The Joyful Wisdom

Page 13 of 59


Knowledge of Distress.—Perhaps there is nothing by which men and periods are so much separated from one another, as by the different degrees of knowledge of distress which they possess; distress of the soul as well as of the body. With respect to the latter, owing to lack of sufficient self-experience, we men of the present day (in spite of our deficiencies and infirmities), are perhaps all of us blunderers and visionaries in comparison with the men of the age of fear—the longest of all ages,—when the individual had to protect himself against violence, and for that purpose had to be a man of violence himself. At that time a man went through a long schooling of corporeal tortures and privations, and found even in a certain kind of cruelty toward himself, in a voluntary use of pain, a necessary means for his preservation; at that time a person trained his environment to the endurance of pain; at that time a person willingly inflicted pain, and saw the most frightful things of this kind happen to others without having any other feeling than for his own security. As regards the distress of the soul however, I now look at every man with respect to whether he knows it by experience or by description; whether he still regards it as necessary to simulate this knowledge, perhaps as an indication[Pg 85] of more refined culture; or whether, at the bottom of his heart, he does not at all believe in great sorrows of soul, and at the naming of them calls to mind a similar experience as at the naming of great corporeal sufferings, such as tooth-aches, and stomach-aches. It is thus, however, that it seems to be with most people at present. Owing to the universal inexperience of both kinds of pain, and the comparative rarity of the spectacle of a sufferer, an important consequence results: people now hate pain far more than earlier man did, and calumniate it worse than ever; indeed people nowadays can hardly endure the thought of pain, and make out of it an affair of conscience and a reproach to collective existence. The appearance of pessimistic philosophies is not at all the sign of great and dreadful miseries; for these interrogative marks regarding the worth of life appear in periods when the refinement and alleviation of existence already deem the unavoidable gnat-stings of the soul and body as altogether too bloody and wicked; and in the poverty of actual experiences of pain, would now like to make painful general ideas appear as suffering of the worst kind.—There might indeed be a remedy for pessimistic philosophies and the excessive sensibility which seems to me the real "distress of the present":—but perhaps this remedy already sounds too cruel, and would itself be reckoned among the symptoms owing to which people at present conclude that "existence is something evil." Well! the remedy for "the distress" is distress.

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Magnanimity and allied Qualities.—Those paradoxical phenomena, such as the sudden coldness in the demeanour of good-natured men, the humour of the melancholy, and above all magnanimity, as a sudden renunciation of revenge or of the gratification of envy—appear in men in whom there is a powerful inner impulsiveness, in men of sudden satiety and sudden disgust. Their satisfactions are so rapid and violent that satiety, aversion and flight into the antithetical taste, immediately follow upon them: in this contrast the convulsion of feeling liberates itself, in one person by sudden coldness, in another by laughter, and in a third by tear and self-sacrifice. The magnanimous person appears to me—at least that kind of magnanimous person who has always made most impression—as a man with the strongest thirst for vengeance, to whom a gratification presents itself close at hand, and who already drinks it off in imagination so copiously, thoroughly, and to the last drop, that an excessive, rapid disgust follows this rapid licentiousness;—he now elevates himself "above himself," as one says, and forgives his enemy, yea, blesses and honours him. With this violence done to himself, however, with this mockery of his impulse to revenge, even still so powerful he merely yields to the new impulse, the disgust which has become powerful, and does this just as impatiently and licentiously, as a short time previously he forestalled, and as it were exhausted, the joy of revenge with his fantasy. In magnanimity[Pg 87] there is the same amount of egoism as in revenge, but a different quality of egoism.


The Argument of Isolation.—The reproach of conscience, even in the most conscientious, is weak against the feeling: "This and that are contrary to the good morals of your society." A cold glance or a wry mouth on the part of those among whom and for whom one has been educated, is still feared even by the strongest. What is really feared there? Isolation! as the argument which demolishes even the best arguments for a person or cause!—It is thus that the gregarious instinct speaks in us.


Sense for Truth.—Commend me to all scepticism where I am permitted to answer: "Let us put it to the test!" But I don't wish to hear anything more of things and questions which do not admit of being tested. That is the limit of my "sense for truth": for bravery has there lost its right.


What others Know of us.—That which we know of ourselves and have in our memory is not so decisive for the happiness of our life as is generally believed. One day it flashes upon our mind what others know of us (or think they know)—and then we acknowledge that it is the more powerful. We get on with our bad conscience more easily than with our bad reputation.

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Where Goodness Begins.—Where bad eyesight can no longer see the evil impulse as such, on account of its refinement,—there man sets up the kingdom of goodness; and the feeling of having now gone over into the kingdom of goodness brings all those impulses (such as the feelings of security, of comfortableness, of benevolence) into simultaneous activity, which were threatened and confined by the evil impulses. Consequently, the duller the eye so much the further does goodness extend! Hence the eternal cheerfulness of the populace and of children! Hence the gloominess and grief (allied to the bad conscience) of great thinkers.


The Consciousness of Appearance.—How wonderfully and novelly, and at the same time how awfully and ironically, do I feel myself situated with respect to collective existence, with my knowledge! I have discovered for myself that the old humanity and animality, yea, the collective primeval age, and the past of all sentient being, continues to meditate, love, hate, and reason in me,—I have suddenly awoke in the midst of this dream, but merely to the consciousness that I just dream, and that I must dream on in order not to perish; just as the sleep-walker must dream on in order not to tumble down. What is it that is now "appearance" to me! Verily, not the antithesis of any kind of essence,—what knowledge can I assert of any kind of essence whatsoever, except merely the[Pg 89] predicates of its appearance! Verily not a dead mask which one could put upon an unknown X, and which to be sure one could also remove! Appearance is for me the operating and living thing itself; which goes so far in its self-mockery as to make me feel that here there is appearance, and Will o' the Wisp, and spirit-dance, and nothing more,—that among all these dreamers, I also, the "thinker," dance my dance, that the thinker is a means of prolonging further the terrestrial dance, and in so far is one of the masters of ceremony of existence, and that the sublime consistency and connectedness of all branches of knowledge is perhaps, and will perhaps, be the best means for maintaining the universality of the dreaming, the complete, mutual understandability of all those dreamers, and thereby the duration of the dream.

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