Printer Friendly

On the use of history for life in Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Pirandello's Henry IV.

Only if history can endure to be transformed into a work of art ... will it perhaps be able to preserve instincts or even stimulate them.

--Friedrich Nietzsche, "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life" (1)

STRIKING CORRESPONDENCES OF THOUGHT notwithstanding, there is scant evidence to support the claim that Luigi Pirandello was directly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche. On the contrary, the Sicilian author appears to have had little more than a passing acquaintance with the German philosopher's oeuvre, exemplified perhaps in a casual reference to "the birth of a real tragedy!" (Nascera davvero la tragedia!) (2)--a clear but glib allusion to Nietzsche's first published work, The Birth of Tragedy--in the opening scene of Pirandello's modern tragedy Henry IV. (3) Nevertheless, the readily discernible affinity between Nietzsche and Pirandello's vision of the world is far from coincidental, but rooted in an insight central to modern philosophy. Before proceeding to this insight, however, its centrality to Nietzsche's philosophy and Pirandello's art raises the preliminary question of Pirandello's philosophical status as a writer, and, by extension, his relationship to modern philosophy.

Directly after Pirandello received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, whose protracted and acrimonious dispute with his compatriot over the nature of artistic creativity was already into its third decade, (4) dismissed Pirandello's prodigious output--comprising short stories, novels, dramas and essays--as "neither art nor philosophy." (5) For his own part, Pirandello insisted in an interview that "I have never taken upon myself any philosophical responsibility. I have always intended to make art, not philosophy" (6) and in a letter to his son Stefano, who in 1916 was languishing in an Austrian prisoner-of-war camp, advised him not to waste too much time reading philosophical texts as he himself had done to so little purpose. (7) The type of philosophy which Croce failed to find in the writings of Pirandello and the latter to find in any way illuminating was that elaborate system of abstract reasoning hard-wired by a network of logical principles. To Pirandello, for whom the world was an objective reality which man could feel but never fully know, logic was an "infernal contraption" (machinetta infernale) that reduced the feeling of life to cold, empty constructs: "a kind of filter pump" designed "to pump emotions from the heart and to extract ideas from them." (8)

Not all philosophy is systematic, of course (Nietzsche's aphoristic style of philosophy is an obvious example and can be seen as a pointed rejection of the confected unity of philosophical systems), nor literature and philosophy mutually exclusive, to adopt the type of logical argumentation spurned by Pirandello and Nietzsche. (9) On the contrary, as, say, Voltaire's Candide, Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov, and Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers amply and severally demonstrate, the line between literature and philosophy is at best blurred. This is especially true of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Pirandello's Henry IV, in which the protagonist-prophet of the first and the raisonneur-protagonist of the second discourse at length on matters that might otherwise be considered the preserve of philosophy. Indeed, the raisonneur figure (ragione in Italian, often translated into English as "reasoner") is a dominant feature of Pirandello's fictional work, and the exclusive subject of its tortured speculations is the existential repercussions of a profound and tragic insight into the nature of the world. (10) At once metaphysical, epistemological, and psychological, this insight (alluded to in the opening paragraph of this essay) discloses an inexorable and irreconcilable conflict between reality and illusion, the irrational and the rational: between incessant flux and the intellectual forms that man invents in an endeavor to arrest flux and gain thereby stability, identity, and meaning. (11)

The first critic to identify this intuition as the philosophical crux of Pirandello's work was the Italian philosopher and critic Adriano Tilgher. In his hugely influential essay "Life Versus Form" (1923), Tilgher analyzes in depth and at length the "philosophy" at work in Pirandello's art, declaring that "with Pirandello, dialectic becomes poetry." (12) But as Antonio Illiano notes in his insightful critique of Pirandello's antagonistic relations with Croce and Tilgher, the latter's famous formulation, emblazoned in the essay's title, is in fact erroneous. The opposition, as Pirandello subsequently explained, is not between life and form but between movement and form: "Life for me is tragic because it has to obey these two opposed necessities, that of movement and form: fatal necessities.... Form imprisons movement. Movement wears down and overthrows form. Hence the perpetual procession of forms and movement, in continual conflict, which is in fact life." (13) The important point Pirandello is making here is that life necessitates both form and movement: without form--albeit fabricated concepts and fictitious rationalizations--man cannot live, cannot be. Pirandello's meaning is made clearer in one of his notes: "The World is the activity of being, it is appearance, illusion to which being itself grants the value of reality." (14)

Despite Tilgher's (ironically) self-aggrandizing error, he was correct in asserting that an ever-deepening apprehension of life's fundamental conflict between spontaneous flux and constructed forms is inscribed in the history of post-Kantian modern philosophy. (15) One might further argue that the seminal expression of this intuition can be traced back to Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation. In this monumental study, the German idealist philosopher draws on Buddhist thought and Kant's concept of the noumenal--a realm beyond the empirical world of causality--to construct his ontological theory of the will. Positing "eternal becoming, endless flux" as belonging to "the revelation of the essential nature of the will," (16) and, more significantly, identifying this universal will as the essential nature of man, Schopenhauer laid the groundwork for a metaphysics of the unconscious upon which Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud would so successfully build. In the wake of this paradigm shift, the concept of a stable, unitary self now deliquescent in the "eternal becoming, endless flux" of the instinctual will, man found himself adrift, his frail bark of consciousness buffeted by the perpetual surge of blind, irrational impulses from within and a storm of social constructs and constraints from without.

