Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom
Part IV. The Personality of Friedrich Nietzsche, A Memorial Address
A Memorial Address Given in Berlin on September 13, 1900
it is strange that with the infatuation for Nietzsche in our day, someone must appear whose feelings, no less than those of many others, are drawn to the particular personality, and yet who, in spite of this, must constantly keep before him the deep contradictions which exist between this type of spirit, and the ideas and feelings of those who represent themselves as adherents of his world conception. Such a one who stands apart must, above all, beware of the contrast between the relationship of those contemporaries to Nietzsche a decade ago as the night of madness broke over the “fighter against his time” and what existed when death took him from us on the 25th of August, 1900. It seems as if the complete opposite has happened from what Nietzsche prophesied in regard to his effect on his contemporaries in the last days of his creative work. The first part of his book, in which he tried to recoin the values of thousands of years, his Antichrist, lay completed at the onset of his illness. He begins with the words, “This book belongs to the very few; perhaps not even one of these is yet living. There may be those who understand my Zarathustra; how could I confuse myself with those for whom ears are growing already today? Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some of my readers will be born posthumously.” At his death it seemed as if the “day after tomorrow” had already come. One must call into this apparent “day after tomorrow” the words of Zarathustra: “You say you believe in Zarathustra? But of what importance is Zarathustra? You are my believers, but of what importance are all believers? Now I exhort you to lose me and to find yourselves; and only when you have denied me will I return to you.” Who would dare to say whether Nietzsche, were he to live today in fresh creativity, would look with greater pleasure upon those who revere him with doubts, or upon others? But it must be permitted, especially today, to look back, beyond these present-day admirers, to the time when he felt himself alone and misunderstood in the midst of the spiritual life surrounding him, when some people lived who felt it blasphemous to be called his “believers,” because he appeared to them to be a spirit whom one could not encounter importunately with a “yes” or “no,” but like an earthquake in the realm of the spirit, which stirs up questions for which premature answers can only be like unripe fruits. But ten years ago, more moving than the news of his death today, two pieces of news which followed closely upon each other, came to the “ears” which had “grown” for the Nietzsche admirers of that time. The first concerned the cycle of lectures which Georg Brandes had held about the world conception of Nietzsche at the University of Copenhagen in the year 1888. Nietzsche felt this recognition to be one which had come forth from “single ones” which were “born posthumously.” He felt himself jerked out of his loneliness in a way which was in harmony with his spirit. He did not want to be evaluated; he wanted to be “described,” characterized. And soon upon this news followed the report that his mind, tom from its loneliness, had succumbed to the frightful destiny of spiritual darkness.
And, while he himself could no longer contribute, his contemporaries had the leisure to sharpen the outlines of his picture. Through the observation of his personality, the picture of the time could imprint itself ever more clearly for them; the picture of the time, from which his spirit rises like a Böcklin figure. The worlds of his soul ideals could be illuminated by the light which the spiritstars of the second half of the nineteenth century cast upon them. In full clarity stood the points in which he was truly great. But these also overshadowed the reason why he had to wander in loneliness. The nature of his being led him over, heights of spirit life. He stepped forth like one to whom only the essentials of mankind's development are of concern. But this essential touched him as much as others are touched in their soul by only the most intimate situations. Just as the souls of others are burdened directly by only the most immediate personal experiences, so the great questions of culture, the mighty needs for knowledge of his age, decisively passed through his soul. What permeated only the heads of many of his contemporaries, became for him a personal affair of the heart.
Greek culture, Schopenhauer's world conception, Wagner's music dramas, the knowledge of the more recent natural science, aroused in him such personal, deep feelings as would have been aroused in others only by the experiences of a strong, passionate love. What the entire age lived through in hopes and doubts, in temptations and joys of knowledge, Nietzsche experienced in his special way on his lonesome heights. He found no new ideas; but he suffered and rejoiced in the ideas of his time in a way different from that of his contemporaries. It was their task to give birth to the ideas; before him arose the difficult question, How can one live with these ideas?
