Friday, 12 September 2014

I Found Nietzsche In A Charity Shop

So I was in Oxfam last week and I spotted this.  I wasn't sure who it was (the ignoramus that I am), he looked familiar and guessed it was someone famous,  I just thought it was an interesting portrait, I liked his huge moustache and the way his hair was sticking up and that over the top intellectual pose made me chuckle.  Is it me or does he have a twinkle of mischief in his eye? He looked like he had a story to tell, so on impulse I bought it, half regretting it as I carted it awkwardly around town.  I didn't need it, I didn't even know who he was, the frame was rather tatty,  it needed a good clean and DH thought it was 'creepy' :o). So it now keeps me company next to my sewing machine in the craft room.  

My sister suggested that she thought it was Nietzsche, but wasn't sure and a quick google confirmed she was correct. 

'I think he had some dodgy ideas.  Didn't he have something to do with Hitler and Nazi Germany?' She said.... :o( (Oh no!)

So with that comment I decided if he was going to share my lovely craft room I really ought to educate myself as to who he was and what he had to say.  Bare in mind that I have only spent an evening or two studying him, what I found out is very, very simplified.

Was Nietzsche a bad person?
Well....apparently he was 'God's murderer'.  That's quite bad I suppose...I mean out of all the crimes to commit that's got to be up there in the top 5 ;o).

Did he dislike women?
I don't know.  There are two debates. A) He was a misogynist B) He was a feminist.  Take your pick! My head is spinning trying to work it out.

He uses a lot of analogies and wrote in rather poetical terms.  It is all open to interpretation and perspective.  I think he may have had a cheeky sense of humour and liked making fun of the absurdities of the day....but I don't know to be honest.

Was he a fascist? 
No he wasn't.  He famously fell out with his friend Wagner over his nationalist opinions, he hated any kind of nationalistic thinking, and was very much a European. He abhorred herd mentality and if he were alive to witness it he would have been appalled at Hitler's misuse of his philosophy.  The Hitler cult would have horrified him as he was a great believer in the free spirit.

Was he a narcissist?
No I don't think so.  Although he would ask questions such as 'why am I so clever?', he wrote far too much about his self-loathing and his flaws to be a true narcissist.  He did believe in the possibility of an 'uber-man',  that is the over-man or super-human.  Put very simplistically I see it as an endorsement of self-improvement which is a very normal, if not an encouraged part of our 21st century lives. He believed if we could identify our weakness and strive to overcome them (all of them) then it is possible to become a super-human, though from what I have read he doesn't believe anyone has ever achieved it. He encourages us to believe we are capable of far more than we think. A narcissist would balk at the idea of self examination and development, he already has an innate sense of perfection.  

I think Nietzsche would smile if he could see the aisles of self-improvement books in our bookshops and libraries. I think this is what he wanted for us.

Do I like him and will he stay on my wall?

After watching this documentary 

I certainly warmed to him as a person.  Though he didn't have all the answers and he was as flawed as the next person, he certainly left a positive mark on the world.  He was a pioneer of modern philosophy, he encouraged a generation to think independently and to make their own destiny.  Will Self describes him as 'the punk philospher', he was rebellious, hated to follow the crowd, he didn't give a fig what people thought of him and his eccentricities.  

He also has something very important to say about suffering, we all have to experience it on some level, but if we find meaning in our suffering we can then  overcome it. Nietzsche spent much of his life as an invalid with tremendous physiological and psychological pain....and for this reason when I read his work I will metaphorically pull up a chair and be all ears. The portrait stays.

"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." Friedrich Nietzsche


1 comment:

  1. I'm a great fan of the Wooster stories by P G Wodehouse. Various girlfriends try and persuade Bertie Wooster to read Nietzsche but Jeeves says categorically "You would not like Nietzsche." So far I have taken his advice and abstained.