Monthly Archives: March 2008
The question as to whether or not Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music is a work of optimism or pessimism is a trick question with a paradoxical answer. On the one hand, Nietzsche’s tract is steeped in the profound pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer’s reductive world view; but, on the other hand, Nietzsche shares his life-affirmative take on human experience as an aesthetic phenomenon. Similarly, though Socratism brought an “optimistic dialect” to tragedy, for Nietzsche such a movement was lethal to the play as an aesthetic experience, and, therefore pessimistically viewed by the self-styled re-valuer of all values. Despite that, Nietzsche looks toward Richard Wagner’s work which, early on, shows signs of providing a re-birth to music, in general, and tragedy, in particular. In the following essay, I will briefly discuss the origin of music and its role in tragedy, especially the use of dithyrambs and the chorus. I will also examine the role of the Dionysian and Apollonian dichotomy in tragedy. Finally, I will argue that Nietzsche was, at last, as a philosophical position facing up to the human condition, largely optimistic, as anyone who dreamed up an ubermensch would need to be.
In the following brief essay I will analyze three reversioned fairy tales–“The Bloody Chamber,” “The Company of Wolves,” and “Wolf-Alice”– included in Angela Carter’s collection titled The Bloody Chamber (1979). I will employ two principal methods for analysis: first, the psychoanalytic model, espoused by Bruno Bettelheim (1979), in which fairy tales are seen as useful to children (and to child-rearing) because of the symbolic working out of underlying oedipal conflicts, which act as psycho-social cautionary tales; second, the postmodernist approach of Julia Kristeva, with particular emphasis on her notions of the “abject” and “intertextuality,” the former which acts as a bridge back to the Freudian approach to Bettelheim, and the latter more closely aligned with contemporary views of culture theory. I will also introduce some critical rebuttals to both Bettelheim and Kristeva, while arguing that the role of fairy tales has evolved to the point of symbolic extinction, and that, in fact, Carter’s tales operate as both a reversion and a critical rebuttal in their own mode. But first a brief summary of the views of Bettelheim and Kristeva, followed by a summary of each Carter tale, and then how Bettelheim and Kristeva’s views apply to the chosen tales.
Louise (Lu) Lasson, a clinical social worker and licensing specialist in New York City, recently sent me an email in which she bemoaned the fact that state license exams for social workers “still ask questions about Freud and Erickson.” To this, she says: “Give it up people and move into the present!” Lu knows from her decades in the field that the psychoanalytic approach to the kinds of problems she sees is outmoded, given the continuing deinstitutionalization of the nuclear family (in the West) and, while nostalgically cogent as backgrounding, virtually useless in practice. I thought of Lu and her quibbles with The Tradition as I began to consider Bruno Bettelheim’s assumptions regarding childhood and ego development out of the ashes of the id/superego conflagration and its relevance to the fairy tale tradition, in general, and to Carter’s provocative ouevre, in particular. In general, states Bettelheim (1979, 214),
each child in his development must repeat the history of man, real or imagined. We are all expelled eventually from the original paradise of infancy, where all our wishes seemed to be fulfilled without any sort of effort on our part. Learning about good and evil—gaining knowledge—seems to split our personality in two: the red chaos of unbridled emotions, the id; and the white purity of our conscience, the superego….Adulthood can be reached only when these inner contradictions are resolved and a new awakening of the mature ego is achieved, to which red and white coexist harmoniously.
So, this is Bettelheim’s view of children’s literature in a nutshell. Within the literature we will find embedded symbols which point to the conflict of the child’s becoming. But it is difficult for a contemporary reader who has been fed (sometimes forcibly so) a steady diet of post-modernist theory to proceed unalarmed by Bettelheim’s Judeo-Christian language—the allusions to the Garden and Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge and Paradise Lost; the equating of knowledge with the acquisition of “good and evil”; the easy simplicity of duality between id and superego, and the resolution of this conflict in a kind of triadic dialectic reminiscent of Hegel (thesis<>antithesis<>synthesis). In the above passage Bettelheim also fusses about the colors red and white, but mostly, in this case, because he is referencing Snow White. Still, the simple universal symbolism is halting.
Compare Bettelheim to the more active and modern Kristeva, with her complexity that makes room for values that are other than Judeo-Christian (even essentially opposed to the J-C hegemony). How otherworldly, vis-a-vis Bettelheim, is her language. Listen, as she speaks of one of her key concepts, “abjection” (1982, 4):
It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior. . . . Any crime, because it draws attention to the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder, hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of such fragility. He who denies morality is not abject, there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law – rebellious, liberating, and suicidal crime. Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sets you up, a friend who stabs you. . . .
