The Joyful Wisdom

Page 49 of 59


The Origin of our Conception of "Knowledge"—I take this explanation from the street. I heard one of the people saying that "he knew me," so I asked myself: What do the people really understand by knowledge? what do they want when they seek "knowledge"? Nothing more than that what is strange is to be traced back to something known. And we philosophers—have we really understood anything more by knowledge? The known, that is to say, what we are accustomed to so that we no longer marvel at it, the commonplace, any kind of rule to which we are habituated, all and everything in which we know ourselves to be at home:—what? is our need of knowing not just this need of the known? the will to discover in everything strange, unusual, or questionable, something which no longer disquiets us? Is it not possible that it should be the instinct of fear which enjoins upon us to know? Is it not possible that the rejoicing of the discerner should be just his[Pg 301] rejoicing in the regained feeling of security?... One philosopher imagined the world "known" when he had traced it back to the "idea": alas, was it not because the idea was so known, so familiar to him? because he had so much less fear of the "idea"—Oh, this moderation of the discerners! let us but look at their principles, and at their solutions of the riddle of the world in this connection! When they again find aught in things, among things, or behind things that is unfortunately very well known to us, for example, our multiplication table, or our logic, or our willing and desiring, how happy they immediately are! For "what is known is understood": they are unanimous as to that. Even the most circumspect among them think that the known is at least more easily understood than the strange; that for example, it is methodically ordered to proceed outward from the "inner world," from "the facts of consciousness," because it is the world which is better known to us! Error of errors! The known is the accustomed, and the accustomed is the most difficult of all to "understand," that is to say, to perceive as a problem, to perceive as strange, distant, "outside of us."... The great certainty of the natural sciences in comparison with psychology and the criticism of the elements of consciousness—unnatural sciences, as one might almost be entitled to call them—rests precisely on the fact that they take what is strange as their object: while it is almost like something contradictory and absurd to wish to take generally what is not strange as an object....

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In what Manner Europe will always become "more Artistic."—Providing a living still enforces even in the present day (in our transition period when so much ceases to enforce) a definite rle on almost all male Europeans, their so-called callings; some have the liberty, an apparent liberty, to choose this rle themselves, but most have it chosen for them. The result is strange enough. Almost all Europeans confound themselves with their rle when they advance in age; they themselves are the victims of their "good acting," they have forgotten how much chance, whim and arbitrariness swayed them when their "calling" was decided—and how many other rles they could perhaps have played: for it is now too late! Looked at more closely, we see that their characters have actually evolved out of their rle, nature out of art. There were ages in which people believed with unshaken confidence, yea, with piety, in their predestination for this very business, for that very mode of livelihood, and would not at all acknowledge chance, or the fortuitous rle, or arbitrariness therein. Ranks, guilds, and hereditary trade privileges succeeded] with the help of this belief, in rearing those extraordinary broad towers of society which distinguished the Middle Ages, and of which at all events one thing remains to their credit: capacity for duration (and duration is a thing of the first rank on earth!). But there are ages entirely the reverse, the properly democratic ages, in which people tend to become more and more oblivious of this belief, and a sort[Pg 303] of impudent conviction and quite contrary mode of viewing things comes to the front, the Athenian conviction which is first observed in the epoch of Pericles, the American conviction of the present day, which wants also more and more to become a European conviction: whereby the individual is convinced that he can do almost anything, that he can play almost any rle, whereby everyone makes experiments with himself, improvises, tries anew, tries with delight, whereby all nature ceases and becomes art.... The Greeks, having adopted this rle-creed——an artist creed, if you will—underwent step by step, as is well known, a curious transformation, not in every respect worthy of imitation: they became actual stage-players; and as such they enchanted, they conquered all the world, and at last even the conqueror of the world, (for the Grculus histrio conquered Rome, and not Greek culture, as the nave are accustomed to say...). What I fear, however, and what is at present obvious, if we desire to perceive it, is that we modern men are quite on the same road already; and whenever a man begins to discover in what respect he plays a rle, and to what extent he can be a stage-player, he becomes a stage-player.... A new flora and fauna of men thereupon springs up, which cannot grow in more stable, more restricted eras—or is left "at the bottom," under the ban and suspicion of infamy; thereupon the most interesting and insane periods of history always make their appearance, in which "stage-players," all kinds of stage-players, are the real masters. Precisely thereby another species of man is always more and more injured, and in[Pg 304] the end made impossible: above all the great "architects"; the building power is now being paralysed; the courage that makes plans for the distant future is disheartened; there begins to be a lack of organising geniuses. Who is there who would now venture to undertake works for the completion of which millenniums would have to be reckoned upon? The fundamental belief is dying out, on the basis of which one could calculate, promise and anticipate the future in one's plan, and offer it as a sacrifice thereto, that in fact man has only value and significance in so far as he is a stone in a great building; for which purpose he has first of all to be solid, he has to be a "stone."... Above all, not a—stage-player! In short—alas! this fact will be hushed up for some considerable time to come!—that which from henceforth will no longer be built, and can no longer be built, is—a society in the old sense of the term; to build that structure everything is lacking, above all, the material. None of us are any longer material for a society: that is a truth which is seasonable at present! It seems to me a matter of indifference that meanwhile the most short-sighted, perhaps the most honest, and at any rate the noisiest species of men of the present day, our friends the Socialists, believe, hope, dream, and above all scream and scribble almost the opposite; in fact one already reads their watchword of the future-: "free society," on all tables and walls. Free society? Indeed! Indeed! But you know, gentlemen, sure enough whereof one builds it? Out of wooden iron! Out of the famous wooden iron! And not even out of wooden....

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