Lou Andreas-Salomè

Recurrent religiosity of a psychoanalyst

Valeria Sokolova

It is believed that Zarathustra’s benevolent traits such as the absence of grudge and vindictiveness, positive life and self-approach and love for doom were painted by  Lou Salomè.

     Europe thought of during the end of the 19th century was laced with fervent effort to refute and withstand religiosity. Many ecclesiastical dogmas were rigorously rebutted and diminished. The entire endeavour was crowned by smashing the pillar of all Christianity, namely God. Having died twice, He would still resurrect and haunt the minds of His ‘murderers’. Debased and abolished, religiosity would still keep searching for its new forms and meanings, like streamy water leaking through the chinks between the stones.

    Russian-born into a family of French Huguenot and Northern German descent, Lou Andreas-Salomè is captured in history as an enigmatic Russian for foreigners and a foreigner for Russians. It took her a little more than 30 years to realise her Russian streak, as in her childhood she was reluctant to learn Russian and identify herself as such. Her writing language was German, and she spent most of her life in Germany, where she also died in 1937 at the age of 75. Lou Salomè was rebellious in spirit and perhaps due to how her parents brought her up, never prohibiting her to pursue any activity she chose to initiate. Once, at the age of twelve, she incidentally appeared to overhear a joke on God’s existence mentioned in passing by servants at her house. From then on, she began wondering and questioning God’s existence. Her doubts on this matter did not dwindle and by the time of an approaching confirmation, she entered into correspondence with a Dutch pastor Erick Gillot, hoping to find answers. The next two years were fruitful for Lou, as Gillot lectured her on philosophy, that is how she took a liking to Spinoza and prepared her for confirmation. 

     Their visits were confidential but, as time passed, Gillot insisted that they should inform her mother about their leisure-time lessons. Once, brought to Salomè’s house intending to finally expose them, he asked her mother for Lou’s hand. Refuting the idea of marriage and absolutely disappointed in her teacher, Lou felt fooled by Gillot. Her entire image of him, deified for these past two years, was shattered. In all probability, later on, this extended into her sexuality that Lou subsequently abdicated and remained frigid for 20 years. Nevertheless, pastor Gillot would recurrently appear in her literary works and life. At the University of Zürich, where Lou Salomè studied as an auditor for one year, she would attend lectures by prof. Biedermann, who also affected her view of religiosity and put it on track of agnosticism. [1] Despite the fact that she would relinquish her faith in a personal God, she, following Biedermann, esteemed religion itself for its ability to transcendent «all of the impulses of mental life». [2]

     Shortly after Lou encountered German philosophers Paul Reè and Friedrich Nietzsche, Lou was enthusiastic about the idea to form a philosophical commune consisting of the three of them, which would be then called The Trinity. Reè would adopt positivism and she would inspire Nietzsche for his famous Also Sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). It is believed that Zarathustra’s benevolent traits such as the absence of grudge and vindictiveness, positive life and self-approach and love for doom were painted by Lou Salomè. Being part of the Trinity and thus being involved in constant discussions on the topic of religiosity, Lou wrote her first novel Im Kampf um Gott (Struggling for God). She semi-veiledly transfers the philosophical Trinity on the novel’s pages: Kuno-Nietzsche, Margarita-Lou and the Count-Reè. Kuno is a preacher’s son who one day loses his paternal faith and attempts to resolve his ‘inner conflict’ by attaching himself to enthusiastic philosophical contemplation. Not for nothing, Salomè’s Kuno reverberates Lou’s personal repudiation of God, when he communicates to his father about his struggle for the loss of a God personally fashioned and based on an idealised parental image, as Lou would do to her mother. Sometime later she would write about religion as merely being  an illusion, a «fictional “correction and completion” of the real world» [3] , thus displaying her nonbelief in God. Against all odds, she remained fascinated with the force of religious feeling even after having denied a personal God. Her substitute for God was the universal principle «das All» or ‘the All’, a creative agent that inspires an individual’s awe, similar to the awe before God. 

     In her book Friedrich Nietzsche in Seinen Werken (Friedrich Nietzsche in His Works), first published in 1894, Salomè insists on deep religiosity of Nietzsche. According to her, at the end of his life, he arrived exactly at the point he had departed from; born into a religious family, then he detached himself from the religious ambience and alienated from his fellow men by diving into himself. The deeper the dive, the more absolute was his self-portrait. Thus, his entire philosophical search was, neither more nor less, a sublimated search for God. [4] Her view of Nietzsche as an unknowingly profound religious person met lots of critiques, where she was reproached for misunderstanding the subtleties of his metaphoric language. Nevertheless, Salomè’s focus seems rather to be directed at his humane psychology, than at his philosophical quest. This book probably was an attempt to analyse his personality and draw his psychological portrait. Isn’t this what a yet latent psychoanalyst would do?

     Having dissected Nietzsche’s personality, she also gave us several insights into hers. Self-love (egoism acc. to Salomè), frequently uttered in Nietzsche, did not escape her inexorable pen, however, her texts were filled with hubris. [5] She made him look childlike when she mentioned his unconscious “return to religion” by denying it, whereas she urged her reader to view her abandoning of God as a prop to something transcending this elementary endeavour as the one of Nietzsche. Captured by this, she resembles that lad, who would discover himself and then admire his reflection in a pool of water. The image of this lad got introduced in psychoanalysis in the 20th century, first by Havelock Ellis and then by Sigmund Freud, whose disciple Lou Andreas-Salomè subsequently had become.

     If she had had to conduct psychoanalysis for herself, what traits would she pin onto her psychological map? 

[1] Rudolf Binion, Frau Lou: Nietzsche’s Wayward Disciple. Princeton New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 36.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid. p. 178.

[4] Carol Diethe, Lou Salomè’s Interpretations of Nietzsche’s religiosity. Journal of Nietzsche’s studies. Issue 19. Penn State University Press, 2000. p. 83.

[5] ibid. p. 84.

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