July 5, 2012 Nietzsche

So many of us float through life like a ghost leaving behind no footprints.

I enjoy reading obituaries, not from some ghoulish pleasure, but because they are mini-biographies celebrating a life which would otherwise go publicly unnoticed. Certainly they are more hagiography than brutally accurate but they can be inspiring. A good example of this is the obituary of Robert Looker in the Los Angeles Times.

Looker was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, one of America’s richest communities, and he started in business working for his stepfather’s business. Silver spoon comes to mind. In 1968, he formed Satco, which created unit load devices (a fancy term for containers) for air cargo, which are used by FedEx, UPS, and many airlines worldwide.

He accumulated a series of notable homes designed by famous architects. In Montecito, California, near Santa Barbara, he owned “Villa Califia” (built by Gordon Kaufman, architect of the Greystone Mansion, Santa Anita, and the Los Angeles Times Building); and The Strand in Manhattan Beach, designed by architect Frederick Fisher.

All of this adds up to a fairly mundane business life, but some people have a surprising side to them. We assume a guy like Looker would have a predictable career path filled with business, country clubs and fashionable charities for some disease. But this is far from the case.

Looker studied and became engrossed with Friedrich Nietzsche; this ran against type since Nietzsche hardly qualifies as a business philosopher. Looker tried unsuccessfully for several years to create a chair of Nietzsche studies at a university, but frustrated with that, he funded the preservation and restoration of the philosopher’s personal notes and papers, which were in disarray and decay in the Nietzsche archives in Weimar, Germany. He imported expert technicians who went to work, and after long labors put everything in order, producing 45 volumes bound in gold-tooled leather, of all of Nietzsche’s published works (5 vols.), lecture notes (3 vols.), philosophical notebooks (24 vols.), memoranda (10 vols.), and musical compositions (3 vols.). An additional volume contained an index and description of the over 900 books in Nietzsche’s personal library. An exact duplicate of these volumes, and microfilms of all of the material, were donated by Looker to the New York Public Library in 2002.

Fortunes may be won or lost, but who becomes a beacon in the night? One day Looker’s business will dissolve, his “unit load devices” will be obsolete, and his homes will crumble into dust, but far into the future students of Nietzsche will think of him.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees
whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
— Greek Proverb