Nietzsche and Lou Andreas-Salomé: Chronicle of a Relationship 1882

Robert S. Leventhal

Copyright © 2001 by Robert S. Leventhal, all rights reserved. This text may be shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law. Redistribution or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the written permission of the author.

Lou Salomé, Paul Ree, and Nietzsche 1882

"Der Mann hat im Hintergrunde aller seiner Empfindungen für ein Weib immer noch die Verachtung für das weibliche Geschlecht."
("In the background of all of his feelings for a woman, a man still has contempt for the female sex.")

"Der Mensch ist eine zu unvollkommene Sache. Liebe zu einem Menschen würde mich zerstören."
("The human being is too imperfect a thing. Love for a person would destroy me.")

"Bei jedem Gespräch zu dreien ist einer überflüssig und verhindert damit die Tiefe des Gesprächs."
("In every conversation between three people, one person is superfluous and therefore prevents the depth of the conversation.")

--Friedrich Nietzsche, Tautenberger Aphorismen für
Lou von Salomé
(1882) Nietzsche, Kritische Gesamtausgabe,
ed. Colli/Montinari, VII-1. Nachgelassene Fragmente Juli 1882
bis Winter 1883-1884.

These quotes from Nietzsche's Tautenberger Aphorismen during the summer of 1882 make clear that Nietzsche was, at the very least, deeply conflicted about his ability to connect with another person. When that other person was a female in Nietzsche's life, the matter becomes complex. Finally, when the female is a friend of Nietzsche's friend and is basically installed as the missing component of a love-triangle, the situation becomes even more difficult.

Since the deconstruction of the "biographical fallacy" in the 60s', it has been almost illegal in critical discourse to write about the events of a writer's or philosopher's life as somehow informing or governing their writing, as though we would be able to isolate the writing from a body that is materially ensconced in history, in time, and in a myriad of complex relationships with others. While the biographical fallacy correctly pointed out that there can be no univocal, one-on-one linkages between a biographical, social or cultural event and the sentences produced by a writer, criticism of the last twenty years has separated the writing of an author so fully from the concrete historical events of the author's life that one wonders if all of the theorizing about "bodies" and "materiality" so fashionable in academic critical circles has actually contributed to a false separation of writing and life, of articulation and event, essentially relegating the "body" to a mere theoretical construct out of touch, literally and figuratively, with the real bodies of individuals in their complex relations with their world and others. It may well be that the "biographical fallacy" was correct in destroying the assumptive correlations between life and thought, and yet there is an enormous difference between the positivistic reduction of writing through the facts of the life of an author, and interpretive psychoanalytic and historical approaches which seek to understand life-events in light of the writing of an individual, and the writing of that individual in the context of their relation to their culture, the social and media-specific conditions within which they operated. The latter does not reduce writing to biography, but rather seeks to understand the complexity of life and writing as two points in a constellation of ongoing disclosure and questioning.

Many studies have grappled with the "problem" of Nietzsche and the feminine, Nietzsche and female sexuality, and Nietzsche and the actual women who were significant in his life, yet few, with the exception of the Irvin Yalom's novel When Nietzsche wept (1993)-- a fictitious philosophical reconstruction of Nietzsche becoming a patient of Josef Breuer's at the behest of Lou Salomé -- have focused in on what is perhaps the most significant relationship to a woman (other than the extremely conflicted relationship to his sister) that Nietzsche experienced. Of all the women who figure prominently in Nietzsche's life, Lou von Salomé was the most important woman to befriend him, and one of the powerful forces that operated in the last decade of the philosopher's active life. How this relationship was both informed by Nietzsche's thought, and how in turn its failure and the pain it caused influenced Nietzsche and contributed to his ever-deepening depression and isolation has not been fully traced.

From the historical record, this much is certain. Friedrich Nietzsche first learned of Lou Salomé from his friend Paul Rée, who had met Lou at the home of Malwida von Meysenbug in Rome on the 13th of March 1882. Von Meysenbug often hosted writers and thinkers of the time. Rée wrote to Nietzsche about Lou and, although Rée's letter has been lost, we can only assume from Nietzsche's response that Rée must have been extremely enthusiastic about Lou from the beginning. Nietzsche wrote back to Rée: "Greet this Russian woman for me, if this makes any sense; I long for this type of woman, I'm even thinking about plunder in this regard, when I think about what I want to do in the next ten years. Marriage is a totally different matter. I would only be interested in a two-year marriage, and this, again, only in view of what I have set out for myself over the next ten years." Student, confidant, discussion-partner for philosophical ideas, erotic object, and finally femme fatale, the 21 year old Lou was to play many roles for the older author of The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche fell in love with Lou instantly, and proposed marriage three times during a seven month period. Nietzsche was enormously difficult by any standard, but this should not obscure Lou's own unique contribution to the short, doomed relationship, nor lessen the significance of the failed relationship for Nietzsche's subsequent depression.

