Human, All-Too-Human. Preface

by Friedrich Nietzsche
Published 1878
Translation by Helen Zimmern
Published 1909-1913


I have been told frequently, and always with great surprise, that there is something common and distinctive in all my writings, from the Birth of Tragedy to the latest published Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. They all contain, I have been told, snares and nets for unwary birds, and an almost perpetual unconscious demand for the inversion of customary valuations and valued customs. What? Everything only-- human-- all-too-human? People lay down my writings with this sigh, not without a certain dread and distrust of morality itself, indeed almost tempted and encouraged to become advocates of the worst things: as being perhaps only the best disparaged? My writings have been called a school of suspicion and especially of disdain, more happily, also, a school of courage and even of audacity. Indeed, I myself do not think that any one has ever looked at the world with such a profound suspicion; and not only as occasional Devil's Advocate, but equally also, to speak theologically, as enemy and impeacher of God; and he who realises something of the consequences involved, in every profound suspicion, something of the chills and anxieties of loneliness to which every uncompromising difference of outlook condemns him who is affected therewith, will also understand how often I sought shelter in some kind of reverence or hostility, or scientificality or levity or stupidity, in order to recover from myself, and, as it were, to obtain temporary self-forgetfulness; also why, when I did not find what I needed, I was obliged to manufacture it, to counterfeit and to imagine it in a suitable manner (and what else have poets ever done? And for what purpose has all the art in the world existed?). What I always required most, however, for my cure and self-recovery, was the belief that I was not isolated in such circumstances, that I did not see in an isolated manner-- a magic suspicion of relationship and similarity to others in outlook and desire, a repose in the confidence of friendship, a blindness in both parties without suspicion or note of interrogation, an enjoyment of foregrounds, and surfaces of the near and the nearest, of all that has colour, epidermis, and outside appearance. Perhaps I might be reproached in this respect for much " art" and fine false coinage; for instance, for voluntarily and knowingly shutting my eyes to Schopenhauer's blind will to morality at a time when I had become sufficiently clear-sighted about morality; also for deceiving myself about Richard Wagner's incurable romanticism, as if it were a beginning and not an end; also about the Greeks, also about the Germans and their future-- and there would still probably be quite a long list of such alsos? Supposing however, that this were all true and that I were reproached with good reason, what do you know, what could you know as to how much artifice of self-preservation, how much rationality and higher protection there is in such self-deception,-- and how much falseness I still require in order to allow myself again and again the luxury of my sincerity?. . . In short, I still live; and life, in spite of ourselves, is not devised by morality; it demands illusion, it lives by illusion . . . but-- There! I am already beginning again and doing what I have always done, old immoralist and bird-catcher that I am,-- I am talking un-morally, ultra-morally, "beyond good and evil"? . . .


Thus then, when I found it necessary, I invented once on a time the "free spirits," to whom this discouragingly encouraging book with the title Human, all-too-Human, is dedicated. There are no such " free spirits" nor have there been such, but, as already said, I then required them for company to keep me cheerful in the midst of evils (sickness, loneliness, foreignness,-- acedia, inactivity) as brave companions and ghosts with whom I could laugh and gossip when so inclined and send to the devil when they became bores,-- as compensation for the lack of friends. That such free spirits will be possible some day, that our Europe will have such bold and cheerful wights amongst her sons of to-morrow and the day after to-morrow, actually and bodily, and not merely, as in my case, as the shadows of a hermit's phantasmagoria-- I should be the last to doubt thereof. Already I see them coming, slowly, slowly; and perhaps I am doing something to hasten their coming when I describe in advance under what auspices I see them originate, and upon what paths I see them come.