Pirandello would undoubtedly have been exposed to the ideas of both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche while a philosophy student at the University of Bonn, but as Franz Rauhut pertinently observes in his groundbreaking biography on the young Pirandello, the latter knew not one word of German when he arrived in Bonn in 1889 and was thus unlikely to have acquired in the two years he spent there the linguistic competence necessary for reading Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in the original. (17) According to Rauhut, it was not to nineteenth-century German philosophy that Pirandello owed his greatest intellectual debt, but to two turn-of-the-twentieth-century works: French psychologist Alfred Binet's Les alterations de la personnalite (1892) and Italian philosopher Giovanni Marchesini's Lefinzioni dell'anima (1905). (18) To these, G6sta Andersson and Giovanni Macchia respectively added the French philosophers Gabriel Seailles and Maurice Blondel as key contemporary sources for Pirandello, (19) whose extensive "borrowing" from all four thinkers attests to their formative role in the Sicilians intellectual development and his vision of the world as an ineluctable conflict between multiple, competing selves or personalities and a socially conditioned, form-fashioning, fluidity-damming intellect.

The flux-form dialectic, pivotal to Pirandellian thought, carries distant echoes of the dynamic dualism between Dionysian chaos and Apollonian form which Nietzsche perceived as the core tension of Attic tragedy, echoes that were more or less audible in Pirandello's sources. (20) It is the purpose of this essay to examine how the eponymous protagonists of Pirandello's Henry IV and Nietzsche's Zarathustra seek to bridge the flux-form divide by using history, a temporal manifestation of the will, as a means of releasing instinctual selves into some sort of lived reality. Taking as its point of departure Nietzsche's contention that history should be used to invigorate rather than enervate the present, this essay will show how Zarathustra and "Henry IV" deploy masks modeled on historical exemplars to subvert social forms (in the sense both of constructs and conventions) and remove individual inhibitions, with a view to living more fully in the present. (21)

Through a comparative critique of these two modern antiheroes, it will be seen how a mask that is instinctually consonant with the masquerader can serve a threefold purpose: to revitalize the present through the stimulation and release of man's native vitality and originality stymied by the moral prohibitions of two millennia of Christian indoctrination; to expose the instinctual underbelly of these moral proscriptions; and to relieve, albeit temporarily, the burden of one's personal history through the catharsis of historical role-playing. In short, by affording the instincts freer and fuller rei(g)n, a surrogate history holds out the possibility of a new history: not one deep rooted in hoary tradition and painful personal history, but one of active, creative becoming. It will also be seen, however, that history is both an expression of and a check upon the will's vicissitudes, for while the course of history is determined by the fundamental flux of the will, the course of the will is in time determined by recorded history. That is to say, the originally random course of the will finds itself channeled into ravines cut ever deeper by the undercurrent of cumulative memory, resulting in cultural and instinctual entrenchment. It is against this delimitation of the will by the combined force of one's personal and cultural history that Zarathustra and "Henry IV" struggle.

The debilitating effects of history on both self and society is the central concern of Nietzsche's early essay "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life." (22) In this essay, the second of four in a collected edition entitled Unfashionable Observations, (23) Nietzsche insists that history be used not as a rod but as a tool for enabling and enhancing life through self-affirmative action. 'As long as the soul of written history lies in the great stimuli that a man of power derives from it, as long as the past must be written as worthy of emulation," avers Nietzsche, the guiding principle of historical method becomes one of "poetic license" rather than fidelity to facts (UA, 2). Nietzsche proceeds to enumerate three modes of history: monumental, antiquarian, and critical. The first focuses on the heroic deeds of great men, the second on the formative role of the past in the constitution of the present, and the third on the shortcomings and injustices of the past. Each, argues Nietzsche, can be used either to invigorate or diminish life, depending on whether one seeks to press history into the service of life or life into the service of history:

That life is in need of the services of history must be as clearly comprehended as the proposition.., that an excess of history is harmful to the living man. History pertains to the living man in three respects: it pertains to him as a being who acts and strives, as a being who preserves and reveres, as a being who suffers and seeks relief. This threefold relationship corresponds to three modes of history, insofar as a distinction between a monumental, an antiquarian and a critical mode of history is permissible. (IDA, 2)

The crucial word here is "living." When monumental deeds serve only to intimidate and dwarf; when reverence for the past "no longer conserves, but mummifies" (UA, 3); and when critical history judges the past from a post-Enlightenment present in which the Hegelian (and Crocean) spirit has come complacently to rest at the end of a long evolutionary road, then life as deed, as becoming, is a dead letter.

A lived life as opposed to a socioculturally conditioned life is the key categorical imperative in Nietzsche's philosophy, a philosophy that grew to maturity in its vigorous but ultimately abortive attempts to reverse the nihilistic consequences of Schopenhauer's pessimistic philosophy of the will. (24) Adopting the central tenet of Buddhist belief, Schopenhauer asserts that the fundamental cause of all human suffering is the insatiable, inexorable will, and that the sole means of eliminating this suffering is to deny the will altogether, either through Buddhist meditation or a purportedly will-less contemplation of art (derided by Zarathustra as "immaculate perception"). (25) In Zarathustra and Henry IV, however, the titular characters eschew the evasions of ascetic withdrawal or aesthetic immersion and strive instead to work with the will by returning to it some of its former liberty. Under the license of a facilitating historical mask, our two protagonists are emboldened to release latent or suppressed instincts into an active, affirmative, masked present, and thereby find the wherewithal to act and strive (monumental history), to preserve the best of the past in the present (antiquarian history), and above all to seek deliverance from the chafing shackles of the past (critical history). "You must interpret the past only out of the fullest energy of the present," exhorts Nietzsche, for "only in the most vigorous exertion of your noblest characteristics will you surmise what is great in the past and worth knowing and preserving" (UA, 6). But as Nietzsche would shortly come to realize, after his disillusionment with Wagner's operas vanquished his hopes of a cultural regeneration through the marriage of myth and music, the depleted energy reserves of the present have been sapped and vitiated by man's collective and individual past, pasts that have conjointly not only quelled man's vigor but virtually expunged his noblest qualities.

