Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo:   How One Becomes What One Is.  Ecce homo: Wie man wird, was man ist.  

Written in 1888 and not published until 1908

  Friedrich Nietzsche Full Text EBook  
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In order to be fair to the Birth of Tragedy (1872) it is necessary to forget a few things.  It created a sensation and even fascination as a consequence of its flaws— its application to Wagnerism as if the latter were the sign of a beginning.  On that account alone this treatise was an event in Wagner’s life: from this point forwards great hopes surrounded the name of Wagner.  Even to this day people remind me, sometimes in the middle of a talk on Parsifa1 that it rests on my conscience that so high an opinion of this movement as being of great cultural value became prevalent.  I have often seen the book quoted as "The Rebirth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music”: people had ears only for a new formula for Wagner’s art, his object and his mission—and in this way the real hidden value of the book was overlooked.  "Hellenism and Pessimism”—this would have been a less equivocal title seeing that the book contains the first attempt at showing how the Greeks succeeded in disposing of pessimism—by what means they overcame it.  Tragedy itself is the proof that the Greeks were not pessimists: Schopenhauer blundered here as he blundered in everything else—Regarded impartially The Birth of Tragedy is a book not of its time: no one would dream that it was begun in the thunder of the baffle of Worth.  I thought out these problems on cold September nights beneath the walls of Metz in the midst of my duties as nurse to the wounded; one could easily think that it was written fifty years earlier.  Its attitude towards politics is one of indifference—”un-German” as people would say today—it smells offensively of Hegel; only in one or two formulas is it infected with the bitter cadaverous odour peculiar to Schopenhauer.  An idea—the antithetical concepts Dionysian and Apollonian—is translated into metaphysics; history itself is depicted as the development of this idea; in tragedy this antithesis has become unity; from this standpoint things which had never before been face to face are suddenly confronted and understood and illuminated by each other.  Opera and revolution for instance.  The two decisive innovations in the book are first the comprehension of the Dionysian phenomenon among the Greeks—it provides the first psychological analysis of this phenomenon and sees in it the single root of all Hellenic art.  Secondly, the comprehension of Socraticism—Socrates being presented for the first time as the instrument of Hellenic dissolution, as a typical decadent.  "Reason” versus Instinct.  "Reason” at any cost as a dangerous life-undermining force.  The whole book maintains a profoundly and hostile silence concerning Christianity: the latter is neither Apollonian nor Dionysian; it negates all aesthetic values— which are the only values that The Birth of Tragedy recognizes.  Christianity is profoundly nihilistic whereas in the Dionysian symbol the most extreme extent of life affirmation are attained.  In one part of the book the Christian priesthood is referred to as a "perfidious order of dwarfs”, as "subterraneans”.  


This start of mine was remarkable beyond measure.  As a confirmation of my inmost personal experience I had discovered the only example of this fact that history possesses—with this I was the first to understand the wonderful Dionysian phenomenon.  By recognizing Socrates as a decadent I proved most conclusively that my psychological grasp of things ran very little risk of being influenced by any sort of moral idiosyncrasy: to regard morality itself as a symptom of degeneration is an innovation, a unique event of the first order in the history of knowledge.  How high I had soared above the pitiful low browed chatter about Optimism and Pessimism with my two new doctrines!  I was the first to see the actual contrast: the degenerate instinct which turns upon life with a subterranean lust of vengeance (Christianity, Schopenhauer’s philosophy and in some respects too even Plato’s philosophy—in short the whole of idealism in its typical forms) as opposed to a formula of the highest life affirmation born of an abundance, a superabundance, an affirmation free from all reserve even of suffering, even of guilt, even all that is questionable and strange in existence.  This last most joyous most exuberant and exultant Yes to life is not only the highest but also the profoundest conception and one which is most strictly confirmed and supported by truth and knowledge.  Nothing that exists must be suppressed nothing can be dispensed with.  Those aspects of life which Christians and other Nihilists reject belong to an incalculably higher order in the hierarchy of values than that which the instinct of decadence approves calls good.  In order to understand this a certain courage is necessary and as a prerequisite of this a certain excess of strength: for a man can approach only as near to truth as he has the courage to advance—that is to say the extent of the advance is a measure of his strength.  Knowledge and the affirmation of reality are just as necessary to the strong man as cowardice, the flight from reality—in fact the "ideal—are necessary to the weak when inspired by weakness.  These people are not at liberty to "know”—decadents have need of lies—it is one of their self-preservative measures.  He who not only understands the word Dionysian” but understands himself in that term does not require any refutation of Plato or of Christianity or of Schopenhauer—for his nose scents decomposition.  


