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Nietzsche and the "Great Health"

Dernière mise à jour : 18 mai 2023


The Gay Science

Preface to the second edition


This book might need more than one preface; and in the end there would still be room for doubting whether someone who has not experienced something similar could, by means of prefaces, be brought doser to the experiences of this book. It seems to be written in the language of the wind that brings a thaw: it contains high spirits, unrest, contradiction, and April weather, so that one is constantly reminded of winter's nearness as well as of the triumph over winter that is coming, must come, perhaps has already come ...

Gratitude flows forth incessantly, as if that which was most unexpected had just happened - the gratitude of a convalescent - for recovery was what was most unexpected. 'Gay Science': this signifies the saturnalia of a mind that has patiently resisted a terrible, long pressure - patiently, severely, coldly, without yielding, but also without hope - and is now all of a sudden attacked by hope, by hope for health, by the intoxication of recovery. Is it any wonder that in the process much that is unreasonable and foolish comes to light, much wanton tenderness, lavished even on problems that have a prickly hide, not made to be fondled and lured ?

This entire book is really nothing but an amusement after long privation and powerlessness, the jubilation of returning strength, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow and a day after tomorrow, of a sudden sense and anticipation of a future, of impending adventures, of reopened seas, of goals that are permitted and believed in again.

How many and what sorts of things did not lie behind me then ! This stretch of desert, exhaustion, loss of faith, icing-up in the midst of youth; this onset of dotage at the wrong time; this tyranny of pain surpassed still by the tyranny of a pride that refused the conclusions of pain - and conclusions are consolations; this radical seclusion as a self-def ence against a pathologically clairvoyant contempt for humanity, this limitation in principle to what was bitter, harsh, painful to know, as prescribed by the nausea that had gradually developed from an incautious and excessively luxurious spiritual diet - one calls it romanticism - oh, who could reexperience all of this as I did ?

But if anyone could, he would surely pardon even more than a bit of foolishness, exuberance, 'gay science' - for example, the handful of songs that have been added to the book this time, songs in which a poet makes fon of all poets in a manner that is hard to forgive. Alas, it is not only the poets and their beautiful 'lyrical sentiments' on whom this resurrected author has to vent his malice: who knows what kind of victim he is looking for, what kind of monster will stimulate him to pardon it ?

Incipit tragoedia, we read at the end of this suspiciously innocent book. Beware ! Something utterly wicked and mischievous is being announced here: incipit parodia, no doubt.


But let us leave Mr. Nietzsche: what is it to us that Mr Nietzsche has got well again ?

... A psychologist knows few questions as attractive as that concerning the relation between health and philosophy; and should he himself become ill, he will bring all of his scientific curiosity into the illness. For assuming that one is a person, one necessarily also has the philosophy of that person; but here there is a considerable difference. In some, it is their weaknesses that philosophize; in others, their riches and strengths.

The former need their philosophy, be it as a prop, a sedative, medicine, redemption, elevation, or self-alienation; for the latter, it is only a beautiful luxury, in the best case the voluptuousness of a triumphant gratitude that eventually has to inscribe itself in cosmic capital letters on the heaven of concepts. In the former, more common case, however, when it is distress that philosophizes, as in all sick thinkers - and perhaps sick thinkers are in the majority in the history of philosophy - what will become of the thought that is itself subjected to the pressure of illness ?

This is the question that concerns the psychologist, and here an experiment is possible. Just like a traveller who resolves to wake up at a certain hour and then calmly gives himself up to sleep, so too we philosophers, should we become ill, temporarily surrender with body and soul to the illness - we shut our eyes to ourselves, as it were.

And as the traveller knows that something is not asleep, something that will count the hours and wake him up, we, too, know that the decisive moment will find us awake, that something will then leap forward and catch the mind in the aet, i.e. in its weakness or repentance or hardening or gloom, and whatever else the pathological states of the mind are called that on healthy days are opposed by the pride of the mind (for the old saying still holds: 'the proud mind, the peacock, and the horse are the three proudest animals on earth').

After such self-questioning, self-temptation, one acquires a subtler eye for all philosophizing to date; one is better than before at guessing the involuntary detours, alleyways, resting places, and sunning places of thought to which suffering thinkers are led and misled on account of their suffering; one now knows where the sick body and its needs unconsciously urge, push, and lure the mind - towards sun, stillness, mildness, patience, medicine, halm in some sense.

