I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, selections from Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was born in 1844 and died in 1900. He was a philosopher and an author. Ecce Homo was first published in 1908.
At this point I can no longer evade a direct answer to the question how one becomes what one is. And in giving it I shall have to touch upon that masterpiece in the art of self-preservation which is selfishness. Granting that one’s life-task – the determination and the fate of one’s life-task – greatly exceeds the average measure of such things, nothing more dangerous could be conceived than to come face to face with one’s self with this life-task in hand. The fact that one becomes what one is presupposes that one has not the remotest idea of what one is. From this standpoint even the blunders of one’s life have their own meaning and value, the temporary deviations and aberrations, the moments of hesitation and of modesty, the earnestness wasted upon duties which lie outside the actual life-task. In these matters great wisdom, perhaps even the highest wisdom comes into play: in these circumstances in which nosce te ipsum would be the sure road to ruin, forgetting one’s self, misunderstanding one’s self, belittling one’s self, narrowing one’s self and making one’s self mediocre is reason itself. Expressed morally, to love one’s neighbor, living for others and for other things may be a means of protection employed to maintain the hardest kind of selfishness. This is the exceptional case in which I, contrary to my principles and convictions take the side of the altruistic instincts; for here they are employed in the service of selfishness and self-discipline. The whole surface of consciousness – for consciousness is a surface – must be kept free from any of the great imperatives. Beware even of every grand word or attitude! They are all risks by which the instinct can come to “understand itself” too soon. Meanwhile the organizing “idea” which is destined to become master grows and continues to grow into the depths – it begins to command, it leads one slowly back from deviations and aberrations, it prepares individual qualities and capacities which one day will make themselves felt as indispensable to the whole of your task – step by step it cultivates all the supporting faculties before it ever whispers a word concerning the dominant task, the “goal,” the “object” and the “meaning” of it all. Looked at from this standpoint my life is simply amazing. For the task of revaluation of all values more capacities were needed perhaps than could commonly be found together in one individual; and above all antagonistic capacities which had to kept free from mutual strife and destruction. An order of rank among capacities; distance; the art of separating without creating hostility; to avoid confusing things; to keep from reconciling things; an enormous multiplicity and yet the reverse of chaos – all this was the first condition, the long secret work and the artistic labor of my instinct. Its sublime protection manifested itself with such strength that not once did I ever dream of what was growing within me – until suddenly all my capacities were ripe and one day burst forth in all the perfection of their highest bloom. I cannot remember ever having exerted myself, I can point to no trace of struggle in my life; I am the reverse of a heroic nature. To “want” something, to “strive” after something to have an “aim” or a “wish” in my mind – I know none of this from experience. Even at this moment I look out upon my future – a distant future! as upon a calm sea: no sigh of longing makes a ripple on its surface. I have not the slightest wish that anything should be otherwise than it is: I do not want myself different than I am. But in this matter I have always been the same. I have never had a desire. A man who after his forty-fourth year can say that he has never bothered himself about honors, women or money! Not that they did not come my way. It was thus that I became one day a University Professor – I had never had the remotest idea of such a thing; for I was scarcely twenty-four years of age. In the same way two years previously I had one day become a philologist in the sense that my first philological work, my beginning in every way was expressly obtained by my teacher Ritschl for publication in his Rheinisehes Museum. (Ritschl – and I say it in all reverence – was the only scholar gifted with genius that I have ever met. He possessed that pleasant kind of depravity which distinguishes us Thuringians and which makes even a German sympathetic – even in the pursuit of truth we prefer to avail ourselves of secret paths. In saying this I do not mean to underestimate in any way my Thuringian brother the sagacious Leopold von Ranke.)
You may be wondering why I should actually have related all these trivial and according to traditional accounts insignificant details to you; that would indeed be harmful to me particularly if I am destined for great things. To this I reply that these trivial matters – diet, locality, climate and ones mode of recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are inconceivably more important than all that which has to date been held in high esteem. It is precisely in this quarter that we must begin to learn anew. All those things which mankind has valued with such seriousness to the present day are not even real; they are mere creations of the imagination or more strictly speaking lies born of the bad instincts of diseased and in the deepest sense poisonous natures – all the concepts “God,” “soul,” “virtue,” “sin,” “the Beyond,” “truth,” “eternal life.” But the greatness of human nature, its “divinity” was sought in them. All questions of politics, of social order, of education have been falsified root and branch owing to the fact that the most injurious men have been taken for great men and that people were taught to despise the small things or rather the fundamental things of life. If I now choose to compare myself with those creatures that have previously been honored as the first among men the difference becomes obvious. I do not reckon the so called “first” men even as human beings – for me they are the excrements of mankind, the products of sickness and of the instinct of revenge: they are nothing but monsters laden with rottenness, hopeless incurables who avenge themselves on life. I wish to be the opposite of these people: it is my privilege to have the very sharpest discernment for every sign of healthy instincts. There is no such thing as a morbid trait in me; even in times of serious illness I have never grown morbid and you might seek in vain for a trace of fanaticism in my nature. No one can point to any moment of my life in which I have assumed either an arrogant or a pathetic attitude. Pathetic attitudes do not belong to greatness; he who needs attitudes at all is false. Beware of all picturesque men! Life was easy – in fact easiest – to me in those periods when it exacted the heaviest duties from me. Whoever could have seen me during the seventy days of this autumn when without interruption I was creating things of the first rank – things that no man can do nowadays – with a sense of responsibility for all the ages yet to come, would have noticed no sign of tension in my condition but rather a state of overflowing freshness and good cheer. Never have I eaten more pleasantly, never has my sleep been better. I know of no other manner of dealing with great tasks than as play: this as a sign of greatness, is an essential prerequisite. The slightest constraint, a sombre look, any hard accent in the voice – all these things are objections to a man but how much more to his work! One must not have nerves. Even to suffer from solitude is an objection – the only thing I have always suffered from is the “multitude.” At an absurdly tender age, in fact when I was seven years old, I already knew that no human word would ever reach me: did anyone ever see me sad on that account? At present I still possess the same affability towards everybody, I am even full of consideration for the lowliest of people: in all this there is not a grain of arrogance or of secret contempt. He whom I despise soon guesses that he is despised by me: my mere existence is enough to rouse indignation in all those who have bad blood in their veins. My formula for greatness in man is amor fati: the fact that a man wishes nothing to be different, either in the future or in the past or for all eternity. Not just to endure necessity – or to merely pretend to endure – all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity – but to love it.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.