Wednesday 31 August 2022

A Nietzschean Find

 My latest charity bookshop find was a book I didn't even know existed – Nietzsche in Turin by Lesley Chamberlain. I was partly attracted by the cover design, and the fact that the book was published by the excellent Pushkin Press. As for Nietzsche, although I've long suspected that Jeeves was probably right about him – 'Fundamentally unsound, sir' – I've always found him a fascinating figure, and was keen to learn more. Chamberlain's book focuses on the year 1888, when Nietzsche, ever the wanderer, moved to Turin, a city he found exactly suited to his needs and tastes. Here he wrote three of his most important works – Twilight of the Idols (which I believe I might have read many years ago), The Antichrist and Ecce Homo – before descending into madness in the first days of 1889. A crucial year then, which Chamberlain chronicles in thoroughly readable manner, while filling in a lot of background information we need to know to understand Nietzsche's development. Along the way she demolishes various damaging misconceptions about Nietzsche, always emphasising the complexity and subtlety of his thought, which never ossified into dogma, a single 'Nietzschean' philosophy. As he said himself, 'There are no philosophies, only philosophers'.
  I've already learnt a lot about this troubled, anxious, insecure man. I knew he was musical, and had been hugely impressed by Wagner, but I never realised quite how important music was to him, and how intense was the relationship with Wagner, his former idol whom he ceased to worship after he created the Ring Cycle, a work which Nietzsche found in many ways repellent (I know the feeling...). I'm finding Nietzsche in Turin surprisingly, genuinely enjoyable, and have already gained much from it, including some choice quotations from the ever quotable philosopher.  Here's one with, I think, a lot of truth in it (truth that many Germanic and other philosophers would have done well to remember): 'What is good is light. Everything divine runs on delicate feet.' And here is a little sidelight on the Russian literary critic Belinsky, who 'told how for several years Schiller's moral idealism addicted him to graceful abstinence for the body and dignity for the soul. He also related how, when for compelling ideological reasons he gave up Schiller for Hegel, he went straight to a brothel.' How charming is divine philosophy!


  1. Bruce Benson wrote a book called Pious Nietzsche ( which was not only surprisingly interesting for an academic book, but also illuminating of how deeply music informed everything about Nietzsche's thinking. I really enjoyed it. Sue Prideaux's recent biography, I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche was also very well-done.