One may suppose that a spirit in which the type "free spirit" is to become fully mature and sweet, has had its decisive event in a great emancipation, and that it was all the more fettered previously and apparently bound for ever to its corner and pillar. What is it that binds most strongly? What cords are almost unrendable? In men of a lofty and select type it will be their duties; the reverence which is suitable to youth, respect and tenderness for all that is time-honoured and worthy, gratitude to the land which bore them, to the hand which led them, to the sanctuary where they learnt to adore,-- their most exalted moments themselves will bind them most effectively, will lay upon them the most enduring obligations. For those who are thus bound the great emancipation comes suddenly, like an earthquake; the young soul is all at once convulsed, unloosened and extricated-- it does not itself know what is happening. An impulsion and compulsion sway and over-master it like a command; a will and a wish awaken, to go forth on their course, anywhere, at any cost; a violent, dangerous curiosity about an undiscovered world flames and flares in every sense. "Better to die than live here "-- says the imperious voice and seduction, and this "here," this "at home" is all that the soul has hitherto loved! A sudden fear and suspicion of that which it loved, a flash of disdain for what was called its "duty," a rebellious, arbitrary, volcanically throbbing longing for travel, foreignness, estrangement, coldness, disenchantment, glaciation, a hatred of love, perhaps a sacrilegious clutch and look backwards, to where it hitherto adored and loved, perhaps a glow of shame at what it was just doing, and at the same time a rejoicing that it was doing it, an intoxicated, internal, exulting thrill which betrays a triumph-- a triumph? Over what? Over whom? An enigmatical, questionable, doubtful triumph, but the first triumph nevertheless;-- such evil and painful incidents belong to the history of the great emancipation. It is, at the same time, a disease which may destroy the man, this first outbreak of power and will to self-decision, self-valuation, this will to free will; and how much disease is manifested in the wild attempts and eccentricities by which the liberated and emancipated one now seeks to demonstrate his mastery over things! He roves about raging with unsatisfied longing; what ever he captures has to suffer for the dangerous tension of his pride; he tears to pieces whatever attracts him. With a malicious laugh he twirls round whatever he finds veiled or guarded by a sense of shame; he tries how these things look when turned upside down. It is a matter of arbitrariness with him, and pleasure in arbitrariness, if he now perhaps bestow his favour on what had hitherto a bad repute,-- if he inquisitively and temptingly haunt what is specially forbidden. In the background of his activities and wanderings-- for he is restless and aimless in his course as in a desert-- stands the note of interrogation of an increasingly dangerous curiosity. "Cannot all valuations be reversed? And is good perhaps evil? And God only an invention and artifice of the devil? Is everything, perhaps, radically false? And if we are the deceived, are we not thereby also deceivers? Must we not also be deceivers? "-- Such thoughts lead and mislead him more and more, onward and away. Solitude encircles and engirdles him, always more threatening, more throttling, more heart-oppressing, that terrible goddess and mater saeva cupidinum-- but who knows nowadays what solitude is? . . .


From this morbid solitariness, from the desert of such years of experiment, it is still a long way to the copious, overflowing safety and soundness which does not care to dispense with disease itself as an instrument and angling-hook of knowledge;-- to that mature freedom of spirit which is equally self-control and discipline of the heart, and gives access to many and opposed modes of thought;-- to that inward comprehensiveness and daintiness of superabundance, which excludes any danger of the spirit's becoming enamoured and lost in its own paths, and lying intoxicated in some corner or other; to that excess of plastic, healing, formative, and restorative powers, which is exactly the sign of splendid health, that excess which gives the free spirit the dangerous prerogative of being entitled to live by experiments and offer itself to adventure; the free spirit's prerogative of mastership! Long years of convalescence may lie in between, years full of many-coloured, painfully-enchanting magical transformations, curbed and led by a tough will to health, which often dares to dress and disguise itself as actual health. There is a middle condition therein, which a man of such a fate never calls to mind later on without emotion; a pale, delicate light and a sunshine-happiness are peculiar to him, a feeling of bird-like freedom, prospect, and haughtiness, a tertium quid in which curiosity and gentle disdain are combined. A "free spirit "-- this cool expression does good in every condition, it almost warms. One no longer lives, in the fetters of love and hatred, without Yea, without Nay, voluntarily near, voluntarily distant, preferring to escape, to turn aside, to flutter forth, to fly up and away; one is fastidious like every one who has once seen an immense variety beneath him,-- and one has become the opposite of those who trouble themselves about things which do not concern them. In fact, it is nothing but things which now concern the free spirit,-- and how many things!-- which no longer trouble him!


A step further towards recovery, and the free spirit again draws near to life; slowly, it is true, and almost stubbornly, almost distrustfully. Again it grows warmer around him, and, as it were, yellower; feeling and sympathy gain depth, thawing winds of every kind pass lightly over him. He almost feels as if his eyes were now first opened to what is near. He marvels and is still; where has he been? The near and nearest things, how changed they appear to him! What a bloom and magic they have acquired meanwhile! He looks back gratefully,-- grateful to his wandering, his austerity and self-estrangement, his far-sightedness and his bird-like flights in cold heights. What a good thing that he did not always stay " at home," "by himself," like a sensitive, stupid tenderling. He has been beside himself, there is no doubt. He now sees himself for the first time,-- and what surprises he feels thereby! What thrills unexperienced hitherto! What joy even in the weariness, in the old illness, in the relapses of the convalescent! How he likes to sit still and suffer, to practise patience, to lie in the sun! Who is as familiar as he with the joy of winter, with the patch of sun shine upon the wall! They are the most grateful animals in the world, and also the most unassuming, these lizards of convalescents with their faces half-turned towards life once more:-- there are those amongst them who never let a day pass without hanging a little hymn of praise on its trailing fringe. And, speaking seriously, it is a radical cure for all pessimism (the well-known disease of old idealists and falsehood-mongers) to become ill after the manner of these free spirits, to remain ill a good while, and then grow well (I mean "better ") for a still longer period. It is wisdom, practical wisdom, to prescribe even health for one's self for a long time only in small doses.


