Human, all too Human
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE was born on October 15, 1844; studied philology; became in 1869, professor of philology at Basle; made the acquaintance of Richard Wagner and became warmly attached to him, and associated also with the distinguished historian of the Renaissance, Jakob Burkhardt. Nietzsche's admiration and affection for Burkhardt were lasting. His feeling for Wagner, on the other hand, underwent a complete revulsion in the course of years. From having been Wagner's prophet he developed into his most passionate opponent.
Nietzsche was always heart and soul a musician ; he even tried his hand as a composer in his Hymn to Life (for chorus and orchestra, 1888), and his intercourse with Wagner left deep traces in his earliest writings. But the opera of Parsifal, with its tendency to Catholicism and its advancement of the ascetic ideals which had previously been entirely foreign to Wagner, caused Nietzsche to see in the great composer a danger, an enemy, a morbid phenomenon, since this last work showed him all the earlier operas in a new light.
During his residence in Switzerland Nietzsche came to know a large circle of interesting people. He suffered, however, from extremely severe headaches, so frequent that they incapacitated him for about two hundred days in the year and brought him to the verge of the grave. In 1879 he resigned his professorship. From 1882 to 1888 his state of health improved, though extremely slowly. His eyes were still so weak that he was threatened with blindness. He was compelled to be extremely careful in his mode of life and to choose his place of residence in obedience to climatic and meteorological conditions. He usually spent the winter at Nice and the summer at Sils-Maria in the Upper Engadine. The years 1887 and 1888 were astonishingly rich in production ; they saw the publication of the most remarkable works of widely different nature and the preparation of a whole series of new books. Then, at the close of the latter year, perhaps as the result of overstrain, a violent attack of mental disorder occurred, from which Nietzsche never recovered.
As a thinker his starting-point is Schopenhauer ; in his first books he is actually his disciple. But, after several years of silence, during which he passes through his first intellectual crisis, he reappears emancipated from all ties of discipleship. He then undergoes so powerful and rapid a development less in his thought itself than in the courage to express his thoughts that each succeeding book marks a fresh stage, until by degrees he concentrates himself upon a single fundamental question, the question of moral values.
"So I was right in speaking of my "wandering in a world of wishes" when I dreamt of finding a true philosopher who could lift me from the slough of insufficiency, and teach me again simply and honestly—to be in my thoughts and life, in the deepest sense of the word, "out of season"; simply and honestly for men have now become such complicated machines that they must be dishonest, if they speak at all, or wish to act on their words. With such needs and desires within me did I come to know Schopenhauer."
- Nietzsche Quote, Schopenhauer as Educator
Four of Nietzsche's early works bear the collective title, Thoughts out of Season (Unzeitgemasse Betrachtungen), a title which is significant of his early-formed determination to go against the stream.
One of the fields in which he opposed the spirit of the age in Germany is that of education, since he condemns in the most uncompromising fashion the entire historical system of education of which Germany is proud, and which as a rule is everywhere regarded as desirable.
His view is that what keeps the race from breathing freely and willing boldly is that it drags far too much of its past about with it, like a round-shot chained to a convict's leg. He thinks it is historical education that fetters the race both in enjoyment and in action, since he who cannot concentrate himself on the moment and live entirely in it, can neither feel happiness himself nor do anything to make others happy. Without the power of feeling unhistorically, there is no happiness. And in the same way, forgetfulness, or, rather, non-knowledge of the past is essential to all action. Forgetfulness, the unhistorical, is as it were the enveloping air, the atmosphere, in which alone life can come into being. In order to understand it, let us imagine a youth who is seized with a passion for a woman, or a man who is swayed by a passion for his work. In both cases what lies behind them has ceased to exist and yet this state (the most unhistorical that can be imagined) is that in which every action, every great deed is conceived and accomplished. Now answering to this, says Nietzsche, there exists a certain degree of historical knowledge which is destructive of a man's energy and fatal to the productive powers of a nation.
The severe and painful illness, which began in his thirty-second year and long made him a recluse, detached him from all romanticism and freed his heart from all bonds of piety. It carried him far away from pessimism, in virtue of his proud thought that "a sufferer has no right to pessimism." This illness made a philosopher of him in a strict sense. His thoughts stole inquisitively along forbidden paths : This thing passes for a value. Can we not turn it upside-down ? This is regarded as good. Is it not rather evil ? Is not God refuted ? But can we say as much of the devil ? Are we not deceived ? and deceived deceivers, all of us ? . . .
And then out of this long sickliness arises a passionate desire for health, the joy of the convalescent in life, in light, in warmth, in freedom and ease of mind, in the range and horizon of thought, in "visions of new dawns," in creative capacity, in poetical strength. And he enters upon the lofty self-confidence and ecstasy of a long uninterrupted production.
Among Nietzsche's works there is a strange book which bears the title, Thus Spake zarathustra. It consists of four parts, written during the years 1883-85, each part in about ten days, and conceived chapter by chapter on long walks "with a feeling of inspiration, as though each sentence had been shouted in my ear," as Nietzsche wrote in a private letter.
The central figure and something of the form are borrowed from the Persian Avesta. zarathustra is the mystical founder of a religion whom we usually call Zoroaster. His religion is the religion of purity ; his wisdom is cheerful and dauntless, as that of one who laughed at his birth ; his nature is light and flame. The eagle and the serpent, who share his mountain cave, the proudest and the wisest of beasts, are ancient Persian symbols.
