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…Book Blog by Dolly Delightly

Category: Philosophy

Samuel Beckett: Between two parting dreams, knowing none

Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing would be better renamed Good for Nothing, if only for the sake of accuracy. Harsh, I know, but perhaps wholly necessary. The book is a peculiar and idiosyncratic one, whimsical, opaque, self-indulgent, confused and confusing yet on occasion exoteric but unassimilable. Originally written in French between 1947-52, it was later translated into English by Beckett himself.Thus one can’t help but wonder how much was lost in the process and how much of the abject “quarto” about the essence of being, perception and will, was meant to be as abstruse as it appears. There is little continuity or narrative structure, but in a most ambiguous way. One assumes that the “I” speaking throughout the 13 monologue pieces is the unnamed narrator’s subconscious but this is just an arbitrary guess, as too often the text falls victim to unwitting sabotage by way of structural and stylistic subversion.

The book opens with the narrator debating the point of existence while dwelling somewhere on a “hill, so wild, so wild.” “What possessed you to come?” he asks himself. This we learn is “unanswerable,” but it may have been due to“fate”. The thought continues as he begins to query time, saying: “How long have I been here, what a strange question, I’ve often wondered, And often I could answer, an hour, a month, a year, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and where I never went looking for extravagant meanings there never much varies, only the there sometimes seems to vary.” This mode of quiet and circuitous flatulence continues for some pages and to a rather soporific degree as Beckett endeavours to reduce existential problems to their most rudimentary structures: the meaning of life; the role of perception; time; communication versus alienation and the interminable perplexities of the self. The prose is spares but saponaceous and orbicular, as it ebbs indiscriminately forward and backward only to retrogress to the point of origin again. For the narrator is neither here nor there and yet he tells us otherwise. “I’m there, I am here”  he says, and then somewhere else altogether, “between two parting dreams, knowing none”.

This sort of literature has the tendency to incite a certain urge to perforate the book’s cover with the sharp-end of a bradawl, not only because it is consummately exasperating but also because its writer is consummately more talented. And while I do realise that there is some vestige of merit in Beckett’s experimental indictment against language as a mode of expression, I still can’t excuse his monotonous eructations about being “here or elsewhere, fixed or mobile, without form or oblong like man,” or overlook his abuse of lexicon when he assert that “the subject dies before it comes to the verb,” because “nothing ever as much as began, nothing ever but nothing and never nothing ever but lifeless words”. Most of Texts for Nothing is spumous mullock only legible in spurts, which makes it somewhat difficult to follow Beckett’s intention or even attempt to decipher it. This is also largely due to the fact that the book flits from internal monologue to commentary on the external, from the narrator expounding about what constitutes living (“getting standing, staying standing, stirring about, holding out, getting to tomorrow”) to questions about the structure of civilisation (“all the peoples of the earth would not suffice, at the end of the billions you’d need a god, unwitnessed witness of witnesses, what a blessing it’s all down a drain”). It is also further muddled when Beckett sporadically asserts that in fact “nothing can be told,” and then proceeds to tell it. But the “it” remains indeterminable.

Somewhere mid-way through the book the obscurantist literary agitprop about the futility of language begins to grate. Not only that, the abstraction and anesthetised prose makes it an offering of laborious pelmanism. The only redeeming quality about Texts for Nothing is the occasional sound of Beckett’s voice manumitting itself from the confines of this postmodernist quagmire. Singular moments capture Beckett discoursing rhetorically, when he says, for example, “But I speak softer, every year a little softer. Perhaps. Slower too, every year a little slower.” Or when he notes plaintively that it’s a pity “hope is dead.” But these are few and far in between, or at least too few to justify the read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that even Beckett can’t justify it as at one point he says resignedly: “I’m the clerk, I’m the scribe, of what cause I know not.” During the middle period of his life when Texts for Nothing was written Beckett was struggling to maximise creativity due to, among other things, an increasing sense of self-censure and criticism, and a torturous desire to find an apt method of expression for his thought. He aimed to discover a form of art which would allow for reality of disorder, the “pettiness of heart and mind,” which in the end led him to lament the challenges of language.

