Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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The Question of being understandable.

One not only wants to be understood when one writes, but also quite as certainly not to be understood.  It is by no means an objection to a book when someone finds it unintelligible: perhaps this might just have been the intention of its author, perhaps he did not want to be understood by "anyone”.  A distinguished intellect and taste, when it wants to communicate its thoughts, always selects its hearers; by selecting them, it at the same time closes its barriers against "the others".  It is there that all the more refined laws of style have their origin: they at the same time keep off, they create distance, they prevent "access" (intelligibility, as we have said,) while they open the ears of those who are acoustically related to them.  And to say it between ourselves and with reference to my own case, I do not desire that either my ignorance, or the vivacity of my temperament, should prevent me being understood by you, my friends: I certainly do not desire that my vivacity should have that effect, however much it may impel me to arrive quickly at an object, in order to arrive at it at all.  For I think it is best to do with profound problems as with a cold bath - quickly in, quickly out.  That one does not thereby get into the depths, that one does not get deep enough down is a superstition of the hydrophobic, the enemies of cold water; they speak without experience.  Oh!  The great cold makes one quick!  And let me ask by the way: Is it a fact that a thing has been misunderstood and unrecognised when it has only been touched upon in passing, glanced at, flashed at?  Must one absolutely sit upon it in the first place?  Must one have brooded on it as on an egg?  Diu noctuque incubando, as Newton said of himself?  At least there are truths of a peculiar shyness and ticklishness which one can only get hold of suddenly, and in no other way, which one must either take by surprise, or leave alone.  Finally, my brevity has still another value: on those questions which pre-occupy me, I must say a great deal briefly, in order that it may be heard yet more briefly.  For as immoralist, one has to take care lest one ruins innocence, I mean the asses and old maids of both sexes, who get nothing from life but their innocence; moreover my writings are meant to fill them with enthusiasm, to elevate them, to encourage them in virtue.  I should be at a loss to know of anything more amusing than to see enthusiastic old asses and maids moved by the sweet feelings of virtue: and "that have I seen" said Zarathustra.  So much with respect to brevity; the matter stands worse as regards my ignorance, of which I make no secret to myself.  There are hours in which I am ashamed of it; to be sure there are likewise hours in which I am ashamed of this shame.  Perhaps we philosophers, all of us, are badly placed at present with regard to knowledge: science is growing, the most learned of us are on the point of discovering that we know too little.  But it would be worse still if it were otherwise, if we knew too much; our duty is and remains first of all, not to get into confusion about ourselves.  We are different from the learned; although it cannot be denied that amongst other things we are also learned.  We have different needs, a different growth, a different digestion: we need more, we need also less.  There is no formula as to how much an intellect needs for its nourishment; if, however, its taste be in the direction of independence, rapid coming and going, travelling, and perhaps adventure for which only the swiftest are qualified, it prefers rather to live free on poor fare, than to be unfree and plethoric.  Not fat, but the greatest suppleness and power is what a good dancer wishes from his nourishment, and I know not what the spirit of a philosopher would like better than to be a good dancer.  For the dance is his ideal, and also his art, in the end likewise his sole piety, his "divine service".  
 

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