Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches), subtitled A Book for Free Spirits (Ein Buch für freie Geister).

First published in 1878.   A second part, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), was published in 1879, and a third part, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten), followed in 1880.

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Previous Section   162. THE CULT OF GENIUS FOR THE SAKE OF VANITY   Next Section

THE CULT OF GENIUS FOR THE SAKE OF VANITY.  Because we think well of ourselves, but nevertheless do not imagine that we are capable of the conception of one of Raphael's pictures or of a scene such as those of one of Shakespeare's dramas, we persuade ourselves that the faculty for doing this is quite extraordinarily wonderful, a very rare case, or, if we are religiously inclined, a grace from above.  Thus the cult of genius fosters our vanity, our self love, for it is only when we think of it as very far removed from us, as a miraculum, that it does not wound us (even Goethe, who was free from envy, called Shakespeare a star of the farthest heavens, whereby we are reminded of the line "die Sterne, die begehrt man nicht").  But, apart from those suggestions of our vanity, the activity of a genius does not seem so radically different from the activity of a mechanical inventor, of an astronomer or historian or strategist.  All these forms of activity are explicable if we realise men whose minds are active in one special direction, who make use of everything as material, who always eagerly study their own inward life and that of others, who find types and incitements everywhere, who never weary in the employment of their means.  Genius does nothing but learn how to lay stones, then to build, always to seek for material and always to work upon it.  Every human activity is marvellously complicated, and not only that of genius, but it is no "miracle”.  Now whence comes the belief that genius is found only in artists, orators, and philosophers, that they alone have "intuition" (by which we credit them with a kind of magic glass by means of which they see straight into one's "being")?  It is clear that men only speak of genius where the workings of a great intellect are most agreeable to them and they have no desire to feel envious.  To call any one "divine" is as much as saying "here we have no occasion for rivalry".  Thus it is that everything completed and perfect is stared at, and everything incomplete is undervalued.  Now nobody can see how the work of an artist has developed '; that is its advantage, for everything of which the development is seen is looked on coldly.  The perfected art of representation precludes all thought of its development, it tyrannises as a present perfection.  For this reason artists of representation are especially held to be possessed of genius, but not scientific men.  In reality, however, the former valuation and the latter under valuation are only puerilities of reason.  

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