Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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What is Romanticism?

It will be remembered perhaps, at least among my friends, that at first I assailed the modern world with some gross errors and exaggerations, but at any rate with hope in my heart.  I recognised who knows from what personal experiences?  the philosophical pessimism of the nineteenth century as the symptom of a higher power of thought, a more daring courage and a more triumphant plenitude of life than had been characteristic of the eighteenth century, the age of Hume, Kant, Condillac and the sensualists: so that the tragic view of things seemed to me the peculiar luxury of our culture, its most precious, noble, and dangerous mode of prodigality; but nevertheless, in view of its overflowing wealth, a justifiable luxury.  In the same way I interpreted for myself German music as the expression of a Dionysian power in the German soul: I thought I heard in it the earthquake by means of which a primeval force that had been imprisoned for ages was finally finding vent indifferent as to whether all that usually calls itself culture was thereby made to totter.  It is obvious that I then misunderstood what constitutes the veritable character both of philosophical pessimism and of German music, namely, their Romanticism.  What is Romanticism?  Every art and every philosophy may be regarded as a healing and helping appliance in the service of growing, struggling life: they always presuppose suffering and sufferers.  But there are two kinds of sufferers: on the one hand those that suffer from overflowing vitality, who need Dionysian art, and require a tragic view and insight into life; and on the other hand those who suffer from reduced vitality, who seek repose, quietness, calm seas, and deliverance from themselves through art or knowledge, or else intoxication, spasm, bewilderment and madness.  All Romanticism in art and knowledge responds to the twofold craving of the latter; to them Schopenhauer as well as Wagner responded (and responds), to name those most celebrated and decided romanticists, who were then misunderstood by me (not however to their disadvantage, as may be reasonably conceded to me).  The being richest in overflowing vitality, the Dionysian God and man, may not only allow himself the spectacle of the horrible and question able, but even the fearful deed itself, and all the luxury of destruction, disorganisation and negation.  With him evil, senselessness and ugliness seem as it were licensed, in consequence of the overflowing plenitude of procreative, fructifying power, which can convert every desert into a luxuriant orchard.  Conversely, the greatest sufferer, the man poorest in vitality, would have most need of mildness, peace and kindliness in thought and action: he would need, if possible, a God who is specially the God of the sick, a "Saviour"; similarly he would have need of logic, the abstract intelligibility of existence for logic soothes and gives confidence; in short he would need a certain warm, fear dispelling narrowness and imprisonment within optimistic horizons.  In this manner I gradually began to understand Epicurus, the opposite of a Dionysian pessimist; in a similar manner also the "Christian” who in fact is only a type of Epicurean, and like him essentially a romanticist: and my vision has always become keener in tracing that most difficult and insidious of all forms of retrospective inference^ in which most mistakes have been made the inference from the work to its author from the deed to its doer, from the ideal to him who needs it, from every mode of thinking and valuing to the imperative want behind it.  In regard to all aesthetic values I now avail myself of this radical distinction: I ask in every single case" Has hunger or superfluity become creative here"?  At the outset another distinction might seem to recommend itself more it is far more conspicuous, namely, to have in view whether the desire for rigidity, for perpetuation, for being is the cause of the creating, or the desire for destruction, for change, for the new, for the future for becoming.  But when looked at more carefully, both these kinds of desire prove themselves ambiguous, and are explicable precisely according to the before-mentioned, and, as it seems to me, rightly preferred scheme.  The desire for destruction, change and becoming, may be the expression of overflowing power, pregnant with futurity (my terminus for this is of course the word "Dionysian"); but it may also be the hatred of the ill-constituted, destitute and unfortunate, which destroys, and must destroy, because the enduring, yea, all that endures, in fact all being, excites and provokes it.  To understand this emotion we have but to look closely at our anarchists.  The will to perpetuation requires equally a double interpretation.  It may on the one hand proceed from gratitude and love: art of this origin will always be an art of apotheosis, perhaps dithyrambic, as with Rubens, mocking divinely, as with Hafiz, or clear and kind-hearted as with Goethe, and spreading a Homeric brightness and glory over everything (in this case I speak of Apollonian art).  It may also, however, be the tyrannical will of a sorely-suffering, struggling or tortured being, who would like to stamp his most personal, individual and narrow characteristics, the very idiosyncrasy of his suffering, as an obligatory law and constraint on others; who, as it were, takes revenge on all things, in that he imprints, enforces and brands his image, the image of his torture, upon them.  The latter is romantic pessimism in its most extreme form, whether it be as Schopenhauerian will philosophy, or as Wagnerian music: romantic pessimism, the last great event in the destiny of our civilisation.  (That there may be quite a different kind of pessimism, a classical pessimism this presentiment and vision belongs to me, as something inseparable from me, as my proprium and ipsissimum; only that the word "classical" is repugnant to my ears, it has become far too worn, too indefinite and indistinguishable.  I call that pessimism of the future, for it is coming!  I see it coming!  Dionysian pessimism.)  
 

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