Texts for Nothing pays homage to those challenges, emerging as a sort of preliminary attempt at deconstructed literature prompted by the “dread of coming to the last, of having said all, your all, before the end”. Today, it also reads like a literary posture built upon an outmoded postmodernist premise. Much like Beckett’s plays, Texts for Nothing is an experimental book, which does not comply with any given literary convention, dismantling generic pointers between fact and fiction, prose and poetry, dream and reality. But I fear it dismantles too much thereby turning language into an entity, a character, in itself which makes for an obtuse and wearisome piece of writing, devoid of irony and energy and the subtle nuances of effulgent and multiple resonances at the crux of much of Beckett’s earlier work. There is a point in Texts for Nothing, when the narrator says, “I shouldn’t have began,” repeating it throughout the book, and every time I came across it I couldn’t help but think: I definitely second that.


Georges Bataille: A master of macabre eroticism and satanic fancies

Buying books is – without a doubt – my favourite Saturday morning pastime. It seems, however, that I have come to acquire more of the aforementioned than common sense as I am rapidly running out of space to accommodate them. Still, as someone who is short on sense I fear that this particular predicament will neither deter nor curtail my avarice. Trawling through the numerous shelves in a great little Oxfam in Notting Hill, my eye snagged on a book called Guilty by Georges Bataille. I have had a soft-spot for Bataille ever since I first discovered Story of the Eye at the tender age of 13. I read a few of his works thereafter including, The Solar Anus, L’Abbe C, On Nietzsche and Blue of Noon and found myself unanimously confounded, challenged and inspired by each and every one. I learned a lot about Bataille entirely through his work and came to realise that there are (in a very general sense) two kinds of writers: those who one admires, and those with whom one feels an affinity. Bataille, for me, has always been of the later variety through a mutual appreciation of writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Franz Kafka and a desire to “respond to impulses of freedom and whims” or else “destroy myself” only to “discover myself, drowning in a glass of water”. In my case, however, it would more likely be a glass of second-rate gin but that is by and by.

Guilty is a sort of literary nympholepsy, a work which, if pressed, I would only be able to compare to The Notebooks of André Walter by André Gide. And yet, the two books are different in subject matter as well as syntax but one made me think of the other perhaps entirely without just cause. Guilty consists of autonomous chapters, divided into sub-chapters, transcribing the writer’s stream of consciousness free from restriction imposed by “systematic thought”. In the Introduction, Bataille forewarns the reader by saying: “…my way of thinking diverges from others. Especially from the way of thinking of philosophers. Mostly it diverges on account of my ineptitude.” While this may be true from a logician’s perspective, it is Bataille’s indifference to belletristic conventions and his enterprising nature – both in manipulation of lexicon and ideas – that make him a 20th century maître à penser. In the opening chapter entitled Nighttime, Bataille declares that “Life is a feast, a celebration, it’s an incomprehensible and oppressive dream, with charms I’m hardly blind to. Being conscious of chance lets me see a difficult fate for what it is. And chance wouldn’t stand a chance if it weren’t for sheer craziness.” A paragraph later he speaks of a love “so rapturous only torment could fuel it.” A thought which rang so true, it stopped me in my reading as I contemplated it in reference to my own experiences. Sitting outdoors, looking at the paper-trails overhead, the acuity of the above lines roused, as Bataille would say, a “wasp’s stinger in me”. And yet, somehow, it made me more at ease with the bittersweet predicament.