His educational path had made Nietzsche a philologist. He had penetrated so deeply into the world of Greek spiritual culture that his teacher, Ritschl, could recommend him with these words to the University of Basel, which engaged the young scholar before he had taken his doctorate: Friedrich Nietzsche is a genius and is able to do whatever he puts his mind to. He may well have achieved excellent results in the sense of the requirements made of philologists. But his relationship to Greek culture was not only that of a philologist. He did not live in ancient Greece in thought alone; with his whole heart he was deeply engrossed in Greek thinking and feeling. The bearers of Greek culture did not remain the object of his studies; they became his personal friends. During the first period of his teaching activity in Basel, he worked out a book about the philosophers of the tragic age before Socrates. It was published among his posthumus works. He does not write like a scholar about Thales, Heraclitus and Parmenides; he converses with these figures of antiquity as with personalities with whom his heart is closely connected. The passion which he feels for them makes him a stranger to the Western culture, which according to his feelings, since Socrates has taken paths other than those of ancient times. Socrates was Nietzsche's enemy because he had dulled the great tragic fundamental moods of his predecessors. The instructive mind of Socrates strove toward an understanding of reality. He desired reconciliation with life through virtue. But there is nothing, according to Nietzsche, which can degrade mankind more than the acceptance of life as it is. Life cannot reconcile itself with itself; man can only bear this life if he creates over and above it. Before Socrates, the Greeks understood this. Nietzsche believed that he found their fundamental mood expressed in these words which, according to legend, the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, gave as answer to the question, What is best for mankind: “Miserable creation of a moment, children of accident and travail, why do you force me to tell you what is not the most profitable for you to hear? What is the very best for you is not attainable by you; that is, not to be born, not to exist, to be nothing. But the second best for you is to die soon.” Ancient Greek art and wisdom sought consolation in the face of life. The servants of Dionysus did not wish to belong to this community of life, but rather to a higher one. For Nietzsche this was expressed in their culture. “In song and dance, the human being expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and how to speak, and he is about to fly, to dance into the air.” There are two paths for man which lead him over and above existence; in a blessed enchantment, as if in an opium dream, he can forget existence and, “singing and dancing,” feel himself at one with a universal soul; or he can look for his satisfaction in an ideal picture of reality as if in a dream which flutters gently above existence. Nietzsche characterizes these two paths as the Dionysian and the Apollonian soul conditions. But the more recent culture since Socrates has looked for reconciliation with existence, and thereby has lowered the value of mankind. It is no wonder that with such feelings, Nietzsche felt lonely in this more recent culture.
Two personalities seemed to pull him out of this state of loneliness. On his life path he encountered Schopenhauer's conception of the worthlessness of existence, and Richard Wagner. The position he took in relation to these two clearly illuminated the being of his spirit. Toward Schopenhauer he felt a devotion more intimate than can be imagined. And yet Schopenhauer's teachings remained almost without importance for him. The wise one from Frankfurt had innumerable disciples who accepted faithfully what he had to say. But Nietzsche never was one of these believers. At the same time that he sent his pean of praise, Schopenhauer als Erzieher, Schopenhauer as Educator, into the world, he wrote secretly for himself his serious doubts about the philosopher's ideas. He did not look up to him as to a teacher; he loved him like a father. He felt the heroic quality of his thoughts even when he did not agree with them. His relationship to Schopenhauer was too intimate to necessitate an external faith in him or an outer confession. He loved his “educator” so much that he attributed his own thoughts to him in order to be able to revere them in another. He did not want to agree with a personality in his thoughts; he wanted to live in friendship with another. This desire also attracted him to Richard Wagner. What then were all those figures of pre-Socratic Greek culture with whom he had wished to live in friendship? Indeed, they were mere shadows from a far distant past. And Nietzsche aspired to life, to the direct friendship of tragic human beings. Greek culture remained dead and abstract for him, despite all the life his fantasy tried to breathe into it. The Greek intellectual heroes remained for him a yearning; for him Richard Wagner was a fulfillment which tried to re-awaken the old world of Greece within his personality, his art, his world conception. Nietzsche spent most glorious days when from Basel he was allowed to visit the Wagner couple on their Triebschen estate. What the philologist had looked for in spirit, to breathe Greek air, he believed he found here in reality. He could find a personal relationship to a world which previously he had sought in ideas. He could experience intimately what he could otherwise only have conjured before himself in thought. To him the Triebschen idyll was like home. How descriptive are the words with which he describes his feelings in regard to Wagner: “A fruitful, rich, stirring life, quite different and unheard of in more mediocre mortals! For this reason he stands there rooted deeply in his own strength, with his gaze over and above all that is ephemeral; eternal in the most beautiful sense.”
In Richard Wagner's personality Nietzsche believed he had the higher worlds, which could make life as bearable for him as he imagined it to be in the sense of the ancient Greek world conception. But precisely here did he not commit the greatest error in his sense? Indeed he sought in life for what, according to his assumptions life could not offer. He wanted to be above life; and with all his strength he threw himself into the life that Wagner lived. For this reason it is understandable that his greatest experience had to be his deepest disappointment at the same time. To be able to find in Wagner what he was searching for, he had first to magnify the true personality of Wagner to an ideal picture. What Wagner could never be, Nietzsche had made out of him. He did not see and revere the true Wagner; he revered his image, which towered far above reality. Then when Wagner had achieved what he aspired, when he had reached his goal, Nietzsche felt the disharmony between his impression and the true Wagner. And he separated from Wagner. But only he interprets this separation psychologically correctly who recognizes that Nietzsche did not separate from the true Wagner, because he never was his follower; he only saw his deception clearly. What he had looked for in Wagner, he could never find in him because that had nothing to do with Wagner; it had to be freed from all reality as a higher world. Then Nietzsche later characterized the necessity of his apparent separation from Wagner. He says that what in his younger years he had heard in Wagner's music had absolutely nothing to do with Wagner. “When I described the Dionysian music, I described what I had heard; instinctively I had to translate and transfigure everything into the new spirit which I bore within me. The proof of this, as strong as proof as can be, is my book, Wagner in Bayreuth; in all psychologically decisive places one can place my name, or the name Zarathustra wherever the text uses the name Wagner. The complete picture of the dithyrambic artist is the picture of the pre-existentialist poet of Zarathustra, drawn with profound depth, and without really touching the reality of Wagner for a single moment. Wagner himself had an idea of this; he did not recognize himself in the book.”