Herein we find the sinister dread of horror—the hallucinatory paranoia that leaves one momentarily breached by a kind of intimation that the self is little more than a constellation of impulses and desires being drawn toward a black hole of total annihilation of self. So, we are talking two distinct voices when we offer up a fairy tale for further fathoming.
Take the story of Bluebeard, for instance. Perrault himself says that the moral of this story is: “Curiosity, in spite of its appeal, often leads to deep regret. To the displeasure of many a maiden, its enjoyment is short lived. Once satisfied, it ceases to exist, and always costs dearly”(1889). Obviously, this moral is a bit of a puzzlement to the modern reader, given the ending. Albeit, “several” unlucky wives have had to pay the price beforehand. But, in reality, it all comes down to the newlywed having a couple of martially-trained brothers who arrive in the nick of time. To the modern reader, this is not a tale of broken trust and fatal curiosity, but one of psychopathology and entrapment.
Yet, according to Bettelheim (1979, 302), it’s a simple process: “However one interprets “Bluebeard,” it is a cautionary tale which warns: Women, don’t give into your sexual curiosity; men, don’t permit yourself to be carried away by your anger at being sexually betrayed.” To arrive at this interpretation, Bettelheim has had to do some magic tricks. Bluebeard’s previous wives’ deaths and the unnecessary proffering of a key are not considered, because, one guesses, Bettelheim is determined to see self-serving symbols, along the lines of an Edenic fall from grace, where reality would suffice. It could be argued that the young girl gave into her sexual curiosity on her wedding night—literally. Instead, Bettelheim sees the secret room as the maiden’s curiosity into the husband’s sexual proclivities, which, as it turns out, are better off being left alone, because of their perversity. And the idea that another part of the moral is that husband’s should see that wives entering into secret rooms as sexual betrayal is, frankly, bizarre.
With Kristeva, we see an interpretation along the lines of her notion of “abjection” in relation to the events of Bluebeard. The key event, as it were, is when the young newlywed enters the secret forbidden chamber and discovers the bodies of the previous wives. For Kristeva, this moment when the bride discovers the body parts and responds partly in deepest “terror”, and yet, partly in erotic fascination is indicative of a response to the abject, the Thing-presence without name, that is neither I nor Other, and yet real and there.
This powerful presence is much easier to obtain in Angela Carter’s collection of reversionary fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. Here, fully aware of the short-comings of Perrault’s patri-central version, with title centering on the male (although the moral is about what the female learns), Carter draws up a completely subversive vision of the tale which first changes the title to “The Bloody Chamber,” the opening tale of the collection, to indicate where the decisive action of the story takes place, while also suggesting the sexual surrender of the young bride. Carter changes the point of view from an objectifying third person to first person from the bride’s take on events. The language is heightened, contemporialized, lyrical and ironic, at times reminding one of the best of Nabakov and Poe. The brothers are relieved of their protective services and replaced with a saving matriarch, who puts a bullet through Bluebeard’s head. But, again, as the title suggests, the key focus is the chamber of horror.
If Kristeva is right (1982), and we first experience abjection in our separation from the mother, then Carter’s tale is truly a tale about abjectivity. The young bride, Saint Cecilia (a brilliant parallel reversion of the Catholic patron saint of music, whose own legend has a chamber, secrets and a bloody ending), separated from her mother for the first time and given over to the material male presence (for which she seems to have limited previous oedipal experience, as no mention of father is made) is ripe for the experience of carnal revelation of the forbidden bloody chamber. The abject figures the bride discovers in the secret room exist between two worlds—that of self and the Other—in a dimension you might call undinal. The bride interacts in this realm with fear and repulsion, but also with a kind of erotic fascination, as when she describes the room thusly: “And yet enough, oh more than enough, to see a room designed for desecration and some dark night of unimaginable lovers whose embraces were annihilation.” (28) Sex working toward orgasm often has this dirty annihilative quality. The abject Kristeva describes seems placed in that interstice that comprises orgasmic and horrific, good and evil, the mind-body problem solved in one fell swoon. One could spend many hours examining the details Carter embellishes Perrault’s tale with, but Carter rightly puts the emphasis on the chamber—how she gets there (curiosity) and how she attempts to cover up (hiding the key) are functional, even mechanical, but it is how she responds to the “secret” that determines what she already has inside herself. Despite its lyrical beauty, “The Bloody Chamber” seems to be a fairly straightforward subversion of patriarchal power, not only in the absence of Cecilia’s father, the deletion of the two brothers as saviors in the end, the ultimate execution of the chief powerful male, and Cecilia’s choosing to sleep with the blind male piano tuner, but also in the matriarchal rescue, which suggests, along Kristevan lines a reunion with the mother and transcendence of the abject.