In line with the same thought Bataille speaks of desire likening it to a “hallucinatory darkness” pushing one “towards craziness” and the escape of “illusion of any solid connection…to the world”.  In his own words, Bataille writes with “unholy light-heartedness” and an irreverence bordering on sacrilege, most expressly conveyed in his dictum: “My true church is a whorehouse – the only one that gives me true satisfaction.” This statement is significant both in view of Bataille’s background – a staunch Chatholic upbringing he later renounced – and the continued pursuit of pleasure which came to define his “filthy night” ecstasies and his work. In Guilty, Bataille often talks of the “unquenchable thirst, the unconquerable cold” and that which is “intelligible only to the heart”. In another chapter, Angel, he forsakes what humankind has sought throughout the ages, “complete knowledge”, instead trying to understand the universe which “in the dead of its night” allows you to “discover its parts and in doing so discover yourself”. He further adds, with resigned acceptance, that “knowledge, like history, is incomplete” and argues that the paleolithic human search for “completeness of knowledge” is a fallacy like the idea of God “who is complete only to be imaginary.” 

Guilty is a peculiar sweeping fresco of existentialism, sorrow, self-mortification and also self-affirmation through the writer’s experiences, his meditating practices, his readings, his sexual fantasies, his fears, his memories and his evolving thought. At once theoretical and practical, personal and political, the book swings wildly between tone and subject, between frenzy, boredom and euphoria. It is both the most esoteric and exoteric of Bataille’s writings. It opens with the Nazi assault on Poland, Bataille notes: “The date I start (September 5th, 1939), is no coincidence. I’m starting because of what’s happening, though I don’t want to go into it. I’m writing it down because of being unable not to.” Thought Bataille refuses to talk directly of war; the unmentionable inevitably snakes into his writing as he takes flight from the encroaching chaos of combat, and familiarity of Paris, to the bucolic countryside. At one point, as though reflecting on the mortality of those who lost their lives in battle, Bataille says: “…occasional luck – my luck – in a world that seems increasingly terrible makes me tremble.” There are many things besides luck which make Bataille tremble, one of them being women who to his mind are an “invitation to ruin.” Famous for his sexual cupidity, frequentation of bordellos, macabre eroticism and satanic fancies Bataille muses: “There is some kind of identity between ‘woman’, ‘torment’ and ‘the ridiculous universe’ – my need for self-destruction comes from them.” And, after a short contemplation declares: “To give up my sexual habits would mean I’d have to discover some other means of tormenting myself, though this torture would have to be as intoxicating as alcohol.”

Speaking about Guilty to a fellow writer Jean Paulhan, Bataille said it concerned the “relationship between eroticism and mysticism,” adding “but the book considers a great deal more than that.”  And it certainly does. It documents Bataille’s resolution to throw himself into a state of “headlessness” – a key concept in his general philosophical outlook – through drinking, madness, obscenity, cruelty and extreme sex, all of “life’s majestic horrors”Guilty, however, is one of the texts which most notably marks the beginning of Bataille’s introspection triggered by the death of his lover Colette Peignot, who passed away of tuberculosis in 1938. Writing about it years later in “Notice Autobiographique” Bataille described it as “a death that tore him apart”.  Unable to completely let go of the object of his loss, or relinquish the ties through morning, he merged her into the structure of his own identity, making Peignot an iconographic feminised ideal of the excess-pursuing, tormenting self. Peignot’s death was concurrent with the breakdown of many of Bataille’s closest friendships – predominantly over disagreements about the darker elements of his work – which left him largely isolated. It is therefore perhaps no surprised that Bataille himself once surmised Guilty, written during this particular timeas “violently dominated by tears, violently dominated by death”. Looking over some of his earlier entries in the book, Bataille muses: “Reading these fragments from last year I remember I felt death – a chill in my soul. It wasn’t anguish but a chill, an exasperation with the fact of being me, an exasperation with the lack of happiness and excess…” 

