What can be found about the etymology of the word ‘heaven’ all points in the direction of a great, all-encompassing space outside and above us. It begins where we are not, and nobody knows where it ends. The place where we are we call, very broadly speaking, earth. That planet in space is the ground on which we stand, build and live. From the start it must have meant that heaven is the space that is out of our reach, where we cannot live, of which we cannot know the possible inhabitants, and which is so far away from us that we must deduct its name from that distance. In the word itself all proximity blows away, past the horizon, and it is drawn away from our imagination. With every waivering of the horizon and every step further into space we have to either erase or adjust our previous preconceptions. Heaven becomes the universe and the universe expands at the same pace with which we have to recall or correct our preconceptions. Every preconception is temporary and becomes more and more incomprehensible. Heaven stands for what we cannot comprehend.

The curious thing in the use of the word ‘heaven’ in the meantime is that, next to this meaning of pointing ever further away, it also traditionally has been used to indicate a place where other beings live in bliss, withdrawn for eternity from earth’s misery, and where we reserve a place for ourselves and those dear to us, in another existence in a far future. For in this aspect our language is quite consistent: when it concerns ‘heaven’ it is always about what is not here and now, but far away in space and time, intangible for what we are and can do here and now. The negation of earthly living determines in the end the meaning that we attach to what we expect from what comes after or outside of this. It is therefore also impossible to fill in that meaning, even if it’s only for the time being. Which makes it all the more wondrous that this happens time and again in all sorts of religious traditions, and that in secular salvation sects they speak quite casually of a ‘new earth’ on which people wouldn’t be less blissful than they’d be in the old heaven. Such a drastic filling in of a concept so purposefully kept vague must lead to critical questions about the pretensions of such conceptions at some point.

At closer inspection that vague and negative name must have been made to exclude any filling in a priori, and to prevent that dogmas arise on a terrain on which not a single certainty is possible and where more likely a vague mystical desire is at play. For dogmas are usually ways of withdrawing formulated answers from criticism and even from any further thinking. Therefore in dogmas we can formulate things that do not tolerate further investigation, just like in myths and opposite to mysticism, which leaves everything open. The danger of such a critical investigation is that in this case, ‘not here’ is polemically replaced with a ‘nowhere’. In that case the dogma can contribute, through its all too concrete filling in, to the premature ending of any perspective, no matter how far removed, in the name of reason, in its more dry and bureaucratic shape, and that as a matter of speech heaven, which represents openness itself, gets hammered shut artificially. It’s hard to think of anything more stupid, but the strange thing is that this is the usual state of affairs, soon as it concerns the ‘higher’ matters.

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Unless i’m mistaken, the word ‘solace’ falls under a special category of verbs that have no relation to the result of the indicated action, but to its intent.It’s regarding actions that have a mostly expressive or ritual character. In dutch, with a word like ‘to bless’ that much is already clear in its origin. To bless in Dutch is ‘zegenen’, a derivative of the latin ‘signare’ and that means ‘to provide with a sign’, that is the sign of the cross. The word therefore expresses right from the get go the realisation that it concerns words and ritual actions. Who blesses intimates that he wishes whoever he’s blessing well, but even if he does that in the name of the highest authority, his actions still might not have the desired effect immediately. It must be a bit similar with the word ‘solace’: it must have connections to ‘trust’ and ‘strength’, like it does with equivalents in other languages, but still we cannot say that the person being solaced, from that moment on really has more trust and strength, while we could that the person being shaved, from that moment has lost his beard. When we say that we’ve solaced someone, we are therefore saying that we made a certain attempt, not that it had a result.

People cannot expect miracles from there magical attempts, but sometimes they do anyway. When they do, they do not understand the first thing about the human powerlessness that is the base of both sorrow and solace. Solace can only confirm the sorrow, not take it away; it leads to joy and trust with as little necessity as the curse leads to misery. There’s even a form of detached solace that induces sorrow merely by the pretence of taking it away. There are people who get quite moody from a pat on the back and start thinking that they should feel sad. There are people too, who toss about words of solace and encouragement so nonchalantly, that we start to wonder if other people’s suffering really does interest them. They don’t seem to find it necessary, for they are expecting wonders from their words and rituals. I don’t want to go as far as to assume that it is their conscious intent to display their superiority and that with this shoulder patting they want to pile the others into the soggy soil of their melancholy. But still: am I not doing superior people an injustice by assuming, that there isn’t a gaping abyss between what they intent and what they bring about?

Within the group of words that i’ve just rather too clumsily have described as indicators of a ritual attempt, there are of course also words that indicate an activity of a sheer verbal nature, but which still represent the pretence of accomplishing a real effect. ‘Bless’ and ‘solace’ aren’t that completely and necessarily, but they can end up in that group, and then they double the risk of becoming vain and magical swipes in the air. About that verbal solace, which is merely a stream of air, and with which people sooner assault than caress each other, and with which they sooner display their superiority than their sympathy, Job has already made the definitive statement, to his friends who came to bother him in his misery with a squeezing mixture of reproach, good advice and encouragement: I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end?” (Job. 16.2-3)



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Phraseology of bravery

From the ideology of activity which rules out undergoing, the phraseology of bravery arises, the doctrine of those who in all circumstances prefer persevering to weathering, and therefore opposes his own violence to the violence in the world. Through this activism courage is distorted, while on top of that it got an ethical emphasis in a feudal society that makes the misgivings almost ineradicable. Certain elements crept into the appreciation of courage that have to be liquidated as remnants of superfluous institutional violence. Courage as a virtue should be as much a passive weathering as an active perseverance and only as a total and exclusive activity can it remain without protest opposite violence, even if it fights violence. For then it gets into a dialogue with violence like an equal partner and accepts out of a so-called healthy realism its existence in such a self-evident way, that it also accepts its own violence. The phraseology of courage creates around the constituted violence an atmosphere of ethical completeness, in which it becomes justified. Courage cannot end violence, but definitely gives it a leg up. Peace is not a military task, but a matter for the technique of justice. It’s sooner the civil servant than the hero that redacts and affirms peace.

