my doting mother. When the local doctor was asked the reason for the mute little Fritz, I said: ‘Little Fritz is being served too solicitously and attentively; all his wishes are being fulfilled without delay, so why should I bother to speak!' I was told I first uttered a word when summoned to answer who the person was in the big portrait on the wall in front of me. Revering my grandmother as the unchallenged matriarch in our house, I blurted: ‘Grandma!' Of course, I knew it all along.

And following after my first word I put my mind to it and learned to read and write at age four. I knew I had it learn it so I didn't mess around. At a young age I knew there was no shortcut around hard work.

My father, the latest Nietzsche to become a Lutheran minister in the past five generations, died when I was five. I remember he was buried beside the local school he had attended. Doctors in Röcken at the time in the old Saxony province said he died of "softening of the brain," a significant diagnosis in light of my own demise. Modern doctors have associated the cause of my father's death as Alzheimer's, or an advanced form of dementia. He father was 45 when he died, the same age I was when I collapsed.

Allow me a moment to explain. I believed that man does not go to heaven or hell. He merely lives his life over and over again for eternity. An afterlife does exist, and it is in this manner that I tell of my life story as a record for history. I perhaps have 20-20 vision telling of the events that shaped my works so allow some license in a nonetheless partial recollection of how things happened and why. With all the confusion over who I was as a human being, let this account show the true events that befell me during my life's journey.

Within the year of my father's death my younger brother Joseph died. We buried him beside our father. At the time I didn't think this would change things that much, but it was to be a major cause of my attitude to assert control. This was because I was now the man of the house in a house full of demanding women. With Joseph's death it left me and my younger sister Elizabeth and my mother with aunts and a grandmother. Young Fritz assumed the role of eldest male early in his childhood. And I think part of this new role was an adopted melancholic demeanor, a disposition I wore with stoic justification. This would eventually lead to what some of my closest friends have told me that this melancholy demeanor was the dominant characteristic of my person.

Hand in hand with my melancholic male responsibilities was a thirst for solitude. Long walks exploring my sublime thoughts became one of my favorite pastimes, so that I was often seen walking at my own pace off in thought in regions previously unknown, when the young boy dreamed for the first time. A famous explorer from history believed that those who have the courage to dream not at night but during the day can achieve greatness. As a young man searching for the right path for my talents, I was a natural for these long philosopher's walks.

Perhaps innate or acquired through early loss, I often showed a tender side and kind temperament to those deserving of respect, an inborn sensitivity that one would assume is a prerequisite for anyone inclined towards contemplating principles of morality, the meaning of life and the earnest assertions to questions of mankind's existence. Because of this one could often discern a seriousness in the way I carried myself, as if mine was a holy purpose and was not to be disturbed. In fact my earliest ambition was to become a preacher like my father and my forefathers before him. A grave humility and kindness marked me as a young boy as I read my lessons and the Holy Book, as if I were an apprentice monk waiting to be.

One of my closest friends Wilhelm Pinder wrote in Spring of 1854 of his "young friend Fritz Nietzsche" in his journals that were written in earnest to record my life and to identify the sources of change in my becoming. He wrote of me that I showed interest in music and of my subsequent zeal in learning to play the piano. Young Pinder regarded me with wonderment at the ease in which I acquired my new musical skills, amazed that my exposure to music in the church had nourished such devotion. As a boy I had a deep appreciation of the divine nature of music, a rare showing of mature intelligence at such a young age. This no doubt was one of the reasons why young Wilhelm Pinder chose to keep a journal, as a record and witnessing to this odd and extraordinary young Friedrich Nietzsche, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, far-away looking son of a preacher.

Pinder's journals are full of references to the virtues of his young friend and of the giving and benevolence nature of my ways.

But from his writings it's important to note the early reference to my love of music. He wrote of the time we went into the city church in Röcken on Ascension Day and listened to the Hallelujah from the Messiah, and how when the notes reached a certain sound I had to chime in' to connect to the divine world on earth, that audible umbilical chord connecting man to heaven. So trying to re-create this spiritual connection to music was a task that I undertook for years after this event. By attempting to create a piece of music that could reproduce this bridge between man on earth and the sublime of divine contemplation was to mark this formative phase of my upbringing, which is significant when seen from the perspective of my subsequent career as a writer and thinker. A music in the mind as it were.

