Why Am I So Wise?

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Why I Am So Wise


The fortunateness of my existence, its uniqueness perhaps, lies in its fatality: to express it in the form of a riddle, as my father I have already died, as my mother I still live and grow old. This twofold origin, as it were from the highest and the lowest rung of the ladder of life, at once decadent and beginning—this if anything explains that neutrality, that freedom from party in relation to the total problem of life which perhaps distinguishes me.





I have a subtler sense for signs of ascent and decline than any man has ever had, I am the teacher par excellence in this matter—I know both, I am both.—My father died at the age of thirty-six; he was delicate, lovable and morbid, like a being destined to pay this world only a passing—a gracious reminder of life rather than life itself. In the same year in which his life declined mine too declined: in the thirty-sixth year of my life I arrived at the lowest point of my vitality—I still lived, but without being able to see three places in front of me.




At that time—it was 1879—I relinquished my Basel professorship, lived through the summer like a shadow in St.Moritze and the following winter, the most sunless of my life, as a shadow in Naumburg. This was my minimum: “ The Wanderer and his Shadow” came to existence during the course of it. I undoubtedly knew all about shadows in those days….




In the following winter, the first winter I spent in Genoa, that sweetening and spiritualization which is virtually inseparable from an extreme poverty of blood and muscle produced ‘ Daybreak’ . The perfect brightness and cheerfulness, even exuberance of spirit reflected in the said work is in my case compatible not only with the profoundest physiological weakness, but even with an extremity of pain.







In the midst of the torments which attended an uninterrupted three-day headache accompanied by the laborious vomiting of phlegm—I possessed a dialectical clarity par excellence and thought my way very cold-bloodedly through things for which when I am in better health I am not enough of a climber, not refined, not cold enough.




My readers perhaps know the extent to which I regard dialectics as a symptom of decadence, for example in the most famous case of all: in the case of Socrates.—All morbid disturbances of the intellect, even that semi-stupefaction consequent on fever, have remained to this day totally unfamiliar things to me, on their nature and frequency I had first to instruct myself by scholarly methods. My blood flows slowly. No one has ever been able to diagnose fever in me. A doctor who treated me for some time as a nervous case said at last: “ No! there is nothing wrong with your nerves, it is only I who am nervous.”




Any kind of local degeneration absolutely undemonstrable; or organically originating stomach ailment, though there does exist, as a consequence of general exhaustion, a profound weakness of the gastric system. Conditions of the eyes, sometimes approaching dangerously close to blindness, also only consequence, not causal; so that with every increase in vitality eyesight has also again improved.  Convalescence means with me a long, all too long succession of years—it also unfortunately means relapse, deterioration, periods of a kind of decadence. I spelled it out forwards and backwards.




Even that filigree art of grasping and comprehending in general, that finger for nuances, that psychology of ‘ looking around the corner’ and whatever else characterizes me was learned only then, is the actual gift of that time in which everything in me became more subtle, observation itself together with all the organs of observation.





To look from a morbid perspective towards healthier concepts and values, and again conversely to look down from the abundance and certainty of rich life into the secret labor of the instinct of decadence—that is what I have practiced most, it has been my own particular field of experience, in this if in anything I am a master. I now have the skill and knowledge to invert perspectives: first reason why a ‘ revaluation of values’ is perhaps possible at all to me alone.





   Setting aside the fact that I am a decadent, I also its antithesis. My proof of this is, among other things, that in combating my sick conditions I always instinctively chose the right means: while the decadent as such always chooses the means harmful to him. As summa summarum I was healthy, as corner, as speciality I was decadent. That energy for absolute isolation and detachment from my accustomed circumstances, the way I compelled myself no longer to let myself be cared for, served, doctored—this betrayed an unconditional certainty of instinct as to what at that time was needful above all else.




   I took myself in hand, I myself made myself healthy again: the precondition for this—every physiologist will admit it—is that one is fundamentally healthy. A being who is typically morbid cannot become healthy, still less can he make himself healthy; conversely, for one who is typically healthy being sick can even be an energetic stimulant to life, to more life.





   Thus in fact does that long period of sickness seem to me now; I discovered life as it were anew, myself included, I tasted all good and even petty things in a way that others could not easily taste them—I made out of my will to health, to life, my philosophy….For pay heed to this: it was in the years of my lowest vitality that I ceased to be a pessimist: the instinct for self-vitality that I ceased to be a pessimist: the instinct for self-recovery forbade to me a philosophy of indigence and discouragement…

  因此,對那段生病的漫長時期,我的心得是:我重新恢復生命的原來面貌; 我品嚐到生命的崇高及卑微,這是別人無法輕易做到的。  我靠自己意志力得到健康,生命和自己的哲學。請注意:就在我精力最低潮的時候,我不再是悲觀主義者。我自我復健的本能使我無法接受貧瘠洩氣的悲觀哲學。


     And in what does one really recognize that someone has turned out well! In that a human being who has turned out well does our senses good: that he is carved out of wood at once hard, delicate and sweet-smelling. He has a taste only for what is beneficial to him; his pleasure, his joy ceases where the measure of what is beneficial is overstepped. He divines cures for injuries, he employs ill chances to his own advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger. Out of everything he sees, hears, experiences he instinctively collects together his sum: he is a principle of selection, he rejects much.




  He is always in his company, whether he traffics with books, people or landscapes: he does honor when he chooses, when he admits, when he trusts. He reacts slowly to every kind of stimulus, with that slowness which a protracted caution and a willed pride have bred in him—he tests an approaching stimulus, he is far from going out to meet it. He believes in neither ‘ misfortune’ nor in ‘guilt’ “ he knows how to forget—he is strong enough for everything to have to turn out for the best for him. Very well, I am the opposite of a decadent: for I have just described myself.




 The twofold succession of experiences, this accessibility to me of apparently separate worlds, is repeated in my nature in every respect—I am a Doppelganger, I have a ‘second’ face in addition to the first one. And perhaps also a third…Even by virtue of my descent I am permitted to look beyond all merely locally, merely nationally conditioned perspectives, it costs me no effort to be a ‘good European’.



   On the other hand I am perhaps more German than present-day Germans, mere Reich Germans, are still capable of being—I the last anti-political German. And yet my ancestors were Polish noblemen: I have preserved from them much racial instinct, who knows? Ultimately even the liberum veto. When I consider how often I am addressed as a Pole and by Poles themselves, how rarely I am taken for a German, it might appear that German has only been sprinkled on to me.




  I have never understood the art of arousing enmity towards myself—this too I owe to my incomparable father—even when it seemed to me very worthwhile to do so. However unchristian it may seem, I am not even inimical towards myself, one may turn my life this way and that, one will only rarely, at bottom only once, discover signs that anyone has borne ill will towards me—perhaps, however, somewhat too many signs of good will..










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