The “Better Wagnerian Than Wagner”

September 20, 2010

Julian Young’s new “philosophical biography” of Friedrich Nietzsche proposes solutions to mysteries about his subject’s relationship with Richard Wagner, including this one discussed in an interview with Scott Horton:

Nietzsche wrote that a “deadly insult” had come between himself and Wagner. You suggest that you’ve learned what it was.

Wagner had long disapproved of Nietzsche’s close friendships with men–love he held could only exist between the sexes–and by 1877 he was offended by the developing anti-Wagnerian tenor of Nietzsche’s thought. To Nietzsche’s doctor he wrote that the cause of the patient’s many health problems–which included near blindness–was “unnatural debauchery, with indications of pederasty.” His former disciple was, in other words, (a) incipiently gay and (b) going blind because he masturbated. Somehow Nietzsche learned not only of the existence of the letter but of its the exact wording. That was the “deadly insult.”

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