As a young man in the winter of 1958 I was ice-skating in the morning near my house with the other boys, taking part in this activity alone, intently focusing on the balance of my blades and the coordinated angles needed to stay away from injury, especially the ridicule of embarrassment from my friends. My young sister Elizabeth joined me on the frozen pond beside the red willows where she watched me skate, learning my techniques. When we took a breath at the edge if the ice we saw some young kids bullying a helpless boy with a hunched back. The kids threw snow on him and laughed, the hunchback berated and humiliated. When Elizabeth blurted:

"That's too mean!" I then approached the bullies and said:

"Stop! It is wrong to make fun of a poor misshapen boy like this. He's not fighting or hurting you. He is scared. There is no honor in what you do!" The eldest of the bullies raised his hand.

"Little Nietzsche is right! Shame on you, you little rascals," he said. "I tell you that whoever lays a hand on the hunchback from now on will get a beating!" Shamed, he criticized his friends for bullying the hunchback, thereafter never laying a finger on the hunchback.

After this incident the eldest boy made it his goal to be a good friend to Elizabeth and I. "You are good children!" The boy became such a loyal friend that he brought us candy, so that it might seem I had a follower - or groupie - at a very young age. But more importantly, it foreshadowed the last day of my sane life when I raised my arm to stop a man whipping his horse, throwing myself between the horse and the whip. To protect those more unfortunate, the innocent against tyranny and the instinct to correct a wrong were to become the bookends of my life.


 
Schulpforta

(1858-1864)
Chapter Two
As a Young Man

Many of my school friends have left accounts of me at the prestigious Schulpforta, the private school of note for nobles and sons of preachers. The Nietzsche family moved to nearby Naumburg in Saxony, to be close to me.

It is fair to concede that by all accounts I was regarded as a smart student and in general a serious affair with all topics of intellectual thought. My voice, deep yet soft, and the distant gleam in my eyes due to my worsening myopia, my fellow students watched me spend many afternoons in the local town not drinking beer as some students preferred, but drinking big cups of chocolate, which I drank hour after hour. I found the café life with hot chocolate conducive to serious thinking. It was time for my to develop my ideas and connect aspects of my education to my emerging world view of life. It's significance as a question, that of living a good life - eaudemonia - fell on my shoulders with gusto. Cafes and chocolate were great days for me to remember.

Of course as a way to ingratiate myself with the other boys to some degree, I played the piano for my fellow students when I was a senior, becoming known as a musician in my own right. But even in my music, the way I played, there were the murmurings of disrespect for authority - all authority, which created in me a self-irony I was able to employ as a defense against the oppressive powers of the school, the church and various societal powers. Deep within me as a young man was a rebel brewing, taking notes and learning the rules of the game before I could step forward from the herd and philosophize with a hammer!

At the time I didn't think it was a big thing when I started boarding at the school when I was 13. Within the strict discipline of the Northern German school I met friends who would remain friends of mine for my whole life. One of my best friends was Paul Deussen, who was my best friend during our school years, but whom I dismissed after I received a letter from Deussen showing envy and pride when I had been appointed professor without having taken my dissertation. It might be an odd quirk of mine but throughout my life I pushed away friends - all of them. Maybe it was a reflection of abandonment issues I might have had since the loss of my father and brother when I was a child.

Anyway, during my early years at the boarding school I assumed a leading role in class. I was a class-leader in 1859. And that was when I first came in contact with Deussen. When patrolling down the aisles of the classroom during study period, I remember leaning over to Deussen, who was eating a roll for breakfast, and said:

"Don't talk so loud to your roll!" I continued down the aisle and looked at the students and for trouble. I liked even at that early point in my life, to ensure order and to point out defects in others. But Deussen was a good chap. We were soon brought together by the poetry of Anacreon. Poetry of words matched the sublime magnificence of music, and seeing that Deussen shared the faculty of appreciation for such art, we took long walks around campus and by the old trees lining the boundary of the school, reading verse and declaring a bond of friendship between us, a confirmation of our loyalty to each other. We had a pact of friendship. To make it official, we returned to our dormitory where instead of drinking to our new bond we took some snuff from Deussen's private trunk at the foot of his bed.

