Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 44 of 70


Microcosm and Macrocosm of Culture.—The best discoveries about culture man makes within himself when he finds two heterogeneous powers ruling therein. Supposing some one were living as much in love for the plastic arts or for music as he was carried away by the spirit of science, and that he were to regard it as impossible for him to end this contradiction by the destruction of one and complete liberation of the other power, there would therefore remain nothing[Pg 255] for him to do but to erect around himself such a large edifice of culture that those two powers might both dwell within it, although at different ends, whilst between them there dwelt reconciling, intermediary powers, with predominant strength to quell, in case of need, the rising conflict. But such an edifice of culture in the single individual will bear a great resemblance to the culture of entire periods, and will afford consecutive analogical teaching concerning it. For wherever the great architecture of culture manifested itself it was its mission to compel opposing powers to agree, by means of an overwhelming accumulation of other less unbearable powers, without thereby oppressing and fettering them.


Happiness and Culture.—We are moved at the sight of our childhood's surroundings,—the arbour, the church with its graves, the pond and the wood,—all this we see again with pain. We are seized with pity for ourselves; for what have we not passed through since then! And everything here is so silent, so eternal, only we are so changed, so moved; we even find a few human beings, on whom Time has sharpened his teeth no more than on an oak tree,—peasants, fishermen, woodmen—they are unchanged. Emotion and self-pity at the sight of lower culture is the sign of higher culture; from which the conclusion may be drawn that happiness has certainly not been increased by it. Whoever[Pg 256] wishes to reap happiness and comfort in life should always avoid higher culture.


The Simile of the Dance.—It must now be regarded as a decisive sign of great culture if some one possesses sufficient strength and flexibility to be as pure and strict in discernment as, in other moments, to be capable of giving poetry, religion, and metaphysics a hundred paces' start and then feeling their force and beauty. Such a position amid two such different demands is very difficult, for science urges the absolute supremacy of its methods, and if this insistence is not yielded to, there arises the other danger of a weak wavering between different impulses. Meanwhile, to cast a glance, in simile at least, on a solution of this difficulty, it may be remembered that dancing is not the same as a dull reeling to and fro between different impulses. High culture will resemble a bold dance,—wherefore, as has been said, there is need of much strength and suppleness.


Of the Relieving of Life.—A primary way of lightening life is the idealisation of all its occurrences; and with the help of painting we should make it quite clear to ourselves what idealising means. The painter requires that the spectator should not observe too closely or too sharply, he forces him back to a certain distance from whence[Pg 257] to make his observations; he is obliged to take for granted a fixed distance of the spectator from the picture,—he must even suppose an equally certain amount of sharpness of eye in his spectator; in such things he must on no account waver. Every one, therefore, who desires to idealise his life must not look at it too closely, and must always keep his gaze at a certain distance. This was a trick that Goethe, for instance, understood.


Aggravation As Relief, and vice Versa.—Much that makes life more difficult in certain grades of mankind serves to lighten it in a higher grade, because such people have become familiar with greater aggravations of life. The contrary also happens; for instance, religion has a double face, according to whether a man looks up to it to relieve him of his burden and need, or looks down upon it as-upon fetters laid on him to prevent him from soaring too high into the air.


The Higher Culture Is Necessarily Misunderstood.—He who has strung his instrument with only two strings, like the scholars who, besides the instinct of knowledge possess only an acquired religious instinct, does not understand people who can play upon more strings. It lies in the nature of the higher, many-stringed culture that it should always be falsely interpreted by the lower; an example of this is when art[Pg 258] appears as a disguised form of the religious. People who are only religious understand even science as a searching after the religious sentiment, just as deaf mutes do not know what music is, unless it be visible movement.


Lamentation.—It is, perhaps, the advantages of our epoch that bring with them a backward movement and an occasional undervaluing of the vita contemplativa. But it must be acknowledged that our time is poor in the matter of great moralists, that Pascal, Epictetus, Seneca, and Plutarch are now but little read, that work and industry—formerly in the following of the great goddess Health—sometimes appear to rage like a disease. Because time to think and tranquillity in thought are lacking, we no longer ponder over different views, but content ourselves with hating them. With the enormous acceleration of life, mind and eye grow accustomed to a partial and false sight and judgment, and all people are like travellers whose only acquaintance with countries and nations is derived from the railway. An independent and cautious attitude of knowledge is looked upon almost as a kind of madness; the free spirit is brought into disrepute, chiefly through scholars, who miss their thoroughness and ant-like industry in his art of regarding things and would gladly banish him into one single corner of science, while it has the different and higher mission of commanding the battalion rear-guard of scientific and learned men from an isolated[Pg 259] position, and showing them the ways and aims of culture. A song of lamentation such as that which has just been sung will probably have its own period, and will cease of its own accord on a forcible return of the genius of meditation.


The Chief Deficiency of Active People.—Active people are usually deficient in the higher activity, I mean individual activity. They are active as officials, merchants, scholars, that is as a species, but not as quite distinct separate and single individuals; in this respect they are idle. It is the misfortune of the active that their activity is almost always a little senseless. For instance, we must not ask the money-making banker the reason of his restless activity, it is foolish. The active roll as the stone rolls, according to the stupidity of mechanics. All mankind is divided, as it was at all times and is still, into slaves and freemen; for whoever has not two-thirds of his day for himself is a slave, be he otherwise whatever he likes, statesman, merchant, official, or scholar.


In Favour of the Idle.—As a sign that the value of a contemplative life has decreased, scholars now vie with active people in a sort of hurried enjoyment, so that they appear to value this mode of enjoying more than that which really pertains to them, and which, as a matter of fact, is a far greater enjoyment. Scholars are[Pg 260] ashamed of otium. But there is one noble thing about idleness and idlers. If idleness is really the beginning of all vice, it finds itself, therefore, at least in near neighbourhood of all the virtues; the idle man is still a better man than the active. You do not suppose that in speaking of idleness and idlers I am alluding to you, you sluggards?

Free Learning Resources