Nietzsche contra Wagner
All of the following chapters have been selected, not without caution, from my older writings—some go back all the way to 1877—perhaps clarified here and there, above all, shortened. Read consecutively, they will leave no doubt either about Richard Wagner or about me: we are antipodes. Yet other things will also become clear, for example, that this is an essay for psychologists, but not for Germans . . . I have my readers everywhere, in Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in Copenhagen and Stockholm, in Paris, in New York—I do not have them in Germany, Europe’s lowland . . . And perhaps I could also say a word in the ear of my good Italians, whom I love, just as much as myself . . . Quousque tandem, Crispi**. . . Triple alliance: with the Reich an intelligent people can only enter a mésalliance . . .
Turin, Christmas 1888
**“How far, for heaven’s sake, Crispi”; Francesco Crispi (1818-1901), Italian prime minister (1887-91; 1893-96).
I believe that artists often do not know what they can do best: they are too vain. They are intent on something prouder than these small plants seem to be which grow on their soil, new, strange and beautiful, in real perfection. What is ultimately good in their own garden and vineyard they esteem lightly, and their love and insight are not equal. There is a musician who, more than any other musician, is a master at finding the tones in the realm of suffering, depressed, and tortured souls, at giving language even to mute misery. None can equal him in the colors of late fall, oh the indescribably moving happiness of the last, truly last, truly shortest joy; he knows a sound for those quiet, disquieting midnights of the soul, where cause and effect seem to be out of joint and where at any moment something might originate “out of nothing.” He draws most happily of all out of the profoundest depth of human happiness, and, as it were, out of its drained goblet, where the bitterest and most repulsive drops have finally and evilly run together with the sweetest. He knows that weariness of the soul which drags itself, unable to leap or fly any more, even to walk; he masters the shy glance of concealed pain, of understanding without comfort, of the farewell without confession—indeed, as the Orpheus of all secret misery he is greater than any; and some things have been added to the realm of art by him alone, things that had hitherto seemed inexpressible and even unworthy of art—the cynical rebellion, for example, of which only those are capable who suffer most bitterly; also some very minute and microscopic aspects of the soul, as it were the scales of its amphibian nature: indeed, he is the master of the very minute. But he does not want to be that. His character prefers large walls and audacious frescoes . . . It escapes him that his spirit has a different taste and inclination—the opposite perspective—and prefers to sit quietly in the nooks of collapsed houses: there, hidden, hidden from himself, he paints his real masterpieces, all of which are very short, often only one beat long—only then does he become wholly good, great, and perfect, perhaps there alone. Wagner is one who has suffered deeply—that is his distinction above other musicians. I admire Wagner wherever he puts himself into music.—
This does not mean that I consider this music healthy—least of all precisely where it speaks of Wagner. My objections to the music of Wagner are physiological objections: why should I trouble to dress them up in aesthetic formulas? After all, aesthetics is nothing but a kind of applied physiology.— My “fact,” my petit fait vrai, is that I no longer breathe easily when this music begins to affect me; that my foot soon resents it and rebels: my foot feels the need for rhythm, dance, march—to Wagner’s “Kaisermarsch” not even the young German Kaiser could march—it demands of music first of all those delights which are found in good walking, striding, dancing. But does not my stomach protest too? my heart? my circulation? Are not my entrails saddened? Do I not suddenly become hoarse? . . . To listen to Wagner I need pastilles Gérandel . . . And so I ask myself: What is it that my whole body really expects of music? For there is no soul . . . I believe, its own ease: as if all animal functions should be quickened by easy, bold, exuberant, self-assured rhythms; as if iron, leaden life should lose its gravity through golden, tender, oil-smooth melodies. My melancholy wants to rest in the hiding-places and abysses of perfection: that is why I need music. But Wagner makes sick.— What is the theater to me? What, the convulsions of his “moral” ecstasies which give the people—and who is not “people”!