Cover image for Zarathustra's secret : the interior life of Friedrich Nietzsche
Zarathustra's secret : the interior life of Friedrich Nietzsche
Köhler, Joachim, 1935-
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Publication Information:
New Haven ; London : Yale University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xx, 278 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, facsimile, portraits ; 24 cm
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B3316 .K64613 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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More than a century after his death in 1900, Nietzsche remains a seminal figure in the history of European intellectual life. Celebrated as a liberator by some, maligned as a pernicious influence by others, he was the subject of controversy during his lifetime, pursuing a hedonistic individualism and espousing concepts such as the Superman and the Will to Power until he died after a decade of institutionalized insanity.

In this groundbreaking biography, Joachim Köhler seeks for the first time to understand Nietzsche's philosophy through a reconstruction of his inner life. In a revealing reinterpretation of his letters, diaries, and writings, Köhler shows that Nietzsche's suppressed homosexuality, generating a hatred of Christianity and conventional morality, was a central influence on his work. Further, Köhler argues, his philosophical position was fundamentally compromised by the concealment of his forbidden sexual desire. Throughout his life, the unhappy genius was also plagued by horrible nightmares, stemming from his much-loved father's death, which led to a profoundly disturbed conscience and an intense loathing of metaphysics.

Seeking to disguise the truth of his innermost torments, Nietzsche contrived the persona of Zarathustra. The story of the great Persian philosopher, contends Köhler, reveals Nietzsche's own suppression and dionysiac liberation, and presents the culmination of his secret yearnings in the new myth of the Superman who, in his naked beauty, resembled the gods of classical Greece.

Author Notes

Joachim Köhler is a leading German writer, journalist, and former publisher. His previous books on Nietzsche have been translated into eleven languages. Ronald Taylor is the author of Berlin and Its Culture, published by Yale University Press.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Author and journalist Kohler has carefully charted the history of philosophy, music and Nazism in well-received translated works like Nietzsche and Wagner: A Lesson in Subjugation and Wagner's Hitler: The Prophet and His Disciple. Now Yale offers this abridged version of a book first published in Germany a dozen years ago, minus an analysis of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. Kohler's main assertion is that Nietzsche was gay, or wanted to be and didn't dare to act on it, and was especially tormented as a result. To this end, Kohler recounts a number of unproven assertions, such as that Nietzsche contracted the syphilis that drove him mad in "a male brothel in Genoa." Such speculations can be taken too far, such as when Kohler states confidently that the young Nietzsche enjoyed Lord Byron's poetry because of "Byron's perversions." Perhaps this book's abridgment affected its symmetry, but it lacks the shapely form and persuasive arguments of Nietzsche and Wagner. The clear translation brings passages of neo-Nietzschean ornate writing to life: "Throughout the nineteenth century and far into the twentieth the exiles of Sodom sought a new home in the `warm south.' Nietzsche joined them...." Since no tell-all exists, the book's whole argument consists of approximations and near-misses. (June) Forecast: Given Kohler's track record and the Yale imprimatur, university libraries will want this, but R.J. Hollingdale's authoritative Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy (Cambridge Univ. Press) and Rudiger Safranski's Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (Forecasts, Nov. 12, 2001) are better places to send curious readers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With unabashed frankness, Kohler has written a very engaging psychosexual investigation into the tragic personal life of iconoclastic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (l844-l900), from the untimely death of his father to his mental collapse because of tertiary syphilis. The author focuses on the great thinker's tormented conscience owing to repressed homosexuality, analyzing his books, poems, letters, visions, diaries, and dreams (frequently nightmares) in order to find symbolic references to his sexual yearnings for the male gender. As a result, Nietzsche's complex but unsuccessful relationships with friends and pupils are shown to have homosexual significance. Kohler uses these findings to shed new light on Nietzsche's intense interests in Byron, Wagner, Holderlin, Schopenhauer, Flaubert, and especially Greek antiquity. There is also a brief examination of both his provocative claim that "God is dead" and his conception of material reality as the eternal recurrence of this same universe. This important and boldly unique book supplements all those strictly philosophical studies of Friedrich Nietzsche that have excluded his sexuality. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.