"With an excess of history," writes Nietzsche, "man again ceases [to live], and without that envelope of the unhistorical he would never have begun or dared to begin" (UA, 1). He is referring here to history qua history, but such historical excess, evident in an etiolated and over-determined present, insidiously and inevitably feeds into one's own personal history via tradition and a concomitant conditioning which together foreclose many a beginning. The first type of history--history as narrative--is open to interpretation, evaluation, and manipulation, but the second--history inherited as "self"--is a closed book and is as ineradicable as one's racial and genetic history, thus placing "that envelope of the unhistorical" even further from human reach. "For since we are the product of earlier generations, we are also the product of their aberrations, passions and errors, even crimes; it is impossible wholly to free ourselves from this fetter. If we condemn these aberrations and consider ourselves exempt from them, this does not alter the fact that we originate in them" (UA, 3). Inextricably enmeshed in their past and so denied the insulating and enabling shell of the unhistorical, Zarathustra and "Henry IV" elect to exploit the historical by enveloping themselves in the mantle of an historical figure whose "passions" (monumental history) they preserve (antiquarian history) and whose "errors" (critical history) they expose. In this guise they seek to seal themselves within a particular envelope of the historical and to stamp it with their own "noblest characteristics" As we shall observe, such masquerade is an effective and affectively profitable ruse until the moment when the "excess" of the past bursts through the seal and causes the historical persona to collapse into the chaos of personal history and each man, once again, to cease to live.

Zarathustra records the largely unsuccessful attempts of an erstwhile mountain recluse to assume the role of an anti-Christian, anti-Zoroastrian prophet. (26) After the risible failure of his first and last proselytizing foray into the market square, force-feeding the fruits of his ten-year meditative seclusion down the reluctant throats of an unregenerate mob, Zarathustra must content himself with a handful of unpromising disciples. In the opening chapter of part 1 of Zarathustra, the "prophet" discourses on the three metamorphoses of the spirit, from camel to lion to child. In this parable, the camel symbolizes the spirit that is weighed down by an excess of historicocultural baggage; the lion, the spirit's violent rejection of these cultural values (what Nietzsche elsewhere refers to as philosophizing with a hammer (27)); and the child, the spirit that has all the light-hearted playfulness of a child but none of its naivete. Zarathustra's own spiritual development can be inferred from the book's Prologue in which the alpine hermit laments the weight not of his long-shed cultural baggage but of his nay-saying wisdom. He appears therefore to stand on the threshold of the third stage of spiritual metamorphosis. But while the roar of the lion, tearing limb from limb the corpus of Christian values, resounds through Zarathustra's teaching, the putative prophet's sporadic spirals into paralyzing despair, when the weight of the past threatens to crush the life out of the present, signal regression to the weight-bearing camel. (28)

The insupportable burden of the past is frankly confessed by Zarathustra in a chapter aptly entitled "The Grave Song" (Z, 2.11), where Zarathustra laments over the lost "visions and consolations of my youth!" slain by his own intellectual conscience. The nature of these "visions and consolations" is never explicitly divulged, but Zarathustra's thinly veiled attacks on Schopenhauer and Wagner; his broadsides on philosophers, scholars, and poets; and his sustained onslaught on the purveyors and consumers of Christianity make it abundantly clear that the consolations to which Zarathustra refers in "The Grave Song" are the metaphysical comforts contained in religion, philosophy, music, and poetry. (29) The excess of history with which each of these cultural artifacts is saturated is collectively staggering, and Zarathustra buckles under the weight of his burden of influence.

Zarathustra's greatest cultural burden is Schopenhauer, to whom Nietzsche pays homage in the third of his Unfashionable Observations, "Schopenhauer as Educator," It is on account of this education, and the metaphysics of the will at its heart, that Zarathustra is prone to debilitating bouts of pessimistic despair which in turn render him more than usually susceptible to the soothing palliatives of poetic illusion, his life-affirming Ubermensch being a prime case in point. An imagined man of the future, the Ubermensch will not only confront the tragic sense of life, or what Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy refers to as "the calamity at the core of things" (KSA 1, par. 1), but dance cheek to cheek with life along the vertiginous edges of her myriad abysses. Zarathustra, alas, is no Ubermensch, and while in more robust moments he is able to rely on his "invulnerable" will to resurrect him from the grave of the past (Z, 2.1 1), when in the grip of despair he is tormented by the knowledge that however hard, however determined his "heroic will" (Z, 2.13), it remains inexorably subject to the instinctual forces of the will, freighted as they are with the accumulated, acculturated fears and desires of a personal and cultural past.

"It was"--that is the name of the will's gnashing of teeth and most secret melancholy. Powerless against what hath been done--it is an angry spectator of all that is past.

The will cannot will backwards; that it cannot break time and time's covetousness--that is the will's loneliest melancholy...

That time doth not run backwards--that is its rage...

This, yea, this alone is revenge: the will's antipathy to time and its "it was." (Z, 2.20)

This rage, this vengeful "antipathy to time" and this "loneliest melancholy" anatomizes with startling precision the existential condition of Pirandello's "Henry IV," who likewise alludes to "that certain dark and fatal power that assigns limits to the will" (act 2). Holding no other name in the play's list of dramatis personae than the eponymous medieval monarch he is impersonating, "Henry IV" is consumed by the past: the personal past of which he was robbed by a carnival-day prank that plunged him into madness, and the cultural past with which society and its conventions are imbued and at an oblique angle to which he had lived his life prior to the onset of insanity. Thrown from his horse during an historical pageant, "Henry IV" remains fixed in the character of the medieval German Emperor he had been assuming in the historical cavalcade. Twelve years later, years that swallowed up his early manhood and spat him out onto the desolate shores of middle age, his wits return as suddenly as they had departed. Rather than return to society, however, "Henry IV" chooses to feign insanity and to remain in his make-believe medieval castle (in reality a secluded, Umbrian villa), attended by four privy counselors, a pair of pages (valets-cum-actors hired by "Henry IV'S" solicitous sister to humor her brother's delusion, once real but now, unbeknown to them all, affected), and a faithful old servant who has affectionately taken on the role of monk and scribe.

