The Joyful Wisdom

Page 17 of 59


What we should be Grateful for.—It is only the artists, and especially the theatrical artists, who have furnished men with eyes and ears to hear and[Pg 110] see with some pleasure what everyone is in himself, what he experiences and aims at: it is only they who have taught us how to estimate the hero that is concealed in each of these common-place men, and the art of looking at ourselves from a distance as heroes, and as it were simplified and transfigured—the art of "putting ourselves on the stage" before ourselves. It is thus only that we get beyond some of the paltry details in ourselves! Without that art we should be nothing but foreground, and would live absolutely under the spell of the perspective which makes the closest and the commonest seem immensely large and like reality in itself.—Perhaps there is merit of a similar kind in the religion which commanded us to look at the sinfulness of every individual man with a magnifying-glass, and made a great, immortal criminal of the sinner; in that it put eternal perspectives around man, it taught him to see himself from a distance, and as something past, something entire.


The Charm of Imperfection.—I see here a poet, who, like so many men, exercises a higher charm by his imperfections than by all that is rounded off and takes perfect shape under his hands,—indeed, he derives his advantage and reputation far more from his actual limitations than from his abundant powers. His work never expresses altogether what he would really like to express, what he would like to have seen: he appears to have had the foretaste of a vision and never the vision[Pg 111] itself:—but an extraordinary longing for this vision has remained in his soul; and from this he derives his equally extraordinary eloquence of longing and craving. With this he raises those who listen to him above his work and above all "works," and gives them wings to rise higher than hearers have ever risen before, thus making them poets and seers themselves; they then show an admiration for the originator of their happiness, as if he had led them immediately to the vision of his holiest and ultimate verities, as if he had reached his goal, and had actually seen and communicated his vision. It is to the advantage of his reputation that he has not really arrived at his goal.


Art and Nature.—The Greeks (or at least the Athenians) liked to hear good talking: indeed they had an eager inclination for it, which distinguished them more than anything else from non-Greeks. And so they required good talking even from passion on the stage, and submitted to the unnaturalness of dramatic verse with delight:—in nature, forsooth, passion is so sparing of words! so dumb and confused! Or if it finds words, so embarrassed and irrational and a shame to itself! We have now, all of us, thanks to the Greeks, accustomed ourselves to this unnaturalness on the stage, as we endure that other unnaturalness, the singing passion, and willingly endure it, thanks to the Italians.—It has become a necessity to us, which we cannot satisfy out of the resources of actuality, to hear men talk well and in full detail in the most[Pg 112] trying situations: it enraptures us at present when the tragic hero still finds words, reasons, eloquent gestures, and on the whole a bright spirituality, where life approaches the abysses, and where the actual man mostly loses his head, and certainly his fine language. This kind of deviation from nature is perhaps the most agreeable repast for man's pride: he loves art generally on account of it, as the expression of high, heroic unnaturalness and convention. One rightly objects to the dramatic poet when he does not transform everything into reason and speech, but always retains a remnant of silence:—just as one is dissatisfied with an operatic musician who cannot find a melody for the highest emotion, but only an emotional, "natural" stammering and crying. Here nature has to be contradicted! Here the common charm of illusion has to give place to a higher charm! The Greeks go far, far in this direction—frightfully far! As they constructed the stage as narrow as possible and dispensed with all the effect of deep backgrounds, as they made pantomime and easy motion impossible to the actor, and transformed him into a solemn, stiff, masked bogey, so they have also deprived passion itself of its deep background, and have dictated to it a law of fine talk; indeed, they have really done everything to counteract the elementary effect of representations that inspire pity and terror: they did not want pity and terror,—with due deference, with the highest deference to Aristotle! but he certainly did not hit the nail, to say nothing of the head of the nail, when he spoke about the[Pg 113] final aim of Greek tragedy! Let us but look at the Grecian tragic poets with respect to what most excited their diligence, their inventiveness, and their emulation,—certainly it was not the intention of subjugating the spectators by emotion! The Athenian went to the theatre to hear fine talking! And fine talking was arrived at by Sophocles!—pardon me this heresy!—It is very different with serious opera: all its masters make it their business to prevent their personages being understood. "An occasional word picked up may come to the assistance of the inattentive listener; but on the whole the situation must be self-explanatory,—the talking is of no account!"—so they all think, and so they have all made fun of the words. Perhaps they have only lacked courage to express fully their extreme contempt for words: a little additional insolence in Rossini, and he would have allowed la-la-la-la to be sung throughout—and it might have been the rational course! The personages of the opera are not meant to be believed "in their words," but in their tones! That is the difference, that is the fine unnaturalness on account of which people go to the opera! Even the recitativo secco is not really intended to be heard as words and text: this kind of half-music is meant rather in the first place to give the musical ear a little repose (the repose from melody, as from the sublimest, and on that account the most straining enjoyment of this art),—but very soon something different results, namely, an increasing impatience, an increasing resistance, a new longing for entire music, for melody.—How is it with the art of[Pg 114] Richard Wagner as seen from this standpoint? Is it perhaps the same? Perhaps otherwise? It would often seem to me as if one needed to have learned by heart both the words and the music of his creations before the performances; for without that—so it seemed to me—me may hear neither the words, nor even the music.


Grecian Taste—"What is beautiful in it?"—asked a certain geometrician, after a performance of the Iphigenia—"there is nothing proved in it!" Could the Greeks have been so far from this taste? In Sophocles at least "everything is proved."


Esprit Un-Grecian.—The Greeks were exceedingly logical and plain in all their thinking; they did not get tired of it, at least during their long flourishing period, as is so often the case with the French; who too willingly made a little excursion into the opposite, and in fact endure the spirit of logic only when it betrays its sociable courtesy, its sociable self-renunciation, by a multitude of such little excursions into its opposite. Logic appears to them as necessary as bread and water, but also like these as a kind of prison-fare, as soon as it is to be taken pure and by itself. In good society one must never want to be in the right absolutely and solely, as all pure logic requires; hence the little dose of irrationality in all French esprit.—The social sense of the Greeks was far less developed than that of the French in the[Pg 115] present and the past; hence, so little esprit in their cleverest men, hence, so little wit, even in their wags, hence—alas! But people will not readily believe these tenets of mine, and how much of the kind I have still on my soul!—Est res magna tacere—says Martial, like all garrulous people.

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