Backstory: Prussian by birth (1844-1900), citizen of the world by choice, Fred is the nonpareil Godfather of Soulless and one of the most misunderstood philosophers ever to put thoughts to paper. He came into this world in the rockin’ village of Rocken (near the east German city of Leipzig), but spent most of his formative years in the equally small town of Naumburg just a few klicks to the west. After studying at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig, he became one of the youngest professors to don a mortarboard and take up a stick of chalk at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he taught for a decade before ill health forced him to hit the road for more temperate climes. Having also renounced his Prussian citizenship, Fred would spend the rest of his life as an independent writer/philosopher/deep thinker traveling throughout Europe. Then in 1889 he lost his mind–or so the story goes–after seeing a horse whipped on the streets of Turin, in what is now northern Italy, and never recovered. There continues to be some debate over what caused his mental illness, with advanced-stage syphilis being the most widely discussed, though more recent diagnoses have suggested everything from a type of brain tumor to a kind of degenerative condition of the frontal lobe of the brain. A few, such as the homme de lettres Georges Bataille, said it was Fred’s own philosophy that drove him insane.
What we learn: So many lessons, so little time. For now, we’ll just toss out one of the lesser trumpeted of Freddy’s many, many provocative ideas: the notion of eternal recurrence, or the idea that history, to paraphrase that old Michel Legrand tune, was like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind. Rather than living each day as though it were your last, Fred argued that we should think of this day as a sliver of time that you’ll have to shave off over and over and over again. Think the Harold Ramis/Bill Murray metaphysical comedy Groundhog Day, trapped in an endless loop and cursed/blessed to experience this day again and again, so try to squeeze the most of it!