Review: I am Dynamite; a Life of Frederich Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux (2018) Assessment 9 out of 10

A  Book I wouldn’t have read without the Reading Group, ; a wonderful biography providing a doorway to philosophy and art.

Nietzsche was initially a Classical philologist. With his first book “The Birth of Tragedy” he showed how Wagnerian opera mirrored Greek tragedy. Apollo was reasonable and logical and associated with painting, architecture &, in the pre Freudian world, dreams, Dionysus with music & tragedy, the eater of flesh. His was the Bacchic chorus & frenzied throngs roaming through medieval Germany. The pre Socratic Greek playwrights combined Apollonian dreams & Dionysian ecstasy.  N saw Socratic logic denying Dionysus as rejecting life. The Ring cycle was compared to Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy. For Schopenhauer music was the one art revealing the truth of nature. For Wagner music was the will’s manifestation.  

 Nietzsche spent time with Wagner & Cosima at Tribschen, the only guest other than King Ludwig, with his room there. Ludwig was in reality subbing Wagner’s life style, so N if anything, was more favoured.  Nietzsche wrote The Birth of Tragedy whilst Wagner composed Siegfried & Gotterdammerung.

N’s friendship with the great art historian Jacob Burkhardt is also interesting. The interaction between such significant figures, with Wagner, with Burkhardt, a joy.

On quitting his professorship at Basle, Nietzsche became, the Wagnerian Woden, wandering & writing. He was impecunious & frequently ill. 

He rejected all philosophies reducing the world to a single system, opposing certainty to create the philosophy of perhaps. He declared God dead leading to denial of morality. N saw Man as infected with an insatiable search for the metaphysical. If the life to come is abolished meant resting in the here & now, taking responsibility for actions & accepting fate.  Ubermensch is the man at peace with himself, feeling joy in his earthly purpose, Christianity seen (rightly) as slave morality, guilt & priest ridden & awaiting the hereafter.  

I skipped through the explanation of “Thus Spoke Zarathusta”, Nietzsche’s philosophical novel, which I wasn’t ready for.

Nietzsche’s descent into madness is shown through his letters. After his madness and following his death, his Anti-Semitic sister Elizabeth controlled his writings. She adapted / misinterpreted his views as militarist. Nietzsche had himself foreseen & warned against the misuse of his ideas. This was why he wrote, “I am dynamite”. His ideas were cut & pasted by Nazi philosophers including Heidegger. The Nuremberg rally was given the Nietzschian title, Triumph of the Will. Other Nietzschian language, Ubermensch the Blond Beast etc was misused by Hitler. Nietzsche was only ever interested in the individual not the herd, whether religious or political.

  After his death Elizabeth had N & herself painted by Munch. Interesting, as E became a leading supporter of Hitler. According to “Culture in Nazi Germany” the Nazis disliked expressionism, of which Munch was a leading light & whose ideas derived from Nietzsche. A lithograph of Munch’s picture of Nietzsche forms the cover page to the Book.

It lacks the glorious colour and background Landscape of the original painting.

 Sue Prideaux wrote an earlier biography of Munch, which having read this Book , I have added to my list of Books I should read.

The view from Villa Silberlick, where in his last years N had lived with Elizabeth &, after his death she turned into his shrine, stretches over the perfect landscape of Thuringia to the chimneys of Buchenwald; Landscape as art & horror.

Nietzschian Aphorisms, If you look long enough at the abyss it will look back at you, Everyone is in flight from himself, Become what you are

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