In many respects, Guilty is a work of eschatology, a confrontation of death through “laughter that reaches the stars” and a need for “love eager to exceed the limits of things.” The latter is the dominating subject throughout but as Bataille warns one must not mistake it with sensuality or eroticism, which he defines as “the brink of the abyss”.  The last chapter, Alleluia, speaks directly of and to a woman thought Bataille could be speaking to womankind itself. He says: “It’s time your delirium learns the opposite of each thing you know about. Time to take the boring, depressing, image of the world in you and turn it upside down.” He urges liberation from the manacles of the orthodox through “filth” and “desire for pleasure,” adding: “You come into the power of desire by spreading your legs, showing off your unclean parts, if you couldn’t feel that passion was forbidden, desire in you would soon die, and with it the possibility of pleasure.” Love, however, is something else altogether “flowers… sunlight flooding in, the gentleness of someone’s shoulder” and “in love we stop being ourselves” unwittingly becoming something greater because “Love’s insanity becomes sane when moving towards more insane love.” Guilty is Bataille’s most recondite and multifaceted work, but it is also his most personal and sage. Writing in a state of semi-permanent “anguished drunkenness” while facing the world “alone, wounded, dedicated to his own ruin”he meditates upon all the leitmotifs that have haunted his imagination since he abandoned Catholicism for the avant-garde. There are many conclusions one could draw about this book but the most accurate one has been drawn by Bataille himself, who said Guilty is a work of “chaos boundless in every sense.”

A.C. Grayling: A bespectacled familiar face fustigating religion

A little while ago while running up and down numerous stairs, I spotted an opening in the daily grind and dashed outside, through the back door, for a quick cigarette. I perched my bottom on an iron balustrade and surveying the passing crowd caught a glimpse of a bespectacled familiar face thus leaped forth, with disconcerting alacrity, as his name erupted from my oesophagus. His sober countenance came over with a smile. A fleeting discussion ensued about Against All Gods and other literary milestones. We chatted very briefly, smiling at one another, shook hands and parted.  It took me a moment to lift my maxilla up off the floor, because sometimes life really does take one by surprise.

I was given A.C. Grayling’s Above All Gods while working for the publisher. I read it then and recently because I think certain books are worth revisiting. Grayling opens his opus with the assertion that religion “deserves no more respect than any other viewpoint, and not as much as most,” because to “believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith, is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect.” As inflammatory as it may sound, to those of religious inclination, I have to agree with Grayling and furthermore concede when he points out that, “It is time to refuse to tiptoe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were, a privilege endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions.” Time, indeed. Religion is undoubtedly one of Grayling’s bailiwicks, and the six topical polemics in Against All Gods are well-considered if thersitical.

In a chapter entitled A Rectification of Names: Secularist, Humanist, Atheist, Grayling forewarns the reader that there’s a “need for patient repetition” about the “fundamentals” since even the “Archbishops remain in the dark about such matters”. He defines the three appellations as follows: “Secularism is the view that Church and State (religion and national government) should be kept separate…Humanism in the modern sense of the word is the view that whatever your ethical system, it derives from your best understanding of human nature and the human condition in the real world…’Atheism’ is the word used by religious people to refer to those who do not share their belief in the existence of supernatural entities or agencies.” This draws a set of clear distinctions between each one in the triptych, illuminating Grayling’s own viewpoint, as does his definition of religion which he says is “centred upon belief in the existence of supernatural agencies or entities in the universe; and not merely in their existence, but in their interest in human beings on this planet; and not merely their interest, but their particularly detailed interest in what humans wear, what they eat, when they eat it, what they read or see, what they treat as clean and unclean, who they have sex with and how and when; and so for a multitude of other things.” Later in the book, as in above, Grayling is keen to reiterate that the main principle of religion is based on the belief in the “supernatural” and therefore belongs in “the same bin,” with “notions of deities, fairies and goblins”.

Grayling also argues that “faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason.” I tend to agree. What’s worse,  is organised commitment to that belief which, he says, even those on the same side of the argument tend to confuse, by mistakenly “thinking that the dispute about supernaturalistic beliefs is whether they are true or false” when in fact “Epistemology teaches us that the key point is about rationality. If a person gets wet every time he is in the rain without an umbrella, yet persists in hoping that the next time he is umbrella-less in the rain he will stay dry, then he is seriously irrational.” Perhaps Grayling oversimplifies the context here, but that does not detract from the puissance of his point, because to believe in something in spite of reason is perhaps worse than merely “irrational” it is foolish. Grayling also counteracts some of the saponaceous arguments that religious votaries may pose, such as “the moral (the immoral) choices of the general population thrust upon” through various mediums such as television by saying they “need to be reminded that their television sets have an off button.” Grayling’s work, inflected with philosophical and scientific interpretative modes and close inspection of commonplace theological arguments, gives an insightful overview of religion and its self-righteous principals, jangling ambiguity and logic-defying rituals.

One of the most pertinent points Grayling makes, however, is that “with faith anything goes… from superstition to mass murder”. He highlights several modern-day conflicts to illustrate this fact, but also to demonstrate that religious fundamentalism “is the same in its operation and effects as Stalinism and Nazism” because, as Grayling posits, “most wars and conflicts in the world’s history owe themselves directly or indirectly to religion.” Grayling fustigates the very principles of religion with some clout; however, his suggested alternative wavers somewhat in its feasibility. He advocates the stance of a humanist, which he defines as someone “whose ethical outlook in non-religiously based” but rather “premised on humanity’s best efforts to understand its own nature and circumstances”. Grayling says that humanism would be best adept to our needs “for the sake of this life, in this world, where we suffer and find joy, where we can help one another, and where we need one another’s help: the help of the living human hand and heart.” While I, personally, like the notion of an irenic ideology based on “the value of things human,” it does sound rather idealistic and mawkish. Perhaps I’m just too cynical, or maybe just a realist. Either way, I too like Grayling dislike the term “atheist”, he says it concedes the default position of belief in God to theists. I, on the other hand, have come to realise that atheism has acquired a cult-like status, a quiet following of mass proportions, and as a result has developed into a makeshift doctrine of its own that adheres to a particular set of values, much like religion. In other words, it has evolved into a belief system for non-believers, which sounds far too complicated because true genuine non-belief is  the reverse of true genuine belief; it is silent and gives sign of its existence only when challenged.

Friedrich Nietzsche: Human, all too human but also a romantic

There are two reasons why I love Friedrich Nietzsche; one is because his moustache semaphored a silent two-fingers-up to the establishment, if even unbeknown to the man himself; and two because he was bonkers. I personally find that a crazy infidel always makes for the best kind of literary idol, add booze to the mix and call him perfect. Now, I am not entirely sure about Nietzsche’s drinking habits but reading some of his work one would be forgiven for thinking he wrote while heavily intoxicated. Still, the man was a genius and a genuine sovereign thinker despite his idiosyncrasies and the inconsistencies in his oeuvre. This, however, according to many scholars, is precisely what makes him unworthy of the “philosopher” appellation but I would argue, in Nietzsche’s own words, that “one is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions”. I have always held on to that because occasionally I couldn’t hold on to some of my convictions. In other words, we change, and are changed by our experiences; therefore, inevitably, our ideas and beliefs change along with them. A sentiment that was seconded years later by William Somerset Maugham who said: “We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.” I find this to be true both of life and, in this case, my personal feelings toward this most divisive philosopher.

Born on 15th October, 1844, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was an heir to a long line of Lutheran pastors – going back to the 17th century – who grew up in a staunchly religious household. His early years were marred by death, first that of his father, at the age of four, and later his younger brother. His formative period was defined by matriarchal domesticity and an admiration for Richard Wagner, his early 20s spent immersed in philology and theology at the University of Boon, and his middle-life dedicated to the relentless study which made him into a philosopher of matchless originality at once approachable and provocative. He was a writer by turns endearing, maddening and challenging but always and consistently compelling and complex. Even when his work appears straightforward, Nietzsche is at his most subtle and poignant, most wry and exciting, as he points out to the reader  in The Genealogy of Morality almost facetiously: “I did say I would speak crudely: which does not in any way signify a desire for it to be heard crudely, understood crudely.” And perhaps therein lays the problem which has divided academics and critics’ alike, propelling a negative consensus through misunderstanding which has led to a classifying of Nietzsche as a nihilistic sybarite and a scholastic dilettante. But as Robert Wicks points out, in his book on this most prolific 19th century thinker: “Nietzsche loved to celebrate life, but he frequently had a very difficult time celebrating humanity.” In his guide Nietzsche, published by the Oxford-based One World press, Wicks gives an impressively comprehensive overview of Nietzsche’s ideas, the premises that underpinned them, and the academic, cultural and classic figures that influenced him.