Far better, believes "Henry IV," to perpetuate the potentially liberating and self-empowering historical role of Henry IV than return to a meretricious world where integrity of action and feeling is ridiculed; far better to command respect and fealty than attempt social reintegration and excite the renewed derision, or worse, pity of his former associates. Thus, for eight years and under the guise of madness, "Henry IV" unleashes his rage, wreaks vengeance, and instills fear and terror in his "privy counselors" until the fateful day--the day of the play's action--when Matilda, the woman he had unsuccessfully wooed and last seen on the day of the pageant, visits him in the company of her paramour, Belcredi, who at the time of the pageant was also suing for Matilda's affections. Belcredi is also the man whom "Henry IV" suspects of having goaded his horse during the cavalcade procession twenty years earlier and so caused the fall that cost him twelve years of his life.

Like Zarathustra, "Henry IV's" one overriding thought is how to parry the rapier thrusts of memory in a lived present. And just as Zarathustra vents his animus towards the past and the society of the present by assuming a prophetic guise and disseminating his anti-Christian message to those who will listen (a mere handful of disciples), so "Henry IV" releases his corrosive anger and resentment through the extemporized deeds of the historical Henry IV, which he performs before a small group of receptive listeners (the valets mentioned above). Upon regaining his sanity and perceiving with implacable horror that "not only my hair but all the rest of me as well must have turned grey ... that I had arrived hungry as a bear to a banquet that was already over" (act 3), "Henry IV" resolves to avenge himself on lost time. By willing the masquerade to which he had been subject for twelve years, he will partially assuage his "will's antipathy to time and its 'it was'" (Z, 2.13), and at the same time try to inure himself against the cataclysmic moment when, dressed in the costume of the medieval monarch whose life he had obsessively conned in the weeks prior to the pageant, he lost contact with the world.

I preferred to remain crazy, having found everything here ready and willing for this new delight of sorts. Live it I would, with the most lucid consciousness, this insanity of mine, and in so doing take vengeance on the brutality of a rock that had bruised my head! The loneliness, this solitude which appeared so squalid and empty to me when I opened my eyes again, I decided to deck out at once and even better with all the colors and all the splendor of that far-off carnival day. (act 3)

This recourse to monumental history as a vehicle for meaningful action in a modern world of unwitting mannequins is at once antiquarian and critical, a complex creative act involving extrapolation, appropriation, adaptation, improvisation, and sublimation. Take Zarathustra, whose choice of historical role models--Zoroaster, Prometheus, and Jesus--is both ironic and sincere. Thus, while the implicit parallels between Zarathustra and Jesus are intentionally parodic in light of the emphatically anti-Christian thrust of Zarathustra's faux-biblical rhetoric, the would-be prophet's Promethean aspiration to instill in man the creative spark of self-transformation and self-determination is genuinely inspired by the mythological original. (30) The name "Zarathustra" is also ironic. As Nietzsche explains in his last published work, Ecce Homo (KSA 6), his rationale for naming his fictional prophet after the ancient Iranian prophet and philosopher is to teach the first moralist, through the sermons of "the first immoralist," the error of his ways. The Persian Zarathustra, whose "tremendous" (note Nietzsche's heavy irony here) contribution to history lay in his "conversion of morality into a metaphysics, as force, cause, end in itself" is to learn "the self-overcoming of morality through truthfulness, the self-overcoming of the moralist into his opposite" ("Why I am a destiny," 3). This truthfulness for Nietzsche resides in the body and in the primacy and potency of its instincts, or, borrowing from Schopenhauer, what he termed man's "will to power." Instinct, not morality, is "force, cause, end in itself."

Pirandello's nameless protagonist, another critical-antiquarian mediator of monumental history, is also bent on overcoming morality through the truthfulness of the instincts, asserting that "when we are not resigned, out come our desires ... None of us lie or pretend!" (act 1). The eleventh century German king is an ideal vehicle for "Henry IV's" unmasking of moral bankruptcy and religious hypocrisy. In his rehearsal of the period's events, "Henry IV" has numerous opportunities to remind his "privy counselors" and the miscellaneous other historical personages they are required to impersonate, that religion is a concealed will to power and that the internecine battle between church and state, papacy and empire, has ever been fought over respective jurisdictions of power. Throughout Henry IV's reign, the aggressive attempts of the incumbent Pope, Gregory VII, to establish papal supremacy and so place himself above the king and just below God were a source of continual conflict between pontiff and monarch. Thus, "Henry IV's" reported reference to Pope Gregory VII as "a pagan!"--possibly the most comic line in the play--and a practitioner of "all diabolical arts" (act 1) is more than just wry or caustic humor; it is grounded in historical fact. In a letter to Gregory VII dated January 24, 1076, and addressed to "not Pope but false friar"--a phrase repeated verbatim by "Henry IV" in the first act--Henry IV writes:

Such greeting as this hast thou merited through thy disturbances, inasmuch as there is no grade in the church which thou hast omitted to make a partaker not of honor but of confusion, not of benediction but of malediction .... Thou hast won favor from the common herd by crushing them; thou hast looked upon all of them as knowing nothing, upon thy sole self, moreover, as knowing all things. This knowledge, however, thou hast used not for edification but for destruction; so that with reason we believe that St. Gregory, whose name thou has usurped for thyself, was prophesying concerning thee when he said: "The pride of him who is in power increases the more, the greater the number of those subject to him; and he thinks that he himself can do more than all." (31)

Later that same year, Gregory VII did indeed show himself capable of doing more than all by not only excommunicating Henry IV, but deposing him--a dual sentence that nearly cost the German king his throne. (32) In the mind of Henry IV, the Pope's transparently secular motive for such an audacious move was exclusively political: to retain, exert, and expand papal power. (33) Seen in this light, the Pope's excommunication of Henry IV was little more than a coup d'etat, rendering the customary penance prior to the consideration of any papal absolution a flagrant abuse of Christian practice and a convenient means of publicly humiliating one's political adversary. As "Henry IV" bitterly complains: "The conditions upon which the Pope has stipulated for the retraction of my excommunication have nothing, but absolutely nothing, to do with the reason for which he had excommunicated me!" (act 2).

