DARK muse


by G.A. Scheinoha

     Nietzsche as inspiration? Inconceivable, given the dismal nature of his thoughts. Then again, some are drawn to the murky side of humanity for firing the sparkplug to drive the camshaft of their creativity.

     Stephen King, for example, said in an interview that he finds inspiration in cemeteries. While this may be mere hyperbole (besides creepy) it goes with the territory of horror, as black and bleak a genre as art defines. Still the question as initially put beggars the imagination.

     An article in Philosophy Today challenged my assumptions. The front cover featured an illustration of Salvador Dali, his mustache unfurled like the snap of a whip, one end gripped firmly in hand by Nietzsche. Apparently Dali wrote in his journals how the German philosopher stirred his own artistic juices. And it isn’t hard to see that influence in such paintings as the one in which clocks are melting, some fluidly pouring down steps.

     A weird image, perhaps dream-oriented but certainly surreal, a nightmare unfolding. Just the sort to spring from the sometimes poetic, often disturbing, Nietzsche’s work.

     Witness the following passage from THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA: “Could it be possible? This old saint has not yet heard of it, God is dead!” Naturally Nietzsche’s critics leap upon his assertion about the death of the Divinity. Surprisingly, Pastor Brian Hastings of Memorial Baptist defended him, he took umbrage at the abuses of the church…which is corroborated by Nietzsche’s ideas in THE WILL TO POWER. In this way, he rivalled Luther’s own battle against corruption from inside the hierarchy.

     Yet the point is made that beyond atheism, Nietzsche has a manner of bringing to light the negative side of things, rather consistently. Again from Zarathustra, “What good is my virtue? It is all poverty and pollution and wretched contentment!” Just when you want to yell “lighten up already” and it seems he has, he brings you down,  taints the illustrious with a gay tincture: “Life is a well of delight, but where the rabble drinks, too, all wells are poisoned.”

      This plays into the central concept of Zarathustra about the commonality of everyone and the emergence of an individual who’s a cut above the rest, the ubermensch. A person might be led to think even George Bernard Shaw was brought to the trough to drink his fill as reflected in the title of his drama, MAN AND SUPERMAN. A misconception, obviously, as Shaw said: “Nietzsche is worse than shocking, he is simply awful; his epigrams are written with phosphorus on brimstone.” Despite his many critics, what propels others as varied as H.L. Mencken and Karl Jung to exculpate the man’s ideas?

     Beyond the aforementioned admiration of Salvador Dali and the ever more reprehensible adoption of Nietzsche by the Nazis, a tool at Hitler’s behest, especially the superman bit as it relates to Aryan perfection, who else could possibly trace the roots of their most vivid creations to the philosopher?? Perhaps most stunning of all, composer Richard Strauss, who began his musical career with tone poems, had as probably the most famous of these THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA, which, according to him, was “freely based on Friedrich Nietzsche”. Is it any wonder Strauss was recruited by the Nazis to head their state music office (though he was cleared by a denazification tribunal in 1948). Strauss’ melodies in turn affected director Stanley Kubrick in a six degrees of separation fashion during the filming of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

     So maybe Philosophy Today wasn’t so far off in their far-reaching conclusions about how deeply Nietzsche still touches the existential angst of the present. Out of the fog rises a brilliant beam, a sudden startling clarity of thought many of us never expected.