In the third installment of our FS Bar series, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and writer Jane Austen sit down for a drink and discuss each other’s work, gender, philosophy, and try to find common ground. As always, they are attended by our intellectually curious bartender Kit.
We are back at the FS bar. Kit is going through the stock to prepare an order. The door opens and Friedrich Nietzsche lurches in and settles himself at the bar. Kit puts down her paperwork and moves a few bottles to the side.
Kit: Good afternoon. What can I get you?
Nietzsche: Beer. (He casts his eye over the taps.) It seems that no one has yet determined how to elevate the craft of brewing. I see even the French make some.
Kit: I’m pretty good at matching preferences to types. What are your must-haves in a beer?
Nietzsche: Strong. Illuminating. And thick enough to hold up a spoon.
Kit: (grins) I love a challenge.
(As Kit is getting Nietzsche’s beer ready, Jane Austen walks in. Elegantly, if somewhat tentatively, she takes a seat at the bar. Kit puts Nietzsche’s beer down in front of him before turning to Austen.)
Kit: Hi, what can I get you this afternoon?
Austen: Port please.
Kit: Sure thing.
(There is a pause that stretches and becomes slightly awkward.)
Nietzsche: (starts speaking to Austen) I’ve read some of your stories you know. The ones with the alliteration. Sense and Sensibility sounded promising until I realized none of the characters had either.
(Austen takes a sip of the port that Kit has just set down.)
Nietzsche: Really, what was the use of all that sentimental drivel? Man should be required to confront his stupidity, not hide behind it moaning about useless nonsense. In my last book I didn’t waste time trying to comfort those who cower behind the lies they have come to worship. A mirror or a strong knock on the head is what’s required. Not giving ignorance legitimacy.
Austen: Well, I did desire to make some money, and thus did not have the luxury of completely pissing my readers off. You understand why I had to be a fair bit more subtle in my take-down of social convention.
Nietzsche: (his eyes light up) I must have missed that. I was obviously confused by the happy endings. How, despite all the absurdity, it all works out okay in the end. That seems to imply that social convention works.
Austen: Giving readers a happy ending helps them digest the rest. If you tear everything apart and then have your characters die in misery, there is no hope for the reader. If you want them to change their thinking you must give them hope there is still time and a reason to make that change.
Nietzsche: People who need to be coddled like that are beyond benefiting from reading.
Austen: I think it is worth the effort, to try to reel them in before I cut their legs from under them. The more someone enjoys a story, the more they will see it through to the end.
Nietzsche: What people will pay for.
Austen: What they won’t.
Nietzsche: Lots of people read my work-
Austen: Out of sheer morbid curiosity. Dying to know who you will next assault. But you and I aren’t so different. What they come for isn’t what they leave with.
Nietzsche: (regards her for a moment) I doubt it. Most people are too invested in the status quo and too ashamed of their ignorance to think for themselves.
Austen: And yet here we are. Having managed to think ourselves out of the primitive struggle for daily survival. To create language and steam engines and leisure time. So, surely, the odd human occasionally manages to think for themselves, dragging the rest of us along.
Nietzsche: Not without considerable difficulty.
Austen: Yes. But we are up to the challenge, you and I, are we not? (pause) I read Twilight of the Idols in its entirety you know, despite it having no description of twilight or anyone to idolize.
Nietzsche: (takes a sip of his beer, trying to hide a smile) And you think I should have been kinder. Thrown in a puppy or some of that romantic nonsense that has taken over society like a cancer.
Austen: Not at all. I do think you missed a great opportunity to further decimate the social systems that lead to the kind of thinking you seem to abhor.
Nietzsche: Really? And where was that?
Austen: In your book you talk about the progress of an idea, how it grows more refined, more enticing, more incomprehensible. You say it becomes more like a woman. By doing this, by effectively reducing women to be simply what they appear to men, you take away their humanity. And when you do that, you place women outside of the changes you are arguing for.
Nietzsche: Explain yourself.
Austen: Christianity has also reduced women to objects solely to be used by men. By being aligned with the church’s thinking you reinforce the same power structure you are trying to take down.
Nietzsche: (stares at her for a moment) I should have put woman on an equal footing with man?
Austen: If only to anger all those priests and vicars.
Nietzsche: (pauses) That isn’t why I write you know, to provoke outrage. I’m trying to show people how weak they are. And how much more they could be.
Austen: There is greater potential everywhere. Women are both subject to the same institutions and have the same potential for overthrowing them as men.
Nietzsche: Hm. This from the woman who wrote “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Austen: Oh Mr. Nietzsche, you are smart enough to see the humor in that. Something that is true and absolutely shouldn’t be.
Nietzsche: Yes. People laugh. And then they keep doing it anyway.
Austen: And maybe one day they’ll realize it makes them chuckle because it’s absurd. And then they will stop throwing their daughters in the path of every man with an excellent income and a large property. And maybe the daughters will start to do something else when they aren’t saddled with these expectations.
Nietzsche: I agree with you on this. Women have much more to offer outside the confines of marriage.
Austen: I’m aware of your history, so I will take that comment in the spirit it is intended, with my tongue in cheek.
Nietzsche: And has it made a difference then, your writing?
Austen: (sighs a little) Possibly only to me.
Nietzsche: So here we are then, both of us wasted talents who sought to change the world and who failed entirely.
Austen: You don’t believe that.
Nietzsche: No. It is depressing how little happens in one’s lifetime, but there it is. The Greeks didn’t become interesting until a thousand years after their heyday. Perhaps you and I will both be on a stamp or a bank note one day.
Austen: A girl can dream.
Nietzsche: (Raises his glass in Austen’s direction) Well, Ms. Austen, it hasn’t been as much of a waste of time as I anticipated.
Austen: (smiles) Same to you Mr. Nietzsche, same to you.