Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography
During 1888 in Turin, Italy, Nietzsche wrote three of his most important works - Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and The Antichrist. As she recounts the dramatic births of those books, Chamberlain paints a portrait of the majestic baroque city in which Nietzsche spent the last sane year of his life before his famous mental breakdown damaged him permanently. Nietzsche in Turin is both a remarkable book of travel literature and a unique biography of one of our most celebrated, though often misunderstood, thinkers. In Chamberlain's account, Friedrich Nietzsche emerges as a gentle, tortured man, dominated by his rigorous mind and his love of music, and soothed by the strangely otherworldly city of Turin.
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Lesley Chamberlain (1996). Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography. Picador USA: New York. 256 pages.
Consistent with the first part of the title, this book is about Nietszche’s last eight months before the final outbreak of insanity in early January 1989. Except for a few summer weeks in Switzerland, his usual practice in the last decade of his life, the last eight months were spent in Turin, Italy. it was in many ways an unusually productive period as Nietzsche finished The Wagner Case, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichristians, Ecce Homo and Nietzsche Contra Wagner. However, The Antichristians (1894), Nietzsche Contra Wagner (1894), Ecce Homo (1908) as well as other relevant notes and poems were not published until later. Chamberlain provides some particularly interesting commentary on the psychological and artistic issues discussed or presented in these books.
Consistent with the second part of the title, this book focuses on Nietszche’s life. Indeed, it is primarily a sympathetic focus. In the preface the book’s very first sentence states that “This book attempts to befriend Nietzsche.” The eventual product is an intriguing narrative undergirded by a careful synopsis of the evidence from contemporaries’ commentary, Nietzsche’s work and letters as well as relevant medical and psychological research. Three topics were particularly intriguing for this reader. One, Chamberlain seems to have a good grasp of the musical themes and ideas in Nietzsche’s work as well as their psychological significance for Nietzsche himself. Secondly, she is sensitive to various nuances in Nietzsche’s complicated and sometimes very conflicted human relationships, especially those with Wagner and his sister Elizabeth. I think her treatment of Nietzsche's women friends is well done. Chamberlain states that Nietzsche was very chivalrous, but terribly inept with familiarity in his relationships with women.) Thirdly, she argues that the oncoming syphilis-induced megalomanic breakdown is prefigured in a number of instances and is particularly pronounced in Ecce Homo. [Note A]
Walter Kaufmann has persuasively argued in several places that Nietszche’s later works are essential to understanding Nietzsche's work as a whole. Besides writing a “definitive” [Note B] work on Nietzsche (Kaufmann, 1974) in one of his anthologies he also states that “Nietzsche Contra Wagner is perhaps his most beautiful work” [Note C] and that “Ecce Homo is one of the treasures of world literature.” [Note D] The Kaufmann corpus vis-a-vis FWN is indeed both an articulate work of scholarship and a labor of love — and his primary focus is often on Nietzsche's ideas as ideas which can be understood apart from his Nietzsche's exuberant excesses. While this approach is understandable, I suggest, is necessarily incomplete in treating the Nietzsche, the exemplar of the personally involved philosopher.
Chamberlain, quite correctly I believe, sees an organic connection between the progressive deterioration of Nietzsche’s mind due to his syphilis and the growing megalomania of his last works. She also addresses his personal weaknesses as well as his strengths in assessing Nietzsche's ideas about amor fati and various strategies for living creatively with pain and disaster. While a definitive assessment of her ideas or other’s ideas would be inherently suspect - in studying Nietzsche we are, of course, making suppositions about the internal life of a person now dead for over a century - it is an attempt that I believe is necessary. Nietzsche's philosophical ideas were compromised by his personal weaknesses, particularly his psychological masks and his stylistic hyperbole. Chamberlain manages to make some pertinent common sense commentary on such issues while preserving respect for Nietzsche's incredibly serious, articulate and partially successful attempts to cope with his intense loneliness and chronic pain.
Note#1- A very serious draft appeared in early November, but a
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - TTAISI-Editor - LibraryThing
A lovely, loving interpretive portrayal of a very complicated man. Read full review