A One-Man

Reading Nietzsche is like listening to the echoes of my life, from the past, present and future. How is that knowledge of life unconcealed to me as such? After all, the knowledge derives from the typical experience, from my body instead of supra-sensory world (a great lot for me to become a true atheist). The knowledge is the recoveries from illnesses, a greater health that can only be learnt after great sufferings, a will conjoined with health and illness, affirming both, and later on being affirmed to its fullest. Henceforth sufferings have to be affirmed. In order to keep my mind elaborating thoughts and visions, anything that may halt the sufferings is excluded from my stage (I hope is instead of needs to be shows the difference from asceticism). As Nietzsche writes in his Ecce Homo, “Summa summarum (in total), I have enjoyed good health,” while my knowledge gaining its depth, I feel more and more joyous. Truly!

In the same time, however, the masks I once wore have to be taken off. I used to write and talk about technology, as means for my will to master my life. Surely it also served the audience’s desire to comfort themselves. What provides a sweeter delusion than technology to take some control of the life that in fact has long been running without a wheel? Later on, the will grew stronger, stronger so that a walking stick is no longer needed. The will now demands my life to become its canvas. A rejoicing reborn with skin shed, with a little newly-learnt innocence, yet more piercing, dangerous, and amoral. Nowadays people regard it as a matter of common decency not to be eager to know the truth. They get frozen when truth withdraws her veil. Haven’t you learnt that life is to be loved? Shouting into the void, a dance starts in the darkness. There is neither friend nor foe, undoubtedly no audience. This is what terrifies me, what wearies me to exhaustion, to the extent that sometimes I can’t help crying for help.

What follows is the excerpt from the book The Struggle with the Daemon by Steven Zweig, which includes biographical studies on Friedrich Hölderlin, Heinrich von Kleist, and Friedrich Nietzsche. I bursted into tears when I first encountered these words in a cafe. Thus I decide to share these on my blog.

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. As the acts of the play precipitate themselves like an avalanche before our eyes, the solitary fighter stands alone beneath the louring skies of destiny—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. The few figures which, at the outset, creep by in the shadow of his person, accompany his heroic enterprise with gestures of dumb astonishment and fear; soon they glide away and vanish as if faced by some danger. 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 the 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 reminded the same till the curtain was rung down; it was composed of isolation, of solitude, of that agonising 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 aeons hence. What made the emptiness and sadness of this isolation so horrible, and at the same time so ludicrous, was the fact that it existed, intellectually speaking, in the very heart of a new Germany filled with the rattle of trains, with telegraph wires, with the roar and thunder of machinery, in the heart of a civilisation whose members suffered from an almost morbid curiosity, whose publishing houses swamped the market every year with forty thousand volumes of printed matter, whose professors and students were daily endeavouring to solve innumerable problems, whose theatres were night after night staging a hundred different tragedies, while divining nothing, feeling nothing of the tremendous mental drama unfolding itself in their very midst.

For it was precisely when the tragedy of Friedrich Nietzsche reached its sublimest moments that the German world failed to provide an audience, spectator or a witness of what was taking place. At first, while he was professor at Basel University and could speak his mind from the professional 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 void; he raised his voice, shouted, gesticulated, hoping to find a response even if it were no better than a contradiction. He invented a special music to accompany his words, an intoxicating, Dionysian music, but no one heard his minstrelsy. He tried to be blithe and gay, but his mirth was forced and piercing to the ear; he gave his sentences twists and turns, hoping that these antics would attract disciples to listen to his deadly earnest evangel, but not a hand was raised to applaud him. Then he invented a dance, a dance betwixt crossed swords, and, stabbed and bleeding, he practiced his new art before a public which had no inkling of what such pleasantries were meant to convey, nor did any suspect the mortally injured passion that lay concealed beneath his strident levity. 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. Unwitnessed were the last gyrations of his thoughts as they spun upon a dizzy mountain peak, and, with one final and magnificent whirl, tumbled to earth exhausted, “dead before immortality”.

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. Not even an adversary worthy of his steel was vouchsafed him. His indomitable will-to-think had to fall back upon his personal resources; for nowhere but in his own breast could he find answer, and meet with resistance. His all-consuming ardour of thought clung to him like a Nessus shirt, and in order to divest himself of it he tore away strips of his own burning flesh, to stand bared before the ultimate truth, before himself. Icy airs blew upon his nakedness; the cry of his spirit met with a stony silence; the leaden skies sank low above the head of this “murderer of God” who, since no opponent was forthcoming, proceeded to attack himself, “a self-slayer, a self-knower, showing no mercy”. The daemon within him hounded him out of his world and his day, chasing him to the uttermost marge of his own being.

Shaken, alas, by unfamiliar fevers,
Trembling at touch of iron-bound shafts of ice,
By you I am chased, O thoughts!
Unnamable! Inscrutable! Horrible!

Thus an enormous capacity for suffering was juxtaposed with an enormous capacity of resistance to the ravages suffering entails, and a too vehement sensibility confronted an all too delicately poised motor system. Each nerve of the stomach, the heart, the sense organs, constituted a manometer whereon were recorded with the utmost precision the minutest modifications and tensions let loose by pain

Nietzsche’s inborn disposition towards an unduly violent reaction to every stimulus was undoubtedly fostered by the fifteen years he spent in a stifling atmosphere of seclusion. Since during the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year nothing corporeal, neither woman nor friend, came into personal contact with him, since he exchanged scarcely a syllable with anyone but himself, he carried on an uninterrupted dialogue with his own nerves. The compass of his sensations lay for ever in his palm and, like all anchorites, hermits, introverts, eccentrics and originals, he noted with hypochondriacal precision the slightest modifications in the functioning of his organs. Ordinary mortals are able to forget themselves in talk with their fellows, in business interests, in sport and relaxation; they dull their irritability by means of wine and indifference. Not so a Nietzsche! His genius as diagnostician constantly tempted him to gratify his curiosity in the domain of psychology by taking himself and his sufferings as subjects for “personal experiments”. Simultaneously playing the parts of doctor and patient, he dissected out the pains that tortured him, laying bare his nerves, and, like all sensitive and imaginative persons, he thereby succeeded in intensifying his hyperexcitability.