The language of poetry is shared only with that of myth. Philosophy shares the language of every other discipline.
Nietzsche is greatly misunderstood, for the most part owing to the manipulation of his sister, Elisabeth, a homophobe, an anti-Semite, a pro-Nazi. So vehement was her loathing of her brother’s predisposition, she single-handedly altered his manuscripts, and presented a public face on his behalf that was contrary to his own.
For the last ten years of his life, during which all of his major works were written, in self-determined exile in Switzerland, Italy, and France, seeking relief from a mental illness, it was suggested, though it was in reality merely the burden of concealing his homosexuality, worsened, it was felt, in Germany, where he was unable to counter the malicious betrayals of his sister, and their ensuing widespread misinterpretation of his work.
His first work, and his least accomplished, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, a work of dramatic theory, was published when he was 27. ‘The Will to Power’, though written and planned by him as a compendium of sorts of his ideas, was edited posthumously in its prejudiced form by his sister, and not published in its intended form until 1960.
Throughout my adult life, I have felt a profound bond with Nietzsche, from his writing and its misunderstanding, to his ‘mental illness’ and its misconception. Many feared him. Many fear me. As frequently acknowledged, there is a very fine line between genius and madness.
My current reading of Nietzsche is a re-reading, under and in light of the current global situation. Some lessons are best learned in calm; some, in storm.
As Nietzsche, I am interested in classical philology. I know Classical, Koine, and modern Greek; Classical and Ecclesiastical Latin, and modern Italian; Old Church Slavonic and modern Russian; Sanskrit and Pali; Classical and modern Chinese.
On a break from work in Zhanjiang, and back in Hong Kong briefly, on a boat ride to a fishing village offshore, alone, as usual, a middle aged Western man appeared unable to remove his gaze from me, as if spellbound. Disembarking at our destination, he, with his entourage in tow, said to me,
‘Your intensity is alarming, I don’t know whether to be afraid or to be in awe. I don’t know if you remind me more of Charles Manson or Jesus Christ.’
My reply, ‘Are not fear and awe synonymous? If I remind you of anyone else at all, though, then I am unworthy of memory.’
The man and his company were stunned. We parted, and that was all. Our momentary conversation most certainly persuaded him, them, towards Charles Manson, rather than Jesus Christ.
Nietzsche, too, was thought by many to be a monster. He was not. Truth is seldom in the middle, seldom on the fence, seldom grey. There are no half truths. There are no white lies. Nietzsche, in his erudition, in his passion, in his honesty, took an extreme contrary to the immoderation taken by Germany, and the world, at the time. Only recently have the lies about him begun to unravel, elucidated by newly published material.
Third-gender, and muse-obsessed, a poet, I have long been fascinated by the lives, the art, the magic, the truth, and the power of women who can command simultaneously the lives of multiple men, perceived formidable each in his own right.
The woman in Nietzsche’s life was Frau Lou Andreas-Salomé, Russian-born psychoanalyst and author, who, while married to Friedrich Carl Andreas, was simultaneously confidante and muse to Nietzsche; to Paul Rée, German author and philosopher, and friend of Nietzsche; to Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis; and to Rainer Maria Rilke, Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist; among others.
Throughout history, as wives, mistresses, paramours, courtesans, and concubines, women have adeptly circumvented the rules and expectations of polite society to thrive amongst men, reigning over their hearts and minds, while also empowering them. Contrary to the fiction of the Abrahamic religions, the universe remains matricentral.
Counter, too, to the Calvinist belief in unconditional election, fate predetermined and predestined through the choice of the god of Abraham alone, saving those found worthy, with the blessing of his grace, and damning those not elected – the aberrant, the divergent, the reprobates – recipients of but the harshest of judgement. Sound familiar? Witness the precursor of fascism, of white supremacy, of hate for any and every appearance, disclosure, and, or expression of non-conformist identification or ideology.
In the case of Nietzsche, had Lou Salomé been able to prevail over Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, Nietzsche may have survived the adversity of his solitude. In his case, blood was thicker than water. In my case, water – ink, self-conjured, self-infused – vastly thicker than blood.
Shame is the lie others tell you about yourself.