In consciously choosing to live the life of a king who had repeatedly challenged the autocratic power of a pope, (34) and in his reiterated denunciation of corrupt and rapacious bishops who would willingly have sold their souls for a plot, or one hundred and twenty, of farmland (act 1), "Henry IV," like Zarathustra, is intent on challenging the monolith of Christian morality and exposing the instincts' insidious subversion thereof. This is arguably visible in the stage directions preceding "Henry IV's" first stage entrance: "Over his regal garb he wears a penitent's sack, as at Canossa. In his eyes there is a fixed look of suffering, which is frightening to behold and which is in contrast to the attitude of a person who wishes to be humbly repentant, and is all the more ostentatious, the more he feels his humiliation is undeserved" (act 1). The dual conjunction of the regal robes discernible beneath the penitential sack and the piercing eyes that belie the penitential posture furnishes a composite emblematic representation of the sovereignty of instinct and the dispensable virtues that are donned and doffed as occasion requires, instincts dictate, and history recounts. Hence Gregory VII, whose pressing of the sacred into the service of the political left Henry IV in his brinkmanship with the Pope little alternative but to respond in kind. Resorting to tactical and pragmatic self-abasement, Henry IV, as "recollected" by "Henry IV" in act 1, stood unshod and hair-shirted outside the gates of Canossa in deep midwinter in order to present a penitent aspect to His Holiness and thereby force a retraction of his excommunication. The instinctual compulsion of both is identical: to hold on to power at all costs.

The concept of power or force lies at the heart of Nietzsche's dynamic philosophy of becoming and his withering critique of moral codes based on the subjugation of body to soul, instinct to reason. (35) Will to power, the innate drive of man, subverts, suborns, coerces, and manipulates reason in its (the will's) drive towards instinctual satisfaction. "There is not one of us able to evaluate that which he does, when done out of instinct," declares "Henry IV" towards the end of act 1, and the reason for this inability is the ultimate mastery of body over mind. Even Immanuel Kant, for whom reason was fundamental to his Foundations of a Metaphysics of Morals, conceded that behind every categorical imperative lurks "the dear self." (36) It is this somatic, instinctual self that Zarathustra designates as the primum mobile of the body's thoughts and feelings:

Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brethren, stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage--it is called Self. It dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body.

There is more reason in thy body than in thy best wisdom. And who knoweth wherefore thy body hath need of thy best wisdom?

Thy Self laugheth at thine I and its proud prancing. "What is this prancing and these flights of thought to me?" it saith to itself. "A by-way to my goal. I am the leading-string of the I and the prompter of its concepts." (Z, 1.4)

Inhabiting the respective mantles of prophet and king, Zarathustra and "Henry IV" play out the sovereignty of instinct, and to the extent that these historical masks afford direct instinctual expression they could be described, to borrow Pirandello's collocation, as "naked masks" (see endnote 3). The sovereign instinct within both protagonists and to which they both give free reign is rage: rage against time and its "it was." "Henry IV's" daily rant at the perfidy of ecclesiastical machinations is at the same time an effective means of venting his rage at the perfidy of Belcredi whose alleged prank excommunicated him ("Henry IV") from the world, just as his ritual rage against Matilda, the Marchesa of Tuscany--an ardent ally of Pope Gregory VII and ipsofacto Henry IV's fiercest of enemies (act 1)--provides an outlet for his rage against the Matilda of his youth who had repulsed his advances and whose chosen guise of the Marchesa of Tuscany for the pageant had initially prompted him to take the role of "Henry IVT." There is rage too against the tyranny of tradition. Like Zarathustra, "Henry IV" enacts the second stage of spiritual metamorphosis and together they rail against the deadweight of "all traditions! ... all customs!" (act 2). Rather than "remasticate the life of the dead!" (act 2) through the mouthing of well-worn platitudes and the performance of normative codes of behavior, repudiated by Nietzsche as "a perfunctory convention, a miserable imitation or even a crude antic" (UA, 4), "Henry IV" opts for the lead role in a period drama over a comedy turn (as noted above, "Henry IV" had been cruelly mocked for his originality) in the death-in-life shadow-play of modern-day society.

This decomposition of dead tradition can be observed in the ironic appellations of the key characters in Henry IV: Marchesa Matilda Spina, the woman who had spurned "Henry IV" on account of his unfashionable integrity and intensity of feeling which she publicly derided but secretly feared and admired, inversely suggesting spinelessness; Baron Tito Belcredi, a former admirer of Matilda and thus intent on raising his own credit by discrediting that of a rival suitor, inversely suggesting a lack of credibility; Carlo di Nolli, a young Marquis and "Henry IV's" nephew, homonymously suggesting a man of no (nil, nul) substance; and lastly, Doctor Dionysius Genoni, employed by di Nolli to "cure" "Henry IV" of his presumed madness, neither doctor nor Dionysian, but a quack whose cold Apollonian detachment, floating fatuously above the Dionysian depths it is his express professional brief to plumb, typifies what Zarathustra scorns as the "proud prancing" of reason. These ironic tags are subsequently fleshed out by the characters themselves who, with the exception of the Doctor, represent the withering branches of a decadent aristocracy: the Marchesa, frivolous and shallow; (37) the Baron, astute but content to be ridiculed as a buffoon; the Marchesa's daughter, all tremulous timorousness; her fiance, the Marquis, a harried young man whose dogged sense of duty masks a total lack of imagination and spontaneity; and the Doctor, a caricature of the type of Freudian analysis in vogue at the time Pirandello wrote his play, hopelessly misguided by a reasoning faculty inflated by conceit and pseudo-scientific jargon. (38)

