Ecce Homo

Page 8 of 30


To the most exceptional of my readers I should like to say just one word about what I really exact from music. It must be cheerful and yet profound, like an October afternoon. It must be original, exuberant, and tender, and like a dainty, soft woman in roguishness and grace ... I shall never admit that a German can understand what music is. Those musicians who are called German, the greatest and most famous foremost, are all foreigners, either Slavs, Croats, Italians, Dutchmen—or Jews; or else, like Heinrich Schtz, Bach, and Hndel, they are Germans of a strong race which is now extinct. For my own part, I have still enough of the Pole left in me to let all other music go, if only I can keep Chopin. For three reasons I would except Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, and perhaps also one or two things of Liszt, who excelled all other musicians in the noble tone of his orchestration; and finally everything that has been produced beyond the Alps—this side of the Alps.[3] I could not possibly dispense with Rossini, and still less with my Southern soul in music, the work of my Venetian maestro, Pietro Gasti. And when I say beyond the Alps, all I really mean is Venice. If I try to find a new word for music, I can never find any other than Venice. I know not how to draw any distinction[Pg 46] between tears and music. I do not know how to think either of joy, or of the south, without a shudder of fear.

On the bridge I stood
Lately, in gloomy night.
Came a distant song:
In golden drops it rolled
Over the glittering rim away.
Music, gondolas, lights—
Drunk, swam far forth in the gloom....

A stringed instrument, my soul,
Sang, imperceptibly moved,
A gondola song by stealth,
Gleaming for gaudy blessedness.
—Hearkened any thereto?


In all these things—in the choice of food, place, climate, and recreation—the instinct of self-preservation is dominant, and this instinct manifests itself with least ambiguity when it acts as an instinct of defence. To close one's eyes to much, to seal one's ears to much, to keep certain things at a distance—this is the first principle of prudence, the first proof of the fact that a man is not an accident but a necessity. The popular word for this instinct of defence is taste. A man's imperative command is not only to say "no" in cases where "yes" would be a sign of "disinterestedness," but also to say "no" as seldom as possible. One must part with all that which compels one to repeat "no," with ever greater frequency. The rationale of this principle is that all discharges of[Pg 47] defensive forces, however slight they may be, involve enormous and absolutely superfluous losses when they become regular and habitual. Our greatest expenditure of strength is made up of those small and most frequent discharges of it. The act of keeping things off, of holding them at a distance, amounts to a discharge of strength,—do not deceive yourselves on this point!—and an expenditure of energy directed at purely negative ends. Simply by being compelled to keep constantly on his guard, a man may grow so weak as to be unable any longer to defend himself. Suppose I were to step out of my house, and, instead of the quiet and aristocratic city of Turin, I were to find a German provincial town, my instinct would have to brace itself together in order to repel all that which would pour in upon it from this crushed-down and cowardly world. Or suppose I were to find a large German city—that structure of vice in which nothing grows, but where every single thing, whether good or bad, is squeezed in from outside. In such circumstances should I not be compelled to become a hedgehog? But to have prickles amounts to a squandering of strength; they even constitute a twofold luxury, when, if we only chose to do so, we could dispense with them and open our hands instead....

Another form of prudence and self-defence consists in trying to react as seldom as possible, and to keep one's self aloof from those circumstances and conditions wherein one would be condemned, as it were, to suspend one's "liberty" and one's initiative, and become a mere reacting medium.[Pg 48] As an example of this I point to the intercourse with books. The scholar who, in sooth, does little else than handle books—with the philologist of average attainments their number may amount to two hundred a day—ultimately forgets entirely and completely the capacity of thinking for himself. When he has not a book between his fingers he cannot think. When he thinks, he responds to a stimulus (a thought he has read),—finally all he does is to react. The scholar exhausts his whole strength in saying either "yes" or "no" to matter which has already been thought out, or in criticising it—he is no longer capable of thought on his own account.... In him the instinct of self-defence has decayed, otherwise he would defend himself against books. The scholar is a decadent. With my own eyes I have seen gifted, richly endowed, and free-spirited natures already "read to ruins" at thirty, and mere wax vestas that have to be rubbed before they can give off any sparks—or "thoughts." To set to early in the morning, at the break of day, in all the fulness and dawn of one's strength, and to read a book—this I call positively vicious!


