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Nietzsche Eats a Toad

Dreamed late 1860s? by Frederick Nietzsche, as quoted by Carl Jung from a book by C.A. Bernoulli (see Sources below)

[In his early twenties, Nietzsche was living in Basel, Switzerland...] Frederick Nietzsche; photo, probably late 1860s.

"Once at a dinner he said to the young lady seated next to him, 'I dreamed a short while ago that my hand, lying before me on the table, suddenly had a skin like glass, shiny and transparent; in it I saw distinctly the bones, the tissues, the play of the muscles. All at once I saw a fat toad sitting on my hand and I felt at the same time an irresistible compulsion to swallow the creature. I overcame my terrible loathing and gulped it down.'

The young lady laughed. 'Was that a thing to laugh at?' Nietzsche asked, dreadfully serious, his deep eyes fixed on his companion, half questioning, half sorrowful. She then knew intuitively, even though she did not quite understand it, that an oracle had spoken to her in a parable, and that Nietzsche had allowed her to glimpse, as through a narrow crack, into the dark abyss of his inner self."

Bernoulli makes (p. 166) the following observation: "One can perhaps see that behind the faultless exactitude of his dress there lay not so much a harmless pleasure in his appearance, as a fear of defilement born of some secret, tormenting disgust."

Nietzsche came to Basel very young; he was just at the age when other young people are contemplating marriage. sitting beside a young woman, he tells her that something terrible and disgusting has happened to his transparent hand, something he must take completely into his body. We know what disease caused the premature ending of Nietzsche's life. It was precisely this that he had to tell his young lady, and her laughter was indeed out of tune.

SOURCE: Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, 1967 ed., footnote p.34. His source is C.A. Bernoulli, Franz Overbeck und Friedrich Nietzsche, I, p.72.


Sorry for the third-hand account. First Bernoulli tells us what Overbeck recorded (I think) either from Nietzsche or the woman he told the dream to; then Jung gives us Bernoulli's take on it; then we get Jung's take. This is typical of centuries-old dream accounts; firsthand reports are scarce, for journals are fragile and literacy rare.

Jung assumes (as most of his contemporaries did) that Nietzsche went insane of tertiary syphilis, though Wikipedia today is more skeptical, even suggesting that mercury treatments for supposed syphilis might have been what eventually drove Nietzsche mad. Ah, doctors! The fun never ends.

Anyway, Jung seems sure Nietzsche's toad is syphilitic madness--meaning the dream anticipated his total breakdown decades before it manifested--a prodromal dream. Well... maybe. Maybe not. Could as easily be self-loathing, or for that matter loathing for polite dinner conversation, or women, or the whole bourgeois world. Given Nietzsche's writing, I'd buy any of those. Lots of loathing to go round.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: parties - I'm Just Not Myself Today! - body image - hands - glass - invisibility & transparency - frogs & toads - eating & food - nightmares - madness - Jungian & diagnostic dreams - Switzerland - long before reading Nietzsche's dream, Wayan dreamt of a Nietzschean youth with a whole Glass Body

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