This work contains Nietzsche's doctrine in the form, so to speak, of religion. It is the Koran, or rather the Avesta, which he was impelled to leave obscure and profound, high-soaring and remote from reality, prophetic and intoxicated with the future, filled to the brim with the personality of its author, who again is entirely filled with himself.
zarathustra, is a book for free, spirits. Nietzsche himself gave this book the highest place among his writings. I do not share this view. The imaginative power which sustains it is not sufficiently inventive, and a certain monotony is inseparable from an archaistic presentment by means of types.
"I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star."
- Nietzsche quote, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
But it is a good book for those to have recourse to who are unable to master Nietzsche's purely speculative works ; it contains all his fundamental ideas in the form of poetic recital. Its merit is a style that from the first word to the last is full-toned, sonorous and powerful ; now and then rather unctuous in its combative judgments and condemnations ; always expressive of self-joy, nay, self-intoxication, but rich in subtleties as in audacities, sure, and at times great. Behind this style lies a mood as of calm mountain air, so light, so ethereally pure, that no infection, no bacteria can live in it no noise, no stench, no dust assails it, nor does any path lead up.
Clear sky above, open sea at the mountain's foot, and over all a heaven of light, an abyss of light, an azure bell, a vaulted silence above roaring waters and mighty mountain-chains. On the heights zarathustra is alone with himself, drawing in the pure air in full, deep breaths, alone with the rising sun, alone with the heat of noon, which does not impair the freshness, alone with the voices of the gleaming stars at night.
A good, deep book it is. A book that is bright in its joy of life, dark in its riddles, a book for spiritual mountain- climbers and dare-devils and for the few who are practised in the great contempt of man that loathes the crowd, and in the great love of man that only loathes so deeply because it has a vision of a higher, braver humanity, which it seeks to rear and train.
zarathustra has sought the refuge of his cave out of disgust with petty happiness and petty virtues. He has seen that men's doctrine of virtue and contentment makes them ever smaller : their goodness is in the main a wish that no one may do them any harm ; therefore they forestall the others by doing them a little good. This is cowardice and is called virtue. True, they are at the same time quite ready to attack and injure, but only those who are once for all at their mercy and with whom it is safe to take liberties. This is called bravery and is a still baser cowardice. But when zarathustra tries to drive out the cowardly devils in men, the cry is raised against him, "zarathustra is godless."
He is lonely, for all his former companions have become apostates ; their young hearts have grown old, and not old even, only weary and slothful, only commonplace and this they call becoming pious again. "Around light and liberty they once fluttered like gnats and young poets, and already are they mystifiers, and mumblers and molly coddles." They have understood their age. They chose their time well. "For now do all night-birds again fly abroad. Now is the hour of all that dread the light."
zarathustra loathes the great city as a hell for anchorites thoughts. "All lusts and vices are here at home ; but here are also the virtuous, much appointable and appointed virtue. Much appointable virtue with scribe-fingers and hardy sitting-flesh and waiting-flesh, blessed with little breast-stars and padded, haunchless daughters. Here is also much piety and much devout spittle-licking and honey- slavering before the God of hosts. For from on high drippeth the star and the gracious spittle ; and upward longeth every starless bosom."
To him the State is the coldest of all cold monsters.
Its fundamental lie is that it is the people. No ; creative spirits were they who created the people and gave it a faith and a love ; thus they served life ; every people is peculiar to itself, but the State is everywhere the same. The State is to zarathustra that "where the slow suicide of all is called life." The State is for the many too many. Only where the State leaves off does the man who is not superfluous begin ; the man who is a bridge to the Superman.
From states zarathustra has fled up to his mountain, into his cave.
"In the mountains, the shortest way is from peak to peak: but for that, you need long legs. Aphorisms should be peaks: and those to whom they are spoken, big and tall."
- Nietzsche Quote, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Part I, Chapter 7, "On Reading and Writing"
In forbearance and pity lay his greatest danger. Rich in the little lies of pity he dwelt among men.
"Stung from head to foot by poisonous flies and hollowed out like a stone by many drops of malice, thus did I sit among them, saying to myself : Innocent is everything petty of its pettiness. Especially they who call themselves the good, they sting in all innocence, they lie in all innocence ; how could they be just towards me ?"
"He who dwelleth among the good, him teacheth pity to lie. Pity breedeth bad air for all free souls. For the stupidity of the good is unfathomable."
"Their stiff wise men did I call wise, not stiff. Their grave-diggers did I call searchers and testers thus did I learn to confound speech. The grave-diggers dig for them selves diseases. From old refuse arise evil exhalations. Upon the mountains one should live."
And with blessed nostrils he breathes again the freedom of the mountains. His nose is now released from the smell of all that is human. There sits zarathustra with old broken tables of the law around him and new half-written tables, awaiting his hour ; the hour when the lion shall come with the flock of doves, strength in company with gentleness, to do homage to him. And he holds out to men a new table, upon which such maxims as these are written --
Spare not thy neighbour ! My great love for the remotest ones commands it. Thy neighbour is something that must be surpassed.
Say not : I will do unto others as I would they should do unto me. What thou doest, that can no man do to thee again. There is no requital.
Do not believe that thou mayst not rob. A right which thou canst seize upon, shalt thou never allow to be given thee.
No doctrine revolts zarathustra more than that of the vanity and senselessness of life. This is in his eyes ancient babbling, old wives babbling. And the pessimists who sum up life with a balance of aversion, and assert the badness of existence, are the objects of his positive loathing. He prefers pain to annihilation.
At his death zarathustra will say : Now I disappear and die ; in a moment I shall be nothing, for the soul is mortal as the body; but the complex of causes in which I am involved will return, and it will continually reproduce me.
Human all too human
Assorted Opinions and Maxims
The Wanderer and His Shadow
The Gay Science
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Beyond Good and Evil
The Birth of Tragedy
Twilight of the Idols
The Will to Power
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