Human, All-Too-Human

Concerning the Soul of Artists and Authors

by Friedrich Nietzsche
Published 1878
Translation by Helen Zimmern
Published 1909-191

THE ARTIST'S SENSE OF TRUTH. -- With regard to recognition of truths, the artist has a weaker morality than the thinker; he will on no account let himself be deprived of brilliant and profound interpretations of life, and defends himself against temperate and simple methods and results. He is apparently fighting for the higher worthiness and meaning of mankind; in reality he will not renounce the most effective suppositions for his art, the fantastical, mythical, uncertain, extreme, the sense of the symbolical, the over-valuation of personality, the belief that genius is something miraculous, --he considers, therefore, the continuance of his art of creation as more important than the scientific devotion to truth in every shape, however simple this may appear.


ART AS RAISER OF THE DEAD. -- Art also fulfils the task of preservation and even of brightening up extinguished and faded memories; when it accomplishes this task it weaves a rope round the ages and causes their spirits to return. It is, certainly, only a phantom-life that results therefrom, as out of graves, or like the return in dreams of our beloved dead, but for some moments, at least, the old sensation lives again and the heart beats to an almost forgotten time. Hence, for the sake of the general usefulness of art, the artist himself must be excused if he does not stand in the front rank of the enlightenment and progressive civilisation of humanity; all his life long he has remained a child or a youth, and has stood still at the point where he was overcome by his artistic impulse; the feelings of the first years of life, however, are acknowledged to be nearer to those of earlier times than to those of the present century. Unconsciously it becomes his mission to make mankind more childlike; this is his glory and his limitation.


POETS AS THE LIGHTENERS OF LIFE. -- Poets, inasmuch as they desire to lighten the life of man, either divert his gaze from the wearisome present, or assist the present to acquire new colours by means of a life which they cause to shine out of the past. To be able to do this, they must in many respects themselves be beings who are turned towards the past, so that they can be used as bridges to far distant times and ideas, to dying or dead religions and cultures. Actually they are always and of necessity epigoni. There are, however, certain drawbacks to their means of lightening life, --they appease and heal only temporarily, only for the moment; they even prevent men from labouring towards a genuine improvement in their conditions, inasmuch as they remove and apply palliatives to precisely that passion of discontent that induces to action.


THE SLOW ARROW OF BEAUTY. -- The noblest kind of beauty is that which does not transport us suddenly, which does not make stormy and intoxicating impressions (such a kind easily arouses disgust), but that which slowly filters into our minds, which we take away with us almost unnoticed, and which we encounter again in our dreams; but which, however, after having long lain modestly on our hearts, takes entire possession of us, fills our eyes with tears and our hearts with longing. What is it that we long for at the sight of beauty? We long to be beautiful, we fancy it must bring much happiness with it. But that is a mistake.


THE ANIMATION OF ART. -- Art raises its head where creeds relax. It takes over many feelings and moods engendered by religion, lays them to its heart, and itself becomes deeper, more full of soul, so that it is capable of transmitting exultation and enthusiasm, which it previously was not able to do. The abundance of religious feelings which have grown into a stream are always breaking forth again and desire to conquer new kingdoms, but the growing enlightenment has shaken the dogmas of religion and inspired a deep mistrust, --thus the feeling, thrust by enlightenment out of the religious sphere, throws itself upon art, in a few cases into political life, even straight into science. Everywhere where human endeavour wears a loftier, gloomier aspect, it may be assumed that the fear of spirits, incense, and church-shadows have remained attached to it.


HOW RHYTHM BEAUTIFIES. -- Rhythm casts a veil over reality; it causes various artificialities of speech and obscurities of thought; by the shadow it throws upon thought it sometimes conceals it, and sometimes brings it into prominence. As shadow is necessary to beauty, so the "dull" is necessary to lucidity. Art makes the aspect of life endurable by throwing over it the veil of obscure thought.


THE ART OF THE UGLY SOUL. -- Art is confined within too narrow limits if it be required that only the orderly, respectable, well-behaved soul should be allowed to express itself therein. As in the plastic arts, so also in music and poetry: there is an art of the ugly soul side by side with the art of the beautiful soul; and the mightiest effects of art, the crushing of souls, moving of stones and humanising of beasts, have perhaps been best achieved precisely by that art.