Nietzsche's preliminary response to Rée's letter, while surprising in its direct, forward nature, can be understood in the context of his longing for a disciple, perhaps even comrade in ideas, and reveals much about Nietzsche's mindset and vulnerability to a relationship that was problematic from the start. Although he stated that he would only consider short-term marriage, there is evidence to suggest that Nietzsche might have been seeking a Lebensgefährtin, a soul-partner to accompany him on his philosophical journey. He was also being provoked through the communiqués of a number of different people, especially Malwida von Meysenbug. Of the many voices that resonate in the history of this complicated relationship, and the many people that were to become involved in this affair, Malwida von Meysenbug was to play a pivotal role. She, perhaps even more than Reé, set the stage for the drama that was to unfold between Nietzsche, Lou, Rée, and Nietzsche's vindictive and jealous sister, Elisabeth, who later married the anti-Semite Bernard Förster, became a bitter enemy of Lou Salomé, and attempted to falsify much of Nietzsche's writing. We owe it to Karl Schlechta for having shown the degree to which Elisabeth altered her brother's œuvre for her own ideological and political purposes.

On the 27th of March, 1882, von Meysenbug wrote to Nietzsche: "A very strange girl (I think Rée wrote to you about her) to whom I indebted, among many others, for my book; she appears to me to have arrived at the same results in philosophical thinking as you, that is, towards a practical idealism, leaving behind every metaphysical presupposition and every concern about the explanation of metaphysical problems. Rée and I agree in the wish to see you with this extraordinary person, but unfortunately I can't recommend a visit in Rome because the conditions here would probably not do you well." Cognizant of Nietzsche's frail health and susceptibility to "attacks" of various kinds, she was afraid Nietzsche would fall ill in Rome.

With this provocation, however, von Meysenbug accomplished a number of things. First, she confirmed, subconsciously, the triangle that was already forming between Rée, Lou, and Nietzsche, with her functioning as an interlocutor and as a "director"; secondly, she constructed a taboo or limit that was asking to be explored, if not crossed, especially by the now curious and hyper-stimulated Nietzsche, the recipient of these letters about the mysterious, young woman from the East. There is something of the voyeur in Malwida von Meysenbug's desire to see Nietzsche and Rée vying for this elusive and striking young woman who seemed to have such intelligence, depth, and beauty.

Although Nietzsche was captivated by Sicily, the sirocco was having its effect on the susceptible and often depressive writer. On the 29th of March, 1882, Nietzsche left Messina, Sicily for Genoa.

Rée had written to Nietzsche, expanding and heightening Nietzsche's already palpable excitation by informing him that Lou herself was now in a state of agitation, or shall we say stimulation, concerning Nietzsche's impending visit: "With this step (the trip to Messina) you have placed this young woman in a state of amazement and worry. She has become so curious to see you, to speak with you, that she wanted to return via Genoa, and she was very angry that you were so far away. She is an energetic, unbelievably smart soul with girl-like, yes, even childish characteristics. She would very much like to spend a nice year [of communal living and study, R.L.], and this would be next winter. She sees as absolutely requisite to this plan you, me, and an older lady, like Madam von Meysenbug, but she isn't interested...Couldn't one arrange this living situation, but who would play the role of the older woman?" Indeed. If von Meysenbug was not interested in playing the role of the older woman, it would allow the triangle to emerge in full clarity, without any intrusive, parental discipline and authority. The three children would then be able to play without the supervising control of the mother.

Their first meeting occurred in Rome, the 23rd or 24th of April, 1882, at St. Peters. Nietzsche became obsessed with Lou. He had Rée make a plea for him for Lou's hand in marriage. Lou rejected his request. This was the first of several rejections Nietzsche was to experience in his relationship with Lou.

Enter Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, who catches wind of her brother's obsession, and immediately intervenes by sending a forged letter to Nietzsche's mother, informing her of the (in her view) disastrous relationship with Lou. This is the beginning of a long series of acrimonious machinations that would prove to be damaging to the relationship between Nietzsche and Lou. While Elisabeth's jealousy and cabal alone were not responsible for the failure of the relationship, they contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust and intrigue that plagued it from the start, and continued to gnaw away at the fabric of the idyll Nietzsche and Lou were constructing.

