Hauke Reich. Nietzsche-Zeitgenossenlexikon: Verwandte und Vorfahren, Freunde und Feinde, Verehrer und Kritiker von Friedrich Nietzsche
Basel: Schwabe AG, Verlag, 2004. Paperback. ISBN 3-7965-1921-2
Reviewed by Daniel Blue
There have been many books on individuals or groups associated with Nietzsche. While these help the reader interested in the philosopher's personal and intellectual biography, they are rarely of immediate assistance in reading his books because, when writing, he often cited figures far removed from his immediate circle of acquaintance. For such readers Hauke Reich has produced Nietzsche-Zeitgenossenlexicon, a biographical dictionary that presents in alphabetical order 945 figures in Nietzsche's life.
The book's usefulness will be evident even to those who limit their reading to the Nietzsche canon. One need only consider the contemporary figures cited in EH "Why I Write Such Good Books." While virtually all serious readers are familiar with the Wagners, Taine, and Treitschke (and possibly even Spitteler and Hillebrand), few will claim such immediate acquaintance with J. V. Widmann, Richard Pohl, and Franz Hoffmann that they will not reach for Reich's almanac.
The book will be particularly helpful to those who read Nietzsche's letters and Nachlass. Whether it assists in keeping track of Franziska Nietzsche's ten brothers and sisters (whose fate provides so much fodder in the later correspondence) or in resolving such trivial but perplexing puzzles as the identity of "Madame Laubscher," who is mentioned repeatedly (and without explanation) in Nietzsche's schoolboy letters, the book provides a set of extended footnotes, supplementing Nietzsche's texts.
Critics might object that much of this work has already been done in the biographical section of KGB I,4, further supplemented by material in the later Nachberichten. Reich, whose only previous publication was apparently as contributor to the massive Friedrich Nietzsche. Chronik in Bildern und Texten, cannot compete with the resources and expertise available to Norbert Miller and Jörg Salaquarda, editors of KGB I,4. Nonetheless, his book enjoys an obvious advantage in that it consists of a single volume that can be purchased and consulted independently from collected Nietzsche texts. Few readers are so wealthy that they purchase an entire edition of the KGB, and although they may have the KSB on their personal shelves, the latter lacks the critical apparatus so valuable in the more comprehensive edition. Reich's Nietzsche-Zeitgenossenlexikon is the more valuable, since many listings include supplemental resources for further research. Most sections on professional figures, for example, carry a "Zur Person" subhead, which offers a bibliography on the person under review. Entries on authors usually have a "Schriften" section appended, and many biographies include the subhead, "Porträt," which indicates where photographs and other visual depictions can be located.
The comparison to KGB I,4, however, remains apt since it alerts us to a major defect of Nietzsche-Zeitgenossenlexicon, namely that it shows little sense of systematicity or consistency of purpose. One finds it difficult, for example, to pin down Reich's principles of selection. In the introduction he declares that he will include those relatives, acquaintances and friends with whom Nietzsche had a personal relationship, as well as people to whom Nietzsche either wrote or received letters or who are even mentioned in letters. Somewhat different selection criteria are mentioned in the book's subtitle ("Verwandte und Vorfahren, Freunde und Feinde, Verehrer und Kritiker"), but in either case the range is too wide for a book of this size to encompass. Reich acknowledges this but does not explain why he then extends his book to persons whom Nietzsche could not have heard of, much less mention, simply because they came to prominence after his collapse (workers in the Nietzsche-Archive, for instance). There is no reason to complain of this, since many readers will be grateful for the information, but one must note a lack of fit between the actual entries and the supposed principles of selection.
Reich's entries vary widely in length, some running for several pages, others consisting of no more than a name, dates, and a sentence of characterization. However, this length rarely reflects the importance of a person in Nietzsche's life. Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, his father, receives a little over nine lines, and his Aunt Auguste, with whom he lived from birth until the age of ten, receives a mere twenty-six words, many of them abbreviations. As against this, Hans Makart, a Swiss painter whom Nietzsche may never have met but whose painting, "The Triumph of Ariadne," possibly influenced his personal mythology, receives a page and a quarter of treatment.
