Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

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Inspiration Again.—If the productive power has been suspended for a length of time, and has been hindered in its outflow by some obstacle, there comes at last such a sudden out-pouring, as if an immediate inspiration were taking place without previous inward working, consequently a miracle. This constitutes the familiar deception, in the continuance of which, as we have said, the interest of all artists is rather too much concerned. The capital has only accumulated, it has not suddenly fallen down from heaven. Moreover, such apparent inspirations are seen elsewhere, for instance in the realm of goodness, of virtue and of vice.


The Suffering of Genius and Its Value.—The artistic genius desires to give pleasure, but if his mind is on a very high plane he does not easily find any one to share his pleasure; he offers entertainment but nobody accepts it. This gives him, in certain circumstances, a comically touching pathos; for he has really no right to force pleasure on men. He pipes, but none will dance: can that be tragic? Perhaps.—As compensation for this deprivation, however, he finds more pleasure in[Pg 161] creating than the rest of mankind experiences in all other species of activity. His sufferings are considered as exaggerated, because the sound of his complaints is louder and his tongue more eloquent; and yet sometimes his sufferings are really very great; but only because his ambition and his envy are so great. The learned genius, like Kepler and Spinoza, is usually not so covetous and does not make such an exhibition of his really greater sufferings and deprivations. He can reckon with greater certainty on future fame and can afford to do without the present, whilst an artist who does this always plays a desperate game that makes his heart ache. In very rare cases, when in one and the same individual are combined the genius of power and of knowledge and the moral genius, there is added to the above-mentioned pains that species of pain which must be regarded as the most curious exception in the world; those extra- and super-personal sensations which are experienced on behalf of a nation, of humanity, of all civilisation, all suffering existence, which acquire their value through the connection with particularly difficult and remote perceptions (pity in itself is worth but little). But what standard, what proof is there for its genuineness? Is it not almost imperative to be mistrustful of all who talk of feeling sensations of this kind?


The Destiny of Greatness.—Every great phenomenon is followed by degeneration, especially[Pg 162] in the world of art. The example of the great tempts vainer natures to superficial imitation or exaggeration; all great gifts have the fatality of crushing many weaker forces and germs, and of laying waste all nature around them. The happiest arrangement in the development of an art is for several geniuses mutually to hold one another within bounds; in this strife it generally happens that light and air are also granted to the weaker and more delicate natures.


Art Dangerous For the Artist.—When art takes strong hold of an individual it draws him back to the contemplation of those times when art flourished best, and it has then a retrograde effect. The artist grows more and more to reverence sudden inspirations; he believes in gods and dmons, he spiritualises all nature, hates science, is changeable in his moods like the ancients, and longs for an overthrow of all existing conditions which are not favourable to art, and does this with the impetuosity and unreasonableness of a child. Now, in himself, the artist is already a backward nature, because he halts at a game that belongs properly to youth and childhood; to this is added the fact that he is educated back into former times. Thus there gradually arises a fierce antagonism between him and his contemporaries, and a sad ending; according to the accounts of the ancients, Homer and schylus spent their last years, and died, in melancholy.

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Created Individuals.—When it is said that the dramatist (and the artist above all) creates real characters, it is a fine deception and exaggeration, in the existence and propagation of which art celebrates one of its unconscious but at the same time abundant triumphs. As a matter of fact, we do not understand much about a real, living man, and we generalise very superficially when we ascribe to him this and that character; this very imperfect attitude of ours towards man is represented by the poet, inasmuch as he makes into men (in this sense "creates") outlines as superficial as our knowledge of man is superficial. There is a great deal of delusion about these created characters of artists; they are by no means living productions of nature, but are like painted men, somewhat too thin, they will not bear a close inspection. And when it is said that the character of the ordinary living being contradicts itself frequently, and that the one created by the dramatist is the original model conceived by nature, this is quite wrong. A genuine man is something absolutely necessary (even in those so-called contradictions), but we do not always recognise this necessity. The imaginary man, the phantasm, signifies something necessary, but only to those who understand a real man only in a crude, unnatural simplification, so that a few strong, oft-repeated traits, with a great deal of light and shade and half-light about them, amply satisfy their notions. They are, therefore, ready to treat the phantasm as a genuine, necessary[Pg 164] man, because with real men they are accustomed to regard a phantasm, an outline, an intentional abbreviation as the whole. That the painter and the sculptor express the "idea" of man is a vain imagination and delusion; whoever says this is in subjection to the eye, for this only sees the' surface, the epidermis of the human body,—the inward body, however, is equally a part of the idea. Plastic art wishes to make character visible on the surface; histrionic art employs speech for the same purpose, it reflects character in sounds. Art starts from the natural ignorance of man about his interior condition (in body and character); it is not meant for philosophers or natural scientists.


The Over-valuation of Self in the Belief in Artists and Philosophers.—We are all prone to think that the excellence of a work of art or of an artist is proved when it moves and touches us. But there our own excellence in judgment and sensibility must have been proved first, which is not the case. In all plastic art, who had greater power to effect a charm than Bernini, who made a greater effect than the orator that appeared after Demosthenes introduced the Asiatic style and gave it a predominance which lasted throughout two centuries? This predominance during whole centuries is not a proof of the excellence and enduring validity of a style; therefore we must not be too certain in our good opinion of any artist,—this is not only belief[Pg 165] in the truthfulness of our sensations but also in the infallibility of our judgment, whereas judgment or sensation, or even both, may be too coarse or too fine, exaggerated or crude. Neither are the blessings and blissfulness of a philosophy or of a religion proofs of its truth; just as little as the happiness which an insane person derives from his fixed idea is a proof of the reasonableness of this idea.

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