—satisfaction! What, the whole gesture hocus-pocus of the actor! It is plain that I am essentially anti-theatrical: confronted with the theater, this mass art par excellence, I feel that profound scorn at the bottom of my soul which every artist today feels. Success in the theater—with that one drops in my respect forever; failure—I prick up my ears and begin to respect . . . But Wagner was the other way around; besides the Wagner who made the loneliest music in existence, he was essentially also a man of the theater and an actor, the most enthusiastic mimomaniac, perhaps, who ever existed, even as a musician . . . And, incidentally, if it was Wagner’s theory that “the drama is the end, the music is always a mere means,” his practice was always, from beginning to end, “the pose is the end; the drama, also the music, is always merely its means.” Music as a means to clarify, strengthen, and lend inward dimension to the dramatic gesture and the actor’s appeal to the senses—and the Wagnerian drama, a mere occasion for many interesting poses! Besides all other instincts, he had the commanding instincts of a great actor in absolutely everything: and, as already mentioned, also as a musician.— Once there was a Wagnerian pur sang to whom I made this clear, not without trouble—clarity and Wagnerian! Not another word is needed. There were reasons then for adding: “Do be a little more honest with yourself. After all, we are not in Bayreuth. In Bayreuth one is honest only in the mass; as an individual one lies, one lies to oneself. One leaves oneself at home when one goes to Bayreuth; one renounces the right to one’s own tongue and choice, to one’s taste, even to one’s courage as one has it and exercises it between one’s own four walls against both God and world. No one brings along the finest senses of his art to the theater, least of all the artist who works for the theater—solitude is lacking; whatever is perfect suffers no witnesses . . . In the theater one becomes people, herd, female, Pharisee, voting cattle, patron, idiot—Wagnerian: even the most personal conscience is vanquished by the leveling magic of the great number; the neighbor reigns, one becomes a mere neighbor . . .
The intention pursued by recent music with what is now vigorously, but not at all clearly, called “infinite melody,” can be clarified by an illustration. One walks into the sea, gradually loses one’s secure footing, and finally surrenders oneself to the elements without reservation: one must swim. In older music, what one had to do in the dainty, or solemn, or fiery back and forth, quicker and slower, was something quite different, namely, to dance. The measure required for this, the maintenance of certain equally balanced units of time and force, demanded continual wariness of the listener’s soul—and on the counterplay of this cooler breeze that came from wariness and the warm breath of enthusiasm rested the magic of all good music. Richard Wagner wanted a different kind of movement; he overthrew the physiological presupposition of previous music. Swimming, floating—no longer walking and dancing . . . Perhaps the decisive point has now been stated. The “infinite melody” seeks deliberately to break all evenness of time and force and even scorns it occasionally; the wealth of its invention lies precisely in that which to an older ear sounds like a rhythmic paradox and blasphemy. The imitation or domination of such a taste would result in a danger to music which cannot be exaggerated: the complete degeneration of rhythmic feeling, chaos in place of rhythm . . . This danger reaches its climax when such music leans more and more heavily on a wholly naturalistic style of acting and gestures, which is no longer dominated by any law of plasticity and wants effect, nothing more . . . Espressivo at any price, and music in the service, the slavery, of poses—that is the end . . .
What? Should it really be the supreme virtue of a performance, as the virtuosos of musical performance now seem to believe, that one must under all circumstances achieve an hautrelief which is simply unsurpassable? Is not this, when applied to Mozart, for example, the true sin against the spirit of Mozart—the cheerful, enthusiastic, tender, enamored spirit of Mozart, who was happily no German and whose seriousness is a gracious, a golden, seriousness and not the seriousness of a German Philistine? . . . Not to speak of the seriousness of the “Stone Guest” [“Don Giovanni”] . . . But apparently you think all music is like the music of the “Stone Guest”—all music must leap out of the wall and shake the Listener to his very intestines . . . Only then you consider music effective. But on whom are such effects achieved? On those whom a noble artist should never impress: on the mass, on the immature, on the blasé, on the sick, on the idiots, on Wagnerians!
