The Letters of Madness

The correspondences between the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the Swedish author and playwright August Strindberg have long held my mind in curious fascination. Not only because they took place during the period of Nietzsche’s deepening insanity, but because the ostensibly sane Strindberg does not seem to have noticed this, or else, even rejoiced in the fact.

In what I believe is their final correspondence, Strindburg writes entirely in the form of a Latin poem in which he exclaimed “Jelw, Jelw manhnai!” I want, I want to be mad! and “Interdum juvat insanire!” Meanwhile, it is a joy to be mad!

I have to, in my own eccentric way, appreciate a mind that can so sympathize with another that is perched upon the very edge of reason, and still converse in kind.

While I believe Strindberg’s sometimes spotty reputation is more deserved than Nietzsche’s, I find both to be intriguing and worthy of further investigation for any adherent of the eccentric and spectacular. I’m currently writing a PhD disseration on the topic of Nietzsche and science, and hope one day to pick up more of Strindberg’s works.


I’ve seen an English translation of the Swedish film “The Freethinker” that documents Strindberg’s life along with his creative output. It is a more than surreal experience in places and the narrative of the “documentary” spins imperceptibly from biography, to fiction, to the actors describing their roles and interviewing members of the Swedish public about their views on the writer.

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