A True Story – In Places.
Due to sundry events to which I am merely a spectator, I found myself on the online encyclopedia known as ‘Wikipedia’ the other day. Now due to a slip of the cursor, I clicked on the wrong link and found myself on the biography of one Johnny Ringo, a gentleman of the nineteenth-century persuasion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Ringo
Now my first thought was, I should imagine, much the same as any student of the romantic world of America’s wild west: “Wait, isn’t that a photograph of Friederich Nietzsche, well know nineteenth-century philosopher and author of Thus Spoke Zarathustra?”
I mean it does look an awful lot like him.
I mean it looks EXACTLY like him, more or less.
Put another way, this picture of the man who coined the term Übermensch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche) is clearly the same person. Yes, yes, the haircut is slightly different but that’s the same expression, eyes, nose, huge moustache and THE SAME COLLAR AND TIE. It’s basically the same guy but photographed at a different angle and with better quality film.
‘No, wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘that’s nuts and you’ve been reading too many wacky internet theories and your critical powers have turned to mush you silly, silly man. Everybody in Victorian times looked like that even in countries not actually ruled by Queen Victoria.”
Now, I will concede that nineteenth-century photography and male grooming habits may disguise important different facial features because of fixed expressions, evolving technology and huge amounts of facial hair but I did a test. You can do it yourself. Look up pictures of Johnny Ringo’s contemporaries such as Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or others involved in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and check to see if any of them:
- Also look Nietzsche (answer: no they don’t)
- Also look like any other contemporaneous notable philosophers (answer: no they don’t)
‘Yes, but it is still a superficial…’ let me stop you right there dear reader. Look at this image below. This is the two images above superimposed. I swear to the ghost of William of Ockham that I’ve only done the following to them: flipped the Johnny R image left-right, resized it uniformly and change the opacity of the layer so you can see Freddy N underneath.
The ears don’t quite match up and Freddy’s moustache is a bit wilder, but otherwise? That, people, is a match.
No, no, it is no use holding your palm to your face and shaking your head like that and mumbling ‘I remember when this blog used to make sense’. We have to face facts. Friedrich Nietzsche and Johnny Ringo were the same dodgy desperado! One, the scourge of Tomb Stone Arizona and the other the scourge of German philosophy!
‘OK, despite you demanding we all practise non-cynical scepticism and examine outrageous ideas critically, you have convinced me that these two people who led public lives on two different continents are the same person but how is that possible?’ – Good question!
So Freddy was born in 1844, Johnny was (ostensibly) born 1850 – an age difference easily obscured. Indeed, Freddy would have spent much of his life under the gentle and damp weather conditions of Prussia and hence probably would have looked young for his age among the rowdy cowboys of Cochise County, their skin prematurely aged by the harsh sun and dry dusty conditions.
Now up to about 1876, Freddy’s life is very public and well documented. Over that same period, an outlaw known as Johnny Ringo was active in Texas and was involved in the so-called Mason County War. Clearly, those two people are different.
In 1876 Freddy becomes disillusioned with Wagner and possibly is suffering from his experiences as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Now the “official” history of Nietzsche has him becoming an ‘independent’ philosopher – essentially breaking formal ties to institutions by 1879 and living off a pension and travelling with friends.
In reality* this was all a cover – an elaborate facade constructed with the aid of friends, relatives and accomplices. In truth, Freddy had left to become a cowboy outlaw in the Wild West. Entranced by lurid tales of gunslingers and adventures and a world where men were men and nobody could spell ‘nihilism’, Freddy had found the perfect antidote to his pessimism and disenchantment. Instead of watching Wagner play-acting as Seigfried, Freddy could make his way to a world where epic heroes still walked the earth and had their deeds written as sagas.
Somehow, Freddy managed to be both exactly right and exactly wrong about that.
In truth, the era of the Wild West was already in its final stages. Railroads now crossed the continent and law and order was being systematically (often brutally) established.
The one place that was still the epitome of the Wild West was Tombstone Arizona — a bustling but often lawless town, still growing off the back of mining boom. The miners were mainly immigrants – including many from Germany. It was there Freddy headed, taking up the identity of an outlaw who had died in Texas and the first thing he did was to join an outlaw gang of cowboys known as the Cochise County Cowboys.
“Johnny” first turns up in Tombstone in 1879 around the time Nietzsche ‘officially’ had resigned as professor of philology at the University of Basel. No more lecturing bored Swiss students! Now he’d be rustling cattle and raising mayhem!
The events in Tombstone over the next four years have become legendary. Nietzsche himself didn’t participate in the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral (despite what the movies say) but he tussled with Doc Holliday and pursued Wyatt Earp as part of a rival posse established by the county sheriff. Meanwhile, in Europe, Freddy’s friends staged elaborate ways of establishing that Nietzsche was still in Europe.
Officially, “Johnny” died in 1882 due to a gunshot to the head – which may have been self-inflicted or may have been an execution. In truth** we will never know whose body that really was but what we do know is that after an appropriate amount of time for Nietzsche to make his way back to Europe, he turns up in Leipzig looking for an academic position, having ‘split’ from his ‘friends’ Lou Salomé and Paul Rée (in truth*** he didn’t know them – they had been hired to maintain the cover story).
From there the official narrative starts up again. Nietzsche’s sister, inspired by Freddy’s wild west adventure decides in 1886 to start a new life in Paraguay with her antisemitic husband. “Been there, done that.”**** says Freddy, treating the ‘Americas’ as a single entity and not meaning that he literally had been to Paraguay.
And there you have it. The strange,
fabricated forgotten history of Friedrich Nietzsche Outlaw Cowboy and how he nearly (but not quite) fought at the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
*[for some values of reality]
**[for some values of truth]
***[‘truth’ as in ‘make this story work’]
****[In German but it is from Nietzsche that we get this phrase]
*****[in some reality or other surely?]