The glorification of courage gives it a substance and perspective it does not earn. Even Tillich adds to this, when he describes courage as ‘the self-affirmation of the being despite its non-being. It is the deed of the individual ‘self’ through which it takes on the fear of non-being, be it through the affirmation of himself as a part in a comprehensive whole, be it through the affirmation of himself in his individual selfness.’ [7]

Why is there talk of ‘being’ in this meritorious description? There is only one being that can be brave and that is a self, namely humans. For every other being the description does not hold. If it still gets involved, courage unjustly gets something like a metaphysical root or a cosmic perspective and the phenomenon is given in a quasi-philosophical way an expansion that makes it into an almost heavenly matter. Not as being, but as human, so from his culture and his need, which is to say: from his provisionality, humans are brave and that that bravery must not be glorified to the extent that the need for it was as it were prolonged only to maintain courage, just like wars can be prolonged to support war industries. Courage is only necessary for as long as the need takes; it endures the need, but does not make it into a virtue. When the need has passed, courage should make room for lust and be liquidated, before it hardens into the irrational and irascible willingness to impossible deeds at a moment, in which they might already be technically realizable without the ethical contamination of a temporary virtue. The phraseology of courage keeps insisting on the manfully ‘handiwork’ and the offer, against the technical and officially ‘designated’ way. It is therefore the glorification of an inefficient behavior, which only still has a demonstrative, liturgical value. The daring in courage is totally and completely bound to the lacking in need, and whoever celebrates courage as something definitive, is also blessing the need.

It is therefore also annoying and tragic to see how protests against violence elapse into a liturgy of violence and the resistance eventuates to an eagerly seized on recreation. The phrase of courage is then wielded, far removed from real problems, to arrouse through an inefficient, purely expressive and ritualistic behavior, a self-awareness of a meritorious engagement, in which the annoyance is prematurely distracted by means of lust. It is an oppressive question, how long a resistance that finds its way out like that can last, before it’s given up upon for that most frivolous of motives, boredom. Or, to put it less frivolously: the protestor feeds on the illusion of being a Cato against people who aren’t senators, and burdens himself with a colosal frustration, in which also his noble intentions disappear. The protest against violence then degenerates into a show of free expression with all the grimaces of usefulness, in which only the annoyance about ones own powerlessness is ventilated, while precisely that annoyance should be a permanent guest of thought, because only that can courage to humility. That does not by any means mean that a protest is useless. Even if it was solely a ritual -and sometimes with expressions of democratic freedom it is hard to distinguish expressive actions from efficient ones- it would not be responsible to simply call it superfluous. But precisely because it competes with utilitarian actions, it would be necessary to give those a greater objective meaning by excluding all every intoxication of bravery, so that it gets a more technical than an adventurous character and leaves open the designated road as much as possible.

Opposed to this cult of ill-considered courage the thesis should be defended that courage without humility is a nonsensical and dangerous phenomenon, which plays into the hand of violence. Decorated with the awards of a definitive and acknowledged substantiality and glorified as the height of human and especially male behavior, courage is a contribution to violence and helps to conserve it. It doesn’t only reside itself in it and isn’t solely a suffering resignation, but it is a positive, problem-less, decorated acceptance, even a challenge. The instrumentarium of this courage is the exact same as that of violence: they both use it together and switch in playing each other’s role. Courage is a ‘logical consequence’ of a violence accepted as logical and self-evident, a blind jump over the non-identity. In courage humans claim the substantial density with which they become as ‘heavy’ and ‘hard’ as the violence they are about to play with. It is therefore also the meanings of ‘heavy’ and ‘hard’ that determine the etymology of the word ‘brave’.

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In his book ‘The direction of reality’ Marc Schabracq said something about attention that struck me. Namely that he doesn’t so much connect it to the raising of the ears, like we see in dogs, but more so the focussing of the eyes on a certain point; and he is of the opinion that it concerns a goal oriented process here. Consequentially, the foundations of this seem to be a deliberate selection from the multitude of things that are discernible within the bandwidth that limits our perception. For we cannot see everything that is in principle visible and we can’t raise our ears to what we can’t hear. I quote a short piece: “In everyday life attention is a goal oriented process. (…) We usually don’t just pay attention to something and we don’t just divide the world into separate occurrences and objects. The object of our attention represents for us a meaning that can have consequences for us in the light of our own goals and actions.” What is of importance in this description seems to me the assumption that the initiative for attention comes from the observer himself and not from striking things that involuntarily draw our attention by alarming or fascinating us.

It seems unmistakable to me that attention always has this ordering function, or serves it, but I doubt if it’s always this goal-oriented and actively chosen and used as a means. There is within the waiting and waking that attention is always also room for the unexpected that, as the object of attention, remains undetermined. And the way we usually use the word does not exclude, but moreover seems to imply, that attention isn’t our own product or a deed from our will, but that it is drawn from outside and is commanded by something that stands out by its own importance, without us having to do anything for it. Attention can also overtake us and be imposed upon us. The object of our chosen attention can be supplanted by something else that draws the first attention away. The effect of which is that our image of a whole doesn’t become any clearer, but in fact gets disrupted. We can no longer make sense of it and the necessity of a completely other and no less temporary ordering of the whole can suddenly present itself. In attention as a form of wonder the things suddenly lose their matter of factness and ask for a renewed estimation.