Carter continues her subversive ways in the tales “The Company of Wolves” and “Wolf-Alice.” Both stories are reversions of the Grimm classic, “Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap)”, although the latter story also combines thematic elements from Through the Looking Glass and “Beauty and the Beast.” If the Grimm tale can be seen as a cautionary tale about little girls trusting strange men, then Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” moves to a new level of subversion altogether. First, Carter addresses the reader or listener (for it reads like an oral tale) directly as “you” and spends several paragraphs of building admonishment, with such lines as “The wolfsong is the sound of the rending you will suffer, in itself a murdering”(104) and “Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems”(105). It is at this point that Carter has the narrator cites several examples of wolf evil-do, including their murder of “a mad old man who used to live by himself in a hut halfway up the mountain and sing to Jesus all day” (111). The narrator’s language has the tone and tinge of some miner telling campfire tales (“the sensible girl dried her eyes and found herself another husband not too shy to piss into a pot “), except that notion is throttled by lyricism and a vocabulary (“Commonplaces of a rustic seduction”)which tear the narration apart at the ‘seems’. Carter’s Red Cap is, like some sexually avaricious high school virgin, is tough: “She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.(114).” Carter romps through Red Riding Hood like some thespian-philosopher on the set of a Marx Brothers send-up of Wuthering Heights.
Bruno Bettelheim predictably saw the Grimm tale as symbolic of individuation, budding sexuality, and it “takes up some crucial problems the school-age girl has to solve if oedipal attachments linger on in the unconscious, which may drive her to expose herself dangerously to the possibility of seduction” (1979, 170). But Bettelheim sings his Freud like the mad old man singing Jesus in Carter’s version and is critically devoured by the reversion. In Carter’s tale, full of casual, almost-comical cruelty, the girl can hardly wait to be “eaten” by the wolf. As for Kristeva, Carter seems to have turned the critic’s notion of “intertextuality” into a full-blown ha’ penny opera in this tale, with so many intertwining influences present that the text seems to have its own life. I believe Kristeva would be hard-pressed to make a case for the “abject” here.
“Wolf-Alice,” the last story in the Carter collection, tells the story of a young feral girl found by nuns next to the “bullet-riddled” body of her mother. The wolf-girl “inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair” (113). Carter also introduces the Duke, a cannibal and necrophiliac who casts no image in the mirror. The nuns half-heartedly try to raise the child and, after they give up too easily, deposit the girl at the door of the Duke, thus subverting the idea of good and evil by having innocence handed over to the devil by the maidens of Jesus. The Duke is having a bad “here” day, existing neither wholly in the material world, nor in that of the spirit. Still, he appears to be a good father, showing if not love then non-threatening acceptance in his pastoral care. Bettelheim could be the Duke, raising the girl-wolf out of her pre-symbolism and with his meager ministrations allowing her to take shape into the first intimations of a human self:
When she curled up among the cinders, the color, texture and warmth of them brought her foster mother’s belly out of the past and printed it on her flesh; her first conscious memory, painful as the first time the nuns combed her hair. She howled a little, in a firmer, deepening trajectory, to obtain the inscrutable consolation of the wolves’ response, for now the world around her was assuming form. She perceived an essential difference between herself and her surroundings that you might say she could not put her finger on–only, the trees and grass of the meadows outside no longer seemed the emanation of her questing nose and erect ears, and yet sufficient to itself, but a kind of backdrop for her, that waited for her arrivals to give it meaning. She saw herself upon it and her eyes, with their sombre clarity, took on a veiled, introspective look. (118)
Here, the world waits for her meaning-giving: existence preceding essence. And because of her innocence of the horrifying, she is not undone when the undine Duke walks past her with a human leg plopped over his shoulder. Later, after he is ambushed by justice-seeking townspeople with silver bullets and alluring wolf-howls, she returns the favor of promoting selfhood by licking his wounds, which results in the final image of the Duke’s face appearing in the mirror. This tale has both Kristeva’s “abject” and her interlocking of culture pieces she calls “intertextuality”.Certainly, we can consider her opening orphaned situation one abjectivity, in both a literal sense and in Kristeva’s sense of being separated from the mother. She, too, like the Duke exists in a state that is neither “here” nor “there”. It is no surprise that they must rescue each other from indeterminancy. And, as with “The Company of Wolves,” the narrative is resplendent with iconoclastic cultural-linguistic echoes that border on parody of form. Kristeva and Carter could have been best friends.