On the 5th of May, Nietzsche was with Lou and her mother in Orta in the Italian Alps, and then in Luzern. They spent days talking about his emerging philosophical ideas and his childhood. He began to think that he had met someone who could perhaps help him to piece together his broken life. However, his shyness, his inability to express his internal world, and his chronic Verklemmtheit prevented him from expressing his true feelings directly to Lou. He then asked Rée to make another proposal of marriage for him. Lou declined again. Her affection for Nietzsche was not of the kind that she wished to be his wife. To complicate matters further, Nietzsche also knew that Rée was also in love with Lou and proposed marriage to her, but was also rejected. Lou attempted to console Nietzsche, assuring him of her enduring friendship to him.

During this stay in the Italian Alps, Nietzsche and Lou decided to take a long walk up Monte Sacro. Their long delay was cause for consternation for both Rée and Lou's mother, who had taken ill. Scholars speculate about what occurred on the walk. Nietzsche and Lou both refer back to it as a special moment in their relationship, but what actually happened is not known. In her own memoir, Looking Back, Lou stated that she could not remember whether or not she kissed Nietzsche during that walk. What is known is that they both continued to harbor it as a breakthrough in their intimacy to one another.

Nietzsche then departed for Basel and stayed with his friends, the Overbecks. On May 13th, the triangle of Nietzsche, Rée and Lou reconvened in Luzern. Nietzsche made another marriage proposal, this time directly, without the assistance of Rée, which Lou rejected again. They parted as friends, and their plans for a year period of communal living and study together remain intact, according to their correspondence.

Nietzsche invited Lou to visit the Overbecks in Basel as well. He wrote to Ida Overbeck on the 28th of May 1882: "…why should I fear my fate especially when it appears before me in the unexpected figure of Lou? Note that Rée and I are both attached to our brave and magnanimous friend with the same emotions and that he and I have a great trust in one another as regards this. Fräulein Lou will arrive at your place this Tuesday. Speak about me with every liberty. You know and can guess what is necessary in order for me to attain my goal. You also know that I am not a man of deeds, and that I unfortunately remain behind my best intentions. Also, I am, because of the aforementioned goal, an evil egoist, and our friend Rée is in every respect a better friend than I (which Lou does not believe)."

Lou arrived in Basel on May 30. Concerning her conversation with Lou, Ida Overbeck wrote in her journal on June 2, 1882: "I have spoken with Fräulein S[alomé], and what I had planned on saying was in accordance with directives that Nietzsche had imparted to me in letters just before her arrival. First, I established her position towards her family. She is fully independent both financially and legally, and must consider bourgeois prejudices in order to satisfy her drive toward knowledge and wisdom. A tendency toward adventure does not appear to be present in her, but rather much beautiful and generous femininity. I made her aware of the difficulty of the task she had set for herself." Ida Overbeck, influenced perhaps by her affection for Nietzsche, continued that perhaps she would be able to surmount all of the obstacles and difficulties of the relationship, saying that Lou "...has a sense of Nietzsche's ambiguous essence, which is probably hers as well." She speculated that it was Nietzsche who had given rise to the most incorrect, fantasy-laden ideas concerning his sister, and because Nietzsche had asked her, Ida, to try to create some clarity and rapprochement, Ida was all too willing to try to sketch the turbulent emotional landscape for Lou, and try to make her understand what was really at stake. According to Ida Overbeck, Lou seemed to grasp everything. The period between the time of her arrival and Nietzsche's departure for Tautenberg on the 25th of June 1882 must have been, from all accounts, one of heightened emotions, unstable temperaments, and intense encounters.

We get a strong dose of Nietzsche's depression from a letter he writes to Lou from Tautenberg on the 27th of June 1882: "In the meantime I have imparted everything that has to do with you to my sister. Do you think my silence all of this time was hardly necessary? I analyzed this today and found the following to be the reason: mistrust vis-à-vis myself." Nietzsche blames this on his self-imposed loneliness and his rejection of all love and friendship. He says "I had to remain silent because it would have driven me crazy to speak with her about you each time." Confiding to his sister about Lou was a bad idea, considering that Elizabeth's pathological hatred had already resulted in at least one forgery and, one can only guess, countless rumors and gossip to Nietzsche's mother and their circle of friends and acquaintances. At the very least, telling all to his sister would be viewed with suspicion by Lou, who would wonder about the precise nature of their "intimacy" together, and whether it was intimate at all.

