Young Nietzsche: becoming a genius.
Carl Pletsch. The Free Press.(1991):
* Little Friedrich’s relationship to his grandfather
during these summer vacations in Pobles consisted
of long walks on which they conversed on adult topics.
* The unique thing about Schulpforta is that
it is a self-contained schoolstate in which the life
of the individual is wholly absorbed.
* But he chose to write a German theme on Hölderlin
in the form of a letter to a friend, recommending
this author to the recipient- a rhetorical strategy
that indicated his confidence in his judgement,
and brought the reader (his teacher) to the level
of an ill-informed contemporary. Furthermore,
he praised and defended precisely those characteristics
of Hölderlin’s writing that offended the German literary
establishment; for example, psychological alienation,
and disdain for the crabbed philistinism
of the educated German middle class.
Of course Friedrich’s enthusiasm was due in part
to his having found in Hölderlin a kindred spirit.
* It was a strangely calm feeling of disillusionment
coupled with a renewed desire to become his best self.
Reading Schopenhauer provoked a searching self-examination;
Nietzsche suddenly felt a tremendous hunger for self-knowledge.
* Nietzsche was soon to experience the force of
Richard Wagner’s very personal will in his own life.
But he recognized Schopenhauer’s view as a
serious attempt to solve a basic problem of life.
It spoke directly to the concerns of Nietzsche’s
extended adolescence, for he was still struggling
with his own ambition, distrustful of socially accepted
career goals, and wary of devoting himself
completely to philology.
Schopenhauer suggested to Nietzsche that it was
possible to face the paradoxes and compromises
of existence squarely, come to terms with them, a
nd even respond creatively to them.
* Schopenhauer’s theory of the genius
is one of the most important sources of Friedrich Nietzsche’s
thinking about himself as a creative person
and about the genius in general.
Friedrich had known about genius when he wrote
his autobiography at age fourteen,
casting himself in the role of Goethe,
and he assimilated more in the ensuing years.
But Schopenhauer was the first person
whom he identified as his educator in genius.
When he met Richard Wagner in November 1868,
Nietzsche would write to one of his friends
that Wagner was the very incarnation of
what Schopenhauer had written on the genius.
* Nietzsche strained eagerly to please Wagner for years,
from 1869 until the decline of their friendship in 1876.
Wagner needed surrogate sons like Nietzsche
to help him realize his grandiose aesthetic ambitions;
but Nietzsche needed a father
to help him organize his creative energies.
* Wagner was the first to assert Nietzsche’s originality,
suggesting that Nietzsche too was a genius.
* Nietzsche had quietly redefined the genius
is this essay (Schopenhauer as Educator);
Schopenhauer was a genius by virtue of his will, not his birth.
He is an absolutely unique and separate individual;
he contains within himself the possibility of revolutionizing
the way we all see the world; he is precocious,
coming to his original vision at an early age;
he is not a scholar and does not achieve his insight through
academic study; he prepares himself in part through
the stimulation of another genius (Goethe);
he is largely unrecognized by his contemporaries.
But Nietzsche goes beyond these “naive” clichés
about the genius being “born, not made”
to show that Schopenhauer voluntarily created
himself as a genius.
* The genius, redeemed from himself and his contemporaries
by the example of the genius preceding him, justifies his generation.
The genius creates the mental world in which
the next generation will live, including that generation’s genius.
* Nietzsche, in fact was better suited to the motherly attentions
of older women than he was to romance,
and he did establish two friendships with older women
in the mid 1870’s.
Marie Baumgartner, the mother of one of his students*,
and the vaguely Wagnerian cosmopolite Malwida von Meysenbug,
were both motherly confidants to him.
* Awakening from the hypnotic sleep of his Wagnerian discipleship,
Nietzsche had a startling awareness of having neglected his own mission –
” Perhaps no one was more dangerously attached to
– grown together with – Wagnerizing.
Nobody tried harder to resist it.
Nobody was happier to be rid of it”.
* All of Nietzsche’s later books are the work of a truly
” solitary walker”, a Rousseau-like genius so alienated,
or perhaps so far in advance of his contemporaries,
that his writings actually seems to be nothing so much as
an extending conversation with his own shadow –
the only companion who could keep pace with him.
* But because, from the moment he broke with Wagner,
Nietzsche worked in obsessive isolation
on a project that virtually no one appreciated,
he was ultimately recognized as an unrecognized genius.
Somewhat paradoxically, then, initial lack of recognition
had become one of the traits that made
a genius recognizable to the public.
* His psychological need for a father-surrogate
went so far beyond the usual requirement of a model of genius
that his discipleship to Schopenhauer and particularly
to Wagner lasted for years.
In all that time he naively refused to acknowledge
his own ambition to reach the status of genius himself,
and deferred almost endlessly to his mentors.
They became the focus of his agonized writing in
“The Birth of Tragedy” and “The Untimely Meditations”,
and mentoring remained a theme of his later works,
most especially “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”.
This all makes becoming a genius
much more transparant in Nietzsche’s life
than it is in other instances.
His example reveals a general
but usually obscure phenomenon.
Young Nietzsche: becoming a genius/Carl Pletsch.
The Free Press. NY 1991