The Joyful Wisdom

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It will be surmised that I should not like to take leave ungratefully of that period of severe sickness, the advantage of which is not even yet exhausted in me: for I am sufficiently conscious of what I have in advance of the spiritually robust generally, in my changeful state of health. A philosopher who has made the tour of many states of health, and always makes it anew, has also gone through just as many philosophies: he really cannot do otherwise than transform his condition on every occasion into the most ingenious posture and position,—this art of transfiguration is just philosophy. We philosophers are not at liberty to separate soul and body, as the people separate them; and we are still less at liberty to separate soul and spirit. We are not thinking frogs, we are not objectifying and registering apparatuses with cold entrails,—our thoughts must be continually born to us out of our pain, and we must, motherlike, share with them all that we have in us of blood, heart, ardour, joy, passion, pang, conscience, fate and fatality. Life—that means for us to transform constantly into light and flame all that we are, and also all that we meet with; we cannot possibly do otherwise. And as regards sickness, should we not be almost tempted to ask whether we could in general dispense with it? It is great pain only which is the ultimate emancipator of the spirit; for it is the teacher of the strong[Pg 7] suspicion which makes an X out of every U[1], a true, correct X, i.e., the ante-penultimate letter.... It is great pain only, the long slow pain which takes time, by which we are burned as it were with green wood, that compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths, and divest ourselves of all trust, all good-nature, veiling, gentleness, and averageness, wherein we have perhaps formerly installed our humanity. I doubt whether such pain "improves" us; but I know that it deepens us. Be it that we learn to confront it with our pride, our scorn, our strength of will, doing like the Indian who, however sorely tortured, revenges himself on his tormentor with his bitter tongue; be it that we withdraw from the pain into the oriental nothingness—it is called Nirvana,—into mute, benumbed, deaf self-surrender, self-forgetfulness, and self-effacement: one emerges from such long, dangerous exercises in self-mastery as another being, with several additional notes of interrogation, and above all, with the will to question more than ever, more profoundly, more strictly, more sternly, more wickedly, more quietly than has ever been questioned hitherto. Confidence in life is gone: life itself has become a problem.—Let it not be imagined that one has necessarily become a hypochondriac thereby! Even love of life is still possible—only one loves differently. It is the love of a woman of whom one is doubtful.... The charm, however, of all that is problematic, the delight in the[Pg 8] X, is too great in those more spiritual and more spiritualised men, not to spread itself again and again like a clear glow over all the trouble of the problematic, over all the danger of uncertainty, and even over the jealousy of the lover. We know a new happiness....


Finally (that the most essential may not remain unsaid), one comes back out of such abysses, out of such severe sickness, and out of the sickness of strong suspicion—new-born, with the skin cast; more sensitive, more wicked, with a finer taste for joy, with a more delicate tongue for all good things, with a merrier disposition, with a second and more dangerous innocence in joy; more childish at the same time, and a hundred times more refined than ever before. Oh, how repugnant to us now is pleasure, coarse, dull, drab pleasure, as the pleasure-seekers, our "cultured" classes, our rich and ruling classes, usually understand it! How malignantly we now listen to the great holiday-hubbub with which "cultured people" and city-men at present allow themselves to be forced to "spiritual enjoyment" by art, books, and music, with the help of spirituous liquors! How the theatrical cry of passion now pains our ear, how strange to our taste has all the romantic riot and sensuous bustle which the cultured populace love become (together with their aspirations after the exalted, the elevated, and the intricate)! No, if we convalescents need an art at all, it is another art—a mocking, light, volatile, divinely serene,[Pg 9] divinely ingenious art, which blazes up like a clear flame, into a cloudless heaven! Above all, an art for artists, only for artists! We at last know better what is first of all necessary for it—namely, cheerfulness, every kind of cheerfulness, my friends! also as artists:—I should like to prove it. We now know something too well, we men of knowledge: oh, how well we are now learning to forget and not know, as artists! And as to our future, we are not likely to be found again in the tracks of those Egyptian youths who at night make the temples unsafe, embrace statues, and would fain unveil, uncover, and put in clear light, everything which for good reasons is kept concealed[2]. No, we have got disgusted with this bad taste, this will to truth, to "truth at all costs," this youthful madness in the love of truth: we are now too experienced, too serious, too joyful, too singed, too profound for that.... We no longer believe that truth remains truth when the veil is withdrawn from it: we have lived long enough to believe this. At present we regard it as a matter of propriety not to be anxious either to see everything naked, or to be present at everything, or to understand and "know" everything. "Is it true that the good God is everywhere present?" asked a little girl of her mother: "I think that is indecent":—a hint to philosophers! One should have more reverence for the shame-facedness with which nature has concealed herself behind enigmas and motley uncertainties. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not[Pg 10] showing her reasons? Perhaps her name is Baubo, to speak in Greek?... Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live: for that purpose it is necessary to keep bravely to the surface, the fold and the skin; to worship appearance, to believe in forms, tones, and words, in the whole Olympus of appearance! Those Greeks were superficial—from profundity! And are we not coming back precisely to this point, we dare-devils of the spirit, who have scaled the highest and most dangerous peak of contemporary thought, and have looked around us from it, have looked down from it? Are we not precisely in this respect—Greeks? Worshippers of forms, of tones, and of words? And precisely on that account—artists?


>Autumn, 1886.

[1] This means literally to put the numeral X instead of the numeral V (formerly U); hence it means to double a number unfairly, to exaggerate, humbug, cheat.—TR.

[2] An allusion to Schiller's poem: "The Veiled Image of Sais."—TR.

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