It is here, in Tautenberg, from June 25th until late August, 1882, that Nietzsche writes the fragments "Tautenburger Aufzeichnungen für Lou von Salomé" that bear the mark of their stormy relationship. These fragments convey not merely some of Nietzsche's most condensed and powerful summations of his radical philosophical vision, but also betray the sense of the power he must have felt writing them for Lou: "Why do I love free-spiritedness? As the last consequence of all previous morality. To be just with regard to everything, to be free of inclination or disinclination, to be able to order one's self into the series of things, to be above one's self, the overcoming of and to have the courage to stand up to the personal-inimical, the painful, even in view of the evil in things; honesty, even as an opponent to idealism and piety, yes, even emotion, even in relation to honesty itself; a loving sense toward everything and everyone and good will to discover everything's and everyone's value, their justification, their necessity." Tautenburger Aufzeichnungen für Lou von Salomé (Kritische Gesamtausgabe VII-1.16) And he continues:

As a means of this free-spiritedness I recognized the necessity of Egotism and self-discipline so as not to be snared into the things; as a bond and as support. The aforementioned completion of morality is only possible in an "I" to the extent it behaves lively, forming, desiring, creatively, and in every moment seeks to go against sinking into things; it thereby maintains its power to appropriate more and more things into itself and to have these things submerge into it. Free-spiritedness is therefore in relation to the self and to egotism a process of becoming, a struggle of two opposites, nothing finished or perfect, not a "state"; it is the insight of morality that it can only maintain itself in existence and development through its opposite."

Although Lou and Elisabeth were by this time clearly at odds, they continued to meet. On the 24th of June they were together in Leipzig, and at that point everything began to break apart. The two women traveled together first to the Wagner performance Bayreuth Festspiele, and then back to Tautenberg. Elisabeth tells Nietzsche about an "incident" in Jena. Nietzsche and Lou then have a terrible argument. In her diary, Lou writes: "I knew that if we would confront that which we both were avoiding in the storm of emotions, we would find our way back quickly enough, despite the petty gossip, to our deeply related natures…And so it was…He takes so much pleasure in our conversations, that he confided to me, even in our first argument here as I arrived and found him in a very miserable state, he said he could not repress an associated pleasure in my manner of contradicting him…I have tremendous faith in his ability to teach. We understand each other so well. But whether it is a good thing that he is with me in conversation from the early hours until late in the night, and therefore not working on his material. I said this to him today, and he nodded and said, 'I have it so rarely and enjoy it like a child.' But the same evening he said: 'I cannot remain for long in your presence.' The memory of the time in Italy seems to us often - 'monte sacro', he would say, the most beautiful dream of my life, I owe to you.' We're very happy with each other, laugh a lot. I am so glad that the sullen and sorrowful sense, which hurt me so, has vanished from his face, and that his eyes have their old light and shine back." (August 14, 1882; L.A-S. Lebensrückblick). And on August 18th, Lou wrote: "How similarly we think and feel and how we take the words out of each others' mouths. We've spoken ourselves to death these last three weeks and miraculously he is able to stand these discussions ten hours a day. Strange, that we unintentionally seem to go into the abyss with these conversations, to those unstable places, where one usually climbs alone in order to look down into the depths."

On the 1st of August, Elisabeth told her brother about her and Malwida von Mysenbug's indignation concerning Lou's behaviour at the Bayreuth Festspiele, intensifying the hurt, jealousy, and sense of exclusion Nietzsche must have felt. Nietzsche then wrote to Lou: "I wanted to live alone. But then the dear bird Lou flew across my path, and I thought it was a noble creature, and I wanted to have this eagle. Please come to me, I am too hurt, to have hurt you. We can better bear it together."(August 4, 1882). Salomé met Elisabeth Nietzsche in Jena on the 7th of August. Elisabeth criticized Lou for her behaviour and manner, and Lou reacts strongly, asserting that Nietzsche was responsible for the plans and all of the images concerning their relationship, both real and imagined. Lou tells Elisabeth about Nietzsche's plan for a "wild marriage" (eine Wilde Ehe). Elisabeth was enraged from this point on, and Lou became the sole target of her fury. She sees in Lou the destruction of her brother, a fall into decadence, the abyss of amorality. Her feelings of exclusion and envy, having been displaced by Lou, rise to an untenable pitch. Her rage seeks an outlet. Protective of her brother, envious and perhaps even cunning with plans to exploit this for her own purposes, Elisabeth now begins a frontal assault on Lou and the relationship.

