chapter  4
33 Pages

The Cosmic Dimension

WithRaymond Furness

In Der Fall Wagner, written a few months before his mental collapse, Nietzsche described the enormous influence that Wagner’s music had had upon him, and the struggles with which he strove to free himself from its powerful seductiveness. Wagner seemed to Nietzsche to be the perfect exemplification of what he called decadence: the hysteria, brutality, ambiguous eroticism and dubious morality left an indelible impression on the literature of fin-de-siècle: ‘Wie verwandt muß Wagner der gesamten europäischen décadence sein, daß er von ihr nicht als décadent empfunden wird? Er gehört zu ihr, er ist ihr Protagonist. . . Man ehrt sich, wenn man ihn in die Wolken hebt . .. Denn daß man nicht gegen ihn sich wehrt, das ist selbst schon ein Zeichen der décadence’. 1 Nietzsche admitted his own debt to the musician, but also acknowledged his own strength in overcoming Wagner. It may not be too much to claim that the break with Wagner represents a rejection of fin-de-siècle and the opening of new vistas; if Wagner was an inspiration for so much music and literature at the turn of the century, then it is Nietzsche who dominated the period leading up to the First World War. The naturalists had applauded Nietzsche’s attack on bourgeois complacency; the symbolists had thrilled to his vision of the poet-prophet remote from the vulgar wranglings of the market place. But many writers before 1914 would extol in Nietzsche the creator of life-enhancing myths, and the thinker who insisted upon self-awareness, self-mastery and self-fulfilment. His emphasis on idealism, strength, affirmation and joy, together with the dark halo of his madness, made him the spokesman, at once glorious and forbidding, of the new century. (For a discussion of Nietzsche’s work see A Literary History of Germany 1830-1890)