Nietzsche on love

I’ve learned much recently, and continue to learn, from a web of practices I’ve been immersed in. Ayahuasca has played its part; no visions, but a potent explosion of inner insight that’s subtly shifted the axis of my self-worth, which now moves more gently and with more compassion. Rebirthing has worked in synergy, expanding my awareness of the patterns in my body, and deepening my capacity for courage and joy. Other more personal, occult threads have added the vital coherence of intent.

A lot of perceptions have crystallized, or come into sharper focus, through all this, but writing publicly about them hasn’t happened so far. I’m very busy in the months to come, but hopefully they will seep into future works.

Nietzsche by Edvard Munch (1906)

Meanwhile, I find myself immersed in Nietzsche in Turin, Lesley Chamberlain’s fascinating account of the great philosopher’s final year of sanity in 1888. This was a hugely fruitful year, producing Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist and Ecce Homo. But it culminated in his collapse into helpless insanity just after the New Year.

It’s clear from Chamberlain’s book — if you didn’t know already — that Nietzsche’s life was a particular failure in many respects. In 1888 he was relatively impoverished, jobless, single, persistently ill, his work only just beginning to make any slight impact on the world. His most intense friendships had foundered, and his one real love, with Lou Salomé, was unrequited and years behind him.

His character and philosophy have their notorious rough edges, but what Chamberlain manages to delineate so well is how poignant and significant Nietzsche’s approach to his hardships is. His “self-overcoming”, which his rough edges have managed to pass down to history as a grim ideal for lonely right-wingers, was his way of accepting life, of rising above the world’s trials and pains by a kind of bold artistry of the soul.

Perpetual re-creation and a refusal to rest in the safe harbours of fixed concepts and other “idols” implies much rigour and summoning of impossible strength, to be sure. But equally it involves a tremendous sensitivity, a delicate poise of perception amidst boldness that manages to pick out textures and patterns and, neither clinging nor rejecting, allows them to enrich one’s love of life.

Quoting from The Science of Joy, Chamberlain exposes this unsung side of Nietzsche, showing vividly how his capacity for compassion and sense of beauty is belied by his morbid popular image. It sums up an important lesson of my past year better than anything I could write.

One must learn to love – this is what happens to us in music. First one has to learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate it and delimit it as a separate life. Then it requires some exertion and goodwill to tolerate it despite its strangeness, to be patient with its experience and expression, and kindhearted about its oddity. Finally there comes a moment when we are used to it, when we wait for it, when we sense we should miss it if it were not there; and now continues to compel and enchant us relentlessly until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers who desire nothing better from the world than it and only it.

But that is what happens to us not only in music. That is how we have learned to love all things that we now love. In the end we are always rewarded for our goodwill, our patience, fairmindedness and gentleness with what is strange; gradually it sheds its veil and turns out to be a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even those who love themselves will have learned it in this way: for there is no other way. Love, too, has to be learned.