In Zarathustra Nietzsche sketches the world for which he had searched in vain in Wagner, separated from alt reality. He placed his Zarathustra ideal in a different relationship to reality than his own earlier ideals. He had had bad experiences in his direct turning away from existence. He must have done injustice to this existence, and for this reason it had avenged itself so bitterly against him; this idea gained the upper hand within him more and more. The disappointment which his idealism had caused him, drove him into a hostile mood toward all idealism. During the time following his separation from Wagner, his works become accusations against ideals. “One error after another is placed upon ice; the ideal is not refuted — it freezes to death.” Thus in 1888 he expresses himself about the goal of his book which had appeared in 1878, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Human, All Too Human. After this Nietzsche looks for refuge in reality; he deepens himself in the more recent natural science, in order that through it he can gain a true guide to reality. All worlds beyond this world, which lead human beings away from reality, now become abominable, remote worlds for him, conceived out of the fantasy of weak human beings, who do not have sufficient strength to find their satisfaction in immediate, fresh existence. Natural science has placed the human being at the end of a purely natural evolution. Through the fact that the latter has conceived the human being out of itself, all that is below him has taken on a higher meaning. Therefore, man should not deny its significance and wish to make himself an image of something beyond this world. He should understand that he is not the meaning of a super-earthly power, but the “meaning of this earth.” What he wishes to attain above what exists, he should not strive for in enmity against what exists. Nietzsche looks within reality itself for the germ of the higher, which is to make reality bearable. Man should not strive toward a divine being; out of his reality he should bring forth a higher way of existence. This reality extends over and above itself. Humanity has the possibility to become superhumanity. Evolution has always been. The human being should also work at evolution. The laws of evolution are greater, more comprehensive than all that has already been developed. One should not only look upon that which exists, but one must go back to primeval forces which have engendered the real. An ancient world conception questioned how “good and evil” came into the world. It believed that it had to go behind existence in order to discover “in the eternal” the reasons for “good and evil.” But with the “eternal,” with the “beyond,” Nietzsche had also to reject the “eternal” evaluation of “good and evil.” Man has come into existence through the natural; and “good and evil” have come into existence with him. The creation of mankind is “good and evil.” And deeper than the created is the creator. The “human being” stands “beyond good and evil.” He has made the one thing to be good, the other to be evil. He may not let himself be chained through his former “good and evil.” He can follow further the path of evolution which he has taken till now. From the worm he has become a human being; from man he can develop to the superman. He can create a new good and evil. He may “reevaluate” present day values. Nietzsche was torn from his work on Umwertung aller Werte, Transvaluation of All Values, through his spiritual darkness. The evolution of the worm to the human being was the idea which he had gained from the more recent natural science. He himself did not become a scientist; he had adopted the idea of evolution from others. For them it was a matter of the intellect; for him it became a matter of the heart. The others waged a spiritual battle against all old prejudices. Nietzsche asked himself how he could live with the new idea. His battle took place entirely within his own soul. He needed the further development to the superman in order to be able to bear mankind. Thus, by itself, in lonely heights, his sensitive spirit had to overcome the natural science which he had taken into himself. During his last creative period, Nietzsche tried to attain from reality itself what earlier he thought he could gain in illusion, in an ideal realm. Life is assigned a task which is firmly rooted in life, and yet leads over and above this life. In this immediate existence one cannot remain standing in real life, or in the life illuminated by natural science. In this life there also must be suffering. This remained Nietzsche's opinion. The “superman” is also a means to make life bearable. All this points to the fact that Nietzsche was born to “suffer from existence.” His genius consisted in the searching for bases for consolation. The struggle for world conceptions has often engendered martyrs. Nietzsche has produced no new ideas for a world conception. One will always recognize that his genius does not lie in the production of new ideas. But he suffered deeply because of the thoughts surrounding him. In compensation for this suffering he found the enraptured tones of his Zarathustra. He became the poet of the new world conception; the hymns in praise of the “superman” are the personal, the poetic reply to the problems and results of the more recent natural science. All that the nineteenth century produced in ideas, would also have been produced without Nietzsche. In the eyes of the future he will not be considered an original philosopher, a founder of religions, or a prophet; for the future he will be a martyr of knowledge, who in poetry found words with which to express his suffering.