About this time it may at last happen, under the sudden illuminations of still disturbed and changing health, that the enigma of that great emancipation begins to reveal itself to the free, and ever freer, spirit,-- that enigma which had hitherto lain obscure, questionable, and almost intangible, in his memory. If for a long time he scarcely dared to ask himself, "Why so apart? So alone? denying everything that I revered? denying reverence itself? Why this hatred, this suspicion, this severity towards my own virtues?"-- he now dares and asks the questions aloud, and already hears something like an answer to them-- "Thou shouldst become master over thyself and master also of thine own virtues. Formerly they were thy masters; but they are only entitled to be thy tools amongst other tools. Thou shouldst obtain power over thy pro and contra, and learn how to put them forth and withdraw them again in accordance with thy higher purpose. Thou shouldst learn how to take the proper perspective of every valuation-- the shifting, distortion, and apparent teleology of the horizons and everything that belongs to perspective; also the amount of stupidity which opposite values involve, and all the intellectual loss with which every pro and every contra has to be paid for. Thou shouldst learn how much necessary injustice there is in every for and against, injustice as inseparable from life, and life itself as conditioned by the perspective and its injustice. Above all thou shouldst see clearly where the injustice is always greatest:-- namely, where life has developed most punily, restrictedly, necessitously, and incipiently, and yet cannot help regarding itself as the purpose and standard of things, and for the sake of self-preservation, secretly, basely, and continuously wasting away and calling in question the higher, greater, and richer,-- thou shouldst see clearly the problem of gradation of rank, and how power and right and amplitude of perspective grow up together. Thou shouldst---" But enough; the free spirit knows henceforth which "thou shalt" he has obeyed, and also what he can now do, what he only now-- may do . . . .


Thus doth the free spirit answer himself with regard to the riddle of emancipation, and ends therewith, while he generalises his case, in order thus to decide with regard to his experience. "As it has happened to me," he says to himself, " so must it happen to every one in whom a mission seeks to embody itself and to 'come into the world.'" The secret power and necessity of this mission will operate in and upon the destined individuals like an unconscious pregnancy,-- long before they have had the mission itself in view and have known its name. Our destiny rules over us, even when we are not yet aware of it; it is the future that makes laws for our to-day. Granted that it is the problem of the gradations of rank, of which we may say that it is our problem, we free spirits; now only in the midday of our life do we first understand what preparations, detours, tests, experiments, and disguises the problem needed, before it was permitted to rise before us, and how we had first to experience the most manifold and opposing conditions of distress and happiness in soul and body, as adventurers and circumnavigators of the inner world called "man," as surveyors of all the "higher" and the "one-above-another," also called " man "-- penetrating everywhere, almost without fear, rejecting nothing, losing nothing, tasting everything, cleansing everything from all that is accidental, and, as it were, sifting it out-- until at last we could say, we free spirits, "Here-a new problem! Here a long ladder, the rungs of which we ourselves have sat upon and mounted,-- which we ourselves at some time have been! Here a higher place, a lower place, an under-us, an immeasurably long order, a hierarchy which we see; here-- our problem!"


No psychologist or augur will be in doubt for a moment as to what stage of the development just described the following book belongs (or is assigned to). But where are these psychologists nowadays? In France, certainly; perhaps in Russia; assuredly not in Germany. Reasons are not lacking why the present-day Germans could still even count this as an honour to them-- bad enough, surely, for one who in this respect is un-German in disposition and constitution! This German book, which has been able to find readers in a wide circle of countries and nations-- it has been about ten years going its rounds-- and must understand some sort of music and piping art, by means of which even coy foreign ears are seduced into listening,-- it is precisely in Germany that this book has been most negligently read, and worst listened to; what is the reason? "It demands too much," I have been told, "it appeals to men free from the pressure of coarse duties, it wants refined and fastidious senses, it needs superfluity-- superfluity of time, of clearness of sky and heart, ofotium in the boldest sense of the term:-- purely good things, which we Germans of to-day do not possess and therefore cannot give." After such a polite answer my philosophy advises me to be silent and not to question further; besides, in certain cases, as the proverb points out, one only remains a philosopher by being-- silent.

Nice, Spring 1886.


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