At the end of August, Lou departed Tautenberg. The conflict between Nietzsche and his sister regarding Lou became vehement. The sibling trust had been broken, and Nietzsche sank back into his lonely and miserable state, but he did not give up the hope in the Dreieinigkeit - the "trinity" or the plan of him, Rée and Lou living and studying together. At the beginning of September, he wrote to Elisabeth: "In two or three days…it will begin," referring to his planned trip to Paris to meet Rée and Lou and begin the study period. He wrote a conciliatory letter to Elisabeth: "I hear with sadness that you are still suffering from the effects of those scenes that I should have protected you from. But remain with this point of view: through the emergence of these scenes something came to light which would perhaps have remained in the dark for a long time, namely that Lou had a lower opinion and perhaps some mistrust against me, and when I reflect on the circumstances of our acquaintance, perhaps with good reason, especially when one considers the effect of some indiscreet remarks of friend Rée. But now she thinks much more highly of me, and that is the main thing, not so, my dear sister? In any case, when I think about the future, it would be very hard for me to think that we are not of the same opinion regarding Lou. We have such a affinity of gifts and intentions, that our names will one day be mentioned together; and every denigration which touches her will touch me first."

In the meantime, Elisabeth had poisoned the relationship further with statements to Nietzsche's mother. Nietzsche's mother writes: "Why doesn't Lisa write or come visit? I am certain that the poor child grieves about this person (Lou) who has bound herself to your jacket." Elisabeth must have shown her the famous picture of Nietzsche, Rée and Lou in Luzern, with Lou as the coachman, holding the whip. This conflict between mother and son became inflamed to the point that the mother forbids Nietzsche from having Lou in the house, and Nietzsche left Naumberg for Leipzig on the 7th of September. Anti-Semitism against Rée and xenophobia against Lou mix freely in the mother's invective, conjuring up a conspiracy of jewish-foreign forces meant to undermine her son's well-being and separate him from his family, all of which was probably fueled by Elisabeth's latent anti-Semitism.

But Nietzsche remained resolute in his high estimation of Lou and clear in his intentions. To his friend and former colleague Overbeck in Basel, Nietzsche wrote just before the middle of September: "The most useful thing I did this summer were my discussions with Lou. Our intellects and taste are deeply connected, and, on the other hand, there are so many differences, that we are really the most instructive observation objects and subjects for each other. I have never met anyone who knew how to derive objective insights from their experience, no one, who understood how to pull so much from what they have learned."

At approximately the same time, Nietzsche wrote in a letter to Rée: "In the meantime, my sister has directed all of the viciousness of her nature, which she usually vents on my mother, against me, and formally broken off her relationship with me in a letter to my mother, on account of her distaste of my philosophy, and 'because I love evil, and she the good' and such nonsense. She poured ridicule and scorn on me. Now, the truth is that I have been patient and gentle with her my whole life, as I must be vis-a-vis the female sex, and this perhaps spoiled her." Elisabeth broadcasted her disapproval and hyper-critical attack to all the friends and acquaintances in order to ensure that "a transgression against all moral purity does not occur." Elisabeth was supported and even incited further by Malwida von Meysenbug, who wrote to her that she should free herself from Nietzsche's philosophy and embrace beautiful deeds of pity and love that provide an ethical existence, unlike the idea of the Dreibündnis, the trinity, suggested by Rée and accepted by Salome and Nietzsche. Rée, the jew, had become the destructive, decadent influence that had overtaken Nietzsche and Lou.

From the 1st of October until November 5th, 1882, Lou Salomé and Paul Rée were in Leipzig. The record reveals that the ideal of the Dreieinigkeit had already been seriously eroded due to jealousy, skepticism concerning Nietzsche's philosophy, Rée's increased desire for Lou and the now inconsolable Nietzsche, who becomes ever more entwined in the familial conflict. From this time, we have a fragment of a letter from Nietzsche's mother full of insinuations and critique, in which she implores him to snap out of his fantasy and wake up to the reality of Lou Salomé, whom she regards as a fake, a parasite, and an unscrupulous, promiscuous woman: "If she is so extraordinary, she would have to be able to demonstrate that without your help; but that is it, isn't it? She cannot really create anything herself, and her main talent is to suck the spirit out of others and then to present it as her own, and that is why she moves from one relationship with a man to another." Lou's health was not good, and Nietzsche wrote that he was concerned whether or not she would make it through the year.