Zarathustra's rage is similarly directed at the decadence of modernity, at the spiritually diminutive "last men," whose "poverty, pollution and wretched self-complacency" will snuff out the Promethean spark of self-determination he had so blithely carried down his Olympian mountain of burden-shedding solitude to impart to man (ZP, 5, 3). This transition from mountain to lowland marks the high point of Zarathustra's second spiritual metamorphosis, and the lion's share of Zarathustra's vituperative discourse is an attack on these lackluster "last men" for whom happiness, reason, virtue, justice, and pity are synonymous with the path of least resistance. Knowing nothing of self-potential, of the multiple latent or buried selves awaiting expression (in the same vein, "Henry IV" upbraids his valets for not reveling in the color and vitality of their eleventh-century world), the "last men" are ironically guaranteed evolutionary survival by virtue of their fitness for the miserable mediocrity of modernity: "The earth hath become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man liveth longest" (ZP, 5).

While Zarathustra and "Henry IV's" social exclusion is a bulwark against the nauseating waves of complacent mediocrity, in the fathomless depths of the unconscious another sea threatens to engulf them: the ever-rising tide of the ever-accumulating past. Zarathustra's past was stolen not by a rival but by his own "conscientious spirit:' Allegorized in part 4 of Zarathustra as a leech gatherer, Zarathustra's "severe, rigorous, scrupulous, cruel, inexorable" intellectual conscience (Z, 4.4) "murdered my youth's visions and dearest wonders!" and bled the vigor of life out of him. In gothic nightmares, where bursting coffins spew forth buried demons and mocking goblins, Zarathustra's past preys on his present and reduces him to paralyzing, pessimistic despair (Z, 2.11, 2.1, 2.19). No longer equal to the prophetic role in which he has cast himself, Zarathustra takes his bow, exits stage left, and seeks refuge in solitary, deedless, meditative exile, where time and tide have a negligible impact and the lived present is emptied of any real existential content. Similarly, but more tragically, when "Henry IV" is confronted with a living, breathing replica of the woman he had loved and lost twenty years before--in reality Matilda's daughter, Frida, tricked out at the behest of the criminally inept "doctor" in the historical costume worn by Frida's mother on the day of the pageant--he is overwhelmed by the sudden resurgence of his lost past. The colossal impact of beholding before him the embodiment of all that he has lost unseals the historical envelope and unseats his reason. In the blindness of his rage against lost time, "Henry IV" seizes the sword of one of his "counselors," fatally wounds the man whom he believes has robbed him of time, and thereby fixes the mask that until that point had been freely chosen. (39)

"Existence" contends Nietzsche in his early essay on history, "is merely an uninterrupted living in the past, something which exists for the purpose of self-negation, self-erosion, and self-contradiction" (UA, 1). Under the millennial weight of cultural and moral encrustation man fossilizes, and while the historical mask's simultaneous affirmation of instinct and negation of social form goes some way towards reversing the debilitating effects of a personal and collective past, the self's implication in the "crimes" and "aberrations" of the past remains an ineluctable fact. The greatest of these crimes, for Nietzsche and for Pirandello, is the vitiation of the will through the tyranny of custom, tradition, and conformity that negates and erodes the multiplicity of self, drives everyman into unwitting self-exile, and condemns the man of wisdom to "the madness of knowing one can never be oneself" (act 2).

Taylor's University, Malaysia


(1) All Nietzsche citations in this essay are my own translation. The source text is Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, eds., Friedrich Nietzsche: Siimtliche Werke, Kritische Studienausgabe, 15 vols., rev. ed. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1988). This text will hereafter be abbreviated parenthetically as KSA, followed by the volume number in which the cited work appears. The epigraph from "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life" is in KSA 1 (section 7).

(2) Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays, trans. Mark Musa (London: Penguin, 1995). Italian text: Maschere nude (Milan: Mondadori, 1986).

(3) As Olga Ragusa points out in Luigi Pirandello: An Approach to His Theatre (Edinburgh U. Press, 1980), 125, Pirandetlo appended the generic term "tragedy" to Henry IV in the second (Bemporad) edition of Naked Masks (Pirandello's collection of five plays: Liola, It Is SoY (If You Think So), Henry IV, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Each in His Own Way).

(4) Discussed in Anthony Caputi's Pirandello and the Crisis of Modern Consciousness (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 1988), 33-34. Caputi locates the crux of the disagreement between Croce and Pirandello in the former's insistence on the exclusive role of intuition in the creative process. For Pirandello, on the other hand, creativity is a complex process involving the collaboration of a number of faculties, chief amongst which is the critical, or what Pirandello would have referred to as the "humoristic," faculty.

(5) Quoted in Antonio Illiano, "Momenti e problemi di critica pirandelliana: L'umorismo, Pirandello e Croce, Pirandello e Tilgher," PMLA 83 (1968): 139. This and subsequent citations from Illiano's article are my own translation.

(6) Quoted in Daniela Bini, "Pirandello's Philosophy and Philosophers," A Companion to Pirandello Studies, ed. John Louis DiGaetani (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 17.

(7) Quoted in Gustavo Costa, "Pirandello and Philosophy," in DiGaetani, Companion to Pirandello, 9-10.

(8) Luigi Pirandello, On Humor, trans. Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa, Studies in Comparative Literature 58 (Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina Press, 1974), 139.