Music makes its appearance as the last plant among all the arts which grow on the soil of a particular culture—perhaps because it is the most inward and hence arrives last, in the fall, when the culture which belongs to it is fading. Only in the art of the Dutch masters did the soul of the Christian Middle Ages attain its last vibrations: their tone architecture is the posthumous, but legitimate and equal sister of the Gothic. Only in Handel’s music did there resound what was best in the souls of Luther and those related to him, the Jewish heroic trait that gave the Reformation a trait of greatness—the Old Testament become music, not the New. Only Mozart transformed the age of Louis XIV and the art of Racine and Claude Lorrain into ringing gold; only in the music of Beethoven and Rossini did the eighteenth century sing itself out—the century of enthusiasm, of broken ideals, and of evanescent happiness. All true, all original music, is a swan song. Perhaps our latest music too, however dominant and domineering it is, has but a short span of tune ahead of it: for it developed out of a culture whose soil is rapidly sinking—a culture which will soon have sunk out of sight. A certain catholicism of feeling and a delight in some old indigenous, so-called “national” sense and nonsense are its presuppositions. Wagner’s appropriation of old sagas and songs, which scholarly prejudice had held up as something Teutonic par excellence—today we laugh at that—his reanimation of those Scandinavian monsters with a thirst for ecstatic sensuality and desensualization—this whole give-and-take of Wagner concerning materials, figures, passions, and nerves clearly expresses the spirit of his music too, supposing that this, like any music, could not speak of itself except ambiguously: for music is a woman . . . We must not allow ourselves to be deceived about this state of affairs simply because at the moment we happen to live in a period of reaction within reaction. The age of national wars, of ultramontane martyrdom, this whole entr’acte character of the current situation in Europe may indeed help such an art as Wagner’s to a sudden glory, without thereby guaranteeing it a future. The Germans themselves have no future . . .
It may perhaps be recalled, at least among my friends, that at first I approached the modern world with a few errors and overestimations, in any case, full of hopes. I understood—who knows on the basis of what personal experiences?—the philosophic pessimism of the nineteenth century as a symptom of a greater strength of thought, of a more triumphant fullness of life, than had found expression in the philosophy of Hume, Kant, and Hegel: I took tragic insight for the most beautiful luxury of our culture, for its most precious, noblest, most dangerous kind of squandering—but nevertheless, in view of its excessive wealth, as a permissible luxury. Similarly, I interpreted Wagner’s music as an expression of a Dionysian power of the soul; I believed I heard in it the earthquake with which a primordial force of life, dammed up from time immemorial, finally vents itself, indifferent to the possibility that everything that calls itself culture today might start tottering. It is plain what I misunderstood in, equally plain what I read into, Wagner and Schopenhauer—myself . . . Every art, every philosophy, may be considered a remedy and aid in the service of either growing or declining life: it always presupposes suffering and sufferers. But there are two kinds of sufferers: first, those who suffer from the overfullness of life and want a Dionysian art as well as a tragic insight and outlook on life—and then those who suffer from the impoverishment of life and demand of art and philosophy, calm, stillness, smooth seas, or, on the other hand, frenzy, convulsion, and anesthesia. Revenge against life itself—the most voluptuous kind of frenzy for those so impoverished! . . . Wagner responds to this dual need of the latter no less than Schopenhauer: they negate life, they slander it, hence they are my antipodes. He that is richest in the fullness of life, the Dionysian god and man, can afford not only the sight of the terrible and the questionable, but even the terrible deed and any luxury of destruction, decomposition, and negation: in his case, what is evil, senseless, and ugly seems, as it were, permissible, as it seems permissible in nature, because of an excess of procreating, restoring powers which can yet turn every desert into luxurious farm land. Conversely, those who suffer most and are poorest in life would need mildness, peacefulness, and goodness most—what is today called humaneness—in thought as well as in deed, and, if possible, a god who would be truly a god for the sick, a healer and savior; also logic, the conceptual understandability of existence even for idiots—the typical “free spirits,” like the “idealists” and “beautiful souls,” are all decadents—in short, a certain warm, fear-repulsing narrowness and enclosure within optimistic horizons which permit hebetation . . . Thus I gradually learned to understand Epicurus, the opposite of a Dionysian Greek; also the Christian, who is, in fact, only a kind of Epicurean, and, with his “faith makes blessed,” follows the principle of hedonism as far as possible, far beyond any intellectual integrity . . . If there is anything in which I am ahead of all psychologists, it is that my eye is sharper for that most difficult and captious kind of backward inference in which the most mistakes are made: the backward inference from the work to the maker, from the deed to the doer, from the ideal to him who needs it, from every way of thinking and valuing to the want behind it that prompts it.— Regarding artists of all kinds, I now avail myself of this main distinction: is it the hatred against life or the excess of life which has here become creative? In Goethe, for example, the excess became creative; in Flaubert, hatred: Flaubert—a new edition of Pascal, but as an artist, with the instinctive judgment deep down: “Flaubert est tonjours haïssable, l’homme n’est rien, l’oeuvre est tout.” [“Flaubert is always hateful, man is nothing, work is everything.“] He tortured himself when he wrote, just as Pascal tortured himself when he thought; they were both unegoistic. “Selflessness”—the principle of decadence, the will to the end, in art as well as in morals.—
