274. The receptive
Sherlock Holmes perfectly embodies Nietzsche’s overman, perhaps a demonstration that Nietzsche captured a zeitgeist and recorded its general direction; he did not make the overman happen—he was the antenna that received the overman’s schematics, other men received the same message. Holmes, to summarise, is an ardent individualist and recluse fascinated with particular, not general, elements within science—poisons, microscopy, and codes. At the same time, he retains an aesthetic sensibility; he plays the violin. As Nietzsche desired, we find in Holmes science and art in harmony; when a scientific problem bedevils him, Holmes takes up his violin. The solution is in the music.
Holmes is an individualist who works in an area—detection—that has already become professionalised and bureaucratic; but the professional men, represented by Lestrade
of the Yard, are bunglers in comparison to Holmes. They cannot compete with the aristocratic amateur; the individual beats the state every time. As an individualist and natural aristocrat, Holmes works by his own code; he will release a criminal on their own recognisance if he judges that, by his standards, they have done no wrong. Holmes is not a mass man; he will go against the state if needs be, it is up to his judgement.
As an artist-aristocrat in the Byronic mode, Holmes is a drug fiend; a slave to cocaine. His interest in cocaine represents his artistic-scientific sensibility; he will experiment on himself if needs be—a good Nietzschean must be a journeyer in altered consciousness. When Holmes engages in science he is practical and responsible to the last; he experiments on himself—he shoots drugs into his own veins or carries out private ballistics tests on his walls.
He is not a mere brain, he understands the wisdom of the body: Holmes studies Bartitsu, a then novel martial art. He sinks to the underworld; he masters many disguises to move in London’s criminal fraternity—he knows how to play with masks, as a good Nietzschean should. Poor Watson mistakes Holmes for a chimney sweep or Ruritanian diplomat; he is befuddled—the staid middle-class underman, deluded by domesticity and comfort. Holmes seeks the depths to draw up the primal energy found in London’s underworld that will drive his artistic-scientific projects forward: Nietzschean renaissance.
While Holmes knows nothing about politics, philosophy, or literature he has a passion for penny dreadful stories; he knows every bloody murder back to the 18th century—and this is because he is a killer himself. He absorbs the underworld’s vital energy; as Taleb advises, he reads absolute trash or obscure monographs. He works like an obsessive; he is the autist-killer, and pursues targets for weeks on end with hardly any sleep. He is the serial killer who hunts serial killers. He hunts criminals for aesthetic reasons, not from utility or sentiment; he could as easily be a criminal himself, if it were more elegant—art is his morality. Holmes is addicted to cocaine, in part, from boredom: the great cases are solved; only the problem—the art of it—interests him, not the crime itself.
Holmes is not a misogynist or a homosexual; he simply strictly ignores all women and romance—he is above it all, as Nietzsche would demand. Significantly, the only time Holmes is defeated is not by his shadow—the techno-artistic criminal Moriarty—but by a woman, Irene Adler. “The woman,” as Holmes later refers to her. Adler is a bohemian opera singer; her crime: she blackmails royalty with photos of sexual indiscretions (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose). Adler is a Jewish name—and blackmail, particularly of royalty, a typically Jewish-feminine crime. Nietzsche would recognise Holmes as the cold Indo-Aryan aristocratic artist-scientist matched against his natural foil: a Jewish woman in the entertainment business who blackmails European royalty. Nietzsche might even suggest these bloodlines could be crossed to great effect; after all, Adler does seem to be the only woman Holmes has any attraction towards. We only really love our enemies, Nietzsche might well observe.