Attention is, I think, not an instrument we can use at will.For a practical life, in which we strive for our own goals with a certain stubbornness -also a form of attention- this can have its drawbacks. It seems more like absent-mindedness than concentration. But for a contemplative attitude or for a way of thinking that isn’t directly geared towards a product, that change of perspective can be very fascinating and even very fertile after some time. It is that especially because almost all other perspectives lead to new insights. Or, in less relative terms, attention, whether produced from within or imposed from without, always pays off. Reality derives a large part of its meaning from the fact that it is the subject of concentrated and dedicated attention. Things apparently thrive in a form of attention in which they are allowed to be present and not be neglected.

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Don’t forget the whip

Notes on a statement by Nietzsche.


Probably the most quoted words from Nietzsche’s work go like this: “Are you going to the women? Don’t forget the whip!” “Du gehst zu Frauen? Vergiß die Peitsche nicht!” Those words, behind which the exclamation point alone already worked like a little whip, seem to suit the mouth of a woman-hater like Arthur Schopenhauer, whom Nietzsche admired for a long time and one of the last philosophers to have claimed that it is woman’s natural destiny to be obedient. When she isn’t so voluntarily, she must be tamed, and the whip is the appropriate instrument for it.

Understood that way, Nietzsche’s statement can quickly and easily be placed in a long tradition of male dominance and virile toughness. The intention of these notes are to question the self-evidence of this understanding by placing the statement in its context and trying to do it some sort of hermeneutic justice. To do so i’m assuming that here, too, as is usually the case with Nietzsche, the situation is more complex than it seems at first sight.


The first task is fairly simple. The infamous word can be found in the first part of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, written in the fall of 1882 and published in 1883. The dates will turn out to be of importance. The chapter that ends with these words has the somewhat forced naughty title ‘About old and young little women’, ‘von alten and jungen Weiblein’, and seems to paraphrase the title of Schopenhauer’s ‘über die Weiber’ from the second part of ‘Parerga und Paralipomena’.

Zarathustra is talking and tells that he was asked, why he was sneaking so skittishly through the slumber and what he was so cautiously hiding under his cloak. Is it a treasure he received, a new born child, or is he out thieving? Yes, he says, it is a treasure, a small truth that he carries on him. But it is as uncontrolled as a little child, and if he doesn’t hold his hand to its mouth, it will scream far too loud.

He then tells that he met a little old lady who said to him that for once, he shouldn’t talk to men, but to a woman about women. She was after all old enough to immediately forget again everything he said. Zarathustra then puts a page worth of wisdom, too much to quote here, about real men, therefore warriors, and real women, therefor the mothers of soldiers, on display. “And women should be obedient, so to find a depth in her surface.”

Now I quote: “Then the little old lady answered me: ‘Lots of courtly things did Zarathustra say, and especially for her young enough for them. Curious that is. Zarathustra barely knows women, yet still he is right, when it concerns women. Is this the case, because nothing is impossible with women? And now, as a token of gratitude, you have to accept a small truth. After all, i’m old enough for it! Wrap it in your cloak and hold your had in front of its mouth; otherwise it screams far too loud.’

‘Give me, woman (‘Weib’) your small truth, said I’. And thus spoke the little old lady: ‘Are you going to the women? Don’t forget the whip!’

Thus spoke Zarathustra.”1


Thus Nietzsche, in a context that doesn’t seem to let any misunderstanding in existence about who is talking here: Nietzsche himself, his character Zarathustra, or the old lady, a character of his character, therefore Nietzsche to the third degree. In any case, we cannot say that it isn’t Nietzsche talking. ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ is completely his own text and Nietzsche thought of this text as his main work. Zarathustra speaks the language of Nietzsche and he proclaims his message. In that aspect, he can sooner be compared to the figure of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues than to the main character in a novel or a play.

Decisive is that Zarathustra is contradicted or schooled in this chapter, and that he cherishes the result of this as a valuable wisdom. The old lady must have the pretension to tell a deep truth, enigmatic in its formulation, easily misunderstood as a loud cry, and to be handled carefully. This has been announced already at the beginning of the chapter.

It is not very probable that the old lady only wants to acknowledge Zarathustra’s statements concisely. That would not be very enigmatic. Without any tension in regards to the previous, the statement remains a far too simple a summary and that would make the caution with which it is made nonsensical. The old lady only makes her statement after Zarathustra has proclaimed his wisdoms, but it is difficult to plainly call the statement a ‘truth’. After all, it doesn’t claim anything, but asks a question and gives an encouragement: then don’t forget the whip. That encouragement can only be considered a wisdom, if there is a truth or wisdom connected to the whip that is about to get lost.

The lady therefore did not say: “Don’t forget to bring the whip to tame those women with it’. There is no question of bringing at all and of taming neither. The intention of ‘going to the women’ isn’t elucidated, and there is no reason to assume that this is, for example, about visiting a brothel, in which case the whip would allow for an easy phallic interpretation.

It is likely that the woman is portrayed as old and wise to precisely at this point guarantee a bit of detachment.

We can therefore assume that the woman is talking about dealing with women in general. And when ‘forgetting’ does not have to mean ‘to not think about bringing’, the only remaining or the most obvious meaning is ‘to not lose the memory of something’, ‘to hold the truth of a prior experience in your mind and cherish it like a treasure’. And apparently it concerns a truth with a somewhat esoteric character here, one best served if it remains the object of attention without it being proclaimed with too much emphasis.


