The Case of Wagner

Page 17 of 36

[Pg 79]


I have often asked myself whether I am not much more deeply indebted to the hardest years of my life than to any others. According to the voice of my innermost nature, everything necessary, seen from above and in the light of a superior economy, is also useful in itself—not only should one bear it, one should love it.... Amor fati: this is the very core of my being.—And as to my prolonged illness, do I not owe much more to it than I owe to my health? To it I owe a higher kind of health, a sort of health which grows stronger under everything that does not actually kill it!—To it, I owe even my philosophy.... Only great suffering is the ultimate emancipator of spirit; for it teaches one that vast suspiciousness which makes an X out of every U, a genuine and proper X, i.e., the antepenultimate letter: Only great suffering; that great suffering, under which we seem to be over a fire of greenwood, the suffering that takes its time—forces us philosophers to descend into our nethermost depths, and to let go of all trustfulness, all good-nature, all whittling-down, all mildness, all mediocrity,—on which things we had formerly staked our humanity. I doubt whether such suffering improves a man; but I know that it makes him deeper.... Supposing we learn to set our pride, our scorn, our strength of will against it, and thus resemble the Indian[Pg 80] who, however cruelly he may be tortured, considers himself revenged on his tormentor by the bitterness of his own tongue. Supposing we withdraw from pain into nonentity, into the deaf, dumb, and rigid sphere of self-surrender, self-forgetfulness, self-effacement: one is another person when one leaves these protracted and dangerous exercises in the art of self-mastery; one has one note of interrogation the more, and above all one has the will henceforward to ask more, deeper, sterner, harder, more wicked, and more silent questions, than anyone has ever asked on earth before.... Trust in life has vanished; life itself has become a problem. —But let no one think that one has therefore become a spirit of gloom or a blind owl! Even love of life is still possible,—but it is a different kind of love.... It is the love for a woman whom we doubt....


The rarest of all things is this: to have after all another taste—a second taste. Out of such abysses, out of the abyss of great suspicion as well, a man returns as though born again, he has a new skin, he is more susceptible, more full of wickedness; he has a finer taste for joyfulness; he has a more sensitive tongue for all good things; his senses are more cheerful; he has acquired a second, more dangerous, innocence in gladness; he is more childish too, and a hundred times more cunning than ever he had been before.

Oh, how much more repulsive pleasure now is to him, that coarse, heavy, buff-coloured pleasure,[Pg 81] which is understood by our pleasure-seekers, our "cultured people," our wealthy folk and our rulers! With how much more irony we now listen to the hubbub as of a country fair, with which the "cultured" man and the man about town allow themselves to be forced through art, literature, music, and with the help of intoxicating liquor, to "intellectual enjoyments." How the stage-cry of passion now stings our ears; how strange to our taste the whole romantic riot and sensuous bustle, which the cultured mob are so fond of, together with its aspirations to the sublime, to the exalted and the distorted, have become. No: if we convalescents require an art at all, it is another art-a mocking, nimble, volatile, divinely undisturbed, divinely artificial art, which blazes up like pure flame into a cloudless sky! But above all, an art for artists, only for artists! We are, after all, more conversant with that which is in the highest degree necessary—cheerfulness, every kind of cheerfulness, my friends!... We men of knowledge, now know something only too well: oh how well we have learnt by this time, to forget, not to know, as artists!... As to our future: we shall scarcely be found on the track of those Egyptian youths who break into temples at night, who embrace statues, and would fain unveil, strip, and set in broad daylight, everything which there are excellent reasons to keep concealed.[1] No, we are disgusted with this bad taste, this will to truth, this search[Pg 82] after truth "at all costs": this madness of adolescence, "the love of truth"; we are now too experienced, too serious, too joyful, too scorched, too profound for that.... We no longer believe that truth remains truth when it is unveiled,—we have lived enough to understand this.... To-day it seems to us good form not to strip everything naked, not to be present at all things, not to desire to "know" all. "Tout comprendre c'est tout mpriser." ... "Is it true," a little girl once asked her mother, "that the beloved Father is everywhere?—I think it quite improper,"—a hint to philosophers.... The shame with which Nature has concealed herself behind riddles and enigmas should be held in higher esteem. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not revealing her reasons? ... Perhaps her name, to use a Greek word is Baubo?—Oh these Greeks, they understood, the art of living! For this it is needful to halt bravely at the surface, at the fold, at the skin, to worship appearance, and to believe in forms, tones, words, and the whole Olympus of appearance! These Greeks were superficial—from profundity. ... And are we not returning to precisely the same thing, we dare-devils of intellect who have scaled the highest and most dangerous pinnacles of present thought, in order to look around us from that height, in order to look down from that height? Are we not precisely in this respect—Greeks? Worshippers of form, of tones, of words? Precisely on that account—artists?

[1] An allusion to Schiller's poem: "Das verschleierte Bild zu Sais."—Tr.

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(Summer 1878.)


My blunder was this, I travelled to Bayreuth with an ideal in my breast, and was thus doomed to experience the bitterest disappointment. The preponderance of ugliness, grotesqueness and strong pepper thoroughly repelled me.


I utterly disagree with those who were dissatisfied with the decorations, the scenery and the mechanical contrivances at Bayreuth. Far too much industry and ingenuity was applied to the task of chaining the imagination to matters which did not belie their epic origin. But as to the naturalism of the attitudes, of the singing, compared with the orchestra!! What affected, artificial and depraved tones, what a distortion of nature, were we made to hear!


We are witnessing the death agony of the last Art: Bayreuth has convinced me of this.

[Pg 86]


My picture of Wagner, completely surpassed him; I had depicted an ideal monster—one, however, which is perhaps quite capable of kindling the enthusiasm of artists. The real Wagner, Bayreuth as it actually is, was only like a bad, final proof, pulled on inferior paper from the engraving which was my creation. My longing to see real men and their motives, received an extraordinary impetus from this humiliating experience.

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