A Lesson in Subjugation
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A speculative, sometimes fanciful interpretation of the relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner. In 1869, when he was 25 years old, Nietzsche fell under the spell of Wagner, the most influential anti-Semite of 19th-century Germany. Kîhler, author of another, untranslated book detailing Wagner’s supposed influence on Hitler, tries to show how the young Nietzsche was the willing executor of Wagner’s vicious ideological agenda. Kîhler’s success is at best modest. He’s able to produce some anti-Jewish passages from Nietzsche’s minor early works. However, the author is so eager to press his case against Nietzsche that, in the face of sparse or contradictory evidence, he resorts to deciphering hidden messages. Even when Nietzsche is not talking about the Jews (for instance, when he rants against “the Philistines” of Germany), we learn that he is using a secret code to imply that Jewish people are the actual culprits. Kîhler’s argument has the kind of edgy paranoia associated with conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination or alien kidnappings: Evidence to the contrary always points to a sinister cover-up. Kîhler first portrays Nietzsche as an anti-Semite, but offers no explanation for his change of heart when he appears at the Wagners’ with a close Jewish friend in tow. Finally, though, Kîhler’s strongest interest emerges toward the end of the book. The evidence suggests to him that Nietzsche turned against Wagner because Wagner knew about Nietzsche’s secret life as a homosexual. This kind of radical reinterpretation calls for careful sourcing. And yet, Kîhler doesn—t bother with footnotes: A skimpy “bibliographical note” is made to stand in for the customary critical apparatus. He may be right that the possible anti-Semitism of Nietzsche’s Wagner phase hasn—t really been dealt with—maybe, even, that Nietzsche was a homosexual—but Kîhler’s own exploration of these questions is itself insufficient. (14 illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07640-1
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1998


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