Understood that way, the enigmatic words of the wise old lady don’t mean the women want to be suppressed by men, like Zarathustra had suggested in his inexperience. The words are enigmatic and secret because they contain a truth that is under threat of being forgotten: that women, just to speak in the same category for the time being, occasionally handle the whip, the slab or the slipper to tame men and to keep them in line. The precious truth is then on second reading just a reversal of what Zarathustra had just proclaimed.

It is worthwhile to pay some attention to this possibility. There is moreover a clue to be found, that this interpretation is absolutely not nonsensical. Nietzsche, as we can assume, worked on this text in the summer of 1882. In that summer he had made acquaintance with the Russian girl Lou Salomé and he had fallen in love with her. He had asked her to marry him, but she had discretely made it understood that she didn’t feel that way. From their letters it shows that Nietzsche did his best to introduce this sister soul to his work and he inundated her with notes from it.


There is a well-known and slightly embarrassing photo from 1882, found in the archives of Lou Salomé, in which Nietzsche, together with his friend Paul Rée, is hitched to a cart, a ladder car that on this occasion had to service as a victory cart or a chariot. On that cart Lou is seated. With some effort she seems to balance herself on the standing edge of the cart. She has a little whip in her right hand, apparently to spur on the pair of philosophers to obedience or hurry.


The thought that this concerns a simple and spontaneous holiday snap cannot even arise in us. In 1882 the exposure of a photo was too long to make facile snapshots. For everything you’d have to pose. And of course there wasn’t accidentally a chariot or ladder cart available. Everything, up to the painted décor with the Jungfrau in the background, points to a careful arrangement of the scene and that the threesome is firmly posing in the direction of the camera and audience.

It is fairly obvious that whoever handles the whip can be suspected to have taken charge. In her memoirs, Lou Salomé herself said that Nietzsche orchestrated the tableau down to the details, for example the lilac branch on the whip, and that Paul Rée was resisting quite a bit.2But Curt Paul Janz adds to that in his monumental Nietzsche biography: “Really it was Lou who wanted to tie both men in front on the cart and both the philosophers complied.”That is how the woman born for obedience was once again ‘die Herrin der Herren’ (the mistress over masters), and it remains unclear, in which head the lines from Wagner’s ‘Walküre’ were buzzing that Janz quotes here: “Fricka naht, deine frau im wagen mit Widdergespann. Hei, wie die gold’ne geißel sie schwingt.”(“Fricka approaches, your wife in a car pulled by rams. Hey, how she swings the golden scourge!”)

The gentlemen are therefore sniggering a little at this drastic reversal of roles. Rée seems to be very embarrassed indeed, while the master of the Zarathustra looks like he has decided he finds it funny. All together the image sooner makes a pious than a sensual impression.

And is it really a whip that the girl is holding? It looks more like a scourge or a karwats, an instrument of chastising, also of one’s own body. Which frisky flesh is being chastised here and what could be the relation between this chastisement and the subjection of the woman to the man or vice versa? Which lesson is the spectator taught in this allegory?

Both the pose as the composition can evoke the suggestion that a famous depiction is being parodied here. But also the thought may rise that both classicists wanted to playfully portray the story by Herodotus about Cleobis and Biton, who brought their mother, priestess of Hera, with an ox cart to the temple. That thought doesn’t provide many leads for an interpretation of the tableau and mostly: it forgets the whip.



It is not impossible that the tableau in Luzern wants to evoke memories of the painting by Annibale Carracci that Nietzsche admired, ‘the triumph of Bacchus’.The god, or allegorically explained, the Dionysian, lets himself be pulled, surrounded by enthusiastic supporters, in a cart drawn by panthers. But it is dubious that the woman in the photo would play Bacchus or the Dionysian, and the men wild animals. It is more obvious to think of a beast of burden or a draft animal, to leave to woman for all eternity the woman, and mostly to not forget the whip.


That whip was, according to a tradition that has its comical sides, long before Lou Salomé, handled by Phyllis, a lady from the circles of Alexander the Great. According to a late story, she wanted to teach Aristotle, tutor of the great conqueror, a lesson in an area where he was as inconversant as Zarathustra, that of dealing with women. Phyllis managed to get such power over the philosopher, that he let her mount him as an animal.


The story fits in with lots of other myths and sagas in which, according to Nietzsche’s contemporary Johann Jakob Bachofen, contain the remains of an old gynaecocracy, or in which women take revenge for suppression and maltreatment. For example, that’s how tough guy Heracles was tamed by the Lydic Omphale, who took from him his attributes, club and lion skin, to decorate herself with them, and who threatened him with the karwats.5

In countless images the situation of the humiliated philosopher is depicted to the audience. In a woodcarving by Hans Baldung Grien from 1515, Phyllis sits, not astride, but like an amazon, on the back of a crawling Aristotle, and holds in one hand a whip or karwats, and in the other the bit she has put on the ancient sage. He too does not look happy or frisky, but sooner totally washed out.


A closer comparison between the wood carving from 1515 and the photo from 1882 shows that Lou too holds in her left hand a sort of bit or bridle, to which the reins of the span are attached. Those reins in turn have been attached in a fairly dilettante way to the arms of the pulling couple, as though it were strands. The comparison also brings to light that the lady in the so-called chariot, just like Phyllis on her mount, is in the Amazon position, as though she isn’t carrying out the regime over two mounts, but over one mount. Demands of composition and watching the birdy do not explain this detail: this is the depiction of an Amazon, a ruling woman.

So if Nietzsche in his explanations about little women was leaning on his iconographic memory and if the photo from that same year is a product of staging, then it seems to sooner qualify for the painful tableau of Aristotle and Phyllis than for the triumphal march of Bacchus.

