Building Education for the Commons

A Meditation on a Scene

Salome, Ree, Nietzsche

Salome, Ree, Nietzsche

What appears to us in this photograph?

Three figures pose for a shot.   Who are these figures?  There is the psychoanalyst, Lou Salome, and then the two philosophers, Nietzsche to the right and between them, Paul Ree.

The photographic technology in 1882 had improved much, but the exposure time still took up to one minute.  So we must imagine them frozen together like this for about sixty seconds. How well they kept composed in this ‘frozen’ state determined how clear the photo would be.  And the photograph does seem clear, vivid even, but as we know the relationships between these three intellectuals was far from clear; indeed one could say their relations were more like a storm than a calm peaceful picture.  What you see is often not what is true.  The difference between perception and a hidden ‘truth’ behind it is a fundamental problem in philosophy from Plato’s dual worlds to Kant, Hegel, and of course, Schopenhauer.

But let’s have a look at what is apparent.  The object that defines the three figures is a common wooden horse-drawn cart. Around this object the figures take their positions.  In which position does Nietzsche find his place?  Nietzsche is in the place of a horse.  But it’s not just any old horse, it’s a particular horse, a hard-working horse!  He symbolizes brute ‘horse-power’ without which the cart will remain unmoved.  And a horse left to itself is not very wise, so it must be commanded by a superior power, not of brute force, but of a more cerebral power.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 4.47.27 PMEnter Salome who takes her place on the cart, the master of the horse.  Now that the basic configuration between Nietzsche and Solome is set, that leaves us with one more figure, the only one remaining, the moral philosopher, Ree.  But the question is, where should he go into this picture?  There are different possibilities.  He could have taken the horse’s place, but Nietzsche is there already.  He could have taken the “driver’s seat” but Salome is the commander.  Ah, and there’s yet another possibility. He could have gotten into the cart with Salome, as like a passenger, and symbolically arisen to even higher heights than Salome.  But he doesn’t bother to get into the cart.  Instead he decides to split up the two other figures in front and center.

There he stands proudly with his right thumb tucked neatly into his vest.  Unlike Nietzsche and Salome his posture is upright, in command.  Meanwhile, there is Salome who is taking her role very seriously as she holds in her right hand, a whip.  The whip is for the horse, but Ree seems like he’s the target of her tool. Meanwhile there is Nietzsche who leans into the picture and his body language suggest that he’s ease-dropping.  The whip on Ree, and Nietzsche, the horse, leaning in, even perhaps desiring to be the ‘outsider’, after all, he should be the one being whipped not Ree.

By this time, the 38 year old Nietzsche has already published The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and Human, All Too Human (1878) and 33 Year old Ree had recently published The Origin of Moral Sensations (1877).

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

Salome is just 22 years old.  She had met Ree the previous year and after a few months became partners.  As they traveled around Italy and Switzerland, with Salome’s mother, Nietzsche fell madly in love with Salome.  Could you imagine this?  Between the time of this photograph and five years later (1887) Salome and Ree carried on with their relationship.

Eventually she married the linguist professor, Freidrich Carl Andreas in 1887 which we are told was a celibate marriage as Salome (a women well ahead of her time) had had several affairs. One famous lover was none other than “Rainer Maria Rilke” who was in fact 7 years old when this photograph was taken. Salome was 15 years his senior.  She would outlive all of them as she died in Germany in 1937.  According to wikipedia, “A few days before her death the Gestapo confiscated her library (according to other sources it was an SA group who destroyed the library, and shortly after her death). The pretense for this confiscation: She had been a colleague of Sigmund Freud’s, had practiced “Jewish science”, and had many books by Jewish authors in her library.”

By Creston Davis, Founder & Director of GCAS

Photographed in the studio of Jules Bonnet in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1882


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This entry was posted on January 31, 2015 by .
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