So, we see in these reversionary Carter tales how the very notion of reversions can take on a self-consciousness that undermines the very structure it is intended (or not) to reinforce. Carter’s prose is lyrical and expansive, Romantic and existential, and transcending the usual power traps of gender duals. Bettelheim’s Freudian decidedly shows its age in an analysis of such reversions. Julia Kristeva, however, has more to salvage. But the essential point here is that Carter’s fiction has theoretical subversion built into it, the tales are both reader-centric and reader-opposed (I..e., they fall way from readerly certainty as you go on their journey) they point to a fresh, new horizon where literature has not been before.
Bettleheim, B 1979, The uses of enchantment and importance of fairy tales, Vintage, New York.
Carter, A 1979, The Blood Chamber and Other Stories, Penguin, New York and London.
Kristeva, J 1982 Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, New York.
Lasson, L 2008, “Subject: Base Touching,” email message to John Hawkins delivered on 04/06/2008 and accessed at email@example.com.
Perrault, C and Andrew Lang (trans.)1889 (1697), “La Barbe bleüe, “Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l’Oye, Longmans, Green, and Company,
London, accessed online on June 5, 2008 at: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault03.html.
A Question of Pathographies
The following book review/essay was turned in for a course I took at Deakin University, Semester 1, 2008, for the unit: The Other Side of the World: The Literature of Sadness
In the following brief essay I will evaluate Irving Yalom’s treatment of pain and depression in his novel When Nietzsche Wept. Principally, I will consider what seems to ail the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, according to available biographical data, as well Yalom’s special interpretation of those ailments through his character-therapist Josef Breuer (Nietzsche and Breuer never actually met). I will argue that the purpose of this pathographic novel is for Yalom to interrogate, from the point of view of a therapist, some of Nietzsche’s most potent themes, such as ‘the
death of god’, ‘eternal recurrence’, ‘becoming’, ‘overman’, and ‘amor fati’. In this sense, Yalom’s novel is as much about his technique as a therapist as it is about the psychological health of the philosopher he vicariously befr iends. But first a brief synopsis of the novel is appropriate.
When Nietzsche Wept takes place mostly in Vienna in 1882 and is written from the point of view
of Josef Breuer, the eventual progenitor of psychoanalysis. The time frame is at the end of Friedrich
Nietzsche’s middle period of writing, notable for his famous breakup with friend Richard Wagner, as
well as his introduction of two themes that would be crucial to his later work: ‘eternal recurrence’ and
‘the will to power’, both which he alludes to in The Gay Science (1882). The novel opens with Lou
Andreas-Salome, a pioneering feminist, psychologist and thinker, interrupting Breuer while he is on
holiday in Venice rapt by erotic reveries of Bertha, a former patient. Lou implores him to treat Friedrich
Nietzsche, whose ailments, including migraines and nausea, have “exhausted the medical resources of
Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.” (6) She tells him that the treatment she seeks is not for his physical
ailments but for his suicidal “despair.” (9) Though extremely reluctant to help, Lou’s charisma and
“uncommon beauty” seduces him (Breuer, we learn, is prone to such feminine seductions), and finally
agrees to treat Nietzsche with his “talking cure” (which will become the cornerstone of
Thus does the character Lou act as a catalyst to get the fable going. Afterward, the story really
dwells almost exclusively on a limited plot and a small cast of characters who are overshadowed by the
star duet of Breuer and Nietzsche. So, though we learn more about Bertha B. (aka, Anna O. of
psychoanalysis fame) and Lou Andreas-Salome, and their relationships to Breuer and Nietzsche,
respectively, as near femme fatales, in the end, the story is really about the imaginary talks between
Breuer (Yalom) and Nietzsche just prior to the latter’s publication of his most strident writings and
subsequent descent into madness. The novel deals with two concepts central to psychoanalysis: Eros
and Thanatos, or the life instinct and the death instinct, the one which is usually responsible for all our
deepest yearnings, the other usually responsible for all our deepest fears. As we see later in Freud’s
writings (Civilization and Its Discontents, The Future of an Illusion, especially), it was the human
inability to consciously cope with the ramifications of these principles which would ultimately,
according to Freud, lead to human self-obliteration. But, since the novel pre-dates Freud, care must be
taken in retro-fitting the fable with later developments, as Eros and thanatos, though the evident topic
of conversation between Breuer and Nietzsche, was then only a philosophical line of speculation.
