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Conatus and Love: Nietzsche, Spinoza, Lou Salomé

Conference contribution
Authors Elisabet Yanagisawa Avén
Published in International Friedrich Nietzsche Society, Conference “Love and War” in
Publication year 2014
Published at School of Design and Crafts
Language en
Subject categories Arts, Philosophy


In May 1882 Malwida von Meysenbug introduced Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche to a twentyone year old intellectual woman from St. Petersburg named Lou Salomé, with whom Nietzsche fell in love. Salomé and Nietzsche had an exceptional intellectual exchange during a short but intense period. This paper presents Lou Salomé from the perspective of her ethical stance, informed by her philosophical practice as a dedicated student of Spinoza’s metaphysics, and considers the influence that she had on Nietzsche’s perspective on love. With respect to ethics and morality, Lou Salomé was a liberated individual. Yet, she advocated a chaste life and chose not want to engage emotionally with men for much of her life, preferring instead an independent intellectual community. Thus she maintained her own individual ethics apart from the norms of society. Salomé’s intellectual and physical ethics was a manifestation of Spinoza’s notion of conatus and the principal of affect. Conatus means desire or appetite. According to Spinoza’s thinking, conatus is the individual power each being has as a potential. Conatus is immanent and physical, and is discernible in the two attributes of thought and matter. Attracted to Nietzsche’s radical ethics, Salomé’s own ethical ground was affirmative. She embraced conatus together with selfcultivation and embodied her philosophy of conatus throughout her life. In her conversations with Nietzsche 1882, Lou Salomé may have influenced Nietzsche with her dedication and profound interest in Spinoza’s philosophy of the body, “and what a body can do” (Spinoza, Ethics). Thus Spoke Zarathustra is consistent with a Spinozist philosophy, which embraces the body and the affects. Addressing the relation between conatus and love in light of a possible Spinozist influence, this paper will also consider some of the ways that Nietzsche’s writings after 1882 may have been affected by his affinity for Lou Salomé. In fact, Nietzsches notion of power has many similarities with Spinoza’s conatus. This paper presents what Nietzsche has in common with Lou Salomé, in terms of metaphysics. They shared an intellectual community, an understanding of the importance of creating a new philosophy, a post-theologian thinking, derived from affect philosophy and intuitive knowledge.

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