Even now France is still the seat of the most spiritual and refined culture in Europe and the foremost school of taste: but one must know where to find this “France of taste.” The Norddeutsche Zeitung, for example, or whoever uses this newspaper as a mouthpiece, considers the French “barbarians”; I, for my own part, look for the Dark Continent, where the “slaves” ought to be freed, in the vicinity of the North Germans . . . Whoever belongs to that France keeps himself well concealed: it may be a small number in whom it lives and continues, and at that, perhaps human beings who are not among the sturdiest: partly fatalists, somber and sick, partly pampered and artificial, such as have the ambition to be artificial—but they possess everything high and delicate that is still left in this world. In this France of the spirit, which is also the France of pessimism, Schopenhauer is even now more at home than he has ever been in Germany; his main work has already been translated twice, the second time excellently, so that I now prefer to read Schopenhauer in French (he was an accident among Germans, as I am such an accident; the Germans have no fingers for us, they have no fingers altogether, they have only paws). Not to speak of Heinrich Heine—adorable Heine, they say in Paris—who has long become part of the very flesh and blood of the more profound and soulful lyrical poets in France. How could German oxen be anything but dumfounded by the délicatesses of such a nature!— As regards Richard Wagner, finally, it is so plain that one could grasp it with the hands, though perhaps not with fists, that Paris is the real soil for Wagner: the more French music develops according to the needs of the “âme moderne,” the more it will Wagnerize—in fact, that is what it is doing even now. We must not let ourselves be led astray about this by Wagner himself: it was real badness in Wagner to mock Paris in its agony in 1871 . . . In Germany, Wagner is nevertheless merely a misunderstanding: who could be more incapable of understanding Wagner than, for example, the young Kaiser? It remains a certain fact for anyone familiar with European cultural movements that French romanticism and Richard Wagner belong together most closely. All dominated by literature right into their eyes and ears—the first artists in Europe to have an education in world literature—in most cases, themselves writers, poets, mediators, and mixers of the senses and the arts; all fanatics of expression, great discoverers in the realm of the sublime, also of the ugly and the horrible, still greater dicoverers in the sphere of effects and spectacular displays, in the art of display windows; all talents far beyond their genius—virtuosos through and through, with uncanny access to everything that seduces, lures, forces, overthrows, born enemies of logic and of the straight line, covetous of the strange, the exotic, the tremendous, and all opiates of the senses and the understanding. On the whole, an audaciously daring, magnificently violent, high-soaring, and high-sweeping type of artist, they alone have taught their century—it is the century of the mass—the concept of the.”artist.” But sick . . .
—Is this still German?
Out of a German heart, this torrid screeching?
A German body, this self-laceration?
German, this priestly-affectation,
This incense-smelling lurid-preaching?
German, this plunging, halting, reeling,
This sugar-sweetish bim-bam pealing?
This nunnish-ogling, Ave-leavening,
This whole falsely ecstatic heaven over-heavening? . . .
Is this still German?
Consider! Stay! You are perplexed? . . .
That which you hear is Rome—Rome’s faith without the text!
There is no necessary opposition between sensuality and chastity; every good marriage, every love affair, that comes from the heart is beyond this opposition. But in a case in which this opposition really exists, fortunately it need by no means be a tragic opposition. This would seem to hold at least for all the better turned out, more cheerful mortals, who are far from counting their labile balance between angel and petite bête as necessarily among the objections to existence: the finest, the brightest, like Hafiz, like Goethe, have even considered this one attraction more . . . Such contradictions actually seduce to existence . . . On the other hand, it is only too easy to understand that, should those whom misfortune has changed into the animals of Circe ever be brought to the point of adoring chastity, they will see only their own opposite in it and will adore it—oh, with what tragic grunting and fervor one can imagine! And at the end of his life Richard Wagner undeniably wanted to set this embarrassing and perfectly superfluous opposition to music and produce it on the stage. Why? we are entitled to ask.
