The Joyful Wisdom, by Friedrich Nietzsche

Preface to the Second Edition.


PERHAPS more than one preface would be necessary for this book; and after all it might still be doubtful whether any one could be brought nearer to the experiences in it by means of prefaces, without having himself experienced something similar. It seems to be written in the language of the thawing-wind: there is wantonness, restlessness, contra diction and April-weather in it; so that one is as constantly reminded of the proximity of winter as of the victory over it: the victory which is coming, which must come, which has perhaps already come. . . . Gratitude continually flows forth, as if the most unexpected thing had happened, the gratitude of a convalescent for convalescence was this most unexpected thing. “Joyful Wisdom ”: that implies the Saturnalia of a spirit which has patiently withstood a long, frightful pressure patiently, strenuously, impassionately, without submitting, but without hope and which is now suddenly overpowered with hope, the hope of health, the intoxication of convalescence. What wonder that much that is unreasonable and foolish thereby comes to light: much wanton tenderness expended even on problems which have a prickly hide, and are not therefore fit to be fondled and allured. The whole book is really nothing but a revel after long privation and impotence: the frolicking of returning energy, of newly awakened belief in a tomorrow and after-tomorrow; of sudden sentience and prescience of a future, of near adventures, of seas open once more, and aims once more permitted and believed in. And what was now all behind me! This track of desert, exhaustion, unbelief, and frigidity in the midst of youth, this advent of grey hairs at the wrong time, this tyranny of pain, surpassed, however, by the tyranny of pride which repudiated the consequences of pain and consequences are comforts, this radical isolation, as defence against the contempt of mankind become morbidly clairvoyant, this restriction upon principle to all that is bitter, sharp, and painful in knowledge, as prescribed by the disgust which had gradually resulted from imprudent spiritual diet and pampering it is called Romanticism, oh, who could realise all those feelings of mine! He, however, who could do so would certainly forgive me everything, and more than a little folly, boisterousness and “Joyful Wisdom” for example, the handful of songs which are given along with the book on this occasion, songs in which a poet makes merry over all poets in a way not easily pardoned. Alas, it is not only on the poets and their fine “lyrical sentiments” that this reconvalescent must vent his malignity: who knows what kind of victim he seeks, what kind of monster of material for parody will allure him ere long?

Incipit tragoedia, it is said at the conclusion of this seriously frivolous book; let people be on their guard! Something or other extraordinarily bad and wicked announces itself: incipit parodia, there is no doubt . . .


But let us leave Herr Nietzsche; what does it matter to people that Herr Nietzsche has got well again? . . . A psychologist knows few questions so attractive as those concerning the relations of health to philosophy, and in the case when he himself falls sick, he carries with him all his scientific curiosity into his sickness. For, granting that one is a person, one has necessarily also the philosophy of one’s personality; there is, however, an important distinction here. With the one it is his defects which philosophise, with the other it is his riches and powers. The former requires his philosophy, whether it be as support, sedative, or medicine, as salvation, elevation, or self-alienation; with the latter it is merely a fine luxury, at best the voluptuousness of a triumphant gratitude, which must inscribe itself ultimately in cosmic capitals on the heaven of ideas. In the other more usual case, however, when states of distress occupy them selves with philosophy (as is the case with all sickly thinkers and perhaps the sickly thinkers preponderate in the history of philosophy), what will happen to the thought itself which is brought under the pressure of sickness? This is the important question for psychologists: and here experiment is possible. We philosophers do just like a traveller who resolves to awake at a given hour, and then quietly yields himself to sleep: we surrender ourselves temporarily, body and soul, to the sickness, supposing we become ill we shut, as it were, our eyes on ourselves. And as the traveller knows that something does not sleep, that something counts the hours and will awake him, we also know that the critical moment will find us awake that then something will spring forward and surprise the spirit in the very act, I mean in weakness, or reversion, or submission, or obduracy, or obscurity, or whatever the morbid conditions are called, which in times of good health have the pride of the spirit opposed to them (for it is as in the old rhyme: “The spirit proud, peacock and horse are the three proudest things of earthly source”). After such self-questioning and self-testing, one learns to look with a sharper eye at all that has hitherto been philosophised; one divines better than before the arbitrary by-ways, side-streets, resting-places, and sunny places of thought, to which suffering thinkers, precisely as sufferers, are led and misled: one knows now in what direction the sickly body and its requirements unconsciously press, push, and allure the spirit towards the sun, stillness, gentleness, patience, medicine, refreshment in any sense whatever. Every philosophy which puts peace higher than war, every ethic with a negative grasp of the idea of happiness, every metaphysic and physic that knows a finale, an ultimate condition of any kind whatever, every predominating, aesthetic or religious longing for an aside, a beyond, an out side, an above all these permit one to ask whether sickness has not been the motive which inspired the philosopher. The unconscious disguising of physiological requirements under the cloak of the objective, the ideal, the purely spiritual, is carried on to an alarming extent, and I have often enough asked myself, whether on the whole philosophy hitherto has not generally been merely an interpretation of the body, and a misunderstanding of the body. Behind the loftiest estimates of value by which the history of thought has hitherto been governed, misunderstandings of the bodily constitution, either of individuals, classes, or entire races are concealed. One may always primarily consider these audacious freaks of metaphysic, and especially its answers to the question of the worth of existence, as symptoms of certain bodily constitutions; and if, on the whole, when scientifically determined, not a particle of significance attaches to such affirmations and denials of the world, they nevertheless furnish the historian and psychologist with hints so much the more valuable (as we have said) as symptoms of the bodily constitution, its good or bad condition, its fullness, powerfulness, and sovereignty in history; or else of its obstructions, exhaustions, and impoverishments, its premonition of the end, its will to the end. I still expect that a philosophical physician, in the exceptional sense of the word one who applies himself to the problem of the collective health of peoples, periods, races, and mankind generally will some day have the courage to follow out my suspicion to its ultimate conclusions, and to venture on the judgment that in all philosophising it has not hitherto been a question of “truth” at all, but of something else, namely, of health, futurity, growth, power, life. . . .


