Nietzsche and Lou Andreas-Salomé: Chronicle of a Relationship 1882

"Der Mann hat im Hintergrunde aller seiner Empfindungen für ein Weib immer noch die Verachtung für das weibliche Geschlecht."
("In the background of all of his feelings for a woman, a man still has contempt for the female sex.")
"Der Mensch ist eine zu unvollkommene Sache. Liebe zu einem Menschen würde mich zerstören."
("The human being is too imperfect a thing. Love for a person would destroy me.")
"Bei jedem Gespräch zu dreien ist einer überflüssig und verhindert damit die Tiefe des Gesprächs."
("In every conversation between three people, one person is superfluous and therefore prevents the depth of the conversation.")

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Tautenberger Aphorismen für Lou von Salomé (1882) Nietzsche, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Colli/Montinari, VII-1. Nachgelassene Fragmente Juli 1882 bis Winter 1883-1884.

These quotes from Nietzsche's Tautenberger Aphorismen during the summer of 1882 make clear that Nietzsche was, at the very least, deeply conflicted about his ability to connect with another person. When that other person was a female in Nietzsche's life, the matter becomes complex. Finally, when the female is a friend of Nietzsche's friend and is basically installed as the missing component of a love-triangle, the situation becomes even more difficult.

Since the deconstruction of the "biographical fallacy" in the 60s', it has been almost illegal in critical discourse to write about the events of a writer's or philosopher's life as somehow informing or governing their writing, as though we would be able to isolate the writing from a body that is materially ensconced in history, in time, and in a myriad of complex relationships with others. While the biographical fallacy correctly pointed out that there can be no univocal, one-on-one linkages between a biographical, social or cultural event and the sentences produced by a writer, criticism of the last twenty years has separated the writing of an author so fully from the concrete historical events of the author's life that one wonders if all of the theorizing about "bodies" and "materiality" so fashionable in academic critical circles has actually contributed to a false separation of writing and life, of articulation and event, essentially relegating the "body" to a mere theoretical construct out of touch, literally and figuratively, with the real bodies of individuals in their complex relations with their world and others. It may well be that the "biographical fallacy" was correct in destroying the assumptive correlations between life and thought, and yet there is an enormous difference between the positivistic reduction of writing through the facts of the life of an author, and interpretive psychoanalytic and historical approaches which seek to understand life-events in light of the writing of an individual, and the writing of that individual in the context of their relation to their culture, the social and media-specific conditions within which they operated. The latter does not reduce writing to biography, but rather seeks to understand the complexity of life and writing as two points in a constellation of ongoing disclosure and questioning.

File:Nietzsche paul-ree lou-von-salome188.jpg
 Lou SaloméPaul Ree and Friedrich Nietzsche (1882)

Many studies have grappled with the "problem" of Nietzsche and the feminine, Nietzsche and female sexuality, and Nietzsche and the actual women who were significant in his life, yet few, with the exception of the Irvin Yalom's novel When Nietzsche wept (1993)-- a fictitious philosophical reconstruction of Nietzsche becoming a patient of Josef Breuer's at the behest of Lou Salomé -- have focused in on what is perhaps the most significant relationship to a woman (other than the extremely conflicted relationship to his sister) that Nietzsche experienced. Of all the women who figure prominently in Nietzsche's life, Lou von Salomé was the most important woman to befriend him, and one of the powerful forces that operated in the last decade of the philosopher's active life. How this relationship was both informed by Nietzsche's thought, and how in turn its failure and the pain it caused influenced Nietzsche and contributed to his ever-deepening depression and isolation has not been fully traced.

From the historical record, this much is certain. Friedrich Nietzsche first learned of Lou Salomé from his friend Paul Rée, who had met Lou at the home of Malwida von Meysenbug in Rome on the 13th of March 1882. Von Meysenbug often hosted writers and thinkers of the time. Rée wrote to Nietzsche about Lou and, although Rée's letter has been lost, we can only assume from Nietzsche's response that Rée must have been extremely enthusiastic about Lou from the beginning. Nietzsche wrote back to Rée: "Greet this Russian woman for me, if this makes any sense; I long for this type of woman, I'm even thinking about plunder in this regard, when I think about what I want to do in the next ten years. Marriage is a totally different matter. I would only be interested in a two-year marriage, and this, again, only in view of what I have set out for myself over the next ten years." Student, confidant, discussion-partner for philosophical ideas, erotic object, and finally femme fatale, the 21 year old Lou was to play many roles for the older author of The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche fell in love with Lou instantly, and proposed marriage three times during a seven month period. Nietzsche was enormously difficult by any standard, but this should not obscure Lou's own unique contribution to the short, doomed relationship, nor lessen the significance of the failed relationship for Nietzsche's subsequent depression.