"You and I are now best friends," he declared in solemn oath to me. (Deussen used the familiar "du" and not the formal "Sie.") This was on Laetare Sunday in 1861. Not long after this as best friends at a fellow student's confirmation we went to the altar side-by-side and knelt together to receive consecration on our knees. The two of us remained best friends during our five years at Schulpforta.

As is the case with other all-male boarding schools throughout the world, there was a ‘wild' clique that arose consisting of those boys who preferred to drink and smoke rather than study. At Schulpforta students would call anyone who studied too much a ‘Philistine,' and so Deussen and I gravitated towards this Philistine clique to avoid mockery. Then an incident occurred that would change our friendship.

One morning in the library I caught him reading about the adventures of Hannibal.

"So that is what you are doing and those are the ways and means you use to outdo your comrades and put yourself in the teachers' good graces!" I said to him with some spice. "Well, the others will probably tell it to you even more clearly!"

Discovered, Deussen made me promise not to tell the other kids that he was studying in the library before the others were awake so he could get ahead and impress his teachers. Valuing trust and loyalty I never told any of our friends. But I did befriend a boy name Meyer. Handsome and rebellious by nature, he and I became good friends at the exclusion of Deussen, who we gave the silent treatment.

Meyer of course caught wind of Deussen's competitive and studious behavior, and then gave vent to his displeasure with the lines:

In the early morning at the first dawning,

When everyone else soundly sleeps,

Already the philistine is yawning

As down from the dorm he creeps.

For the next six weeks we gave Deussen the silent treatment until finally we stopped him in the hall and set him up for a joke in Italian.

"Che ora è?" Surprised, Deussen to a moment and then replied.

"Otto ore, in tre minuti."[1]

Since Deussen had used the wrong gender for the word "minute," he was red-faced from the exchanged and was determined to strike back. The chance came soon afterwards when in class I was trying to make a point to improve not only on tradition but on the author himself, the teacher sighed in resignation at my inaccurate loftiness. That's when Deussen make a comment.

"Nietzschius erravit, neque coniectura probanda est."[2]

It brought the desired affect of laughter and some humiliation to me. My haughty disposition was stung. But this was not the end of the affair. After class in the dormitory, two groups sat in circles talking dismissively at each other through a middleman. We said to him:

"'Tell Deussen this...' and ‘Tell Meyer that...'" until the middleman was done away with and the two parties, led by Meyer and I against Deussen, confronted each other directly. The exchange of words brought about a quieting between us, but soon I couldn't maintain the hollow phoniness required to carry out these immature behaviors. So we reconciled, and Meyer soon afterwards was kicked out of the school during the year before graduation.

The sharing of interests brought us together in earnest, spending hours in an empty auditorium, Deussen reciting Schiller's The Bell while I improvised on the piano. These numerous sessions made an impression on the other students at the school, and as a result I was regarded as a boy who composed his own music, was weak in mathematics, and someone who wrote excellent German essays. But some thought of my shy nature and reserved ways was a lacking of esprit de corps and perhaps a lack of character.

But I must say, many did not have that faculty of sensitivity to understand me, many young boys having yet to harness this capacity. Objectively speaking, I was a whirlwind of idealism, and anything that worked in reality and was based in real life was anathema to my rampant and revered idealism. In this I inspired Deussen and others, but also alienated some of the harder boys from tougher backgrounds. I reveled in topics of poetry, philosophy, music, religion, fine arts and literature, and was elitist in character yet by no means not apart from my epoch in history and my immediate milieu.

Being a boarding school, we were all under intense scrutiny by the others and I was not left undone. Noticeable to Deussen and my friends was my lack of expertise reciting verse. For someone who loved the written and sung word with such passion, it was incongruous that I had no panache for storytelling or play-acting. Even during the school's annual play, I was never awarded a role of significance. The only small role I was ever given resulted in a choked, and timid execution, being simply too serious to adopt play-acting.

This role was remembered by Deussen later in life, when I played the role of Percy in Henry IV on the tricentennial of Shakespeare's birth in 1864:

"I'll keep all these," I said on stage in front of the school, but when acting was required none was evident. For someone with my many natural abilities, it was a revelation to Deussen and some of my enemies at the school that I had this kink in my character. I could not suffer fools lightly.