Indeed, it is Yalom’s intention to show how Nietzsche’s iconoclastic dialectics influenced the
development of psychoanalysis.
So Breuer is dispatched to help Nietzsche with his despair. But Nietzsche’s thoughts seduce
Breuer and he is not certain that Nietzsche isn’t justifiably in despair, given the ontological vision he
relates to Breuer. However, in an almost-humorous take on transference, Breuer first seeks counsel
from Nietzsche regarding his obsession with Bertha. While riding in a carriage on their way to
Simmeringe Haide, a cemetery that will will be central to their discussions, Nietzsche tells him, “What
did we learn yesterday if not that your relationship to Bertha is unreal, an illusion woven from images
and longings that have nothing to do with the real Bertha?” (240) This illusory object is what Freud
would later call ‘the Thing’. (1957, 13) In the graveyard, Breuer continue their walk-the- talk, with
Nietzsche probing Breuer about a “cemetery dream” he had, asking him to recall the dream’s details
and consider possible meanings. The conversation evolves toward a realization, Nietzsche pressuring
Breuer with, “The paradox, your paradox, is that you dedicate yourself to the search for truth but
cannot bear the sight of of what you discover.” (247) Nietzsche then tells Breuer that he must learn to
“Die at the right time,” (247) Breuer asks, as you would, “What does that mean?” (247) And Nietzsche
tells him, in essence, that his obsession with Bertha is a symbol of his inability to be free in his own
life. Nietzsche poses a “thought experiment” for Breuer to consider, which is to picture the “eternal
recurrence” of all things and what implications that would have for his present life. After working
through the implications, realizing that Nietzsche does not mean immortality, but freedom-in-the-now,
following his bliss, as it were. By accepting the terror and freedom of the eternal recurrence, one can
achieve “amor fati.” (282) In the end, Breuer realizes from this that he yearns to be free of his marriage
and this new understanding prepares him to divorce.
The Simmeringe Haide conversations are crucial to the development of the novel’s point—a
therapist’s inspired attempt to show the reader some of the delusional mechanisms that guide human
behavior, including that of renowned thinkers, such as Breuer and Nietzsche. In his just released self-
help book, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (2008), Yalom makes explicit what his
agenda is in relation to Nietzsche: “Nietzsche claimed two ‘granite’ sentences that were hard enough to
stand the erosion of time: ‘Become who you are’ and ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger.’
And so they have, both having entered the general vernacular of therapy.” (104) The former sentence is,
of course, exactly what Nietzsche is telling Breuer in the cemetery, and accepting one’s freedom leads
to ‘amor fati’ and the understanding implied by Nietzsche’s second stone sentence.
Implicit in the graveyard deconstruction of Breuer’s obsession with Bertha is that one must
overcome Eros—in order to be able to overcome Thanatos. In other words, most people, ‘the herd’,
never get beyond neurotic obsessions similar to Breuer’s. Attachments to things and people enslave
consciousness. (Strictly speaking, this is a Buddhist-sounding concept.) But beyond even that
enslavement to Eros, once set free, we struggle with the terrifying realization of our mortality. Yalom
sums this terror lyrically and poignantly in Staring at the Sun:
The phrase “Remember me” always moves me. In my novel When Nietzsche Wept, I
portray Nietzsche wandering in a cemetery, eying the scattered tombstones, and
composing a few lines of doggerel that end,
Till stone is laid on stone
And though none can hear
And none can see
Each sobs softly, remember me, remember me
So this helps explain the symbolic and narrative function of Simmeringe Haide. It also expresses the
deep grief we feel for our own mortality and sheds some understanding on why we willingly avoid
freedom and its dangers. Not long after this fabled meeting with Breuer, in real time, Nietzsche will
pen Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his self-esteemed magnum opus, in which his fictional prophet
Zarathustra utters such lines as “one must still have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a
dancing star”(17) and “a poor ignorant weariness that does not want to want anymore: this created all
gods and afterworlds” (31). Anxiety wears us down and we lose our chaos to the delusional obsessions
that keep us from facing our freedom and overcoming the terror of death. “[T]he most powerful factor
was my identification of the right enemy,” Breuer tells Nietzsche, “Once I understood that I must
wrestle with the real enemy—time, aging, death—then I came to understand that Mathilde is neither
adversary nor rescuer, but simply a fellow traveler trudging though the cycle of life.” (282) This is what
Nietzsche has taught Breuer, and what Nietzsche and Breuer have taught Yalom, and what Yalom
If we were to divide Yalom’s novel, the first part ends up being about curing Breuer of his
malady before he can cure Nietzsche of his. This is, of course, standard procedure. All
psychotherapists must first undergo hours and hours of psychoanalysis before they are allowed become
licensed therapists. Thus, Nietzsche paradoxically acts as a proxy therapist to Breuer, so that the latter
can turn around and help Nietzsche. Now, just as Nietzsche has helped Breuer overcome his Eros
problem vis-a-vis Bertha (and his wife, Mathilde), leaving him in the position to face and slay the
greater monster, Death, so, too, will Breuer then turn around and help Nietzsche see that his obsession
with Lou Andreas-Salome is symptomatic of his own failure to identify and accept reality.