Nietzsche's preliminary response to Rée's letter, while surprising in its direct, forward nature, can be understood in the context of his longing for a disciple, perhaps even comrade in ideas, and reveals much about Nietzsche's mindset and vulnerability to a relationship that was problematic from the start. Although he stated that he would only consider short-term marriage, there is evidence to suggest that Nietzsche might have been seeking a Lebensgefährtin, a soul-partner to accompany him on his philosophical journey. He was also being provoked through the communiqués of a number of different people, especially Malwida von Meysenbug. Of the many voices that resonate in the history of this complicated relationship, and the many people that were to become involved in this affair, Malwida von Meysenbug was to play a pivotal role. She, perhaps even more than Reé, set the stage for the drama that was to unfold between Nietzsche, Lou, Rée, and Nietzsche's vindictive and jealous sister, Elisabeth, who later married the anti-Semite Bernard Förster, became a bitter enemy of Lou Salomé, and attempted to falsify much of Nietzsche's writing. We owe it to Karl Schlechta for having shown the degree to which Elisabeth altered her brother's œuvre for her own ideological and political purposes.

On the 27th of March, 1882, von Meysenbug wrote to Nietzsche: "A very strange girl (I think Rée wrote to you about her) to whom I indebted, among many others, for my book; she appears to me to have arrived at the same results in philosophical thinking as you, that is, towards a practical idealism, leaving behind every metaphysical presupposition and every concern about the explanation of metaphysical problems. Rée and I agree in the wish to see you with this extraordinary person, but unfortunately I can't recommend a visit in Rome because the conditions here would probably not do you well." Cognizant of Nietzsche's frail health and susceptibility to "attacks" of various kinds, she was afraid Nietzsche would fall ill in Rome.

With this provocation, however, von Meysenbug accomplished a number of things. First, she confirmed, subconsciously, the triangle that was already forming between Rée, Lou, and Nietzsche, with her functioning as an interlocutor and as a "director"; secondly, she constructed a taboo or limit that was asking to be explored, if not crossed, especially by the now curious and hyper-stimulated Nietzsche, the recipient of these letters about the mysterious, young woman from the East. There is something of the voyeur in Malwida von Meysenbug's desire to see Nietzsche and Rée vying for this elusive and striking young woman who seemed to have such intelligence, depth, and beauty.

Although Nietzsche was captivated by Sicily, the sirocco was having its effect on the susceptible and often depressive writer. On the 29th of March, 1882, Nietzsche left Messina, Sicily for Genoa.

Rée had written to Nietzsche, expanding and heightening Nietzsche's already palpable excitation by informing him that Lou herself was now in a state of agitation, or shall we say stimulation, concerning Nietzsche's impending visit: "With this step (the trip to Messina) you have placed this young woman in a state of amazement and worry. She has become so curious to see you, to speak with you, that she wanted to return via Genoa, and she was very angry that you were so far away. She is an energetic, unbelievably smart soul with girl-like, yes, even childish characteristics. She would very much like to spend a nice year [of communal living and study, R.L.], and this would be next winter. She sees as absolutely requisite to this plan you, me, and an older lady, like Madam von Meysenbug, but she isn't interested...Couldn't one arrange this living situation, but who would play the role of the older woman?" Indeed. If von Meysenbug was not interested in playing the role of the older woman, it would allow the triangle to emerge in full clarity, without any intrusive, parental discipline and authority. The three children would then be able to play without the supervising control of the mother.

Their first meeting occurred in Rome, the 23rd or 24th of April, 1882, at St. Peters. Nietzsche became obsessed with Lou. He had Rée make a plea for him for Lou's hand in marriage. Lou rejected his request. This was the first of several rejections Nietzsche was to experience in his relationship with Lou.

Enter Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, who catches wind of her brother's obsession, and immediately intervenes by sending a forged letter to Nietzsche's mother, informing her of the (in her view) disastrous relationship with Lou. This is the beginning of a long series of acrimonious machinations that would prove to be damaging to the relationship between Nietzsche and Lou. While Elisabeth's jealousy and cabal alone were not responsible for the failure of the relationship, they contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust and intrigue that plagued it from the start, and continued to gnaw away at the fabric of the idyll Nietzsche and Lou were constructing.

More here.


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