At this point, of course, we cannot escape another question: What could that male (yet so unmasculine) “innocence from the country,” really be to him, that poor devil and child of nature, Parsifal, whom Wagner finally makes a Catholic by such captious means? How now? Was this Parsifal meant at all seriously? For, that he has been laughed at, I would certainly be in no position to dispute, nor would Gottfried Keller . . . I should really wish that the Wagnerian Parsifal were intended as a prank—as the epilogue and satyr play, as it were, with which the tragedian Wagner wanted to say farewell in a fitting manner worthy of himself—to us, to himself, and above all to tragedy, with an excessive, sublimely wanton parody on the tragic itself, on all the former horrid earthly seriousness and earthly misery, on the most stupid form, overcome at long last, of the anti-nature of the ascetic ideal. After all, Parsifal is operetta material par excellence . . . Is Wagner’s Parsifal his secretly superior laughter at himself, the triumph of his ultimate artistic freedom, his artistic non plus ultra—Wagner able to laugh at himself? . . . Clearly, one should wish that; for what would Parsifal amount to if intended as a serious piece? Must we really see in it (as somebody has expressed it against me) “the abortion gone mad of a hatred of knowledge, spirit, and sensuality”? A curse on the senses and the spirit in a single hatred and breath? An apostasy and reversion to sickly Christian and obscurantist ideals? And in the end even self-abnegation, a self-crossing-out on the part of an artist who had previously aimed at the very opposite of this, striving with all the power of his will to achieve the highest spiritualization and sensualization in his art? And not only in his art, but also in his life. We should remember how enthusiastically Wagner once followed in the footsteps of the philosopher Feuerbach. In the thirties and forties, Feuerbach’s slogan of “healthy sensuality” sounded to Wagner, as to many other Germans—they called themselves the young Germans—like the words of redemption. Had he learned differently in the end? For it seems, at least, that he finally had the will to teach differently . . . Did the hatred against life become dominant in him, as in Flaubert? . . . For Parsifal is a work of perfidy, of vindictiveness, of a secret attempt to poison the presuppositions of life—a bad work. The preaching of chastity remains an incitement to anti-nature: I despise everyone who does not experience Parsifal as an attempted assassination of basic ethics.
By the summer of 1876, during the time of the first Festspiele, I said farewell to Wagner in my heart. I suffer no ambiguity; and since Wagner had moved to Germany, he had condescended step by step to everything I despise—even to anti-Semitism . . . It was indeed high time to say farewell: soon after, I received the proof. Richard Wagner, apparently most triumphant, but in truth a decaying and despairing decadent, suddenly sank down, helpless and broken, before the Christian cross . . . Did no German have eyes in his head or pity in his conscience for this horrid spectacle? Was I the only one whom it pained?— Enough; this unexpected event struck me like lightning and gave me clarity about the place I had left—and also that shudder which everybody feels after he has unconsciously passed through a tremendous danger. As I proceeded alone I trembled; not long after, I was sick, more than sick, namely, weary—weary from the inevitable disappointment about everything that is left to us modem men for enthusiasm, about the universally wasted energy, work, hope, youth, love—weary from nausea at the whole idealistic lie and pampering of the conscience, which had here triumphed once again over one of the bravest—weary, finally and not least of all, from the grief aroused by an inexorable suspicion that I was henceforth sentenced to mistrust more profoundly, to despise more profoundly, to be more profoundly alone than ever before. For I had had nobody except Richard Wagner . . . — I have always been sentenced to Germans.
