- I Am Dynamite! A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux
With its list of awards received and one-word reviews, the paperback cover of Prideaux's biography resembles a movie poster. Along with the absence of "philosophical" or "intellectual" in the subtitle, this cover alerts the reader that this is a biography in the narrow sense. Barely halfway through the first chapter, one wonders how Prideaux will maintain the reader's interest, as she has already described the two most cinematographic episodes in Nietzsche's life—the comical preparations for his first meeting with Wagner, and his childhood dream of his recently deceased father emerging from the grave to reclaim his younger brother—yet she does. Like a well-made film, the book gracefully immerses the reader into the story.
After the first chapter, the book proceeds chronologically, ending with Elisabeth's death in 1935. The chapter titles sometimes straightforwardly indicate a momentous event ("The Birth of Tragedy" and "My Father Wagner is Dead. My Son Zarathustra is Born"). Some are relatively obvious, if one knows Nietzsche's life, or are explained in the chapter. "Llamaland" is a good example of both. A few seem inscrutable, such as the early chapter "Naxos." The title is never explained, although one assumes that the connection is to the postcard Nietzsche sends Cosima Wagner years later [End Page 281] when he calls her "Ariadne" (quoted on 326). While this might be great fun while reading the book, it lessens its value as a reference later. It's also often unclear how the chapters are demarcated. For example, the first chapter ends with a quotation from Nietzsche that begins "When I was twelve years old . . ." (22). The second chapter—which one might assume would begin when Nietzsche was twelve or even thirteen—opens, "When Nietzsche was eleven" (23), and continues from there.
There are less obvious temporal leaps. I mention three. While discussing his first year of teaching (1869), she misquotes Nietzsche's declaration (January 6, 1889), "I would rather be a Basel professor than God" (6, she quotes it correctly on 326). While discussing his writing of Z II in the summer of 1883, she gives an extended quotation from EH (238). At the other end of his productive life, Nietzsche's Turinese apartment was poorly located according to Prideaux: "Via Carlo Alberto has been described as a melancholy street, having the dark monotony of a car tire" (309). Although she does not cite it, the description comes from Karl Strecker's Nietzsche und Strindberg (Munich: Georg Müller, 1921, p. 42). Between the time when Nietzsche lived there and when Strecker visited, Fiat had gone from nonexistent to Italy's largest automotive company, which undoubtedly changed the city and inspired Strecker's analogy. Yet, even if not, we would expect Nietzsche, who was always sensitive to the sun, not to pick a brightly lit street.
Unlike many biographies of Nietzsche, I Am Dynamite! provides minimal discussion of Nietzsche's philosophy or philosophy in general. This is by design, and helps to focus the attention on Nietzsche the person rather than Nietzsche the thinker. Of course it would be impossible to write a life of Nietzsche without discussing the ideas that made him famous, as well as for which he radically altered his life. Unfortunately, this is the book's greatest weakness. This is not the place to engage in a point-by-point disputation of the interpretation forwarded. There are enough errors, though, to suggest that the book not be recommended to beginning students, lest they start off with a passel of misunderstandings. To give an idea of these errors, I mention three and then turn to the connections Prideaux draws between Nietzsche's texts and his life.
Among the more frequent misunderstandings is that Nietzsche's philosophical position is little more than naïve subjectivism (257, 258, 367). She uses the terms Übermensch and "superman" more than Nietzsche did, subsuming under them the well-turned-out person (EH "Wise" 2) [End Page 282...