It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Aug 29, 2017

My Sister and I by “Friedrich Nietzsche”

Regardless of whether Nietzsche actually wrote this book, it is a fascinating manuscript with many remarkable passages and brilliant messages (Reader Review)

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about many things—Zarathustra, the Anti-Christ, the Übermensch, the myth of eternal reoccurrence, the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

One thing that he never commented on was Detroit, Michigan. “If only the Americans would work up a really healthy interest in my books, an interest strong enough to require a lecture course given by me in fascinating places like Detroit.”

One would think that a reference to Motown in the oeuvre of Nietzsche would be obvious evidence that the text was perhaps less than legitimate. Nevertheless, there was a small minority in 1951 who believed “My Sister and I” to be authentic. Yet it is hard not to see where the enthusiasm came from. The book was supposedly written in 1889 or early 1890 during Nietzsche's stay in a mental asylum in the Thuringian city of Jena. If legitimate, “My Sister and I” would be Nietzsche's second autobiographical and final overall work, chronologically following his Wahnbriefe (Madness Letters), written during his extended time of mental collapse. “My Sister and I” makes several bold and otherwise unreported biographical claims, most notably of an incestuous relationship between Nietzsche and his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, as well as an affair with Richard Wagner's wife Cosima. It is written in a style that combines anecdote and aphorism in a manner similar to other Nietzsche’ works.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche

Cosima Wagner

"My Sister and I" was released by New York publisher Samuel Roth, the defendant in the Supreme Court first amendment case Roth vs. The United States six years later. Roth had served jail time for the mailing of pornographic materials, but his Seven Sirens Press was also instrumental in introducing American readers to experimental modernism, albeit illicitly, with James Joyce’s Ulysses on his catalogue.

Philosopher Walter Kaufmann, in the Partisan Review, demolished the idea that "My Sister and I" was in any way authentic, pointing out references that Nietzsche couldn’t have known, historical events mentioned which occurred posthumously, and jokes that would have made no sense in the German original (which Roth claimed was lost).

So, who actually wrote the damn thing? Respected Nietzsche scholar Oscar Levy supposedly penned the introduction, but his daughter vehemently insisted he had no role in the affair—and conveniently, for Roth, Levy was already dead. The obvious suspect would be Roth himself, but in 1965 Kaufmann received a letter by a writer named George Plotkin, who claimed he wrote My Sister and I when offered a “flat rate” by Roth.

Nietzsche scholars in general adopted the opinion of Kaufmann, who immediately identified the book as a forgery in a 1952 article. Evidence against the book cited both by Kaufmann and later commentators includes chronologically unsound information, such as a reference to an 1898 incident, incongruous references to Marxism and the city of Detroit (globally unknown in the late 19th century), a seemingly poor grasp of philosophy, and the book's sexualized pulpy content.

Nevertheless, a minority holds the work to be authentic. Beginning in the mid-1980s, a handful of articles began to call for its reevaluation, including references to more recently discovered journals and letters from Nietzsche and Cosima Wagner. Amok Books' 1990 edition reprints many secondary articles on the subject, and includes an original introduction calling for a reevaluation of the book. Nietzsche scholar Walter K. Stewart, in his 185-page monograph Nietzsche: “My Sister and I — A Critical Study” published in 2007, argues for the original's potential legitimacy by conducting a point-by-point analysis of Kaufmann's book review. In his 2011 follow-up, “Friedrich Nietzsche My Sister and I: Investigation, Analysis, Interpretation”, Stewart uses direct textual analysis to argue that whoever wrote “My Sister and I” was intimate with every aspect of Nietzsche’s life and perspective.

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