Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Previous Section   356. How things will become ever more “artistic” in Europe   Next Section

How things will become ever more "artistic” in Europe.

Providing a living still enforces even in the present day (in our transition period when so much ceases to enforce) a definite role on almost all male Europeans, their so-called callings; some have the liberty, an apparent liberty, to choose this role themselves, but most have it chosen for them.  The result is strange enough.  Almost all Europeans confound themselves with their role when they advance in age; they themselves are the victims of their "good acting” they have forgotten how much chance, whim and arbitrariness swayed them when their "calling" was decided and how many other roles they could perhaps have played: for it is now too late!  Looked at more closely, we see that the role has actually become character; and art, nature.  There were ages in which people believed with unshaken confidence, yea, with piety, in their predestination for this very business, for that very mode of livelihood, and would not at all acknowledge chance, or the fortuitous role, or arbitrariness therein.  Ranks, guilds, and hereditary trade privileges succeeded, with the help of this belief, in rearing those extra ordinary broad towers of society which distinguished the Middle Ages, and of which at all events one thing remains to their credit: capacity for duration (and duration is a thing of the first rank on earth).  But there are ages entirely the reverse, the properly democratic ages, in which people tend to become more and more oblivious of this belief, and a sort of impudent conviction and quite contrary mode of viewing things comes to the front, the Athenian conviction which is first observed in the epoch of Pericles, the American conviction of the present day, which wants also more and more to become a European conviction: whereby the individual is convinced that he can do almost anything, that he can play almost any role, whereby everyone makes experiments with himself, improvises, tries anew, tries with delight, whereby all nature ceases and becomes art.  The Greeks, having adopted this role- creed an artist creed, if you will underwent step by step, as is well known, a curious transformation, not in every respect worthy of imitation: they became actual stage-players; and as such they enchanted, they conquered all the world, and at last even the conqueror of the world, (for the Graeculus histrio conquered Rome, and not Greek culture, as the naive are accustomed to say).  What I fear, however, and what is at present obvious, if we desire to perceive it, is that we modern men are quite on the same road already; and whenever a man begins to discover in what respect he plays a role, and to what extent he can be a stage player, he becomes a stage player.  A new flora and fauna of men thereupon springs up, which cannot grow in more stable, more restricted eras or is left "at the bottom” under the ban and suspicion of infamy; thereupon the most interesting and insane periods of history always make their appearance, in which "stage-players” all kinds of stage-players, are the real masters.  Precisely thereby another species of man is always more and more injured, and in the end made impossible: above all the great "architects"; the building power is now being paralysed; the courage that makes plans for the distant future is disheartened; there begins to be a lack of organising geniuses.  Who is there who would now venture to undertake works for the completion of which millenniums would have to be reckoned upon?  The fundamental belief is dying out, on the basis of which one could calculate, promise and anticipate the future in one s plan, and offer it as a sacrifice thereto, that in fact man has only value and significance in so far as he is a stone in a great building; for which purpose he has first of all to be solid, he has to be a "stone".  Above all, not a stage-player!  In short alas!  This fact will be hushed up for some considerable time to come!  that which from henceforth will no longer be built, and can no longer be built, is a society in the old sense of the term; to build that structure everything is lacking, above all, the material.  None of us are any longer material for a society: that is a truth for which the time has come!  It seems to me a matter of indifference that mean while the most short-sighted, perhaps the most honest, and at any rate the noisiest species of men of the present day, our friends the Socialists, believe, hope, dream, and above all scream and scribble almost the opposite; in fact one already reads their watchword of the future: "free society” on all tables and walls.  Free society?  Indeed!  Indeed!  But you know, gentlemen, sure enough whereof one builds it?  Out of wooden iron!  Out of the famous wooden iron!  And it must not even be wooden.  
 

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