Yet Nietzsche remained undeterred. As late as the middle of November he writes to his former colleague and friend Overbeck in Basel: "Paris is still very much in the forefront, but I must admit that my condition has worsened under the influence of this nordic sky. I have perhaps never spent so many melancholy hours as in this fall in Leipzig." He calls Lou a wahrer Glücksfund that has fulfilled all of his expectations and writes that it is not easy for two people to be more connected as they are: "For me personally Lou is a real find, she fulfilled all of my expectations - it is not easy that two people could be more connected than we." (I, 276) On the 15th of November, however, Nietzsche decides to leave Leipzig and travels first to Basel, then to Italy. Nietzsche goes into a massive depression, and hints at suicide. His obsession with Lou had run its course. No longer able to sustain the idyllic and infantile fantasy of the Dreieinigkeit, assaulted by mother and sister in their continuous reprisals and new attacks upon Lou and their relationship, and with Lou becoming ever closer to Rée, whom Nietzsche himself saw not only as a rival but also as the better and more capable true friend to Lou, able to provide her with the intellectual atmosphere and companionship she desired without the demands of his volatile emotionality, Nietzsche retreats back into his old rôle as the hermit philosopher, the Einsiedler isolated from the world and others.

We have outlines and fragments from this period, shards of unfinished or unsent letters that document Nietzsche's rapid regression and decline. It begins with a letter to Rée dated 23 November, in which Nietzsche proclaims the most heartfelt feelings for them both, and believes to prove more to them both through his separation than he could by being with them. The letter itself was not sent to Rée, but first written and sealed, but then opened by Nietzsche and then placed in an envelope with another letter to Lou. This letter contains the following sentence: "I want nothing more in all of these pieces as a pure. light sky…otherwise I just want to make it through, however difficult that may be." (I, 281) It ends with the declaration: "Dearest Lou, be what you must be!" From there, the writing becomes more sporadic, less coherent, and in certain passages clearly psychotic. The outline of Letter #338, which remained a draft, allows us a glimpse into the emerging destructive and hateful Nietzsche who then turns not merely on Lou and Rée, but on himself. He writes to Rée: "What is the hardest for me is that I am not able to really speak about what really matters to me, neither to you, nor to Lou or anyone else." (I, 285) Gradually, he begins to dismantle and tear to pieces the fabric of his feelings for these two people. An outline draft from Rapallo, written sometime shortly before the middle of December 1882, shows the contempt and the rage he now articulates: "You have caused damage, you have caused pain, and not only in me, but in all of the people who loved me - this sword hangs above you…I want for you to sentence yourself, and determine what your punishment shall be." (I, 293) He had considered her his philosophical heiress, and now she embodied "…all of the characteristics that I despise…" From this point on, we have only a string of hateful outlines and drafts, incoherent lists, and fragments, until the break is stated in a draft dated mid-December 1882: "Adieu, my dear Lou, I will not see you again. Protect your soul from similar actions and try to make good for Rée and for others what you could not make good with me." It is very difficult to get a clear picture of this final phase of their relationship as all of the letters written by Paul Rée and Lou Salome to Nietzsche during this time were either destroyed or have been lost.

Lou and Rée would live together from their departure until 1885, after which she became engaged to and married the Göttingen Professor of Oriental Languages F.C. Andreas. The story goes that Andreas put a pen knife into his chest to get the engagement, causing quite a nasty wound. While she is said to have found a home in Göttingen and in her marriage to Andreas, theirs was not a romantic love. Her relationship to Rée was not hidden from her husband, indeed, its continuance was a condition for their engagement and marriage. Rée, who lacked self-confidence and could not bear to be without Lou (he once demanded that Lou not see or speak to her husband during the transition period), left Lou in 1885. He continued and completed his medical studies, became a physician, and later provided medical care to the poor in Celerina, where he accidentally fell to his death. Her next great love relationship would be with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, with whom she traveled extensively 1897-1899.