(9) Christopher E. Forth, "On the Prejudices of Philosophers: French Philosophical Discourse on Nietzsche, 1898-1908," Theory and Society 23 (1994): 840, contends that turn-of-the-century French academic philosophers, with their fixed binary opposition of literature and philosophy, perceived Nietzsche as "yet another dangerous 'seduction' of the literary world" Forth goes on to argue that Binet, whose influence on Pirandello is emphasized at the outset of my essay, also viewed Nietzsche primarily as an ecrivain and stressed "the manner of Nietzsche, his conduct of affirmation, his immense pride, his incoherence and the beauty of his lyricism." Alfred Binet, review of Nietzsche et l'immoralisme by Alfred Fouillee, L'Annee psychologique 9 (1903): 405, quoted in Forth, "On the Prejudices," 859.

(10) Aure1iu Weiss, in Le Theatre de Luigi Pirandello dans le mouvement dramatique contemporain (Paris: Librarie 73, 1965), avers that the reasoner in Pirandello's plays "is the pillar of the ideological plot": quoted in Kenneth Lawrence, "Luigi Pirandello: Holding Nature up to the Mirror," Italica 47 (1970): 64.

(11) Pirandello's clearest exposition of these philosophical ideas is contained in his 1908 essay, On Humor (L'umorismo).

(12) Adriano Tilgher, "Life Versus Form," in Glauco Cambon, ed., Pirandello: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 26. Illiano, "Momenti e problemi," 140, suggests that this depiction of Pirandello's art, while "superior in its explicatory force," may owe something to Italian journalist and radical Piero Gobetti's epithet for the Sicilian author as the "poet of dialectic" (L'Ordine Nuovo, 24 July 1921). L'Ordine Nuovo (New Order) was a political review edited by Antonio Gramsci.

(13) Quoted in Illiano, "Momenti e problemi," 143. As Illiano records, one of the chief reasons for the animosity between Tilgher and Pirandello was the former's egotistical claim to intellectual copyright of the "Life-Form" formulation as applied to Pirandello's art. In an article ("Le estetiche di Pirandello" Raccolta, 1940, 36-43) written on the eve of Pirandello's death, Tilgher trumpets yet again his originality in having with this phrase laid his hands on "the centre, the lynch pin, the axis of Pirandello's intuition of life." He also renews his castigation of Pirandello for having "adopted that phrase and made it his own" (Tilgher's indignant emphasis), despite admitting a few sentences earlier to having himself borrowed the terminology of the by now infamous catchphrase from Georg Simmel (Illiano, "Momenti e problem," 142).

(14) Luigi Pirandello, Saggi, 1275: quoted in Bini, "Pirandello's Philosophy and Philosophers," in DiGaetani, Companion, 17-46, 20.

(15) Tilgher, "Life Versus Form," 23.

(16) Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne, 2 vols. (Indian Hills, CO: Falcon's Wing Press, 1958), 1:64.

(17) Franz Rauhut, Der junge Pirandello, oder das Werden eines existentiellen Geistes (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1964). Rauhut also notes that the need to learn German coupled with the sheer volume of compulsory texts to be read and assignments submitted for his degree in philosophy, not to mention his relationship with Jenny Schultz-Lander with whom he was living at the time, are further arguments against Pirandello having the time, let alone the ability, to read dense philosophical texts in German. Michael Rossner further observes in his essay "Nietzsche und Pirandello: Parallelen und Differerenzen zweier Denk-Charaktere," Pirandello-Studien. Akten des L Paderborber Pirandello Symposiums, ed. Johannes Thomas (Paderborn: Ferdinand Sch6ningh, 1984), 10, that "a sometimes legendary belief among Italian Pirandello scholars in his 'German education' ... was widely nurtured by the author's frequent but very superficial citing of German names in his essays" (my translation). Two such scholars, according to Rossner, are Vico Faggi, "Diario acritico," in Sipario (November 1978): 26, and Graziella Corsinovi, Pirandello e l'espressionismo (Genoa: Tilgher, 1979), 24-28. R6ssner also draws attention to the absence of any reference to Nietzsche in Pirandello's On Humor, an essay in which the author names a number of German philosophers and poets, and canvasses ideas that would immediately bring Nietzsche to mind (11).

(18) Franz Rauhut, "Wissenschaftliche Quellen von Gedanken Luigi Pirandellos" Romanische Forschungen 53 (1939): 185-205.

(19) See Gosta Andersson, Arte e teoria: Studi sulla poetica del giovane Luigi Pirandello (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1966), 142-224, and "Il saggista Pirandello, lettore di Gabriel Seallles, Pirandello saggista (Palermo: Palumbo, 1992), 303-19; Giovanni Macchia, "Luigi Pirandello, Storia della letteratura italiana, ed. Emilio Cecchi and Natalino Sapegno, vol. 9, Il Novecento (Milan: Garzanti, 1969), 444-45, and Pirandello o la stanza della tortura (Milan: Mondadori, 1981), 27.

(20) This is the central theme of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy.

(21) This was of course the traditional function of the carnevale mask.

(22) Hereafter abbreviated as "UA," followed by arabic numeral to denote the numbered section within the essay.

(23) R.J. Hollingdale, in his authoritative translation of Unzeitgemiisse Betrachtungen, renders the latter title "Untimely Meditations." The problem with this translation is that the adjective untimely is commonly taken to mean ill-timed or inopportune (OED), whereas Nietzsche's observations in these essays are intended as not only timely but exigent.

(24) For a sustained argument on Nietzsche's ultimate failure to overcome the philosophical pessimism he inherited from Schopenhauer see my article: "Nietzsche and Pessimism: The Metaphysic Hypostatized," History of European Ideas 13 (1991): 253-67.

