Carlo Michelstaedter

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Carlo Michelstaedter
Carlo Michelstaedter.png
BornJune 3, 1887
DiedOctober 17, 1910 ( age 23 )

Carlo Michelstaedter or Michelstädter (3 June 1887 – 17 October 1910) was an Italian philosopher, artist, poet and man of letters.


Carlo Michelstaedter was born in Gorizia, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian County of Gorizia and Gradisca, the youngest of four children of Albert and Emma Michelstaedter Coen Luzzatto. His older siblings were Gino (1877–1909), Elda (1879–1944), Paula (1885–1972). His full name was Carlo Raimondo (Gedaliah Ram). His father was the director of the local branch of the Trieste-based Assicurazioni Generali insurance company. The Michelstaedters were an Italian-speaking upper middle class Jewish family of Ashkenazi origin.

His sister Paula remembered him as a child fearful of the dark and heights, stubborn and not at all prepared to apologize for any misbehavior. In school, he was judged "not very suitable (minder entsprechend)" for having intentionally and frequently disturbed the lessons during the year.

His father was also the chairman of the Gabinetto di Lettura Goriziano, a local cultural association for the fostering of literary culture, and he pushed his son towards literary study. His mother Emma Luzzatto came from an old and renowned Jewish family of Italian irredentist leanings. Carlo was considered an introverted boy, but by the end of high school (completed in Gorizia), he developed into a brilliant, athletic, intelligent youth. He enrolled in the department of mathematics at the University of Vienna, but soon moved to Florence, a city he savored for its arts and language. There he formed friendships with other students, and in the end enrolled in the department of letters of the local Istituto di Studi Superiori' (1905). He majored in Greek and Latin, and selected for his laurea thesis a philosophical study of persuasion and rhetoric in ancient philosophy. In 1909 he returned to Gorizia and set himself to work on the thesis.

Around the fall of 1910, he completed his work, finishing the appendices by 17 October. He was very tired, and that day he had a fight with his mother, who complained he had not wished her a happy birthday. Left alone, Carlo took a loaded pistol he kept in the house and killed himself with two shots. The reasoning behind his suicide has been a subject of much debate, some see it as the natural conclusion to his philosophy, others see it as a result of some kind of mental illness. One of his friends from Florence, a Russian woman, had also committed suicide, and probably also a brother who lived in America. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Rožna Dolina near Nova Gorica, Slovenia. As his family was Jewish, they were sent to Auschwitz, only one sister escaped to Switzerland.

Friends and relatives published his works and collected his writings, now in the Biblioteca Civica di Gorizia.

Not only did he write persuasion and rhetoric, but hundreds of stories, plays, dialogues. Thousands of unfinished pages, most of which have been only translated to Spanish.


Tracing the development of Michelstaedter's ideas is difficult; his philosophical vision seems to have formed suddenly, and his brief life did not allow for time to explore other directions. For him, common life is an absence of life, narrow and deluded as it is by the god of pleasure, which deceives man, promising pleasures and results that are not real, although man thinks they are. Rhetoric—that is, the conventions of the individual, the weak, and society—comprises social life, in which man overpowers nature and himself for his own pleasure. Only by living in the present as if every moment were the last can man free himself from the fear of death, and thus achieve Persuasion; that is, self-possession. Resignation and adapting oneself to the world, for Michelstaedter, is the true death.

However, through his citations, numerous biographies we know that his influences include Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, Schopenhauer, Henrik Ibsen and Giacomo Leopardi. He greatly admired the latter and considered him to be a "Persuaded individual" for he had created a world of his own; a copy of Zibaldone was found, some time after his death, in his residence among his personal belongings. He was introduced to Schopenhauer through his social endeavors at university.


His thesis deals with many themes including language, existence, justice, salvation and the institutionalized.

''Their degeneration is called civil education, their hunger is the activity of progress, their fear is morality, their violence and egoistic hatred—the sword of justice.''

This is the exitless circle of illusory individuality, which affirms a persona, an end, a reason: inadequate persuasion, in that it is adequate only to the world it creates for itself

According to him no one has the right to live, unless one regains life after being given life. To create something from inside one's self, to not be dependent and to not commit violence but give not for one's sake, but for other's sake. This, however is considered impossible to him, since man in his nature is lacking, and something that is lacking can never be complete. His vision of the complete being is one who is not affected by time, who is complete, has no need for anything.

Life as a need - If life were complete according to him, it would not exist, it would vanish on the spot.

Michelstaedter's will extends beyond the will of the subject to include the subject's state of need. Will is the phenomenological manner in which the subject interprets the world propelled by his state of need; it is a state of dissatisfaction that leads him to situate his momentary will/need as the basis of his entire interpretation of reality. In the moment of need, the subject reads all of reality according to the characteristics of his own needs.

When this mechanism is extended from the individual to the whole of society, the result is what Michelstaedter describes as " correlativity ", that is, a system of contrasting wills that leads individuals to see everything contained in the real( including other subjects ) in relation to their own needs, and thus as objects to be annexed for their "usefulness".


  • Il dialogo della salute (1909), edited by Sergio Campailla. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 1988.
  • Poesie (1905–1910), edited by Sergio Campailla. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 1987
  • La persuasione e la rettorica, translated as Persuasion and Rhetoric with an introduction and commentary by Russell Scott Valentino, Cinzia Sartini Blum, and David J. Depew (Yale University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-300-10434-0)
  • La persuasione e la rettorica – Appendici critiche, edited by Sergio Campailla. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 1995.
  • Epistolario, edited by Sergio Campailla. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 1983.
  • Diario e scritti vari
  • Opere, edited by G. Chiavacci, Sansoni, Firenze 1958
  • Scritti scolastici, edited by Sergio Campailla, Gorizia 1976
  • Parmenide ed Eraclito. Empedocle : Appunti di filosofia, edited by Alfonso Cariolato and Enrico Fongaro. Milano: SE, 2003.
  • Another English translation of La Persuasione e La Rettorica exists, by Wilhelm Snyman and Giuseppe Stellardi, with an introduction by Giuseppe Stellardi, published by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, South Africa, January 2007. Preface by Wilhelm Snyman. ISBN 978-1-86914-091-5.
  • La melodia del giovane divino, edited by Sergio Campailla. Milano: Adelphi Edizioni, 2010.


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