In the meantime, one more similarity has to be pointed out. Both the woman in the photo and Phyllis in the wood carving seem to ready the whip to viciously eviscerate with it, but at the same time, in their pose the distance between the whip and the span is a big as is possible. They keep the karwats more in reserve than in preparation, and remind the span or the mount more of its existence than that they are preparing to actually use it. They seem to use the whip, in the picture adorned with flowers, more as a symbolic and iconographic attribute than as an instrument of subjugation or chastisement. It is enough to not forget the whip and the distance it creates.


In the fragments that make up the Nachslaß from 1882, in part VII.I of the big Colli-Montinari edition are collected the statements that Nietzsche wrote down for his correspondence with Lou Salomé. In that same time he listed almost all wisdoms about women that he puts in the mouth of Zarathustra. Between those notes we can also find the small truth of the old woman, which here is still completely Nietzsche’s own truth, without narrative veils. But here it is followed by an enigmatic addition, which is included by the publishers under the same number: “Du gehst zu Frauen? Vergiß die Peitsche nicht! In der Art, wie und was man ehrt, zieht man immer eine Distanz um sich.”(“Are you going to the women? Don’t forget the whip! In the way of how and what you honour, you always draw a distance around you.”)

‘Distanz’ (‘distance’) is a word that Nietzsche also uses in connection to women in ‘Die frölische Wissenschaft’, also from 1882. “Der Zauber und die mächtigste Wirkung der Frauen ist, um die Sprache der Philosophen zu reden, eine Wirkung in die Ferne, eine actio in distans: dazu gehört aber, zuerst und vor allem -Distanz.”(“The magic and the most powerful effect of women is, to speak the language of the philosophers, an effect far afield, an action in distance: but that includes, first and foremost, distance.”) In ‘Zur Genealogie der Moral’ and ‘Götzendammerung’ he uses the apt term which he formulated ‘Pathos der Distanz’ a couple of times, to indicate the force which carries and maintains the tension between extremes and opposites.8

When the whip then is an instrument with which a respectful distance is created, ‘drawn’, or is used as a reminder of such, the addition loses some of its enigma. ‘Don’t forget the whip’ then means ‘stay at a respectful distance’, and that advice fits, when added to the question ‘are you going to the women?’, very well in the mouth of a wise woman.


Why does Nietzsche put so much emphasis in the quoted chapter on the fact that Zarathustra hears the wise words about the whip from an old woman? Is that to let it compete in its dignity with the priestess Diotima, who initiated Socrates in the secrets of the eros? There can be another reason, namely that Nietzsche wants to hide this way that it concerns a young woman, namely Loe Salomé, with whom he had immortalized himself shortly before under the sign of the whip and distance. Not an old woman, but a girl twenty years old had taught the philosopher to remember the fate of philosophers of old, of Thales, who was laughed at by a slave girl with whipping words, of Socrates and his Xantippe, of Aristotle and Phyllis, and of all those intellectual henpecked heroes from countless farces.

Possibly Nietzsche is talking about himself when he writes Lou in August 1882: “Erst hat man Not, sich von seinen Ketten zu emanziperen und schließlich muß man sich auch von dieser Emanzipation emanziperen! Es hat jeder von uns, wenn auch in seht verscheidener Weise, an der Ketten-Krankheit zu laborieren, auch nachdem er die Ketten zerbrochen hat”9. (“First one has need to emancipate oneself from his chains and finally one must also emancipate oneself from this emancipation! Every one of us, albeit in a different way, has to suffer from the disease of chains, even after he breaks his chains.”)

Is this emancipating the forgetting which the old woman mentions twice in the text? The first time she is old enough to listen to the wisdoms of Zarathustra and to forget them again. The second time she is old enough to put a valuable wisdom opposite them that Zarathustra may not forget, but has to cherish carefully without proclaiming it too emphatically.


Now when the forgetting can be explained as the neglecting of distance and the loss of tension, the old woman places herself with her first words outside of the terrain where there is that tension and emancipates herself from it, but she advices Zarathustra not to follow her in that.

Concerning that repetition of ‘forgetting’, all sorts of Freudian and Heideggerian speculations are possible, which I will leave behind now. Derrida says what is necessary and even a bit more than that in his ‘Eperons’10.

More interesting is what Nietzsche himself wrote on November 7th 1872 to Malwilda von Meysenbug: he often forgot to write letters to the ones he thought of most. She then had to explain that as favourably as possible and then forget about it. “Es gibt so viel Irrationelles gegen das man sich durch vergessen hilft. Mit diesem dunklen Spruche will ich heute schließen.”11 (“There are so many irrational things against that it helps man to forget. With these dark words I shall close for today.”)

Here he recommends, in the name of friendship, forgetting: after all, to forget is to cover things up with the mantel of love. In the text of Zarathustra something might be covered with a mantel, but this precisely contributes to saving and retaining.

When the whip then indeed symbolises the pathos of distance, and represents the tension of opposites, we can understand this. For without those oppositions there is also no life anymore. Oppositions are supposed to keep each other alive. Is that what Nietzsche means with his glorification of the distance?


One detail which we haven’t paid attention to yet and which gets a bit of relief from the preceding, is that Nietzsche in the text continuously speaks about ‘woman’ and ‘little women’ as ‘Weib’ and ‘Weiblein’. Not until the final sentence, which is the subject of this study here, because it’s so often been explained as denigrating, does he say ‘Frauen’: “Du gehst zu Frauen?” And no matter how it is exactly with the connotations of the words ‘Weib’ and ‘Frau’ around 1880, it doesn’t seem premature to me to assume that ‘Frau’, as it is in contemporary German, not just relates to a married woman, but is also a more respectful denomination, and indicates a person of the other sex more as a ‘lady’, while ‘Weib’ more appoints the woman as a representative of a species than as a human person. In the proverbial notes that Lou Salomé wrote during the time of her encounters with Nietzsche, and which might be representative of her talks with him, she appears to reflect on this difference: “Die Liebe macht das Mädchen zum Weibe, die Heirath zur Frau”12. (“Love makes a girl into a female, marriage into a woman.”)