Lonely henceforth and badly mistrustful of myself, I then took sides, not without indignation, against myself and for everything that hurt and was hard just for me: thus I found the way again to that courageous pessimism which is the opposite of an idealistic mendaciousness, and also, it seems to me, the way to myself, to my task . . . That hidden and masterful something for which we long do not have a name, until finally it proves itself to be our task—this tyrant in us wreaks horrible revenge for every attempt we make to dodge or escape it, for every premature resignation, for every acceptance of equality with those among whom we do not belong, for every activity, however respectable, which distracts us from our main cause—indeed, for every virtue which would protect us from the hardness of our innernost responsibility. Every time, sickness is the response when we want to doubt our right to our task, when we begin to make things easier for ourselves in any way. Strange and at the same time terrible! It is the easing of our burden which we must atone most harshly! And if we want to return to health afterward, we have no choice: we must assume a heavier burden than we ever carried before . . .
The more a psychologist—a born and inevitable psychologist and unriddler of souls—applies himself to the more exquisite cases and human beings, the greater becomes the danger that he might suffocate of pity. He needs hardness and cheerfulness more than anyone else. For the corruption, the destruction of the higher men is the rule: it is temble constantly to have such a rule before one’s eyes. The manifold torture of the psychologist who has discovered this corruption, who discovers this whole inner “haplessness” of the higher man, this eternal “Too late!” in every sense, first in one case and then almost always again through the whole of history—one day this may perhaps bring about his own corruption . . . In almost every psychologist one will perceive a telltale preference for association with everyday, well ordered people: this reveals that he always requires a cure, that he needs a kind of escape and forgetting, away from all that with which his insights, his incisions, his craft, burden his conscience. He is characterized by fear of his memory. He is easily silenced by the judgments of others; he listens with an immobile face as they venerate, admire, love, and transfigure where he has seen—or he even conceals his silence by explicitly agreeing with some foreground opinion. Perhaps the paradox of his situation is so horrible that the “educated,’ on their part, learn the greatest veneration precisely where he has learned the greatest pity coupled with the greatest contempt . . . And who knows whether what happened in all great cases was not simply this—that one adored a god, and that the god was merely a poor sacrificial animal . . . Success has always been the greatest liar—and the work, the deed too, is a success . . . The great statesman, the conqueror, the discoverer is disguised by his creations, concealed beyond recognition; it is the work, of the artist as of the philosophers, that invents—the man who has created it, who is supposed to have created it . . . “Great men,” as they are venerated, are subsequent pieces of wretched minor fiction: in the world of historical values, counterfeit rules . . .
—Those great poets, for example, men like Byron, Musset, Poe, Leopardi, Kleist, Gogol—I do not dare mention far greater names, but I mean them—are and must be men of the moment, sensual, absurd, fivefold, irresponsible, and sudden in mistrust and trust; with souls in which they must usually conceal some fracture; often taking revenge with their works for some inner contamination, often seeking with their high flights to escape into forgetfulness from an all-too-faithful memory; idealists from the vicinity of swamps—what torture are these great artists and all the so-called higher men for him who has guessed their true nature! . . . We are all advocates of the mediocre . . . It is easy to understand that it is woman—clairvoyant in the world of suffering, and, unfortunately, also desirous far beyond her strength to help and to save who so readily accords these men those outbreaks of infinite pity on which the mass, particularly the venerating mass, then lavish inquisitive and self-satisfied interpretations . . . This pity regularly deceives itself about its own strength: woman would like to believe that love can achieve everything—it is her characteristic superstition. Alas, whoever knows the heart will guess how poor, helpless, arrogant, and mistaken is even the best, the profoundest love—how it even destroys rather than saves.
—The spiritual nausea and haughtiness of every human being who has suffered deeply—how deeply one can suffer almost determines the order of rank—his shuddering certainty, which permeates and colors him through and through, that by virtue of his suffering he knows more than the cleverest and wisest could possibIy know, and that he knows his way and has once been at home in many distant, terrifying worlds of which “you know nothing” . . . this spiritual and silent haughtiness, this pride of the elect of cognition, of the “initiated,” of the almost sacrificed, finds all kinds of disguise necessary to protect itself against contact with officious and pitying hands, and against everything that is not a peer in suffering. Deep suffering makes noble; it separates.— One of the finest disguises is Epicureanism, and a certain ostentatious courage of taste which takes suffering glibly and wards off everything sad and deep. There are “cheerful people” who employ cheerfulness in order to be misunderstood—they want to be misunderstood. There are “scientific spirits” who employ science because it gives a cheerful appearance, and because scientism suggests that a man is superficial—they want to seduce others to such a false inference . . . There are free, impudent spirits who would like to conceal and deny that at bottom they are broken, incurable hearts—the case of Hamlet: and then even foolishness can be the mask for an unblessed all-too-certain certainty.