Earlier Nietzsche had remarked to Breuer that it was paradoxical to be truth- seeker who avoided
his own findings, so Breuer turns the tables on Nietzsche in what could be called the second part of the
novel. In a long section toward the end of the novel (290-302), Breuer first coaxes Nietzsche to see
how he has created an illusion out of Lou in the same way that Breuer had with Bertha (and Mathilde).
Finally, after much rationalizing, Nietzsche gets it: “Over and over I am haunted by one fear…despite
my bravado about being the posthumous philosopher, despite my certitude that my day will come,
despite even my knowledge of eternal recurrence—I am haunted about the thought of dying alone.”
And he adds, “The only one who filled this hollowness was Lou Salome.” (296) But this does not
make Nietzsche weep. Despite this understanding, Nietzsche has yet to set Lou free from his erotic
attachment. With further coaxing, Nietzsche suddenly begins to sob. (298) When asked why he is
sobbing, Nietzsche tells Breuer it is because he has never before expressed his feeling of loneliness,
and yet, he adds, “at the very moment when I, for the first time in my life, reveal my loneliness in all its
depth, in all its despair—at that precise moment, loneliness melts away!” (300) Furthering, the happy
ending, a few minutes later Nietzsche weeps again when he realizes how lucky he has been to have
found such a friend in Breuer. The therapist invites him to stay, but Nietzsche intimates that his
“destiny is to search for truth on the far side of loneliness” (301), and with that hug and separate,
leaving Breuer with thoughts of a new psychoanalysis and Nietzsche in a reverie of Zarathustra.
Like Nietzsche, Yalom sees the despair in the face of death as the great abyss which the human
race does its best to avoid thinking about, and, in this fictional account, even Nietzsche struggles with
it. Thus, in Yalom’s hands, Nietzsche-on-the-couch becomes a kind of Ur-patient suffering intensely
from the kind of existential nausea that is at the heart of the contemporary human condition. Ultimately,
Nietzsche thought sanity was rare: “Madness is rare in individuals–but in groups, parties, nations, and
ages it is the rule” (1989, 156) Nietzsche, who would have despised T.S..Eliot’s Christian weariness,
would have agreed with the poet’s observation: “human kind / Cannot bear too much reality.” (Four
Quartets, I, 44-45) Sangsara, the Buddhists call it. In Staring at the Sun, Yalom discusses the affliction
of modern man. In his real therapy sessions, he uses Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence as an ‘experiment’
in his treatments of patients. Ultimately, the novel is a kind of therapeutic projection of Yalom
interpreting Nietzsche with a view to gleaning his therapeutic value in an existentialist world. The
terror of death is as Julie Kristeva says a black sun (1989) that, says Yalom, everyone needs help
weeping out to get over.
Eliot, TS 1948, Four Quartets, Harcourt, New York.
Freud, S 1957, ‘Mourning and melancholia’, in J Strachey et. al. (trans.), The standard edition of the
complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XIV (1914-1916), Hogarth Press, London.
Kristeva, J 1989, Black Sun: depression and melancholia, in L. Roudiez (trans.), Columbia University
Press, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1974 and W Kaufmann (trans.), The Gay Science, Random House, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1978 and W Kaufmann (trans.), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Random House, New York.
Nietzsche, F 1989 and W Kaufmann (trans.), Beyond Good and Evil, Random House, New York.
Yalom, I 2008, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, Wiley, San Francisco.
Yalom, I 2005, When Nietzsche Wept, HarperCollins, New York.