Lance Olsen is the author of Theories of Forgetting (2014), Calendar of Regrets (2010), Nietzsche’s Kisses (2006), Girl Imagined By Chance (2002), and Sewing Shut My Eyes (2000) from FC2. The following is an excerpt from “The World of Words: ‘Ghost Writing’ with Lance Olsen,” an interview conducted by Rainer J. Hanshe for Nietzsche Circle upon the publication of Nietzsche’s Kisses in 2006.
In part three of Nietzsche’s Kisses, you describe in graphic detail and with startling vividness Nietzsche giving birth after excising his heart from out his rib cage. Pregnancy is a motif which Nietzsche employs in numerous aphorisms as well as in Thus Spoke Zarathustra to express the act of creation. In The Gay Science, he declared that philosophers must give birth to their thoughts out of their “pain and, like mothers endow them with all [they] have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and catastrophe.” Was the process of writing or giving birth to Nietzsche’s Kisses analogous to the experience the character Nietzsche has when giving birth?
Nietzsche’s Kisses endured an extraordinarily long gestation period — in a sense, nearly thirty years. There are many Nietzsches, of course, and the one I fell in love with first was the existentialist in a philosophy course on the subject I took as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1976 or 1977. I adored his fierce, aphoristic intelligence, his ability to termite through assumptions, his refusal to see the world simply. Not long after that, I began writing fiction seriously, and, although I thought I had put the philosopher behind me, he turned up in my third published story, a surreal piece called “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birthday Party” (1980), images and even lines from which buoy to the surface of the hallucinatory sequence toward the end of Nietzsche’s Kisses.
When I met him again, it was in graduate school during the early eighties while working on my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. This incarnation, introduced to me by Walter Sokel, took the form of the poststructuralist, the one who in complex and diverse ways ghosted the writings of such thinkers as Derrida and Foucault. While it would be facile to name a single thing Nietzsche stands for in my mind, at least one of them is that intellectual possibility space where everything can and should be thought, tried, unwritten, tilted, troubled. For me, his is a philosophy of indeterminacy and destabilization that ultimately represents a philosophy of liberation.
From that meeting on, I somehow could never quite shake him. He stayed with me in one form or another though the decades, as he tends to do with some people, although at the time I had no idea I would ever attempt a novel about him. I taught him through the nineties, especially Twilight of the Idols, an amazing text that concentrates his later thought into a laser beam fewer than one hundred pages long, and, as a result, began reading the biographies and his electric letters in addition to the major and minor works.
But it was the gap in the internal record of his life that occurred after January 3, 1889, that caught my imagination and started the slow burn that would become Nietzsche’s Kisses. By late 2001 or early 2002 I knew I wanted to engage with him in an extended way in my fiction, but was daunted by the prospect of trying to inhabit something analogous to the rhythms of his thought and prose from the inside out. I suppose that’s where the real birthing commenced. It turned out to be the most exhilarating and difficult and satisfying project I’ve undertaken.
© Nietzsche Circle–Lance Olsen, 2006. All Rights Reserved.