Nietzsche on His Balcony

Nietzsche on His Balcony

A Novel

Book - 2016 | First Dalkey Archive edition.
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"On a hot, insomniac night at the Hotel Metropol, the novelist Carlos Fuentes steps onto his balcony only to find another man on the balcony next door. The other man asks for news of the social strife turning into revolution in the unnamed city below them. He reveals himself as the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, permitted to revisit earth once a year for 24 hours based on his theory of eternal return. With tenderness and gallows humor, the novelist and the philosopher unflinchingly tell the story of the beginning of the revolution, its triumph, fanaticism, terror, and retrenchment: a story of love, friendship, family, commitment, passion, corruption, betrayal, violence, and hope."-- Provided by publisher
Publisher: Victoria, TX : Dalkey Archive Press, 2016.
Edition: First Dalkey Archive edition.
ISBN: 9781628971583
1628971584
Branch Call Number: FIC FUENTES
Characteristics: iv, 332 pages ; 22 cm

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scribby
May 30, 2017

I picked up this book from the “suggested reading” shelf, knowing nothing about it, and noticing that it was translated from Spanish. I’m not really sorry that I picked it up – it is an interesting read – but it is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read.

The thoroughly unpleasant 19th-century philosopher Nietzsche more or less invented nihilism, and formulated a theory of power of the will that was seized upon by the Nazis, among others. In this book, he appears on the balcony next to that of the (fictional) author, and the two of them exchange banter about a revolution that is taking place in the unnamed city below them. They tell each other stories. They discuss each story in light of Nietzsche’s philosophy. They speak of the leaders of the revolution, and the leaders’ relationships to each other; telling the tales mostly through conversations that sometimes appear anonymous – it’s difficult to tell exactly who is speaking, and that may be the (real) author’s point: these “leaders” often blend into a single entity, seeking what is best for the people or for the revolution or for the country, but always misidentifying it. Their stories begin with cruelty and deviant behavior and grow stranger as the revolution proceeds.

The revolution itself becomes a character, or rather, a monster; in the end, it consumes them and finally, itself. The author seems to be saying that any politics based on nihilism must inevitably crumble under its own (existential, or other) horror. To be fair, there was more to Nietzsche than nastiness (a love of music as an escape from the dreadfulness of life, for example) but in having one of the characters be particularly enamored of Wagner, the author reminds us that Hitler liked Wagner too. All in all, on the surface, this appears to be a book about philosophy, but it is really a story about unspeakable horror.

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