I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche | Sue Prideaux

Summary of: I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche
By: Sue Prideaux


Delve into the fascinating life of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, as portrayed in ‘I Am Dynamite! A Life of Nietzsche,’ by Sue Prideaux. Explore the early years that ignited his intellectual journey, his passionate friendship with composer Richard Wagner, and his ambitious quest to redefine morality in philosophical thought. Witness the progression of Nietzsche’s life, marked by strife, illness, and his relationships with influential thinkers, culminating in his descent into delusion and madness. This book summary provides a captivating look into the man behind the revolutionary ideas that continue to impact our world today.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Intellectual Path

Friedrich Nietzsche, a sickly but brilliant student, met Richard Wagner, his mentor and friend who invited him to visit. Nietzsche’s early years set him on an intellectual path, excelling in philology, and being appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel at just 24 years old.

In November 1868, Friedrich Nietzsche’s life changed when he met Richard Wagner, a famous composer and philosopher. Despite not having formal evening wear, Nietzsche dashed through the pouring rain to meet his future mentor and friend. The two bonded over their love of Wagner’s music, and their mutual appreciation for the work of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. This meeting was a dream come true for the young Nietzsche, whose passion for music and intense intellect was evident from an early age.

Nietzsche was born in 1844 in the Saxon town of Röcken to his mother, Franziska, and Lutheran minister father, Karl Ludwig. However, tragedy struck the family when Karl Ludwig died just five years later at the age of 35. Young Friedrich was also prone to severe headaches and eye pain, which sometimes left him bedridden for up to a week.

Despite his delicate health, Nietzsche excelled at the Schulpforta, the local elite school, where he boarded from the age of 14. He showed a particular aptitude for philology, the study of ancient languages and texts. Although he initially attended the theological faculty in Bonn to fulfill his mother’s wish that he enter the clergy, his intellect was drawn to philology. He soon left and studied it in Leipzig with professor Albrecht Ritschl. Shortly after his meeting with Wagner, Nietzsche was offered the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. At just 24, he became the youngest person ever to be appointed to this post.

Overall, Nietzsche’s early years set him on a great intellectual path, and his passion for music and intense intellect were evident from an early age.

Nietzsche’s Idyllic Friendship with the Wagners

Nietzsche found paradise in Lucerne at Richard and Cosima Wagner’s home, Tribschen. They became inseparable friends, and in this idyllic setting, Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. Despite their differences on the looming Franco-Prussian War, the friendship endured until the Wagner’s left for Bayreuth. The book introduces the crucial concept of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, a duality that would heavily influence Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Nietzsche: From Rising Star to Struggling Philosopher

After the publication of “The Birth of Tragedy,” Nietzsche’s once-shining academic career took a sharp turn. The book received little attention from his peers, and his philology course in Basel only had two students. His health declined, and he became unable to tolerate natural light. Nietzsche’s relationship with the Wagners, who had been his mentors, was also fraying. Despite all these struggles, some positives emerged; his work “Schopenhauer as Educator” was relatively well-received, and he found solace in his relationships with friends and mentors. Overall, Nietzsche struggled with his career, his health, and his relationships after the publication of “The Birth of Tragedy.”

Nietzsche’s Wanderjahre

After resigning from Basel, Nietzsche started his years of wandering, exploring the beauty of Alpine Europe. During this period, Nietzsche wrote his first book in aphoristic style, Human, All Too Human, which challenged the existence of eternal truth and religion. Although a hit among intellectuals, it hurt his relationship with family and friends, including Wagner who declined to read it. During his wanderings, Nietzsche met the young Lou Salomé, and both men fell for her, leading to a complicated ménage à trois between them. Nietzsche had some of the most profound experiences of his life, like the climb up Monte Sacro, during this wandering period.

The Chaotic Life of Nietzsche

In 1882, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he was more concerned about the moral void that would fill the void left by Christian dogma. His relationship with Lou Salomé and Paul Rée was tumultuous, and his philosophy was out of sync with his personal life. Although Wagner’s Parsifal premiered that year, Nietzsche refused to attend but sent Lou and his sister instead, which didn’t go too well. Afterward, Nietzsche and Lou spent an awkward holiday together discussing his ideas, which proved to be too much for Lou, who left with Rée. Nietzsche was devastated, but he was also full of ideas for his writing.

Nietzsche’s Torment and the Birth of Superman

Nietzsche’s personal struggles and torment led to the creation of the influential philosophical novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which introduces the concept of the superman and explores the moral crisis after the death of God.

Faced with Lou’s departure and declining health, Nietzsche turned to opium as his medication during the winter of 1882-83. Despite this, he wrote one of his most influential works, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which introduces the concept of the superman. In the novel, Zarathustra, an ancient Persian prophet, preaches about the need to overcome humanity and evolve into the superman. Nietzsche’s personal struggles are evident in the portrayal of “tarantulas” in the second book, which represents his deep wounds from Lou and Rée’s betrayal.

The novel explores the moral crisis plaguing mankind after the death of God, but Nietzsche does not see it as an excuse for nihilism. Instead, he believes that the superman is the solution to this crisis, a strong leader who can lead humanity towards a new way of thinking. Despite not defining the concept of the superman explicitly, Nietzsche depicts him as a figure who can overcome moral complexities and resolve the crisis facing mankind.

Throughout the writing of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche was grappling with personal turmoil; his health continued to decline, and he resorted to opium to ease his pain. His mother’s disapproval of his books added to the family chaos, but it was his sister Elisabeth’s engagement to Bernhard Förster, a German nationalist, that caused alarm. Nietzsche did not support Förster’s plans for a new German settlement free from “Jewish influence.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra was published in four books, with the first being the most influential. The fourth book sees Zarathustra welcoming in his cave figures such as the Pope, Schopenhauer, Wagner, and Nietzsche himself. Nietzsche’s work had a profound impact on the field of philosophy and remains influential to this day.

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