So when Nietzsche or Zarathustra or the old lady had wanted to sprout some banal wisdom about visiting the happy little women, or about male suppression, they would, as we may assume, have chosen the less lady-like moniker ‘Weiber’.

So again it becomes even more improbable that the whip was really handled, by whomever, and that it here represents anything other than a metaphor of the distance that respect creates around itself.


In the context of the story it is not made explicitly clear, why the little truth had to be hidden underneath a cloak. On the one hand the cloak has to protect the treasure against curious looks or the greed of the outside world. And on the other hand, that outside world seems to need to be protected from the uncontrollability of the screaming child to which this truth is being compared. And for that a cloak alone is not enough: there is also a part for a hand that, like a sort of bridle, restrains the boisterous little mouth.

No matter how, the cloak is like a curtain or a veil between the valued truth and the spectator who addresses Zarathustra. It represents at least a delay of the disclosure and that in turn gives it the opportunity to gain importance. The truth itself seems to want to open the curtains, throw off the cloak or veil, and make itself known unequivocally.

When this can be read as a reference to the daughter of king Herod and namesake of Lou, who threw of her veils as she was dancing, then Nietzsche has hid it very deep. But his cryptic text compels the reader to fetch far. He then finds, too, that the keeper of the treasure does not want to unveil it, but, like it says in an addendum in the ‘Nachlaß’, he wants to remain at a respectful distance from its direct workings, so that this indeed becomes an actio in distans.


Zarathustra is asked, what he is hiding under his cloak, and if perhaps he has stolen something. Nietzsche creates the impression that the valuable truth, which has to be protected by darkness, cloak and silence this way, must be smuggled into his life by him. Its value won’t allow that it becomes a public possession. Zarathustra too has borrowed it -or still has to get used to possessing it. For the time being, as it appears too from his wisdoms about women, he cannot integrate this truth in the whole of his own insights. It was then revealed to him by a priestess or a higher authority.

What its name was, we can guess from a note by Lou Salomé, written in August 1882: “Liebe ist für Männer etwas ganz Anderes als für Frauen. Den Meisten wohl ist die Liebe eine Art von Habsucht; den übrigen Männern ist Liebe die Anbetung einer leidenden und verhüllten Gottheit. Wenn Freund Rée dies läse, würde er mich für toll halten.”13 (“Love is something completely different for men than it is for women. For most men, love is a type of greed; for the rest of them, love is the worship of a suffering and veiled deity. When our friend Rée reads this, he’ll think me mad.”)


1 Nietzsche. Werke. ed. K. Schlechta III. 328-330

2 Ernst Pfeiffer e.a. Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Rée, Lou von Salomé. Die Dokumente ihrer Begegnung. Frankfurt a.M. 1970. pg. 110

3 Curt Paul Janz. Nietzsche, Biographie. Bnd. II. Vienna 1978. Pg. 130

4 Jeroen Stumpel, in: Gerrit Jan Kleinrensink (red.) De zaak Nietzsche. Nijmegen 1986. pg. 74 and on

5 Ovid. Heroides. IX. 82

6 Colli-Montinari. KGA VII. I. pg. 97-98 no. 367

7 Werke. II. 80

8 Werke. II. 866. 1014

9 Werke III. 1187

10 Jacques Derrida. Sporen. De stijlen van Nietzsche. (Traces. Nietzsche’s styles) Translated, introduced and noted by Ger Groot. Weesp 1985. pg 233

11 Werke III. 1079

12 E. Pfeiffer. a.w. pg. 210

13 E. Pfeiffer. a.w. pg. 212


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Relationships with the dead


In order to not too abruptly start with such an impossible subject, I would like to approach it from three images that we are familiar with from classical civilization. This has the advantage for me that I know a little bit about that culture and therefore talk about it easily, also when in the end it really concerns our own problems.

In the ninth book of the Odyssey the main character himself says that in a battle with the Kikonians a number of his friends have perished. “From each ship,” says Odysseus, “six well armed men fell. I evaded fateful death with the others. From there we sailed on, deeply saddened by the loss of our buddies, but grateful to have escaped death ourselves. My gracefully arched ships did not continue on their travels, until we had called each of our unfortunate friends three times by their names.” (Od. 9.60-66)

This is an image that everyone, I think, can understand because it is based on an impulse that we can hardly suppress: to call back someone who dies, to call them to order, three times, to give them every chance to undo the irrevocable. Only after this attempt can death as a merciless fact be accepted. Even in an as rationalised and institutionalised establishment as the catholic church this magical impulse has not been suppressed: deceased popes too are called three times by their name, and get three taps with a little silver hammer. The magical borders on the exalted and that in turn borders on the comical.

A second image I find in the oldest Greek images on graves, from the sixth century BCE. Almost always do we see a smile on the face of the deceased. In the arts that is called the ‘archaic smile’: offerers to the gods, gods to the offerers, the deceased who smile to the living. A lot can be said about that, but the essential must be that in this ripple across the face, the belief in a relationship and a living, moving contact is expressed, more quiet than the magic of calling, but also more lasting, more debilitating, and less willing to immediately sail on. It almost seems as though something of another world or another dimension of this world is revealed in it. Whether in that time there was a connection to the then immersing thought of immortality, I don’t know. I actually think that that thought hardly played a role in the true relationship between deceased and relatives. For that ‘immortality’ is too easy a word and too swift a denial of reality.