I have often asked myself whether I am not more heavily obligated to the hardest years of my life than to any others. As my inmost nature teaches me, whatever is necessary as seen from the heights and in the sense.of a great economy—is also the useful par excellence: one should not only bear it, one should love it. Amor fati: that is my inmost nature. And as for my long sickness, do I not owe it indescnbably more than I owe to my health? I owe it a higher health—one which is made stronger by whatever does not kill it. I also owe my philosophy to it. Only great pain is the ultimate liberator of the spirit, as the teacher of great suspicion which turns every U into an X, a real, genuine X, that is, the letter before the penultirnate one. Only great pain, that long, slow pain in which we are burned with green wood, as it were—pain which takes its time only this forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put away all trust, all good-naturedness, all that would veil, all mildness, all that is medium things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such a pain makes us “better,” but I know that it makes us more profound.
Whether we learn to pit our pride, our scorn, our will power against it, equaling the American Indian who, however tortured, evens the score with his torturer by the malice of his tongue; or whether we withdraw from pain into that Nothing, into mute, rigid, deaf resignation, self-forgetting, self-extinction: out of such long and dangerous exercises of self-mastery one emerges as a different person, with a few more question marks—above all, with the will to question more persistently, more deeply, severely, harshly, evilly, and quietly than has ever been questioned on this earth before. The trust in life is gone; life itself has become a problem. Yet one should not jump to the conclusion that with all this a man has necessarily become dusky, a barn owl. Even the love of life is still possible—only, one loves differently. It is the love for a woman who raises doubts in us.
What is strangest is this: afterward one has a different taste—a second taste. Out of such abysses, also out of the abyss of great suspicion, one returns newborn, having shed one’s skin, more ticklish and sarcastic, with a more delicate taste for joy, with a more tender tongue for all good things, with gayer senses, with a second dangerous innocence in joy, more childlike and yet a hundred tunes more subtle than one has ever been before.
How repulsive pleasure is now, that crude, musty, brown pleasure as it is understood by those who like pleasure, our “educated” people, our rich people, and our rulers! How sarcastically we listen now to the big county-fair boom-boom with which the “educated” person and city dweller today permits art, books, and music to rape him and provide “spiritual pleasures”—with the aid of spirituous liquors! How the theatrical scream of passion now hurts our ears, how strange to our taste the whole romantic uproar and tumult of the senses have become, which the educated rabble loves, and all its aspirations after the elevated, inflated, and exaggerated. No, if we who have recovered still need art, it is another kind of art—a mocking, light, fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art, which, like a pure flame, licks into unclouded skies. Above all, an art for artists, for artists only! We know better afterward what above all is needed for this: cheerfulness, any cheerfulness, my friends. There are a few things we now know too well, we knowing ones: oh, how we learn now to forget well, and to be good at not knowing, as artists!
And as for our future, one will hardly find us again on the paths of those Egyptian youths who endanger temples by night, embrace statues, and want by all means to unveil, uncover, and put into a bright light whatever is kept concealed for good reasons. No, this bad taste, this will to truth, to “truth at any price,” this youthful madness in the love of truth, have lost their charm for us: for that we are too experienced, too serious, too gay, too burned, too deep. We no longer believe that truth remains truth when the veils are withdrawn; we have lived enough not to believe this. Today we consider it a matter of decency not to wish to see everything naked, or to be present at everything, or to understand and “know” everything. Tout comprendre—est tout mépriser. [“To understand all is to despise all.”]
“Is it true that God is present everywhere?” a little girl asked her mother; “I think that’s indecent”—a hint for philosophers! One should have more respect for the bashfulness with which nature has hidden behind riddles and iridescent uncertainties. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not letting us see her reasons? Perhaps her name is—to speak Greek—Baubo?
Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial—out of profundity. And is not this precisely what we are again coming back to, we daredevils of the spirit who have climbed the highest and most dangerous peak of present thought and looked around from up there—we who have looked down from there? Are we not, precisely in this respect, Greeks? Adorers of forrns, of tones, of words? And therefore—artists?