Some things you never live down.

Some said of the young Nietzsche that he could not tell a joke but could spray a room with many clever remarks. He didn't take to sports other than swimming, which the blonde-haired boy excelled at. But the other more knightly sports did not capture his imagination.

In gymnastics, which was valued in the Greek-based schooling philosophy of Schulpforta, I did not excel, being somewhat susceptible to corpulence as a young man. The simple act of jumping over an obstacle with both legs raised and in front proved to be a very demanding exercise during one physical education class that left me sweating and red in the face. For many sports it was my myopia that prevented me from really being able to fully engage in a given sport.

When I had my eyes examined during this period, the doctor had told me my myopia was serious and that it might lead to blindness eventually in older age. Needless to say this scared me and I was to care for my weakening eyes for the rest of my life.

I think it was when I sided with Meyer for a time I left behind the safe world of drinking hot chocolate and reading for hours, and moved into a new world of drinking and tobacco. Now, I was never that much of a drinker, but I had an incident from which I would suffer from for the rest of my days at the princely school. The one time I returned to campus after drinking in town made a big impression on the masters at the school. Having been the leader of my class since my first year, I was stripped of my class leadership that I was never able to regain in my remaining years. This rankled and spurred me to pursue my ruminations against authority and lure myself away from the straight and narrow into the world of vice and loose morals.

But instead of pouting I redoubled my efforts at my studies and during my final year at the school, rather than doing all the assignments required for a fifth-year student to graduate, I chose to write a long essay instead. Deussen joined me in this endeavor, illustrating how far we had both grown intellectually and the confidence we had developed. I wrote an essay that shows my interests at the time, which would eventually lead to my first published book The Birth of Tragedy. I wrote about the poems of Theognis in which I explored the words "good" and "bad" being synonymous with the words "aristocratic" and "plebian." Here lies the heart of My Apollo and Dionysus dichotomy so prevalent in my later writings.

Otto Bendorf, as teacher at the school from 1864-1866, thought I was genial and always keen to engage in philosophical discussions. Deussen and I first became acquainted when Professor Bendorf gave lectures on the sculptures of Apollo and Dionysus he had brought to the school as part of a plaster museum he helped set up. Lectures given in the church every Sunday attracted the upperclassman to these lectures, which often resulted in me taking part in the ideas and points of discussion after the talk was over. This trait of being genial came to the professor's attention because within the tough boarding school world geniality was seldom found. The nobility of what he saw as my intellectual honesty flourished in this atmosphere of sharing ideas, revealing an astonishing range of books I had read and ideas I had learned. It was a world in which I felt comfortable and confident, a world in which I was setting out to become my full-time occupation.

Picture me with my long hair and my moderately robust health, I must have come across as perhaps a budding Bohemian, a beret-wearing philosopher chomping at the bit to begin his long hours reading and writing in the cafés of Paris and the lecture halls of the Sorbonne. As was expected, the wisdom of the teachers at the famous German private school prevailed and they saw me moving swiftly towards graduation as a natural thinker who, whether they agreed with my lines of thought or not, were impressed by my clarity of thought and crisp rationale on a wide range of important philosophical subjects.

While leaving this impression on my teachers, like Bendorf and the Plato scholar Steinhart, I also left a lasting impression on another long-term friend A. Fritsch. From the many days of playing the piano to the poems recited by Deussen, young Fritsch saw me as the piano player who had a knack for improvisation. He was part of the student body a few years younger who looked up to these upper-school prefects who were respected enough to be given permission to play the grand piano in the school auditorium without supervision. There was an awe and reverence that Deussen and I were aware of, which lent the afternoons an originality of its own. From these music sessions Fritsch remembered me when he arrived at Leipzig a few years later. We bumped into each other at the Rector's house, where I offered to help the young student into university life.

[1] "When is class?" "Eight o'clock, in three minutes."

[2] "Nietzsche was wrong, and his conjecture is indemonstrable."

 
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Table of Contents:

Chapter One: My First Years

Chapter Two: As a Young Man

Chapter Three: University Years

Chapter Four: Finding My Niche

Chapter Five: Professor of Philology

 

 
 "The work of the philosopher is his life,
first of all;
that is his work of art."
 
 

 
 

Friedrich Nietzsche 1872, age 28
 

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