A following image is another two centuries younger. On an Attical tomb relief from the fourth century BCE a deceased young man is portrayed who stares vacantly ahead in the direction of the viewer. Across from him and unable to catch his eye stands his old father, leaning on a cane. Parallel to that cane and the straight folds of the garb there is an empty plane between both figures: that plane keeps them irrevocably separated. Maybe they are thinking of each other, and in any case, the father looks at the son, but they don’t know it of each other, and the father can only look back, in undivided melancholy.


With these images i’m not concerned about a line of a historical development, for example from a momentary magical attitude of resistance to a melancholy resignation, or as a preparation for a christian, theological approach from biblical data like the promise of a resurrection, but as types of attempts to shape contact with the dead or the impossibility of that. The historical order of those attempts is certainly not without meaning, for a change in culture also brings with it changes in our behaviour and even in our emotions. We can’t escape to react and feel differently than people from other times and cultures. The eternally humane is orchestrated differently in every period and in every culture. Grief in antiquity was different than our own is. We have to overcome a sort of shame to admit, that we understand parts of it.

That’s why I think that, behind our more or less imposed uniformity of talking and reacting, we are still searching for an individual solution. That is not a rational undertaking, nor one that’s culturally stylised as rationality, one that assumes determined certainties or cliches, but it is a searching of a way out or many ways out. We are in this situation less comparable to an animal that acts faultlessly like it’s been programmed to do by instincts and inherited behavioural patterns, but more like an animal that’s been locked in a cage. It can’t trust its instincts in finding a way; it finds many small openings through which it can stick a paw or a nose outside, but none through which it can get out completely. The animal relinquishes its attempts and the friends sail on. I think that we can’t discuss a relationship with the dead without using a word like ‘resignation’. For whatever we think about death and however beautiful we formulate that thought, it is an occurrence in the face of which we ultimately stand passively, and that we can’t ignore without dying from it ourselves.


This occurrence that cannot be imagined and cannot be grind finely by any thought, this hard fact that most resolutely crushes and refutes our thoughts, also determines the nature of our relationships with the deceased. A relationship with a deceased is essentially an existing human relationship that has changed character because of death, in which certain possibilities have been excluded by the most radical occurrence, without clear new perspectives being opened. There is, like in the Attac tomb relief, a line through it, there is a crack in the reciprocity. It is impossible to ignore death to such a degree that the human relationship beyond death remains something matter of fact; I think it will, from itself and always, have a problematic character precisely because of the fracture that was caused by death and that at least demands an adjustment, a new ordering of possibilities and a discarding of impossibilities. I speak of course solely about a reciprocal relationship that already existed before death and that was concrete, not about something like contact with complete strangers in a different world; it concerns changes that occur in an existing relationship between the living. Of these we have to say that they exist by the grace of a potential and preferably frequently realised meetings and interactions. Meetings are made possible by the presence and reciprocity of living persons.


Where one of the conditions is missing, the will to create or keep a connection can still exist, but we can then only speak of a curtailed relationship at best. It seems to me, for example, that in our contact with small children there is too little a case of reciprocity to speak of a real human contact. For that, the share of our own interpretation, almost behind the other’s back, is too great. Nevertheless, of course it can be a joy to mix with children; it’s just that, I believe, they only enlarge our loneliness, rather than annul it, and that we already have to be fairly happy to enjoy this presence without reciprocity.

Also the relationship who is temporarily or permanently absent is curtailed by this absence; to think a lot about someone or merely have written contact necessitates us to, as it were, fill up the relationship with our own mental activities to an integrality of which we can never be sure if it is a product of reciprocity or one of our own imagination and interpretation. The presence of the other is so important, because it refutes our imagination and brings us back to the reality that we share with the other. For that reason I never really understand that people can have a relationship with God, and can address him as though he can answer at any point.


The dead too are not present in the usual sense of the word. They are no longer capable of the reciprocity that determined our meetings with them. For those are precisely the things their death has ended. Death refutes our thoughts, for example the idea that relationships last eternally, and with that it challenges our imagination, too, for example to think that ‘in a certain sense’, ‘on a different level’ etc the contact still remains. I don’t want to speak about this in an unmasking way, for I would degrade myself to a henchman of death. Anything we can salvage from the hands of death is a great gain and eternal possession, no matter how little it is.

But we do have to say, I think, that the change in relation that occurs with death, is in any case a curtailment of its potential; otherwise there wouldn’t be any sadness and grief. Grief is a process in which we get used to a withering of a relationship: the presence and reciprocity shrivel into a past and a memory, and the painful thing is that this minimum is too little for us. We call the dead by their name to invite them to give a sign of their existence and presence. We almost see ourselves obliged to keep them alive in our thoughts and memories, and to pull them away from the abyss with our activities. If we don’t call them, they will disappear forever.


In the stage of grief where we haven’t yet succumbed to the reality of death and to the stylistic compulsions of our culture, including the Christian use of language, we are at our most magical. That finds its way in the fairly poetic expressions about love being stronger than death, or the description that Gabriel Marcel gives of love: “To love someone is saying: you shall not die.” These expressions are touching, but also typical for the overconfidence of life and imagination. They only apply till death refutes it all. Nietzsche said that we are immortal as long as we live.

