Joshua Nomen-Mutatio's Reviews > Nietzsche's Kisses

Nietzsche's Kisses by Lance Olsen
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's review
Feb 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, nietzsche
Read from June 06 to 07, 2011 — I own a copy

I read this book in June of 2011 and recently thought about it again when I stumbled upon an interview the author'd conducted with some Nietzsche appreciation society or somesuch. I liked what he had to say about the remaining relevance of the literary fiction form, as it jibes with my own opinions and those of others I respect who've been asked to justify the medium they've committed themselves to work within:

"For the last fifty years or so, The Novel’s demise has been broadcast on an almost weekly basis. Yet it strikes me that whatever happens, however else the geography of the imagination might modify in the future in, say, the digital ether, The Novel will continue to survive for some long time to come because it is able to investigate and cherish two things that film, music, painting, dance, architecture, drama, podcasts, cellphone exchanges, and even poetry can’t in a lush, protracted mode. The first is the intricacy and beauty of language—especially the polyphonic qualities of it to which Bakhtin first drew our attention. And the second is human consciousness. What other art form allows one to feel we are entering and inhabiting another mind for hundreds of pages and several weeks on end?"

This book attempts to inhabit the mind of the iconic bristly-lipped German philosopher in his final day of genuine madness. If the language weren't so beautiful it could've been a disaster, and at moments in veered dangerously close to being 'a bit much' but my now distant-seeming memory of it remains largely favorable, despite not enjoying it as much as the first Oslen book that I read, and read right before picking up this cringe-inducingly-titled novel. Like 10:01 , it defied my cynical skepticism and ended up being well-worth the currency of my time, attention and money. Much of it is told through flashbacks and details the often mythologized and heavily scrutinized figure with both kind and unkind depictions. Historical accuracy seems a bit besides the point in a novel like this, but it still managed to feel real enough while my eyes were stuck in its pages.

For those who don't know, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche went into a state of insanity for the final ten years of his life. In the early stages he was signing his bizarre letters as "Dionysus" or "The Crucified" and so forth, saying stranger more nonsensical things than he ever published as philosophy while his faculties were intact--this all being immediately after a now famous story about his initial trip to the sanitarium being spurred by him collapsing and weeping while clutching a horse that was being beaten and whipped in the street. The majority of these ten years were spent in bed-ridden catatonic silence while his sister handled his estate and manipulated his writings to serve her own dubious purposes, which would not be corrected until Walter Kaufmann came along to translate his works into English in the 1950's and discovered her omissions and additions. In any case, Olsen attempts to describe the point of view of someone with a genuine degenerative brain disorder (consensus is that syphilis was rotting his brain away for many years) who's on their deathbed. This person just so happens to be a now famous German philosopher with more than a few interesting biographies floating around.

A central narrative arc via flashbacks involves Nietzsche's disastrous attempts at finding lasting romance with Lou Salome, a Strong Independent Woman who snared his affections and also left him standing in the cold with a wedding ring in his hand. It also touches on Nietzsche's father being a Lutheran minister and dying when he was a young boy, both patriarchal details making for great psychoanalytic fodder for scholars to wax theoretical about over the decades, considering the legacy of the philosopher's anti-Christian, God-slaying, Life-On-Earth-embracing canon.

I suspect that only those with some interest in Nietzsche at some point in their lives will possibly find this book worthwhile. Even as someone who realized that Nietzsche wasn't as great on the whole as I once thought him to be, I found something valuable in this and I think purely on the human level of trying to embody the consciousness of someone else, which Olsen's kick-off quote describes as being The Novel's true wheelhouse, and despite my previously acquired knowledge and pretty serious appreciation of the mustachioed man's writing and bio.

Olsen has a real talent with language that's on display here and that alone made it worth the price of admission for me.
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