(25) Thus Spake Zarathustra, bk. 2, chap. 15. Hereafter, all parenthetical references to Thus Spake Zarathustra will be abbreviated as Z followed by arabic numeral to designate parts 1-4 of Zarathustra, and further arabic numeral(s) to indicate the chapter within each part, although Nietzsche did not number his titled chapters in Zarathustra. In respect of parenthetical references to "Zarathustra's Prologue," the latter will be abbreviated as "ZP" followed by an arabic numeral to indicate the relevant subsection within the prologue.

(26) For a book-length account of Zarathustra's failure as a prophet of self-overcoming, see my Zarathustra contra Zarathustra: The Tragic Buffoon (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 1998).

(27) "How to Philosophize with a Hammer" is the subtitle of Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols (KSA 6).

(28) It is interesting to speculate whether Nietzsche, as a philologist, knew the etymology of the Persian word "Zarathustra,"' and hence that in the language of Zoroastrian scripture, ustra means "camels."

(29) Zarathustra sardonically dubs Schopenhauer "the soothsayer" (Z, 2.15, 2.19-20, and 4.2) and Wagner "the sorcerer" (Z, 5.5); applies the epithets "backworldsmen" (Z, 1.3), "preachers of death" (Z, 1.9), and "despisers of the body" (Z, 1.4) to the priests; and scorns the latter's chaste (Z, 1.13), virtuous (Z, 1.2 and 2.5), and compassionate (Z, 2.3) flock. Critical justification for eliding these epithets with their alleged counterparts is given in Cauchi, Zarathustra.

(30) An extended analysis of Zarathustra's Promethean endeavors can be found in my essay "Nietzsche's Zarathustra: Promethean Pretensions and Romantic Dialectics," Romanticism 15 (2009): 254-64.

(31) Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London: George Bell, 1910), 372.

(32) Ephraim Emerton, ed., The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII: Selected Letters from the Registrum (New York: Norton, 1969), 90-91.

(33) Joseph McCabe, The Popes and Their Church: A Candid Account (London: Watts, 1939), 42, affirms that Gregory VII sought papal supremacy through unbridled imperial expansion: "There was hardly a country in Europe which Gregory did not try to annex to Rome."

(34) As Gian Balsamo convincingly argues in his article "Pirandello's Enrico IV: Mussolini as Mask, History as Masquerade," Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 4 (1990): 111-23, Pirandello's choice of historical characters for his drama was far from arbitrary. But whereas Balsamo draws attention to embedded allusions in the historical personas to Sicilian and Italian history (in the carnival-day pageant, for example, Baron Tito Belcredi had assumed the role of the thirteenth-century King of Naples and Sicily, Charles of Anjou, a tyrant against whom the Sicilians revolted in Palermo in 1289), I focus on the instinctual consonance between mask and masquerader.

(35) An interesting example of this type of subjugation is Pope Gregory VII's aggressive advocacy for compulsory clerical celibacy. See Oliver J. Thatcher and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Mediaeval History. Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age (New York: Scribner's, 1905), 60-64.

(36) Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1983), 23-24: "but if we look more closely at our thoughts and aspirations, we everywhere come upon the dear self, which is always there, and it is this instead of the stern command of duty (which would often require self-denial) which supports our plans"

(37) Douglas Blow, "Psychoanalysis, History, Marginality: A Study of Violence and Disease in Pirandello's Enrico IV," Italica 66 (1989): 166, accords more depth to Matilde, asserting that her inquiry of "Henry IV" as to whether he still loves the Marchesa of Tuscany, that is to say herself, is a confirmation of her love for him. It could just as easily be argued, however, that her impertinent and importunate question is motivated by nothing more than personal vanity.

(38) While neither Gaspare Guidice, in his landmark biography Luigi Pirandello (Turin: UTET, 1963), nor Ragusa, Luigi Pirandello, makes reference to Henry IV in their analyses of Pirandello's ambiguous use of the term umorismo in his essay of the same name, these quasi-caricatures of contemporary Roman high society are redolent of the crude type of umorismo that, according to Guidice, Pirandello encountered but disdained in the pages of the satirical weekly newspaper II Travaso delle idee (cited in Ragusa, Luigi Pirandello, 37). What is particularly interesting about this satirical depiction of "Henry IV's" visitors is that, in light of Pirandello's distinctive brand of umorismo that turns on the distinction between an avvertimento del contrario [perception of the incongruous] and a sentimento del contrario [feeling of the incongruous], these characters' signal lack of sentimento del contrario in their perception of "Henry IV's" eccentricity is precisely what stigmatized "Henry IV" prior to his fall in the historical pageant.

(39) There is a nice irony here in that Belcredi, the man who prior to the cavalcade had industriously circulated his withering opinion of "Henrv IV" as "crazy" (act 3), presumably as a means of securing the woman whom "Henry IV" loved, is the only character at the close

of the play who insists, with his last dying breath, on the sanity of "Henry IV." In "Il Tragico Imperatore" The Tulane Drama Review 10 (1966): 70, Eric Bentley insists upon the madness of "Henry IV." Reading him as "a deeply disturbed" and "conspicuously abnormal" person, Bentley demands: "On whose authority do we have it that the nameless one was ever cured? Only his own. But will not many a psychotic claim to be well?" Susan Harris Smith, "Ironic Distance and the Theatre of Feigned Madness" Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 51-64, also argues for the madness of "Henry IV," asserting that he is "so alienated from reality that he at last believes himself to be an outraged, omnipotent king. It is in this mask that he kills Belcredi. He no longer plays at being another; he is persuaded he is the other" (59). I, on the other hand, agree with Belcredi: "Henry IV" is not insane, but a man consumed with rage against irrevocably lost time.
COPYRIGHT 2011 University of Iowa
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Friedrich Nietzsche and Luigi Pirandello
Author:Cauchi, Francesca
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
Previous Article:Violence, transcendence, and resistance in the manuscripts of Yeats's "Leda and the Swan".
Next Article:History, fiction, and ethics: the search for the True West in True Grit.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters