• Document: 013_Nihilism.doc. READINGS: NIHILISM Background Background: A. J. Hoover, A Brief Life Nietzsche, Various aphorisms.
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013_Nihilism.doc READINGS: “NIHILISM” Background Background: A. J. Hoover, “A Brief Life” Nietzsche, Various aphorisms. Background: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was one of the most original, perhaps the most original, thinker of his time. Son of a Saxon pastor, brought up by womenfolk and in the Spartan conditions of a crack boarding school, he became Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel at the age of twenty-four. Resigning ten years later because of ill health, he still had ten years for his work. In January, 1889 he collapsed on the streets of Turin; he was to spend the last twelve years of his life in hopeless insanity. More than that of most philosophers, his work has suffered from misinterpretation and misrepresentation and, while the oracular quality of his utterances did little to help toward a clear understanding of his meaning, confusion has been worse confounded by a great deal of quotation out of context. Certainly, as he himself pointed out, his ideas could not be grasped from any brief or superficial reading and, to this extent, the passages that follow may merely accentuate the confusion. Even so, they will have served their purpose if they provide an idea of the impression they would create when tossed, like firecrackers, into the self-satisfied and podgy-minded climate of late nineteenth-century Europe. In the last generation, Nietzsche was regarded as a prophet of totalitarianism and race hatred. Today, however, we can see him for what he was-the rebel against a society whose complacent mediocrity he abhorred, and against democratic conformity which he despised. "The philosopher," as he wrote in his attack on Wagner, "has to be the bad conscience of his age. What does a philosopher firstly and lastly require of himself? To overcome the spirit of his own age embodied in him, to become 'timeless."' Thus, Nietzsche's will to power appears as the aspiration to power over oneself. And his insistence on individualism, self-assertion, and self-transcendence reveals him as a forerunner, and not the least important, of contemporary Existentialist thought. Background: A. J. Hoover, “A Brief Life” in Friedrich Nietzsche: His Life and Thought. (Westport, CN & London: Praeger, 1994), pp. 1-27. Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15,1844, in Rocken, a small town in Prussian Saxony, the first child of Ludwig Nietzsche, a Lutheran pastor and the son of a pastor.' His mother, Franziska, was also the daughter of a Lutheran cleric. Little Fritz was born on the birthday of the reigning king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, so they named him Friedrich Wilhelm. (He later dropped the "Wilhelm" from his name.) For those who put stock in coincidences, it is of interest to note that all three-the king, the father, and the son-went insane. On July 10,1846, Elisabeth Therese Alexandria Nietzsche was born, the "sister of Zarathustra" who was to play such a fateful role in Nietzsche's life and especially in the making of the Nietzsche myth. Elisabeth loved and adored her older brother and considered him an authority on just about everything. Father Ludwig died in 1849, when Nietzsche was only four. In 1850 his two-year-old brother, Joseph, also died. Nietzsche had foreseen Joseph's death in a dream just a short time before, which may have been the beginning of his epistemological interest in dreams. These early deaths no doubt contributed to that trait of melancholy and seriousness that people observed in the young Nietzsche. He liked solitude and reflected on serious topics that children his age rarely consider. He early acquired the habit of self-absorption; he even wrote an autobiography at the tender age of fourteen entitled Aus meinem Leben (From My Life). Losing his father deprived young Fritz of a male role model, so he turned to his grandfather, Pastor David Oehler, a hunting parson of the old school, a large, robust man who fathered eleven children and died in full harness at the age of seventy-two. Grandfather Oehler was well-rounded, for in addition to his large body he had a large library and was musically gifted. Fritz grew up loving good books and good music. The Nietzsche clan was Lutheran, patriotic, educated, and musical. Growing up in this atmosphere, a young man would be equipped with a strict morality, a tolerant Lutheran orthodoxy, a sense of honor, a regard for order, an appreciation of aristocratic values, and a love of literature and music. After the death of Joseph, Franziska moved the family to nearby Naumburg on the Saale, which has been described as "a religious church-going and royalist civil service City."z Here Friedrich spent the next eight years, the remainder of his childhood, as the only man in a house with five women-his mother Franziska, his sister Elisabeth, his paternal grandmother Erdmuthe, and two maiden aunts. Fritz attended a local elementary school and then went to a private pre

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