- Nietzsche and Rée: A Star Friendship
Robin Small's new monograph is an example of the increasing tendency in Nietzsche scholarship to engage seriously both nineteenth-century traditions and contemporary discourses in science and philosophy in order to best explicate Nietzsche's thought. In doing so throughout Nietzsche and Rée: A Star Friendship, Small avoids two chief temptations. First, he does not treat Nietzsche's biographical and ideological context simply to pronounce "that's where Nietzsche got it!" Rather, with an eye critical of generalized appropriations, Small presents the relationship of Nietzsche and Paul Rée as a "Star Friendship"—a period of mutual development in which each thinker's assumptions were questioned, refined, and often enough criticized by the other, from the height of their reciprocal admiration until the time of their relationship's breaking. Second, Small resists forcing Nietzsche to speak with our twenty-first-century terms. His discussion of Nietzsche's and Rée's aphoristic style is contextualized in the language of the French moralists, whereas a description of their positions on determinism and moral responsibility is tied together with references to their reading of Dühring and Lamarck. Doing so circumvents a tendency to codify Nietzsche in the technical jargon of either postmodern or analytical discourses that can only awkwardly accommodate his thought. [End Page 72]
Small's method is to book-end the intertwining development in Nietzsche's and Rée's respective philosophies between lengthy discussions of the historical and biographical details surrounding them. Chapters 1–3 characterize the intellectual environment in which Nietzsche found himself during the early 1870s, outlining his growing dissatisfaction with the Wagner circle, with transcendentalist interpretations of Schopenhauer, and with the academic discipline of classical philology. These factors, combined with his budding interest in naturalism and the contemporary scientific landscape, readied Nietzsche for a new friendship and a stimulating new intellectual circle. This he found in the company of Rée and Malwida von Meysenbug during their year spent together in Sorrento. It was from 1876 to 1877 that Nietzsche's thought underwent a rather significant development toward what he called "Réealism," when Rée's impact is felt in the freshly naturalized perspectives on morality, epistemology, and science found in Nietzsche's Human All-Too-Human. Upon Nietzsche's return to Basel in 1877, old friends like Wagner and Erwin Rohde were disappointed to see returned to them an almost completely new Nietzsche, a champion of "cool and ironic skepticism" (31).
Chapters 8, 9, and 12 illustrate the fateful breakup between Nietzsche, Rée, and Lou Salomé and the consequences this entailed for the early reception of Nietzsche. Small acknowledges the documented biographies of the emotional but nonerotic triangle among the three thinkers. His own explanation adds a theoretical dimension. Some of the increasing rancor between Rée and Nietzsche was due to the new developments in Nietzsche's thought away from "Réealism" combined with an unfortunate stagnation of Rée's creative capacities. By 1883, Nietzsche had already envisioned the Eternal Recurrence, while Rée was considered a man "with no ideals, no goals, no obligations, no instincts, content simply to be Lou's companion, if not her servant" (148–49). The gap in the two men's ideas was no longer bridgeable by approximately equal intellectual abilities.
But Small's book is more than biographical. Having already made significant gains in "contextualizing" Nietzsche in his last monograph (Nietzsche in Context [Ashgate, 2001]), Small utilizes the positions of those contemporary authors Nietzsche and Rée read thoroughly in order to better define their own positions, sometimes in agreement with and sometimes in opposition to those sources. An example is Small's discussion of morality. In the period of Human All-Too-Human,Rée and Nietzsche agreed that moral phenomena like holiness, altruism, and asceticism ought to be explained on the basis of a psychological naturalism that seeks to uncover the material drives and impulses that lie under the surface...