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April 18, 2007


Carolyn Ann

Maybe he didn't like to SHOUT all the time?

On a practical note, the machine looks hideously complicated to use. Maybe the experience of learning such an unwieldy device simply put him off?

Carolyn Ann

Christian Emden

Just to clarify things:

See Christian J. Emden, Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness, and the Body (University of Illinois Press, 2005), pp. 27-9. Short summary below:

Throughout February and March 1882, while he was living in the Italian port city of Genoa working on what was to become Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, Nietzsche occasionally uses a typewriter that, in view of his fading eyesight, was intended to make his writing more bearable. Although he seems to have contemplated the rather expensive purchase of such a typewriter already in the preceding year, it was his sister Elisabeth who finally sent him this rather unwieldy gift to Italy (KGB III/1, pp. 163 and 166). Brought to Genoa by his friend Paul Rée, this typewriter was clearly not the ideal writing instrument, at least as far as philosophy was concerned. A somewhat outdated model that had been developed in Denmark during the 1860s it might have been lighter and easier to transport, as Nietzsche remarks himself, than the far more successful American Remington model of the 1870s and 1880s (KGB III/1, p. 145), but it was also plagued by repeated mechanical problems: during the short period in which Nietzsche actually used the typewriter, it had to be repaired at least twice (KGB III/1, pp. 169f, 175 and 186f). Furthermore, the ink faded relatively quickly and the circular arrangement of the keys also failed to make things easier. A short article in the Berliner Tageblatt, published in March 1882 and mentioned in one of Nietzsche’s letters back to his friend Franz Overbeck in Basel (KGB III/1, p. 180), speculated that his use if this typewriter would undoubtedly aid him in the speedy completion of his next philosophical treatise, but the reality was clearly different, since the machine Nietzsche faced in Genoa did not lend itself easily to philosophical writing. As a consequence of the obvious technical difficulties he encountered, Nietzsche mainly typed letters and thirty-odd pages of light poetry that he collected under the general title 500 Aufschriften auf Tisch und Wand: Für Narrn von Narrenhand. On one of these pages, which are marred by typographical errors throughout, the machine must have become stuck: the first line reads “MELSDNDRGILSTHCZMQNMOY”, with several other letters superimposed (S, p. 89). For Nietzsche, the typewriter was more difficult than the piano, and long sentences just were not much of an option (KGB III/1, p. 172).

KGB is the German edition of Nietzsche's letters; S refers to the edition of Nietzsche's typewritten texts also mentioned in an earlier post.

George McWilliams

Brilliant point about the paradigm shifts in metaphors used to describe the soul/mind. One other that was favoured for a while was the cinema one (ie we are patrons of a cinema seeing the world on the big screen). I think that one was in Mr Warburtons book!
Do each of these technological pardigm shifts take us nearer explicating the nature of the mind or the soul?

Sverre Avnskog

Information about Nietzsches writing ball!

I would like to inform you that there exists a book about Friedrich Nietzsche's "typewriter", which was actually a Hansen writing ball, invented by the Danish minister and director of the Institution for the deaf-mutes in Copenhagen, Rasmus Malling-Hansen(1835-1890). "Typoscript Verlag" has published the book "Nietsches Schreibkugel" written by Dieter Eberwein - and Mr Eberwein tells the true story about the writing ball of Nietzche, based upon thorough investigations and restoration of the damaged machine. Friedrich Nietzche didn't understand that the trouble he had using the machine was caused by damages during transportation to Germany. And when he turned to a mechanic, who had no skills whatsoever about typewriters, he managed to damage the writing ball even more. In his book, Dieter Eberwein, presents all the pages Nietzche wrote on his machine (about 60) and reveils the true story about the damages. Nietzche didn't either understand how to change the direction of the turning of the colour ribbon, so he had to seek the mechanic to help him every time the ribbon was out.

Dieter Eberwein's conclusion is that Nietzshes problems using the writing ball was caused by damages, and did not occure because the writing ball itself was an outdated model, as stated above. Actually the Hansen writing ball was an outstanding invention, and very simple to use, and unlike the Remington typewriter, it worked almost silent. Both the Remington typewriter and the Hansen writing ball was exhibited on the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878, and the writing ball received a gold medal, but the typewriter received only the silver medal. So in the jury's eyes, the writing ball was judged to be a better construction.
I think therefore it must be true to say, that most of the speculations on why Nietzsce wasn't satisfied with his writing ball, are based on a lack of insight in what really caused the problems - which was transportation damages and "repair-damages" caused by an unskilled mechanic.
It is true that the Remington typewriter won the commercial competition, and outconquered the writing ball on the market, but to understand why, one must seek the reasons elsewhere than in the quality of the machines. The Americans put in a large capital to mass produce the Remington typewriter, where the Danes were totally without skills in manufacturing and marketing on a large scale. Every writing ball was made by hand, and could not in the long run compete against the mass produced Remington machine.
As a matter of fact, the writing balls are among the most saught after item among typewriter collectors today, and a writing ball was reported sold for more than 200 000 Euro a couple of years ago by the Köln Auction Team. Many collectors find the quality of the writing ball to be truly impressive!

To find out more, please visit Typoscript Verlag on this address:

Or visit the homepage of "The International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society", to learn more about one of Europe's most colourful inventors and scientists: Rasmus Malling-Hansen at

There are also articles about Malling-Hansen and the Hansen writing ball on wikipedia, both in English and German.

Sverre Avnskog

Sverre Avnskog


Unfortunately I made an error about the price achieved for a writing ball. The correct number should be; a little less than 100.000 Euro. But this was a special occation, a more common price is 20.000 Euro.

Sverre Avnskog

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