In 1793, France’s smart set checked into a “hospital” on the rue de Charone, where, for a paltry $50,000 a month, they could drink champagne, play cards, and discuss the current theatre.
…The script for the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution was in serious need of a philosopher. And fast. For whatever reason, Nietzsche is the name that seemed to pop up when the script writers needed one. In Good Will Hunting, the therapist Sean (Robin Williams) asks Will (Matt Damon) whether he has a soul mate. Will says he has several, including Shakespeare and Nietzsche. In The Fisher King, Jack (Jeff Bridges), seriously drunk, remarks that “Nietzsche says there’s two kinds of people in the world: people who are destined for greatness like Walt Disney … and Hitler. Then there’s the rest of us, ‘the bungled and the botched.’ We’re the expendable masses.” And so, it was decided that Nietzsche, despite the handicap of being German, would be the poster boy for the French Revolution. …
A visitor searching today’s Paris for the “monuments historique” of the French Revolution is likely to return home disappointed. Gone is the hotel where Charlotte Corday spent the night before she murdered Marat, gone to all intents and purposes Robespierre’s lodgings on the rue Saint-Honoré , gone the Jacobin Club and the Temple Tower.Even the palace of the Tuileries, the rallying point of so much disturbance, has vanished forever. The French, who have raised anecdotal history, “la petite histoire” , to a level approaching art, have been notably unsentimental about preserving the monuments that are so integral a part of that history.
On the rue de Charonne, at the far edge of the unvisited eleventh arrondissement, one more irreplaceable relic of the Revolution was only demolished in the early 1970′s. Its disappearance is to be regretted, for its walls were witness to one of the strangest stories in the repertory of revolutionary anecdote.
In the opening days of the revolution the building at 70 rue de Charonne housed a small insane asylum owned and administered by one Dr. Jacques Belhomme. Belhomme’s insitution should not be confused with the madhouse of similar address at Charenton where the Marquis de Sade spent his declining years and which was the inspiration for the play “Marat/Sade” . In its own fashion the Maison Belhomme might have offered the dramatist almost as macabre a setting. But to understand the significance of what Belhomme’s insane asylum was to become during the Reign of Terror, one must first have some picture of the Terror itself.
… Nietzsche is appealing to the Reign because his life sounds like a narrative for the event. Certainly the combination of confidence and madness makes him highly pertinent. He believed he was changing the world and he was right, like a Robespierre. His unrequited love for the exotic Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian-born psychoanalyst and friend of Wagner and Freud, promises both excitement and melancholy; it could be the storyline that would fit the passions of Philippe Egalité or Talleyrand.
The rumour about his incestuous affair with his sister adds perverse interest. And then there’s the horse story, often repeated, not quite authenticated, but certainly cinematic: In 1888, when he saw a man whipping a horse, he ran to the animal and threw his arms around its neck to protect it. Then he fell to the ground, unconscious. ….
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