The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist and Nietzsche
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The Struggle with the Daemon is a brilliant analysis of the European psyche by the great novelist and biographer Stefan Zweig. Zweig studies three giants of German literature and thought: Friedrich Holderlin, Heinrich von Kleist and Friedrich Nietzsche – powerful minds whose ideas were at odds with the scientific positivism of their age; troubled spirits whose intoxicating passions drove them mad but inspired them to great works. In their struggle with their inner creative force, Zweig reflects the conflict at the heart of the European soul – between science and art, reason and inspiration.
Both highly personal and philosophically wide-ranging, this is one of the most fascinating of Zweig’s renowned biographical studies.
“daemonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving—with tense passion—to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation and even
expansion, but threatens in so doing to shatter the tenement. That is why those of an exceptionally “daemonic temperament”, those who cannot early and thoroughly subdue the daemon within them, are racked by disquietude. Ever and again the daemon snatches the helm from their control and steers them (helpless as straws in the blast) into the heart of the storm, perchance to shatter them on the rocks of destiny. Restlessness of the blood, the nerves, the mind, is always the herald of the daemonic
empyrean when bellied like sails with the breath of enthusiasm, with the hurricane of rhythm. The essential characteristic of his poems is their aspiring trend. Their opening lines arouse the impression that we are quitting solid ground to soar into space. What a contrast with Goethe! In the latter’s writings we are aware of no abrupt transition as we pass from his poetic prose (that of his early letters, in particular) to his poems; he is an amphibian, equally at home in both worlds, that of
from falling into the depths. He struggled to escape, held out imploring hands to his sister, to various women, to men friends. At other times, he craved for the fatal plunge. He was unceasingly aware of the gulf that yawned, but not whether it yawned in front of him or behind him, whether it was life or whether it was death. Because the chasm was within, he could not escape it. It went with him everywhere like his shadow. In his passage from land to land he was like one of those Christian
happens to be the only one they can see. Now, though Nietzsche’s passion for truth was sometimes violent and savage, it never became limited or narrow-minded; it was too highly strung, too cultivated for that. It was never obstinate, never stuck in a groove, but leapt from problem to problem with the ardour and agility of a flame, consuming and illuminating each in turn, flashing up and burning to temporary extinction—but never appeased. Such duality is a fine thing to contemplate—passion and