The extent to which I had by these means discovered the idea of "tragedy”, the explanation of what the psychology of tragedy is I discussed finally in The Twilight of the Idols.  "The affirmation of life even in its strangest and most difficult problems: the will to life rejoicing at its own infinite vitality through the sacrifice of the highest types—that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I meant as the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet.  Not so as to be free of terror and pity; nor to purge one’s self of a dangerous emotion by discharging it with passion—this was Aristotle’s misunderstanding of it—but to be far beyond terror and pity, to be the eternal joy of Becoming itself—that lust which also involves the joy of destruction”.  In this sense I have the right to regard myself as the first tragic philosopher—that is to say the most extreme antithesis and antipodes of a pessimistic philosopher.  Before my time this translation of the Dionysian phenomenon into philosophic pathos did not exist: tragic wisdom was lacking; in vain have I sought for signs of it even among the great Greeks of philosophy—those belonging to the two centuries before Socrates.  I still remained a little doubtful about Heraclitus in whose presence alone I felt warmer and more at ease than anywhere else.  The affirmation of impermanence and destruction which is the decisive feature of a Dionysian philosophy; the affirmation of opposition and war, Becoming together with the radical rejection even of the concept Being— these things in any case I can recognize as being as closely related to me as anything thought to date.  The doctrine of the "eternal recurrence”—that is to say of the absolute and eternally repeated cycle of things—this doctrine of Zarathustra’s might it is true have been taught before.  In any case the Stoics, who derived nearly all their fundamental ideas from Heraclitus show traces of it.  


A tremendous hope finds expression in this work.  After all I have absolutely no reason to renounce the hope for a Dionysian future of music.  Let us look a century ahead and let us suppose that my attempt to destroy two millenniums of hostility to Nature and of the violation of humanity finally succeeds.  That agent of life which undertakes the greatest of all tasks, the higher breeding of mankind as well as the relentless destruction of all degenerate and parasitical elements will make that superabundance of life on earth once more possible out of which the Dionysian state will must arise again.  I promise the advent of a tragic age: the highest art in the affirmation of life, "tragedy’, will be born again when mankind has the knowledge of the harshest but most necessary of wars behind it without however suffering from that knowledge.  A psychologist might add that what I heard in Wagnerian music in my youth and early manhood had nothing whatsoever to do with Wagner; that when I described Dionysian music I described merely what I personally had heard—that I was compelled instinctively to translate and transfigure everything into the new spirit which filled me.  A proof of this and as strong a proof as you could have is my essay Wagner in Bayreuth: in all its decisive psychological passages I am the only person concerned—without any hesitation you may read my name or the word "Zarathustra” wherever the text contains the name of Wagner.  The whole representation of the dithyrambic artist is a picture of the already existing author of Zarathustra and it is drawn with an abysmal depth which does not even once come into contact with the real Wagner.  Wagner himself had a notion of the truth; he did not recognize himself in the essay—In this way "the idea of Bayreuth” was changed into something which to those who are acquainted with my Zarathustra will be no riddle—that is to say, into the Great Noontide when the highest of the elect will consecrate themselves for the greatest of all duties— who knows?  The vision of a feast which I may live to see.  The pathos of the first few pages is world-historic; the glance which is discussed on page 105 of the book is the actual glance of Zarathustra; Wagner, Bayreuth, the whole of this petty German wretchedness is a cloud upon which an endless mirage of the future is reflected.  Even from the psychological standpoint all the decisive traits in my character are introduced into Wagner’s nature—the juxtaposition of the most brilliant and most fatal forces, a Will to Power such as no man has ever possessed, inexorable bravery in matters spiritual, an unlimited power of learning that does not stifle the will to action.  Everything in this essay is a prophecy: the proximity of the resurrection of the Greek spirit, the need of men who will be counter-Alexanders who will re-tie the Gordian knot of Greek culture after it has been cut.  Listen to the world-historic accent with which the concept "sense for the tragic” is introduced: there are little else but world-historic accents in this essay.  This is the strangest kind of "objectivity” that ever existed: the absolute clarity in regard to what I am projected itself into any reality that happened to appear—the truth about myself was voiced out of appalling depths.  

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