Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 43 of 70


The Art of Reading.—Every strong tendency is one-sided; it approaches the aim of the straight line and, like this, is exclusive, that is, it does not touch many other aims, as do weak parties and natures in their wave-like rolling to-and-fro; it must also be forgiven to philologists that they are one-sided. The restoration and keeping pure of texts, besides their explanation, carried on in common for hundreds of years, has finally enabled the right methods to be found; the whole of the Middle Ages was absolutely incapable of a strictly philological explanation, that is, of the simple desire to comprehend what an author says—it was an achievement, finding these methods, let it not be undervalued! Through this all science first acquired continuity and steadiness, so that the art of reading rightly, which is called philology, attained its summit.


The Art of Reasoning.—The greatest advance that men have made lies in their[Pg 250] acquisition of the art to reason rightly. It is not so very natural, as Schopenhauer supposes when he says, "All are capable of reasoning but few of judging," it is learnt late and has not yet attained supremacy. False conclusion are the rule in older ages; and the mythologies of all peoples, their magic and their superstition, their religious cult and their law are the inexhaustible sources of proof of this theory.


Phases of Individual Culture.—Th strength and weakness of mental productiveness depend far less on inherited talents than on the accompanying amount of elasticity. Most educated young people of thirty turn round at this solstice of their lives and are afterwards disinclined for new mental turnings. Therefore, for the salvation of a constantly increasing culture, a new generation is immediately necessary, which will not do very much either, for in order to come up with the father's culture the son must exhaust almost all the inherited energy which the father himself possessed at that stage of life when his son was born; with the little addition he gets further on (for as here the road is being traversed for the second time progress is—a little quicker; in order to learn that which the father knew, the son does not consume quite so much strength). Men of great elasticity, like Goethe, for instance, get through[Pg 251] almost more than four generations in succession would be capable of; but then they advance too quickly, so that the rest of mankind only comes up with them in the next century, and even then perhaps not completely, because the exclusiveness of culture and the consecutiveness of development have been weakened by the frequent interruptions. Men catch up more quickly with the ordinary phases of intellectual culture which has been acquired in the course of history. Nowadays they begin to acquire culture as religiously inclined children, and perhaps about their tenth year these sentiments attain to their highest point, and are then changed into weakened forms (pantheism), whilst they draw near to science; they entirely pass by God, immortality, and such-like things, but are overcome by the witchcraft of a metaphysical philosophy. Eventually they find even this unworthy of belief; art, on the contrary, seems to vouchsafe more and more, so that for a time metaphysics is metamorphosed and continues to exist either as a transition to art or as an artistically transfiguring temperament. But the scientific sense grows more imperious and conducts man to natural sciences and history, and particularly to the severest methods of knowledge, whilst art has always a milder and less exacting meaning. All this usually happens within the first thirty years of a man's life. It is the recapitulation of a pensum, for which humanity had laboured perhaps thirty thousand years.

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Retrograded, Not Left Behind.—Whoever, in the present day, still derives his development from religious sentiments, and perhaps lives for some length of time afterwards in metaphysics and art, has assuredly gone back a considerable distance and begins his race with other modern men under unfavourable conditions; he apparently loses time and space. But because he stays in those domains where ardour and energy are liberated and force flows continuously as a volcanic stream out of an inexhaustible source, he goes forward all the more quickly as soon as he has freed himself at the right moment from those dominators; his feet are winged, his breast has learned quieter, longer, and more enduring breathing. He has only retreated in order to have sufficient room to leap; thus something terrible and threatening may lie in this retrograde movement.


A Portion of Our Ego As an Artistic Object.—It is a sign of superior culture consciously to retain and present a true picture of certain phases of development which commoner men live through almost thoughtlessly and then efface from the tablets of their souls: this is a higher species of the painter's art which only the few understand. For this it is necessary to isolate those phases artificially. Historical studies form the qualification for this painting, for they[Pg 253] constantly incite us in regard to a portion of history, a people, or a human life, to imagine for ourselves a quite distinct horizon of thoughts, a certain strength of feelings, the prominence of this or the obscurity of that. Herein consists the historic sense, that out of given instances we can quickly reconstruct such systems of thoughts and feelings, just as we can mentally reconstruct a temple out of a few pillars and remains of walls accidentally left standing. The next result is that we understand our fellow-men as belonging to distinct systems and representatives of different cultures—that is, as necessary, but as changeable; and, again, that we can separate portions of our own development and put them down independently.


Cynics and Epicureans.—The cynic recognises the connection between the multiplied and stronger pains of the more highly cultivated man and the abundance of requirements; he comprehends, therefore, that the multitude of opinions about what is beautiful, suitable, seemly and pleasing, must also produce very rich sources of enjoyment, but also of displeasure. In accordance with this view he educates himself backwards, by giving up many of these opinions and withdrawing from certain demands of culture; he thereby gains a feeling of freedom and strength; and gradually, when habit has made his manner of life endurable, his sensations of displeasure[Pg 254] are, as a matter of fact, rarer and weaker than those of cultivated people, and approach those of the domestic animal; moreover, he experiences everything with the charm of contrast, and—he can also scold to his heart's content; so that thereby he again rises high above the sensation-range of the animal. The Epicurean has the same point of view as the cynic; there is usually only a difference of temperament between them. Then the Epicurean makes use of his higher culture to render himself independent of prevailing opinions, he raises himself above them, whilst the cynic only remains negative. He walks, as it were, in wind-protected, well-sheltered, half-dark paths, whilst over him, in the wind, the tops of the trees rustle and show him how violently agitated is the world out there. The cynic, on the contrary, goes, as it were, naked into the rushing of the wind and hardens himself to the point of insensibility.

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