At this point I can no longer evade a direct answer to the question, how one becomes what one is. And in giving it, I shall have to touch upon that masterpiece in the art of self-preservation, which is selfishness. ... Granting that one's life-task—the determination and the fate of one's life-task—greatly exceeds the average measure of[Pg 49] such things, nothing more dangerous could be conceived than to come face to face with one's self by the side of this life-task. The fact that one becomes what one is, presupposes that one has not the remotest suspicion of what one is. From this standpoint even the blunders of one's life have their own meaning and value, the temporary deviations and aberrations, the moments of hesitation and of modesty, the earnestness wasted upon duties which lie outside the actual life-task. In these matters great wisdom, perhaps even the highest wisdom, comes into activity: in these circumstances, in which nosce teipsum would be the sure road to ruin, forgetting one's self, misunderstanding one's self, belittling one's self, narrowing one's self, and making one's self mediocre, amount to reason itself. Expressed morally, to love one's neighbour and to live for others and for other things may be the means of protection employed to maintain the hardest kind of egoism. This is the exceptional case in which I, contrary to my principle and conviction, take the side of the altruistic instincts; for here they are concerned in subserving selfishness and self-discipline. The whole surface of consciousness—for consciousness is a surface—must be kept free from any one of the great imperatives. Beware even of every striking word, of every striking attitude! They are all so many risks which the instinct runs of "understanding itself" too soon. Meanwhile the organising "idea," which is destined to become master, grows and continues to grow into the depths,—it begins to command, it leads you slowly back from your[Pg 50] deviations and aberrations, it prepares individual qualities and capacities, which one day will make themselves felt as indispensable to the whole of your task,—step by step it cultivates all the serviceable faculties, before it ever whispers a word concerning the dominant task, the "goal," the "object," and the "meaning" of it all. Looked at from this standpoint my life is simply amazing. For the task of transvaluing values, more capacities were needful perhaps than could well be found side by side in one individual; and above all, antagonistic capacities which had to be free from the mutual strife and destruction which they involve. An order of rank among capacities; distance; the art of separating without creating hostility; to refrain from confounding things; to keep from reconciling things; to possess enormous multifariousness and yet to be the reverse of chaos—all this was the first condition, the long secret work, and the artistic mastery of my instinct. Its superior guardianship manifested itself with such exceeding strength, that not once did I ever dream of what was growing within me—until suddenly all my capacities were ripe, and one day burst forth in all the perfection of their highest bloom. I cannot remember ever having exerted myself, I can point to no trace of struggle in my life; I am the reverse of a heroic nature. To "will" something, to "strive" after something, to have an "aim" or a "desire" in my mind—I know none of these things from experience. Even at this moment I look out upon my future—a broad future!—as upon a calm sea: no sigh of longing[Pg 51] makes a ripple on its surface. I have not the slightest wish that anything should be otherwise than it is: I myself would not be otherwise.... But in this matter I have always been the same. I have never had a desire. A man who, after his four-and-fortieth year, can say that he has never bothered himself about honours, women, or money!—not that they did not come his way.... It was thus that I became one day a University Professor—I had never had the remotest idea of such a thing; for I was scarcely four-and-twenty years of age. In the same way, two years previously, I had one day become a philologist, in the sense that my first philological work, my start in every way, was expressly obtained by my master Ritschl for publication in his Rheinisches Museum.[4] (Ritschl—and I say it in all reverence—was the only genial scholar that I have ever met. He possessed that pleasant kind of depravity which distinguishes us Thuringians, and which makes even a German sympathetic—even in the pursuit of truth we prefer to avail ourselves of roundabout ways. In saying this I do not mean to underestimate in any way my Thuringian brother, the intelligent Leopold von Ranke....)

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