Friedrich NietzschePeople discover this German philosopher in one of two ways: either they're forced to read about him in school, or they're curious about all the references to "Nietzsche" made by Monty Python.
He was a brilliant student with rigorous training in German, Latin and Greek. At the age of 24, Nietzsche was appointed professor of classical philology at the University of Basel. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, was a series of dialogs arguing that death is perhaps the best possible thing a human being could ever hope for. Although it garnered immediate critical acclaim, historians consider this early work a little fumbly. He seemed to be "guesstimating" a lot, sprinkling his text with phrases like perhaps, maybe, and what if. It was like he had plenty of marijuana and a quality bong, but nothing to start a real fire.
Later he'd write a book appropriately titled The Gay Science, a conversation with numerous fictional characters who do in fact discuss how gay science is. A "madman" in one portion of the play famously announces that God is dead, using this simple logic:
1. Without God, humans are deprived of absolute values or eternal truths.
Essentially this suggests that because God can only exist due to one's own faith, the God-fearing among us are trapped inside a chicken-and-egg infinite loop support system from which no genuine satisfaction can ever be extracted. It was an airtight case which fell apart when people wondered, well, if God is dead then he must have been alive at some point. Even Monks and Buddhists took offense, piping up from their vows of silence to declare that God played no part whatsoever in the act of their spiritual quests. Nietzsche went on to point out that he was not actually talking about God, but rather a fascist European political structure. Either way, Nietzsche's hatred of Christians and religion as a general whole would last a lifetime. He believed there simply wasn't enough love and kindness in the world to give any of it away to imaginary beings.
By far, his masterwork was Human, All Too Human first published in 1878. This was a dense, heavy text containing piercing observations which lay bare the hidden motivations underlying all aspects of human behavior. The book is organized in sections like a bible. The chapters have titles like Man Alone by Himself, Wife and Child, and Signs of Higher and Lower Culture.Each section is divided up into individual fragments of condensed information, resembling a dictionary:
Presence of witnesses. One is twice as happy to dive after a man who has fallen into the water if people are present who do not dare to.
Nietzsche pounded females and several minorities in this volume, even going so far as to say that doing otherwise would be contrary to Nature. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche delivers misogynistic tirades which attack women's intellectual acumen. Indeed, Sigmund Freud often marveled how Nietzsche's hunches and insights behaved in synchronous agreement with the laborious results of academic psychoanalysis.
In between writing and philosophizing, Nietzsche took the time to enter into a strange friendship with composer/musician Richard Wagner, who was more than twice Nietzsche's age. It began well, but publicly degenerated into a bitter intellectual and emotional feud. There existed a jealous and intensely competitive love triangle between Nietzsche, Wagner, and Wagner's wife Cosima. Wagner could be a manipulative brute, and the combined traumatized childhoods of Nietzsche and Cosima bound them in submission to Wagner. Wagner would subjugate them both to seductive, emotionally abusive behavior. Wagner knew about Nietzsche's secret life as a homosexual, and Nietzsche continued to obsess over this fact long after Wagner's death.
In January of 1889, Nietzsche collapsed on a street in Turin, Italy—rapidly descending into insanity. Some blame syphilis, which wouldn't have anything resembling a cure for many years. He remained in a state of mental and physical paralysis until his death. Nietzsche's sister ended up with control over his books and papers intended for publication. She hated the Jews more than anything else, and she worked hard to ensure that Nietzsche's legacy would be used to fund the Nazi regime. Maybe that's what Monty Python finds so funny.