One of the most notable and perhaps profound of those influences was Arthur Schopenhauer whom Nietzsche discovered in 1865 while at University. Schopenhauer’s metaphysical vision at odds with Christianity, encapsulated in The World as Will and Representation, was to shape Nietzsche’s philosophical undertakings more than any other. A year later Nietzsche was introduced to Wagner, with whom he felt a deep affiliation through mutual love of both music and philosophy. Wicks notes: “Partly on the basis of their shared enthusiasm for Schopenhauer, the two men struck up a father-son style of friendship and they remained in contact for the next decade, until Nietzsche’s growing anti-Christian view of life became incompatible with Wagner’s.”  Later, Nietzsche irreparably widened the division by openly and virulently criticising his one-time idol in The Case of Wagner. In the essay Nietzsche lambasts the Wagnerian tradition with unrelenting ardour, finding it to be “brutal, artificial and unsophisticated” and thereby symptomatic of the degenerative trend in music. He is no less vituperative when speaking of the composer himself, querying: “Is Wagner a man at all? Is he not rather a disease? Everything he touches he contaminates. He has made music sick,” before concluding: “Wagner’s art is diseased. The problems he sets on the stage are all concerned with hysteria; the convulsiveness of his emotions, his over-excited sensitiveness, his taste which demands ever sharper condimentation, his erraticness which he togged out to look like principles, and, last but not least, his choice of heroes and heroines, considered as physiological types (—a hospital ward!—).”

Nietzsche’s views on religion are no less damning than his enchiridion on Wagner.  Firstly, Nietzsche believed that the world was fundamentally a “chaos” and that life was by default “immoral, unavoidably so” thus examined both more probingly and in more empirical terms before concluding that “if one is to flourish one must live in a manner beyond good and evil”.  Nietzsche, therefore, determined that traditional morality was inseparable from weakness, debility, cerebral “unreason” and thus a dogma against the innate course of nature. He cites the Christian principles in Twilight of the Idols to illustrate his point: “The most general formula at the basis of every religion and morality is: Do this and this, refrain from this and this – and you will be happy.” It is a fallacy Nietzsche debunks time and again in The Antichrist, most notably in the following passage: “The Christian conception of God is one of the most corrupt conceptions of God…God as the expression of hostility against life, against nature, against the will to life. God as the formula for every slander against ‘this life’ and for every lie about ‘the next life’!” Nietzsche believed that the fundamental tenet of Christianity – the belief in the supernatural all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God –  was unhealthy and that “faith” was “the will to avoid knowing what is true” which is to say that “there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross”. This, in turn, led Nietzsche to the idea that “heaven” and “hell” are alternative interpretations of our present world and not sacerdotal notions as propagated by organised religion and the “poisoners of life” otherwise known as priests. Nietzsche’s main objective was to point out that what one should “live for” is living itself. Years earlier, Schopenhauer had asserted that the world was “fundamentally absurd”. Loaded with this thought Nietzsche set out to determine the extent of human significance in this absurd world and found that it was “virtually none”. This spurred him to conclude that, for that reason if no other, one should make the most of the “feral quality of experience” in the moment and in the practical sense of the living.