The 1911 Psychoanalytic Congress
with Lou Salome in attendance

Later, after she met Freud, had become a psychoanalyst, and was inducted into the Psychoanalytic Society, Lou would reflect back on Nietzsche in her memoir In der Schule bei Freud 1912/1913 (trans. as The Freud journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé. Translated and with an introd. by Stanley A. Leavy. New York, Basic Books [1964]), and refer to him as the sadomasochist par excellence : "To the degree that cruel people are always masochists, the whole thing has to do with a specific bisexuality. And this has a deep meaning. The first time I spoke about this with another person was with Nietzsche (the Sadomasochist par excellence), and I remember that we were unable to look at each other afterward." (Lou Andreas-Salomé, In der Schule bei Freud. Hrsg. von Ernst Pfeiffer. Zürich, 1958, p. 155). In retrospect, Nietzsche appears much less the sadist, or the sadomasochist, than the true masochist, continually attempting the impossible mis-en-scène of an infantile fantasy in which he would be one with a beloved erotic figure who would heal his fractured self, and stitch together all of those pieces he constantly speaks of in his letters to her. As with all such attempts, the damage done and his utter disillusionment after the affair with Lou Salomé far exceeded the rewards of the brief interlude on Monte Sacro. Sacher-Masoch had laid out the logic for the masochistic character in the 1880s, and the character type was to become a figure in German literature and letters from that point forward. In two of his most famous papers - "Mourning and Melancholia" and "A Child is Being Beaten" - Freud distilled and refined the grammar of the masochistic tendency as an "inwardly turned sadism," which marshaled the regressive and aggressive forces of the super-ego in an attack on the self. Without reducing Nietzsche to this character-type, we must see Nietzsche as part of this much larger cultural script that had adherents and victims from Sacher-Masoch, Rilke and Boltzmann to Weininger and Kafka.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Lou Salomé was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and articulate women of her era. Her own writing, especially her essays on sexuality and erotism, have value not merely in their historical reflection of the era in which they were written, but in their own right as documents of radical femininity in the fin-de-siècle and as a documentation of the recognition of the unique and equal power of women. Lou refused to live according to the rules and values of the bourgeois society of the time, and participated in the intellectual life of her time to an unprecedented degree - not merely as Nietzsche's and Freud's disciple and Rilke's muse - but in her own right as a writer and as a psychoanalyst. After reading her essay "Psychosexuality" of 1917, Freud, not known for his flattery or charitable readings of others' work, remarked in his letter of November 22, 1917: "I am constantly amazed at the art of your synthesis, which is able to integrate the various disjecta membra achieved through your analysis, and then envelope them in a living whole."

For her part, when we read her account of the relationship in her memoir, Lou seemed much more interested from the outset in a teacher-student relationship, to learn his way of thought, and to receive from him the wisdom and insight he had achieved though his unrelenting critique of morality, ideology, contemporary society and culture. In stark contrast to the role that she was to play for Rilke, and more similar to the platonic disciple she was to become for Freud, Lou Salomé had cast Nietzsche as the Professor and as a philosophical guidepost. The disparate views of their relationship, the clash of desire and understanding, the misprision on both sides, underscores the fact that intelligence and the correct assessment of others, passionate knowledge and judgment often have little or nothing to do with one another. Her account of the entire relationship in the Lebensrückblick is curiously vague and detached. With regard to the incident on Monte Sacro, for instance, we read: "Nietzsche and I unintentionally annoyed my mother by staying on the mountain for too long and failing to meet her on time."

Nietzsche eventually turned the masochistic knife outward and against Lou und Rée. To his former friend Paul Rée, he wrote of Lou's moral demise, her superficiality, her lack of all ideals, goals, obligations; how she behaves without shame. As the internal demons ramp up their attack on him, Lou is denigrated and demeaned. Rée was then subjected to similar attacks: "So, the defamation of my character really came from you, and Fräulein Salomé was just your mouthpiece! You have been the one who, of course in my absence, talked about me as lowly, nasty egoist only interested in exploiting others. You are the one who maintained that I had pursued the dirtiest intents with Frl. Salomé behind the mask of ideality!" (draft of a letter to Rée from July, 1883). It was not until two years later, in May of 1884, that Nietzsche recognized that he had behaved horribly with respect to both of them, and felt a need to make things right. He admitted that he had made accusations and raised suspicions concerning their integrity to others, most notably Madwida von Meysenbug. But he was still very far from an understanding of the matter, choosing to see his own evaluative shift regarding Lou as having resulting from the misunderstandings and suspicions of his sister. In her memoir, Lebensrückblick, Lou wrote that Nietzsche's close friend Heinrich von Stein had tried to talk Nietzsche into a reconciliation, but that Nietzsche replied: "What I have done cannot be forgiven."

In the Chronik zu seinem Leben contained in the Kritische Studienausgabe, we read about the devastating effects the relationship to Lou had on Nietzsche: "In December, the crisis in the relationship to Lou and Rée becomes more acute. The specifics of this crisis have only spotty documentation. Suicidal thoughts. The abuse of narcotics." Nietzsche's draft letter from Rapallo dated December 20, 1882 confirms this observation as it enacts the masochistic, destructive drama that was unfolding: "Tonight I will take so much opium that I will lose all reason," and then arrives at a "higher insight" in his relationship to Lou by way of an enormous dosage of opium taken "out of desperation." Unable to master in himself the destructive impulses and forces he demanded that his readers overcome, unable to reinvent himself as he forcefully reminded us that such reinvention was a fundamental condition of life, Nietzsche fell, by all accounts, into a severe depressive state.