ART MAKES HEAVY THE HEART OF THE THINKER. -- How strong metaphysical need is and how difficult nature renders our departure from it may be seen from the fact that even in the free spirit, when he has cast off everything metaphysical, the loftiest effects of art can easily produce a resounding of the long silent, even broken, metaphysical string, --it may be, for instance, that at a passage in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony he feels himself floating above the earth in a starry dome with the dream of immortality in his heart; all the stars seem to shine round him, and the earth to sink farther and farther away. --If he becomes conscious of this state, he feels a deep pain at his heart, and sighs for the man who will lead back to him his lost darling, be it called religion or metaphysics. In such moments his intellectual character is put to the test.


PLAYING WITH LIFE. -- The lightness and frivolity of the Homeric imagination was necessary to calm and occasionally to raise the immoderately passionate temperament and acute intellect of the Greeks. If their intellect speaks, how harsh and cruel does life then appear! They do not deceive themselves, but they intentionally weave lies round life. Simonides advised his countrymen to look upon life as a game; earnestness was too well-known to them as pain (the gods so gladly hear the misery of mankind made the theme of song), and they knew that through art alone misery might be turned into pleasure. As a punishment for this insight, however, they were so plagued with the love of romancing that it was difficult for them in everyday life to keep themselves free from falsehood and deceit; for all poetic nations have such a love of falsehood, and yet are innocent withal. Probably this occasionally drove the neighbouring nations to desperation.


THE BELIEF IN INSPIRATION. -- It is to the interest of the artist that there should be a belief in sudden suggestions, so-called inspirations; as if the idea of a work of art, of poetry, the fundamental thought of a philosophy shone down from heaven like a ray of grace. In reality the imagination of the good artist or thinker constantly produces good, mediocre, and bad, but his judgment, most clear and practised, rejects and chooses and joins together, just as we now learn from Beethoven's notebooks that he gradually composed the most beautiful melodies, and in a manner selected them, from many different attempts. He who makes less severe distinctions, and willingly abandons himself to imitative memories, may under certain circumstances be come a great improvisatore; but artistic improvisation ranks low in comparison with serious and laboriously chosen artistic thoughts. All great men were great workers, unwearied not only in invention but also in rejection, reviewing, transforming, and arranging.


INSPIRATION AGAIN. -- If the productive power has been suspended for a length of time, and has been hindered in its outflow by some obstacle, there comes at last such a sudden out-pouring, as if an immediate inspiration were taking place without previous inward working, consequently a miracle. This constitutes the familiar deception, in the continuance of which, as we have said, the interest of all artists is rather too much concerned. The capital has only accumulated, it has not suddenly fallen down from heaven. Moreover, such apparent inspirations are seen elsewhere, for instance in the realm of goodness, of virtue and of vice.


THE SUFFERING OF GENIUS AND ITS VALUE. -- The artistic genius desires to give pleasure, but if his mind is on a very high plane he does not easily find any one to share his pleasure; he offers entertainment but nobody accepts it. This gives him, in certain circumstances, a comically touching pathos; for he has really no right to force pleasure on men. He pipes, but none will dance: can that be tragic? Perhaps. --As compensation for this deprivation, however, he finds more pleasure in creating than the rest of mankind experiences in all other species of activity. His sufferings are considered as exaggerated, because the sound of his complaints is louder and his tongue more eloquent; and yet sometimes his sufferings are really very great; but only because his ambition and his envy are so great. The learned genius, like Kepler and Spinoza, is usually not so covetous and does not make such an exhibition of his really greater sufferings and deprivations. He can reckon with greater certainty on future fame and can afford to do without the present, whilst an artist who does this always plays a desperate game that makes his heart ache. In very rare cases, when in one and the same individual are combined the genius of power and of knowledge and the moral genius, there is added to the above-mentioned pains that species of pain which must be regarded as the most curious exception in the world; those extra- and super-personal sensations which are experienced on behalf of a nation, of humanity, of all civilisation, all suffering existence, which acquire their value through the connection with particularly difficult and remote perceptions (pity in itself is worth but little). But what standard, what proof is there for its genuineness ? Is it not almost imperative to be mistrustful of all who talk of feeling sensations of this kind?

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