Readers will also be baffled by inexplicable lacunae or even errors in the biographies. How can the book describe Constantin von Tischendorf, a philology professor at Leipzig whom Nietzsche discusses at length in a memoir, and not mention his principal accomplishment, the retrieval of the Codex Sinaiticus from a Middle Eastern monastery? Reich also repeats the almost certainly false story that during the Soviet occupation of Weimar Max Oehler was thrown into a basement and left to starve. (In fact, he was sent to a camp where he died.) Reich also gives the birth and death dates of Adalbert Oehler (one of Nietzsche's maternal uncles), as 26.5.1830 and 4.2.1902. In his biography, Franziska Nietzsche, Klaus Goch (whose furnishing of sources is unimpeachable) lists these as 25.6.1830 and 15.3.1912. Only a resort to the archives could determine who is correct, but the odds are with Goch.
Reich never clearly states where he found his information. Although he indicates that he relied on the works cited in his "Zur Person" subheads, he gives no citations for specific claims. Worse, no sources of any kind are given for many biographies of Nietzsche's relatives or even for many acquaintances. Such omissions leave the reader who wants to check dates and information helpless, a condition the more baffling because Reich occasionally makes controversial claims—as that the fatal illness of Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, Friedrich's father, was "presumably [vermutlich]" syphilis. Finally, one must mention that the biographies themselves often lack point and focus, as though their author knew that a person was important to Nietzsche but was not sure why. One need only match Reich's entries against those in KGB I,4 (an unfair but illuminating comparison) to see how vague and loose they frequently are.
In general, then, an air of improvisatorial amateurism hangs over this book, as might be expected from a work written by someone so inexperienced who has taken on such a promethean task. In Reich's defense it must be said that he has done a huge amount of work and that he largely succeeds. In a book that aims to present thousands of facts it is inevitable that some will be wrong, and if his entries lack clarity, readers are still likely to come away knowing more than they did before.
More important, his book presents a cross-section of Nietzsche's circles of acquaintance and thereby opens new vistas on this reputedly loneliest of men. A glance just at the names beginning with H (from Hachtmann to Hueffer) reveals that out of the seventy entries under this letter nine (nearly 12 percent) were potential reviewers of Nietzsche's work, most of whom were sent sample copies of his books. The only grouping larger than this consists of friends and acquaintances from Nietzsche's childhood and youth.
This provides statistical evidence for a shift that we could hitherto only hypothesize: Nietzsche was no shy and reclusive author but an active propagator of his work, one who often solicited notice and reviews. The evidence further supports the view that as Nietzsche grew older, he simultaneously withdrew from ordinary social contact and broadened his intellectual circle of acquaintance through letters to people he would never meet. Mazzino Montinari has famously written of "Nietzsche's ideal library." We might extend this to say that Nietzsche also sought an "ideal social circle," wooing and winning correspondents as distant yet commanding as Taine, Brandes, and Strindberg. Another insight is available, thanks to a folded sheet inserted into the rear binder of the book. On the two sides of the page appear diagrams of family trees. One presents Nietzsche's ancestors, the other gives Nietzsche's family members during his lifetime and their descendents. As with the book, the insert must be treated with caution. Some of the dates are questionable, relatives are omitted (Christliebe Balster), and Franziska Nietzsche's siblings are not listed in the order of their birth, which makes the diagram visually misleading.
Nonetheless, the two genealogies are invaluable because they represent a kind of passing of the baton from one family to the other. Nietzsche's father disliked his in-laws, and tensions between the families (the Nietzsches and Oehlers) were unavoidable insofar as Nietzsche's mother was subservient to her husband's relatives. Accordingly, both Nietzsche himself and his sister tended to identify with their father's side of the family and to take pride in that heritage. As the original Nietzsches died out, however, and the mother increasingly turned to her own family, the balance shifted. This made little difference so long as Nietzsche was independent, but once he collapsed, it meant that members of the Oehler family would become his guardians, supervise his legacy along with Elisabeth, and result in Max Oehler running the archive after her death. In the two sides of this page (on one of which the Nietzsches predominate, on the other the Oehlers), this shift in family dynamics is dramatized in terms of space.
This final bonus of the insert might remind us that it is futile to fault a book for not being perfect when it has much to offer and appears to be the only contender in its field. Those who browse a great deal in the letters and Nachlass may want a copy, and those who need it rarely and only as an ad hoc point of repair will be grateful for its existence on the library shelves. While other, perhaps more brilliant, books are read once and discarded, Nietzsche-Zeitgenossenlexikon will continue to be kept and consulted because, whatever its deficiencies, it is useful and meets a need.