In January and February of 1883, Nietzsche emerged enough from this depression so that he was able to write the first part of Zarathustra in ten days, with the other parts to follow in similar bursts of writing in 1884 and 1885. The period between the break from Lou and his final breakdown in 1889 was one of the most productive of his life: Beyond Good and Evil (1886), The Genealogy of Morals (1887) and Ecce Homo (1888) are other examples of this enormously productive period. As his mental illness increased, so did his denial. From the initial diagnosis in 1889 at the Nervenklinik in Basel until his death on August 25, 1900 in Weimar, Nietzsche was cared for first by his mother, and then, after her death in 1897, by his sister Elisabeth. It is believed that for those eleven years, Nietzsche understood very little of what was transpiring around him. The great diagnostician of European Nihilism, whose historical erudition and philosophical rigor had distinguished him as perhaps the most important thinker of the 19th century, himself became encapsulated in an isolated chamber of delusion and oblivion. Speculations of mental illness brought on by advanced syphilis have abounded, and yet the trauma of the failed love relationship with Lou, and its unresolved tentacles, strike me as a more plausible explanation for Nietzsche's demise. If mourning and trauma without an empathetic witness, solidarity, compassion and working-through via transitional objects mark the beginning of madness, Nietzsche's tears bear the mark of the ongoing narcissistic wound formed by Lou's rejection and Nietzsche's own narcissistic vulnerability, his 'madness' a symptom of a profound unresolved trauma and the inability to find companionship or empathy in his mourning.

Additional Reading

Bertram, Maryanne J. "God's Second Blunder -- Serpent Woman and the Gestalt in Nietzsche's Thought." Southern Journal of Philosophy 19 (Fall 1981): 252-278.

Diethe, Carol. "Nietzsche and the Woman Question." History of European Ideas (1989): 865-876.

_______. Nietzsche's Women: Beyond the Whip. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 1996.

Frisby, Sandy. "Woman and the Will to Power." Gnosis 1 (Spring 1975): 1-10.

Graybeal, Jean. "Language and ‘The Feminine’" in: Nietzsche and Heidegger. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Hatab, Lawrence J. "Nietzsche on Woman." Southern Journal of Philosophy 19 (Fall, 1981): 333-346.

Irigaray, Luce. Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Gilliam C. Gill. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Kennedy, Ellen, and Susan Mendus, eds. Women in Western Philosophy: Kant to Nietzsche. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Krell, David Farrell. Postponements: Woman, Sensuality, and Death in Nietzsche. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Oliver, Kelly A., "Nietzsche's 'Women': Poststructuralist Attempt to Do Away with Women." Radical Philosophy 48 (Spring 1988): 25-29.

Oliver, Kelly A., Womanizing Nietzsche, Philosophy's Relation to the `Feminine'. London/New York: Routledge, 1995.

Platt, Michael. "Woman, Nietzsche, and Nature." Maieutics 2 (Winter 1981): 27-42.

Scott, Jacqueline R. "Nietzsche and the Problem of Women's Bodies." International Studies in Philosophy 21/3 (1999): 65-76.

Thomas, R. Hinton. "Nietzsche, Women and the Whip." German Life and Letters: Special Number for L.W. Forester 34 (1980): 117-125.

Burgard, Peter, ed. Nietzsche and the Feminine. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia 1994.

Derrida, Jacques, Spuren. Die Stile Nietzsches, in: W. Hamacher, hrsg., Nietzsche aus Frankreich. Frankfurt/Berlin 1986, S. 129-168.

Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche und die Philosophie. Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt 1991.

Foucault, Michel, "Nietzsche, die Genealogie, die Historie" in: M. Foucault, Von der Subversion des Wissens, hrsg. v. W. Seitter, Frankfurt/M., Fischer TB 1993.

Patton, Paul, ed., Nietzsche, Feminism and Political Theory. London/New York: Routledge 1983.

Yalom, Irvin D. When Nietzsche wept. New York: Harper, 1993.

H. F. Peters, Zarathustra's Sister: The Case of Elisabeth and Friedrich Nietzsche. New York: Crown Publisher, 1977.

H. F. Peters, My Sister, My Spouse: A Biography of Lou Andreas-Salome. New York: W. W. Norton, 1962.

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