Filler content with Nietzsche

My Book Review Index is now fully up to date, at least apart from anything that I missed (and if you notice any omissions, please let me know and I’ll include them).

Here’s something that was posted to the old TTA Press website on 5th of April 2008:-

(FC2 paperback, 244pp, $15.95)

This short novel chronicles the last hours of the great German philosopher’s life when, after many years’ illness, he had retreated into a solipsistic fantasy world and his literary heritage was in the hands of his fascist sister Elizabeth.

The story is told through the use of three alternating narrative devices. Each hour on the hour we get reports on Nietzsche’s progress towards death, sensory impressions and interaction with his sister and nurse. As a second string to the bow, there are stream of consciousness style sections, each given the name of a part of the body and recording some pivotal event in his development, such as his discovery of the work of Schopenhauer and its abiding influence on Nietzsche’s intellectual life. Thirdly there are the more conventionally pitched sections in which all the details of Nietzsche’s life are recorded; the career which showed such promise but ended in penury and madness; his affair with Lou Salome, the great love of his life, that ended in betrayal; the various illnesses and setbacks, his relationships with women, the formative influence of both his mother and sister. The net effect of these three complementary strands is to give an overview of Nietzsche, a fascinating biography of a mind.

While accessible to the more general reader, for the Nietzsche aficionado this book contains numerous pleasures. Olsen’s writing is both sparse and lyrical, a strong and measured prose style that pays tribute to and mirrors that of his subject, with each word carefully judged for effect. The text is studded with quotes, maxims and aphorisms taken from the philosopher’s work and suggestive of the circumstances in which these barbed witticisms might first have been formulated. And there’s a fascinating assembly of facts, such as the poor reception given to Thus Spake Zarathustra, so that Nietzsche had to pay for the third part to be printed in an edition of forty copies, only seven of which he managed to give away, or the truth behind the incident where he intervened to prevent a horse being flogged, at the time taken as a sign of the mental problems which were to dog his final years. At the heart of the book is the love hate relationship between Nietzsche and his sister Elizabeth, who Hitler once referred to as ‘the Mother of the Fatherland’, with the suggestion of an incestuous dimension and culminating in the final years, when Elizabeth assured her brother’s place in the history of Western thought by distorting his ideas to fit her own fascist mindset, so that the man who once wrote ‘death to all anti-Semites’ provided the philosophical justification for intellectuals to embrace Nazism and Hitler.

Olsen has written a book which it should be possible to read many times and find something new on each occasion. His artistry lies in giving us the truths of a life, which so often get obscured in more prosaic and factual accounts, taking in emotional verities and the interplay of ideas. And casting its shadow over all this is the feeling of greatness betrayed, both by its own weakness and the perfidy of others. Nietzsche’s Kisses comes highly recommended.

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