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Telling the Same Story of Nietzsche's Life
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In the spring 2011 issue of this journal there appeared a review of Julian Young's recent and well-received Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. The author of the piece, Daniel Blue, writes from the perspective of one of the book's very few detractors. His objections, however, mainly concern the philosophical-interpretive chapters of Young's book. Regarding the biographical material, Blue judges that the book provides "a lively and intellectually bracing account of Nietzsche's life." On this point I would not like to contradict Blue's opinion. I am, however, inclined to lay a critical finger upon his remark that Young "[o]f necessity ... tells the same story as [Ronald] Hayman and [Curtis] Cate," two of the more ambitious among Nietzsche's English-language biographers. Taking the point as Blue no doubt intends it, his remark is unobjectionable. Nietzsche lived only one life; his biographers, therefore, have in a general way only one story to tell. They distinguish themselves, as Blue correctly indicates, by providing their "own emphases." I would elaborate upon this point by noting that apart from being a meticulous compiler and collator of dates and information, a successful biographer must also be something of an artist. And I would add that the biographer's art is manifest not in his chronological ordering of the events of one year after another but in his particular selection of facts; in his narrative interpretation of these facts; and, perhaps most of all, in his prose, his language, which, after all, is the only medium at his disposal for characterizing his subjects, communicating their attitudes and moods, and attracting us to them, or repelling us from them, as individual personalities.

We agree, then, that Nietzsche's many biographers must in a general way tell the same story. Having conceded this point, however, let us consider Julian Young's brief history and description of Nietzsche's boarding school, Pforta:

Originally a Cistercian abbey called Porta Coeli (Gate of Heaven), Pforta ("Gate"—now to education rather than heaven) had been transformed into a school in 1543 by the Prince-Elector Moritz of Saxony.... Pforta, or Schulpforta (Pforta School), as it is known today, is about an hour's walk from Naumburg—Fritz sometimes walked home for the holidays. It lies just south of the ambling Saale River in a wooded valley that extends from the western edge of Naumburg to the narrow gorge of Kösen. The school estate comprises some seventy-three acres of gardens, orchards, groves of trees, buildings, and cloisters, protected from the outer world by a thick twelve-foot-high wall, which forms an almost perfect rectangle. A branch canal of the Saale flows through the middle of the enclosure, separating the work buildings and gardens and most of the teachers' houses from the school itself.

(2010, 21-22)

Now compare this to the following passage from the late Curtis Cate's biography, Friedrich Nietzsche:

Originally a Cistercian monastery bearing the Latin name, Porta coeli (Gate of Heaven), it had been transformed in 1543 into a "Prinzenschule" by the Protestant Prince-Elector Moritz of Saxony. Situated slightly south of the Saale river in a wooded valley extending from the western edge of Naumburg to the narrow gorges of Kösen, Pforta or Schulpforta, as it is known to this day, consisted of some sixty acres of gardens, orchards, groves, buildings and cloisters, protected from the outer world by a thick twelve-foot-high wall, which formed an almost perfect rectangle. A branch canal of the Saale flowed through the middle of the enclosure, separating the vegetable and other gardens, the "household" barns and workshops and most of the teachers' houses from the school buildings and quadrangles.

(2005, 17)

These two passages are strikingly similar; they are much closer to one another than either is to the corresponding passage in Ronald Hayman's Nietzsche: A Critical Life, which reads: "Built in the twelfth century as a Cistercian abbey, with walls twelve feet high and two-and-a-half feet thick, [Pforta] was isolated in a valley about four miles from Naumburg" (1982, 27). Hayman tells the same story as Cate and Young, to be sure; but his...



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