Every philosophy that ranks peace above war, every ethic with a negative definition of happiness, every metaphysics and physics that knows some finale, a final state of some sort, every predominantly aesthetic or religious craving for some Apart, Beyond, Outside, Above, permits the question whether it was not illness that inspired the philosopher. The unconscious disguise of physiological needs under the cloaks of the objective, ideal, purely spiritual goes frighteningly far - and I have asked myself often enough whether, on a grand scale, philosophy has been no more than an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body. (...)


One might guess that I do not want to take my leave ungratefully from that time of severe illness whose profits I have not yet exhausted even today: I am well aware of the advantages that my erratic health gives me over all burly minds. A philosopher who has passed through many kinds of health, and keeps passing through them again and again, has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot but translate his state every time into the most spiritual form and distance - this art of transfiguration just is philosophy.

We philosophers are not free to separate soul from body as the common people do; we are even less free to separate soul from spirit. We are no thinking frogs, no objectifying and registering devices with frozen innards - we must constantly give birth to our thoughts out of our pain and maternally endow them with all that we have of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate, and disaster. Life - to us, that means constantly transforming all that we are into light and flame, and also all that wounds us; we simply can do no other.

And as for illness: are we not almost tempted to ask whether we can do without it at all ? Only great pain is the liberator of the spirit, as the teacher of the great suspicion that turns every U into an X, 4 a real, proper X, that is, the penultimate one before the final one.

Only great pain, that long, slow pain that takes its time and in which we are burned, as it were, over green wood, forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and put aside all trust, everything good-natured, veiling, mild, average - things in which formerly we may have found our humanity.

I doubt that such pain makes us 'better' - but I know that it makes us deeper. Whether we learn to pit our pride, our scorn, our willpower against it, like the savage who, however badly tormented, repays his tormentor with the malice of his tongue; or whether we withdraw before pain into the Oriental Nothingness - called Nirvana - into mute, rigid, deaf self-surrender, self-forgetting, self-extinction: one emerges from such dangerous exercises in self-mastery as a different person, with a few more question marks, above all with the will henceforth to question further, more deeply, severely, harshly, evilly, and quietly than one had previously questioned."


The great health - We who are new, nameless, hard to understand; we premature births of an as yet unproved future - for a new end, we also need a new means, namely, a new health that is stronger, craftier, tougher, holder, and more cheerful than any previous health.

Anyone whose soul thirsts to experience the whole range of previous values and aspirations, to sail around all the coasts of this 'inland sea' (Mittelmeer) of ideals, anyone who wants to know from the adventures of his own experience how it feels to be the discoverer or conqueror of an ideal, or to be an artist, a saint, a lawmaker, a sage, a pious man, a soothsayer, an old-style divine Ioner - any such person needs one thing above all - the great health, a health that one doesn't only have, but also acquires continually and must acquire because one gives it up again and again, and must give it up !

And now, after being on our way in this manner for a long time, we argonauts of the ideal - braver, perhaps, than is prudent and often suffering shipwreck and damage but, to repeat, healthier than one would like to admit, dangerously healthy; ever again healthy - it seems to us as if, in reward, we face an as yet undiscovered land the boundaries of which no one has yet surveyed, beyond all the lands and corners of the ideal heretofore, a world so over-rich in what is beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine that our curiosity and our thirst to possess it have veered beyond control - alas, so that nothing will sate us anymore!

After such vistas and with such a burning hunger in our conscience and science, how could we still be satisfied with modern-day man ?

Too bad - but it's inevitable that we look at his worthiest goals and hopes with a seriousness which is difficult to maintain; maybe we don't even look at all any more. Another ideal runs before us, a peculiar, seductive, dangerous ideal to which we wouldn't want to persuade anyone, since we don't readily concede the right to it to anyone: the ideal of a spirit that plays naively, i.e. not deliberately but from overflowing abundance and power, with everything that was hitherto called holy, good, untouchable, divine; a spirit which has gone so far that the highest thing which the common people quite understandably accepts as its measure of value would signify for it danger, decay, debasement, or at any rate recreation, blindness, temporary self-oblivion.

The ideal of a human, superhuman well-being and benevolence that will often enough appear inhuman - for example, when it places itself next to all earthly seriousness heretofore, all forms of solemnity in gesture, word, tone, look, morality, and task as if it were their most incarnate and involuntary parody - and in spite of all this, it is perhaps only with it that the great seriousness really emerges; that the real question mark is posed for the first time; that the destiny of the soul changes; the hand of the clock moves forward; the tragedy begins."

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