Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 37 of 70


The Rise of Genius.—The ingenuity with which a prisoner seeks the means of freedom, the most cold-blooded and patient employment of every smallest advantage, can teach us of what tools Nature sometimes makes use in order to produce Genius,—a word which I beg will be understood without any mythological and religious flavour; she, Nature, begins it in a dungeon and excites to the utmost its desire to free itself. Or to give another picture: some one who has completely lost his way in a wood, but who with unusual energy strives to reach the open in one direction or another, will sometimes discover a new path which nobody knew previously, thus arise geniuses, who are credited with originality. It has already been said that mutilation, crippling, or the loss of some important organ, is frequently the cause of the unusual development of another organ, because this one has to fulfil its own and also another function. This explains the source of many a brilliant[Pg 216] talent. These general remarks on the origin of genius may be applied to the special case, the origin of the perfect free spirit.


Conjecture As to the Origin of Free-spiritism.—Just as the glaciers increase when in equatorial regions the sun shines upon the seas with greater force than hitherto, so may a very strong and spreading free-spiritism be a proof that somewhere or other the force of feeling has grown extraordinarily.


The Voice of History.—In general, history appears to teach the following about the production of genius: it ill-treats and torments mankind—calls to the passions of envy, hatred, and rivalry—drives them to desperation, people against people, throughout whole centuries! Then, perhaps, like a stray spark from the terrible energy thereby aroused, there flames up suddenly the light of genius; the will, like a horse maddened by the rider's spur, thereupon breaks out and leaps over into another domain. He who could attain to a comprehension of the production of genius, and desires to carry out practically the manner in which Nature usually goes to work, would have to be just as evil and regardless as Nature itself. But perhaps we have not heard rightly.

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The Value of the Middle of the Road.—It is possible that the production of genius is reserved to a limited period of mankind's history. For we must not expect from the future everything that very defined conditions were able to produce; for instance, not the astounding effects of religious feeling. This has had its day, and much that is very? good can never grow again, because it could grow out of that alone. There will never again be a horizon of life and culture that is bounded by religion. Perhaps even the type of the saint is only possible with that certain narrowness of intellect, which apparently has completely disappeared. And thus the greatest height of intelligence has perhaps been reserved for a single age; it appeared—and appears, for we are still in that age—when an extraordinary, long-accumulated energy of will concentrates itself, as an exceptional case, upon intellectual aims. That height will no longer exist when this wildness and energy cease to be cultivated. Mankind probably approaches nearer to its actual aim in the middle of its road, in the middle time of its existence than at the end. It may be that powers with which, for instance, art is a condition, die out altogether; the pleasure in lying, in the undefined, the symbolical, in intoxication, in ecstasy might fall into disrepute. For certainly, when life is ordered in the perfect State, the present will provide no more motive for poetry, and it would only be those persons who had remained behind who would ask[Pg 218] for poetical unreality. These, then, would assuredly look longingly backwards to the times of the imperfect State, of half-barbaric society, to our times.


Genius and the Ideal State in Conflict.—The Socialists demand a comfortable life for the greatest possible number. If the lasting house of this life of comfort, the perfect State, had really been attained, then this life of comfort would have destroyed the ground out of which grow the great intellect and the mighty individual generally, 11 mean powerful energy. Were this State reached, mankind would have grown too weary to be still capable of producing genius. Must we not hence wish that life should retain its forcible character, and that wild forces and energies should continue, to be called forth afresh? But warm and sympathetic hearts desire precisely the removal of that wild and forcible character, and the warmest hearts we can imagine desire it the most passionately of all, whilst all the time its passion derived its fire, its warmth, its very existence precisely from that wild and forcible character; the warmest heart, therefore, desires the removal of its own foundation, the destruction of itself,—that is, it desires something illogical, it is not intelligent. The highest intelligence and the warmest heart cannot exist together in one person, and the wise man who passes judgment upon life looks beyond goodness and only regards it as something which is not without value in the general summing-up of life. The[Pg 219] wise man must oppose those digressive wishes of unintelligent goodness, because he has an interest in the continuance of his type and in the eventual appearance of the highest intellect; at least, he will not advance the founding of the "perfect State," inasmuch as there is only room in it for wearied individuals. Christ, on the contrary, he whom we may consider to have had the warmest heart, advanced the process of making man stupid, placed himself on the side of the intellectually poor, and retarded the production of the greatest intellect, and this was consistent. His opposite, the man of perfect wisdom,—this may be safely prophesied—will just as necessarily hinder the production of a Christ. The State is a wise arrangement for the protection of one individual against another; if its ennobling is exaggerated the individual will at last be weakened by it, even effaced, —thus the original purpose of the State will be most completely frustrated.


The Zones of Culture.—It may be figuratively said that the ages of culture correspond to the zones of the various climates, only that they lie one behind another and not beside each other like the geographical zones. In comparison with the temperate zone of culture, which it is our object to enter, the past, speaking generally, gives the impression of a tropical climate. Violent contrasts, sudden changes between day and night, heat and colour-splendour, the reverence of all[Pg 220] that was sudden, mysterious, terrible, the rapidity with which storms broke: everywhere that lavish abundance of the provisions of nature; and opposed to this, in our culture, a clear but by no means bright sky, pure but fairly unchanging air, sharpness, even cold at times; thus the two zones are contrasts to each other. When we see how in that former zone the most raging passions are suppressed and broken down with mysterious force by metaphysical representations, we feel as if wild tigers were being crushed before our very eyes in the coils of mighty serpents; our mental climate lacks such episodes, our imagination is temperate, even in dreams there does not happen to us what former peoples saw waking. But should we not rejoice at this change, even granted that artists are essentially spoiled by the disappearance of the tropical culture and find us non-artists a little too timid? In so far artists are certainly right to deny "progress," for indeed it is doubtful whether the last three thousand years show an advance in the arts. In the same way, a metaphysical philosopher like Schopenhauer would have no cause to acknowledge progress with a regard to metaphysical philosophy and religion if he glanced back over the last four thousand years. For us, however, the existence even of the temperate zones of culture is progress.

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