Choosing a Novel Title by Katie Salvo
Choosing a Novel Title
by Katie Salvo
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
This quote oft used to uplift our spirits in times of trouble belongs to 19th-century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Ironically, the same man who coined this optimistic idiom also declared God to be dead, arguing that the Almighty had given up in the face of man’s disgraceful conduct. He was referring to man’s silence as the ethnic cleansing of Jews was taking place right before his neighbors’ eyes. Many point to the WWII era as a specific point when Jews were suddenly rounded up, separated into ghettos and gassed to death. A deeper study of history, however, reveals that Jewish pogroms were carried on for centuries prior to the Holocaust, with Jews being burned out of their homes and businesses, required to wear Star of David patches, forbidden in public spaces, forced to live in ghettos and labor camps, and harassed on the streets under curfews. Nietzsche witnessed all of this come to pass in his hometown of Naumburg, Germany, seventy years prior to the Holocaust, determining that no living God would allow such cruelty against his children. Therefore, God was surely dead, and man in all his evil nature had killed Him by breaking His spirit.
When I was invited to contribute to this blog, I was asked to discuss how I chose the title for my novel about Nietzsche, GOD IS A BEDLAMITE. When I’m writing, titles don’t usually come to me until later in the work. However, I knew straightaway after the conducted research phase what the title for this novel would be before I wrote a single word, as what I had intended to be a treatise against Nietzsche’s detractors morphed into a work of biographical fiction, told from his sister’s point of view. For what I discovered in my research as one primary source led to another was Nietzsche’s diary, entitled MY SISTER AND I, in which he lays blame for his greatest mortal sin, that of incest, at his sister, Elisabeth’s, feet. In it, he declares that ‘even God has his hell’, a form of chaos, of bedlam.
Considered by Historians to have been a genius mind from a tender age, Nietzsche spent his life trying to make sense of what became known historically as The Jewish Question, of what he personally referred to as “God’s Chaos.” His own personal hell flamed as Elisabeth slipped from her unnatural lover’s hold and into the arms of a Nazi, a chaos beyond the realm of the philosopher’s conception. Broken in spirit, that which was killing was far from making him stronger. After a psychotic break, Nietzsche put order to the chaos in his own mind by declaring himself to be God from his bed in an insane asylum. For me, GOD IS A BEDLAMITE was the most fitting title that could be assigned to a novel written about a man whose final written words to his closest friend were:
Siamo contenti? Son dio ho fatto questa caricatura.
(Are we content? I am the god who has made this caricature.)