Nietzsche’s philosophical corpus is voluminous and wide-ranging in ideas, topics and meanings. He contended with the notion of supreme logic, deeming it to be “a recipe for intellectual self-deadening and self-imposed ignorance”. He contested the rationalistic, Socratic, approach to “truth”, preferring the metaphoric, poetic and practical wisdom in seeking it, and thereby developed a doctrine of “perspectivism” which later became one of his most cognisant trademarks. He set out for himself an ideal, an “Ubermensch”, a person “cut from wood that is hard” but also “delicate” a person who is “alive, playful” and one who “uses bad luck to his advantage” because he realises that “what does not kill him, makes him stronger.” He advocated independence of spirit in Human, All Too Human and the notion of the individual, pointing out in The Will to Power that: “If from the death of God we don’t fashion a major renunciation and perpetual victory over ourselves, we’ll have to pay for that loss.” He aimed to affirm life directly in the face of its pains, urged a love of fate, and a questioning mind. He made philosophy not only accessible but also exciting and interesting. In turn, he has been misappropriated by the Nazis and accused of anti-Semitism, which he clearly rejects in a letter to his Nazi-sympathising sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche saying: “You have committed one of the greatest stupidities — for yourself and for me! Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me again and again with ire or melancholy. … It is a matter of honor with me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal in relation to anti-Semitism, namely, opposed to it, as I am in my writings.” He has been condemned by the likes of Max Nordau, deemed a controversialist, a radical, a misogynist and dismissed on account of being a madman. In short, posterity has not been kind to Nietzsche but Wicks does well to dispel these misconceptions and suppositions, without either patronising the reader or simplifying his subject.

In 1869, at the age of 24, Nietzsche was appointed a professorial position at the University of Basel in Switzerland.  There he wrote his first extended study The Birth of Tragedy, concerned with its Greek origins and in broader terms how it applied to modern day culture. The work failed to gain academic praise, conversely because it demonstrated Nietzsche’s beginnings as a truly original thinker, flying “against the wind, not with it”, through sentiments describing Christianity as “life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life.” This, in part because, and contrary to his upbringing, Nietzsche had already determined religion a fallacy, and the promise of another life an even bigger one. Thus he believed in this life and as he says in The Gay Science strived to get the “greatest fruitfulness and greatest enjoyment” from it by living “dangerously” as befits a “free spirit”. There are many fascinating aspects to Nietzsche’s life and his work, but one that has interested me more than any other is his view of women, summarized perfectly in his belief that “they make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” This is, perhaps, where Nietzsche was truly speaking from experience having had his proposal of marriage rejected by varied love-interests. He tackles his awe and incomprehension of women head on, through means of mocking witticisms and more earnestly in the preface to Beyond Good and Evil by comparing “truth” with a “woman” for after all “philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women” and often “truth” unable to truimph over either  because both truth and woman, “she has never allowed herself to be won; and at present every kind of dogma stands with sad and discouraged mien–IF, indeed, it stands at all!” This is perhaps the highest  compliment Nietzsche ever pays the female sex, elsewhere offering somewhat more acerbic snippets, especially when considering the relations between the sexes. In Human, All Too Human he says: “If spouses did not live together, good marriages would be more frequent,” and more scathingly about the female nature: “Woman’s love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love,” before himself concluding that “In sum, one cannot be too kind about women.” He does, however, offer some sound advice at one point by saying: “When entering a marriage, one should ask the question: do you think you will be able to have good conversations with this woman right into old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory, but most of the time in interaction is spent in conversation.” Perhaps prospective spouses should take heed.

Whatever Nietzsche’s faults were it would be unfair to ascribe to him the label of a “misogynist”. He was many things but never really that; certainly an overachiever, a fiercely intelligent yet impractical man, and yet “not a man” exactly but rather “dynamite”, someone who was “human, all too human” but also someone who was a romantic. Yep, a romantic. No one but a romantic could write that: “To put up with men, to keep open house in one’s heart – this is liberal, but no more than liberal. One knows of hearts which are capable of noble hospitality, which have curtained windows and closed shutters: they keep their best rooms empty. Why do they so? Because they await guests with whom one does not have to ‘put up’.” And I guess I too am a romantic because I too await a guest with whom I won’t have to “put up”. After all, love is mad like that but then there’s “always some reason in madness,” and I don’t think anyone would dare argue with that, not even Nietzsche.

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