Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten).

The Wanderer and his Shadow, the second supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1880.


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Previous Section   17. PROFOUND INTERPRETATIONS   Next Section

Profound Interpretations.  He who has interpreted a passage in an author "more profoundly" than was intended, has not interpreted the author but has obscured him.  Our metaphysicians are in the same relation, or even in a worse relation, to the text of Nature.  For, to apply their profound interpretations, they often alter the text to suit their purpose — or, in other words, corrupt the text.  A curious example of the corruption and obscuration of an author's text is furnished by the ideas of Schopenhauer on the pregnancy of women.  "The sign of a continuous will to life in time” he says, "is copulation; the sign of the light of knowledge which is associated anew with this will and holds the possibility of a deliverance, and that too in the highest degree of clearness, is the renewed incarnation of the will to life.  This incarnation is betokened by pregnancy, which is therefore frank and open, and even proud, whereas copulation hides itself like a criminal”.  He declares that every woman, if surprised in the sexual act, would be likely to die of shame, but "displays her pregnancy without a trace of shame, nay even with a sort of pride”.  Now, firstly, this condition cannot easily be displayed more aggressively than it displays itself, and when Schopenhauer gives prominence only to the intentional character of the display, he is fashioning his text to suit the interpretation.  Moreover, his statement of the universality of the phenomenon is not true.  He speaks of "every woman”.  Many women, especially the younger, often appear painfully ashamed of their condition, even in the presence of their nearest kinsfolk.  And when women of riper years, especially in the humbler classes, do actually appear proud of their condition, it is because they would give us to understand that they are still desirable to their husbands.  That a neighbour on seeing them or a passing stranger should say or think "Can it be possible"?  — that is an alms always acceptable to the vanity of women of low mental capacity.  In the reverse instance, to conclude from Schopenhauer's proposition, the cleverest and most intelligent women would tend more than any to exult openly in their condition.  For they have the best prospect of giving birth to an intellectual prodigy, in whom "the will" can once more "negative" itself for the universal good.  Stupid women, on the other hand, would have every reason to hide their pregnancy more modestly than anything they hide.  It cannot be said that this view corresponds to reality.  Granted, however, that Schopenhauer was right on the general principle that women show more self satisfaction when pregnant than at any other time, a better explanation than this lies to hand.  One might imagine the clucking of a hen even before she lays an egg, saying, "Look!  look!  I shall lay an egg!  I shall lay an egg"!  

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