Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nietzsche's Autism and His Learned Greek Sexuality

I recently read a biography of Nietzsche, and I am reading a second one, and for someone who is himself on the spectrum, it seems abundantly clear that Nietzsche had autism. Of course, neither of these biographers see it, and as a result they come up with explanations of Nietzsche with which Freud would be proud.

I'm not going to go into all of the evidence I see for Nietzsche having autism. He had a speech delay -- he didn't speak until he was three (like my son, Daniel) -- but then rapidly learned how to read and write. He was socially awkward in ways that sound familiar, and yet he also had a dominating personality (again, in ways that sound familiar). He also didn't exactly know what to do with himself around women. This one of the biographers, Joachim Kohler, interprets as Nietzsche being a closet homosexual, but Nietzsche seems to have been a disaster around women in exactly the same way I was (thank goodness eHarmony had been invented in the meantime!).

But what I want to note is the degree to which Nietzsche seemed to have learned how to behave from books. I cannot emphasize enough the degree to which I have learned how to behave around people from the books I have read. Where neurotypicals have a variety of instincts that allow them to learn how to behave from the most casual of observations, autistics have to be taught almost everything. If one reads Kohler carefully, one can see that Nietzsche learned about love and sexuality from the ancient Greeks in a way that makes sense from my theory that autistic are explicit social learners.

Of course, anyone who knows about the ancient Greeks on love and sexuality will immediately understand just how messed up this could make someone. Imagine that you are raised in home in which there are nothing but very religious women, where sex and sexuality are hardly discussed. This would make things hard enough for a neurotypical; the situation is almost impossible if you are autistic. The autistic person would grow up sexually ambiguous at best, not really knowing what to do or think or feel. He hasn't been explicitly taught. Then, when he goes to high school -- Schulpforta -- he concentrates on religion and philology and, thus, on the ancient Greeks and Romans. Nietzsche reads works that rarely if ever mention women -- and when they do, in strongly misogynistic terms. When love is discussed, it is between men, or between men and boys -- teachers and students. Eros is the god of erotic love between boys -- the offspring of Ares (War) and Aphrodite (feminine Love). And then, Socrates, with whom Nietzsche identifies because they both share the presence of a daimon, simultaneously expresses Eros while remaining chaste toward men and boys. It would be no wonder if Nietzsche had no clue what to do in areas of love and sex.

Kohler doesn't just use this as "proof" of his thesis. He also uses the fact that Nietzsche, as a boy and young man, had very intense friendships with other boys and men his age. However, this is also a trait of autistics. A friend in a real sense becomes a "project" on which the autistic person spends a great deal of time and effort. It can be flattering at first, but it can also become intense and overbearing and, likely, weird after a while. The autistic will, of course, never notice the increasing discomfort of the friend. If the person is a love interest, this is often interpreted as evidence of how much the autistic is in love. And that's not untrue. But equally, intensity of friendship is not evidence of erotic feeling in the case of friends. But it may easily be misinterpreted as such.

If autistics are explicit learners, including in social areas of life, what they see or read to get their information is going to be very important. It will mean that it's important for parents to be open and clear about areas of love and sex and sexuality. Making sure the autistic person is reading and watching the right things is also important, as those will perhaps have the biggest impact. You probably want to make sure your autistic is not reading a lot of ancient works on sex relations and sexuality (nor a lot of the surrealists, who were perhaps a bit too influenced by the Marquis de Sade).

My own experience of learning how to act more and more seemingly neurotypical by reading books and watching movies and T.V.  helped me to see that this was taking place for Nietzsche as well (though in his case, it was obviously just reading). I hope that this insight can be used to help my son -- and perhaps others.


  1. Koehler has been pretty thoroughly discredited by more recent scholarship. Although I do agree with you that Nietzsche appears to have traits of Aspberger's. He is unrelentingly critical and has high standards of judgement. But one should be careful to judge his philosophy as a mere reflection of some kind of illness. This is an unfortunate fallacy in much of the literature on Nietzsche. I would disagree with one more point in your article: though Nietzsche appeared to be very dominating in his books, in real life he was actually very soft-spoken and unassuming. In defense of this second point I would offer for your consideration that rather than disagree with Wagner openly, Nietzsche finally chose to break the relationship off permanently. Before that he simply adopted Wagner's ideas, even if he disagreed with them. He strikes me as more of a listener/observer than someone who asserts himself in socially inappropriate ways. Just some thoughts. Great article overall though! Gave me some things to think about. Blessings to you and your family!

  2. May be, but I relied more on his facts he presented than his interpretations. The facts he reported about Nietzsche's childhood were most telling to me.

    I reject the idea that Asperger's is an illness. It's not. It's a structural variation. Which results in a different way of thinking.

    I have Asperger's, and if you met me you would consider me very soft-spoken and unassuming. I'm very dominating in my writing, including in my online persona.

    When the socially inappropriate ways result in predictable backlash, one starts to become more of a listener/observer just to avoid the conflict that you don't understand why you're creating.

    Thanks for the feedback. Those are great observations--the kind that many you think about the things you mistakenly left unstated.