When Nietzsche Wept

I just finished watching the film When Nietzsche Wept (based on the book of the same title). It’s an interesting story that mixes some historical figures and events with Nietzschean philosophy and Freudian psychology. Although the movie has its flaws, it’s worth watching if you’re interested in any of these topics.

Revealing the story won’t ruin the experience, so here is a synopsis. Nietzsche suffers migraines and is depressed and suicidal due to a broken heart. The girl that broke his heart asks Dr. Josef Breuer (Freud’s mentor) to help him recover using both medicine and his new ‘talk therapy.’ She has no romantic interest in Nietzsche, but she cares for him and believes that he will produce something great for mankind in the future.

The relationship between Breuer and Nietzsche proves mutually beneficial. Breuer helps Nietzsche recover, and Nietzsche helps Breuer overcome his own demons. They become friends in the end, and Nietzsche finally recognizes and confides his greatest fear to Breuer: he doesn’t want to die alone. And Nietzsche wept.

For all his complex ideas about ethics, social order, and the Ubermensch, at the most basic level, Nietzsche is simply a lonely guy. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification, but this idea is useful nonetheless. Philosophers come in all flavors, but they are plagued by the same occupational hazards, loneliness/alienation being the most common.

This got me thinking about the terrible toll loneliness takes on many visionary creators, whether they are thinkers, artists, or writers. They care about the world, yet they often express it in terms that people do not or cannot understand or appreciate. Their social ineptness or aloofness makes them difficult to love, and their insecurities make it difficult for them to accept love. Loneliness drives some to self-destruct, sometimes taking others with them, yet many simply vanish like shadows. Rare are those that weathered the storm and live long enough to receive acknowledgment within their lifetimes.

If only this were not true. Think of how many careers were cut short prematurely? How much richer would humanity be if these people had made their contributions, both great and small? Would a more stable Nietzsche be less brilliant, or would his thoughts be more balanced and accessible? Sadly, we will never know the answers to any of these questions.

Surely all creators want to live to see their work recognized; if only they would do more to help themselves. Or is this asking too much? Perhaps what drives creation invariably inhibits healthy social interaction as well; it is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t know. But I do know that everyone can use a friend at some point, even the father of the Ubermensch.

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