Saturday, October 15, 2005


Born in 1844, today is the birthday of German philologist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Today also happens to be the birthday of my daughter Talya, born in 2002. Happy Birthday Talya!

There is an odd synchronicity to this coincidence, as Nietzsche is the figure who moved me to return from Italy and go to university to study philosophy and religious studies. More than any other philosophic works, his are the writings that I have studied the most. His critique of Western morality and theism lays the ground for much of what follows in the twentieth century, for good or bad.

Because Nietzsche went "insane" in 1889 and was beridden for most of the time leading up to his death in 1900, the prevailing view is that he contracted syphillus as a young man working in the medical corp during the Franco-Prussian war. Others contend he contracted the disease from a prostitute, as he neither had a long-term relationship nor married. There is no physiological evidence to prove Nietzsche suffered from syphillus, only speculation given his deteriorating mental and physical condition.

Throughout his life, Nietzsche suffered from severe migraine headaches and daily bouts of nausea--which he frequently tried to alleviate through the use of chloroform (popular in the 19th century). Nevertheless, he wrote feverishly and prolifically, in spite of his pain. (I find this particularly fascinating because I have difficulty composing a single sentence when I have so much as a head cold.)

My own theory is that Nietzsche did not have syphillus. Rather, I believe he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, a rare disorder that causes severe headaches and trance-like siezures that move the afflicted to obssesively ponder philosophical and religious phenomena and engage in hypergraphia, the insatiable need to write in a speculative manner and court an overinflated sense of self-importance.

For the record, as much as I find Nietzsche's philosophy and life engaging, beyond the coincidence of the same birthday there is no related life-path or fateful connection between him and Talya. If as she grows older she finds Nietzsche as engaging as I have, that's fine by me. But I shall continually counsel her that his philosophy is not without risks. He questions all values, all foundations, and all boundaries. To read him is both exilarating yet dangerous; he inspires but also engenders cynicism and despair. In this regard, Nietzsche is a sober yet painful realist. Echoing the infamous Delphic oracle of ancient Greece, Freud said, no other human being knew as much about himself than Nietzsche--no small compliment from the father of psychoanalysis. Introspection is surely the engine of authenticity and integrity, but it can also lead to self-doubt. Yes, know thyself. But know the world around you too, and especially the others of your world.

Thus spoke the Aardvark.