I’m not concerned here with an unmasking, rather with a purification and with the measure in which we can accept a difference between our way of talking and our awareness of reality. A way of thinking and talking that can not be calibrated by some reality, seems infertile to me and moreover I have the feeling that in the end, we can only be consoled by reality, not by our lonely and powerless imagination. The relationship with the dead is not a denial of death, but an acknowledgement of it, like solace isn’t a denial of sadness, but an acknowledgement. The magic of addressing, greeting, the rituals surrounding a feigned presence are necessary to prepare us for an unimaginable fact. Only after this acceptance can we maybe interpret this fact in a new way and from that interpretation continue our relationship or what’s left of it. The reality of death doesn’t just make our lives and thoughts different; also death itself can, when it occurs, be something else than we thought it would be.


There is a very drastic interpretation in which death is seen as a transition into another life and a temporary separation. On the Attic tomb reliefs that i’ve mentioned, this concept seems to be depicted. Both the living and the dead are visible and physically present, it’s just that the reciprocity has been suspended. But perhaps it is exactly the same with depictions as it is with words; we can imagine and say more than we can reasonable justify. Death as a transition to another life can be a way of speaking that we use, without accounting for the fact that we are talking about something that is almost unthinkable.

More realistic is another interpretation, one that death invites us to itself, because it is connected to the reality itself of the occurrence. Death imposes an inwardness upon us we might not have known before. What we carry around by means of an inward life in ourselves consists partially of unspoken thoughts surrounding death. Its reality redirects our relationship with fellow humans to the one active pole that remains. At the same time as the reciprocity ends the ambivalence that usually characterises a living contact. The possibilities of the deceased have been fulfilled, they have become past and now nothing can happen to them anymore. What they were for the time being, they are now definitely and eternally. Their goodness, the reason why we mourn them, can only now truly permeate us. The wisdom to ‘speak no ill of the dead’ might come from this realisation and from the guilt about a lack in appreciation , rather than from a magical fear of revenge. The problem of a relation with the dead only occurs after all in connection with loved ones who are suddenly no longer there; it teaches us at the same time that we don’t have a relationship with most people, or a very meagre one: most people aren’t there for us. Some dead are, despite their absence, more present in our lives than most living.


So partially the relation consists of a missing and of the awareness that our possibilities of contact have been curtailed. The missing is the way in which the absent stays present. We don’t miss what we don’t have, but what we’ve had and wanted to keep. Missing is, coming from us, an attempt to hold onto the past and make it into the present. In this missing sometimes the past becomes the reality pre-eminently, the sum of all that is already been realised no longer needs to be dreamed. But also from itself the past continues to work on, probably more than we can rationally calculate and in a way that we hardly chose ourselves. My relationship with my deceased father, if I may be so personal, is not just missing and memories from my side, a late guilt, unuttered gratitude, a hundred questions of things only he could still know, he is also still, even against his wishes, present in my life by the effect of his earlier presence, by traces of his influence on my behaviour, and probably not in the least by the message of a inherited disposition. The more i’m growing aware of that, the more I remain connected to him and feel related to him, and the more I’m inclined to something like an ancestral cultus, in which the weight of existence is not so much placed in the perilous moment of life than in the solid presence of a whole ancestry. I think that this feeling of solidarity with people who have lived might be the vaguest relationship we can have with the dead, but it is also the most important one in our own lives, which are after all mortal in every sense.

Portrait of Cornelis Verhoeven by Wim van de Voort

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For hours I could sit by her cradle to look at her. All other things seem to serve this one goal: just to look, without doing anything and without any thoughts whatsoever. Thinking and looking don’t go well together; people who have to think, often close their eyes. When i’m just looking, I cannot even formulate my thoughts other than by saying: look. I think, that there is nothing higher than the point at which thought merges into just looking.

Sometimes I succeed or am I granted to reach this point. But most of the time a swarm of associations buzzes around my head. They come flying in from the big world, from my worries and ambitions, and from the language that has laid a blockade of cliches around the cradle and the child. At least ten speakers muddy the simplicity of my thoughts. The first is asking me, if in the middle of all these world shocking affairs, the birth of a child can be called a major event. I can’t answer him because I don’t exactly know what determines the scale of an event. It is a very lame question, but it does distract.

A second angel at this cradle, on the other hand, is humming in my ears all the cliches of the wonder of life and of young joy. That too muddies my sight, because it forces me to look through the eyes off another, and use too many words. When we see a wonder we don’t speak, we just say: look.

A third angel is full of useful advice and warnings and even flows over from them. He means well with the child and the parents, but he poses too many conditions to me and imposes too many obligations on me to be welcome as a viewer. Number four raises an admonishing finger and says that a child like that might be a gift, but also a task. That might be so, but it is not always relevant. In the mean time, there is also someone singing songs by Emiel Hullebroeck, the one where a sunny light plays through my dwelling, and that I see it as my great duty to trestle wife and child on my strong youth -something that’s not quite conforming reality.

And within me awakes as the sixth angel a never before known ambition with regard to the future. My thoughts are muddied by the question what will become of this child and how far she will make it. At the same time an extensive defence apparatus starts to operate. This seventh angel wants to avert all enemies from this cradle with a burning sword, and because there are no enemies, he creates them. I’m starting to believe that people are not aggressive creatures, but just completely defensive.

Fortunately, sometimes they go out for lunch, those angels. Then I forget the admonitions, the actions and and the social burdens that already press upon this young existence. Looking is the highest that there is. Thoughts barely have any content and completely no structure. Nothing proceeds it and nothing follows from it; nothing can be done with it and there’s no need to, either, for everything is here already. I believe nobody has ever formulated what can go on in a person at such a moment better than Chesterton. In ‘The everlasting man’ he says: “…staring at the sky or the grass or the truths of mathematics or even a new-laid egg, he has a vague feeling like the shadow of that saying of the great Christian philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘Every existence, as such, is good’.


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