It will be surmised that I should not like to take leave ungratefully of that period of severe sickness, the advantage of which is not even yet exhausted in me: for I am sufficiently conscious of what I have in advance of the spiritually robust generally, in my changeful state of health. A philosopher who has made the tour of many states of health, and always makes it anew, has also gone through just as many philosophies: he really cannot do otherwise than transform his condition on every occasion into the most ingenious posture and position, this art of transfiguration is just philosophy. We philosophers are not at liberty to separate soul and body, as the people separate them; and we are still less at liberty to separate soul and spirit We are not thinking frogs, we are not objectifying and registering apparatuses with cold entrails, our thoughts must be continually born to us out of our pain, and we must, motherlike, share with them all that we have in us of blood, heart, ardour, joy, passion, pang, conscience, fate and fatality. Life that means for us to transform constantly into light and flame all that we are, and also all that we meet with; we cannot possibly do otherwise. And as regards sickness, should we not be almost tempted to ask whether we could in general dispense with it? It is great pain only which is the ultimate emancipator of the spirit; for it is the teacher of the strong suspicion which makes an X out of every U, a true, correct X, i.e., the ante-penultimate letter. . . . It is great pain only, the long slow pain which takes time, by which we are burned as it were with green wood, that compels us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths, and divest ourselves of all trust, all good-nature, veiling, gentleness, and averageness, wherein we have perhaps formerly installed our humanity. I doubt whether such pain “improves” us; but I know that it deepens us. Be it that we learn to confront it with our pride, our scorn, our strength of will, doing like the Indian who, however sorely tortured, revenges him self on his tormentor with his bitter tongue; be it that we withdraw from the pain into the oriental nothingness it is called Nirvana, into mute, benumbed, deaf self-surrender, self-forgetfulness, and self-effacement: one emerges from such long, dangerous exercises in self-mastery as another being, with several additional notes of interrogation, and above all, with the will to question more than ever, more profoundly, more strictly, more sternly, more wickedly, more quietly than has ever been questioned hitherto. Confidence in life is gone: life itself has become a problem, Let it not be imagined that one has necessarily become a hypochondriac thereby! Even love of life is still possible only one loves differently. It is the love of a woman of whom one is doubtful. . . . The charm, how ever, of all that is problematic, the delight in the X, is too great in those more spiritual and more spiritualised men, not to spread itself again and again like a clear glow over all the trouble of the problematic, over all the danger of uncertainty, and even over the jealousy of the lover. We know a new happiness. . . .

This means literally to put the numeral X instead of the numeral V (formerly U); hence it means to double a number unfairly, to exaggerate, humbug, cheat. — TR.


Finally (that the most essential may not remain unsaid), one comes back out of such abysses, out of such severe sickness, and out of the sickness of strong suspicion new-born, with the skin cast; more sensitive, more wicked, with a finer taste for joy, with a more delicate tongue for all good things, with a merrier disposition, with a second and more dangerous innocence in joy; more childish at the same time, and a hundred times more refined than ever before. Oh, how repugnant to us now is pleasure, coarse, dull, drab pleasure, as the pleasure-seekers, our “cultured” classes, our rich and ruling classes, usually under stand it! How malignantly we now listen to the great holiday-hubbub with which “cultured people” and city-men at present allow themselves to be forced to “spiritual enjoyment” by art, books, and music, with the help of spirituous liquors! How the theatrical cry of passion now pains our ear, how strange to our taste has all the romantic riot and sensuous bustle which the cultured populace love become (together with their aspirations after the exalted, the elevated, and the intricate)! No, if we convalescents need an art at all, it is another art a mocking, light, volatile, divinely serene, divinely ingenious art, which blazes up like a clear flame, into a cloudless heaven! Above all, an art for artists, only for artists! We at last know better what is first of all necessary for it — namely, cheerfulness, every kind of cheerfulness, my friends! also as artists: I should like to prove it. We now know something too well, we men of knowledge: oh, how well we are now learning to forget and not know, as artists! And as to our future, we are not likely to be found again in the tracks of those Egyptian youths who at night make the temples unsafe, embrace statues, and would fain unveil, uncover, and put in clear light, everything which for good reasons is kept concealed.* No, we have got disgusted with this bad taste, this will to truth, to “truth at all costs,” this youthful madness in the love of truth: we are now too experienced, too serious, too joyful, too singed, too profound for that. . . . We no longer believe that truth remains truth when the veil is withdrawn from it: we have lived long enough to believe this. At present we regard it as a matter of propriety not to be anxious either to see everything naked, or to be present at everything, or to understand and “know” everything. “Is it true that the good God is everywhere present?” asked a little girl of her mother: “I think that is indecent”: a hint to philosophers! One should have more reverence for the shame-facedness with which nature has concealed herself behind enigmas and motley uncertainties. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not showing her reasons? Perhaps her name is Baubo, to speak in Greek? . . . Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live: for that purpose it is necessary to keep bravely to the surface, the fold and the skin; to worship appearance, to believe in forms, tones, and words, in the whole Olympus of appearance! Those Greeks were superficial — from profundity! And are we not coming back precisely to this point, we dare-devils of the spirit, who have scaled the highest and most dangerous peak of contemporary thought, and have looked around us from it, have looked down from it? Are we not precisely in this respect Greeks? Worshippers of forms, of tones, and of words? And precisely on that account artists?

* An allusion to Schiller’s poem: “The Veiled Image of Sais.”— TR.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58