by Joseph Suglia


Wherein I lecture on Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer [Götzen-Dämmerung: Oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert] and muse over the aphorism “Lesson from the School of War: What does not kill me makes me stronger,” which appears in this book.


It is impossible to believe in an ideal and still sufficiently love yourself.

Hello, everyone.  My name is Joseph Suglia, and I will be holding a lecture on Götzen-Dämmerung: oder Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Let me begin by expatiating on the title.

Twilight of the Idols, Götzen-Dämmerung, recalls the fourth part of Richard Wagner’s Ring opera, which is entitled Twilight of the Gods, GötterdämmerungTwilight of the Gods concerns Ragnarök, which is the spectacular destruction of the world and the gods by submersion in water.  However, Twilight of the Idols means something quite different.  Nietzsche is suggesting by his title that there are no gods, but there are certainly idols.

All idols are anti-life, and all idols should be demolished.  An idol is the deification of nothingness, and Nietzsche proposes that we would be better off without any idols, we would do well to dispense with all idols, idolatry, and idolization.

If you idolize an imaginary entity, you diminish yourself.  Even to hold up rationality as an ideal and to call the human animal “the rational animal” is to disgrace the body and to disgrace the totality of the human beast.  The vital impulses, such as selfishness, are diabolized, and the anti-life impulses, such as asceticism, such as chastity, such as meekness, are angelized by classical morality and classical religion.  What Nietzsche does, first, is to depose the angelized impulses, such as self-denial.  Then, he valorizes the demonized impulses, such as selfishness.  Finally, he displaces the difference between “virtue” and “vice” altogether.  There are no virtues, and there are no vices.  There are, however, values, and each human being should invent one’s own values.  A common value is no value at all, since value is based of rarity, not on commonness.  That, in a nutshell, is Nietzsche’s argument.

The secondary title, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert: What does this mean?  It has at least two connotations.  The first is that Nietzsche intends in this book, as well as in most of his others, to shatter ideals, to blow them up, to explode them into flinders.  All of Nietzsche’s late polemical writings have as their object the defamation of ideals.

What is an ideal?  An ideal is any principle, any idea, any concept that is placed above humanity.  Such as the soul, such as the gods, such as the Beyond.  If you believe in ideals, this means that you believe in the ideal world, the epekeina.  And if you believe in the ideal world, this implies that you are defaming the this-world, the actual world, the only world there is.

If you believe in the purity of ideality, then you are devaluing yourself.

It is impossible to believe in an ideal and still love yourself.  And what Nietzsche wants to do is raise humanity, elevate humanity to the status of gods.  Be your own idol, be your own hero, be your own god.  Every human being has the desire to become a god, and all idols deserve to be slaughtered.

So, Nietzsche’s philosophizing is the hammering of ideals, the destruction of all ideals, for every ideal posits a transcendence, a beyond, a world that is higher than the world in which we are living.

Every ideal humiliates humankind, lessens humankind, which means that ideals narrow human possibilities.

So, that is the first connotation of “philosophizing with a hammer.”  The second connotation that is likely intended is that of the reflex hammer.  This book was published in 1888, and guess what else was released in 1888!  The tomahawk reflex hammer—also known as the Taylor reflex hammer—was developed by John Madison Taylor in 1888, in the United States of America.  Now, perhaps Nietzsche was unaware of this development, but he did read newspapers, albeit with a thick admixture of contempt and disgust, and this was the first reflex hammer ever invented.  The second connotation, then, is that Nietzschean philosophy tests the soundness and healthiness of ideals—and always reveals such ideals to be hallow.

Nietzsche never actually writes, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”  Or: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”  This statement is one of the most famous statements that have ever been attributed to Nietzsche, and one can find it in the music of Kayne West and all over  The original statement is Aphorism Number Eight, and it occurs in the first section of the book entitled “Epigrams and Arrows,” Sprüche und Pfeile.  However, again, Nietzsche does NOT actually write, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”  This is one of the most miscited passages in the history of philosophy.

What Nietzsche actually writes is this: “From Life’s School of War: What does not kill me makes me stronger,” Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens.—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.

What does Nietzsche mean by this, precisely?

When Nietzsche writes, “What does not kill me,” he is referring to the crisis of deep suffering.  The loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of one’s property, the loss of a spouse, a gnawing, debilitating illness, abuse, violence: All of these things are examples of profound crisis and the crises of deep suffering.

What does Nietzsche mean by the first “Me”?: “What does not kill me.”  Who am “I”?  I am anyone, anyone who is not yet distinguished, anyone who is not yet distinctive, anyone who is not yet differentiated, anyone who is still immature and not yet vornehm.  At this stage, I am mobbish; I am a member of the mob, of the crowd, of the canaille.

What does Nietzsche mean by “makes me stronger”?  He means this:

What does not kill me makes me distinguished, distinctive, elegant, dignified, vornehm.  Deep crisis confers upon me the right to separateness—the ability to experience long solitude.  Deep suffering makes me capable of living separately from other human beings; it also makes me more profound.  The crisis of deep suffering transforms me into a free spirit.

What does not kill me kills me.

Deep suffering makes one deeper.  Deep suffering makes us profound—but who are we?  We are the free spirits.  And what transforms us into free spirits?  The crisis of profound suffering.

To put it another way: Deep trauma gives birth to the sovereign individual.  It is not just that trauma allows us to grow; it is that trauma is necessary for growth into the sovereign individual.

What does not kill me, the crisis of deep suffering, transforms me into the free spirit.

Now who is the free spirit?  The free spirit is, negatively, one who does not think according to a program, an ideology, a dogma, a policy, or a party.  The free spirit is capable of thinking for oneself and is capable of thinking two or more thoughts at once, both Pro and Contra, both “Yes” and “No” simultaneously.

Another word for a free spirit is “libertist” or “antinomian.”  A free spirit is opposed to all idols, to all traditions, and destroys ideals in order to clear a space for one’s own freedom.

The free spirit, the libertist, the antinomian, makes trauma the organ, the function, of one’s own power.

So, the free spirit converts trauma into strength.  The free spirit transforms trauma into an appendage of the will-to-power.

Now, we should discuss the will-to-power.

The will-to-power means that the whole of life is a perpetually self-permuting sequence of power struggles and that every living entity seeks to exert power over all other living entities.  Life is violence, but not violence in the literal sense.  Life is violence in the sense that every living organism seeks to overthrow obstacles that impede its growth and wants to escalate its degree of power.  This is a peculiarly Nietzchean idea: Life is violence.  The Latin word for “life” is vit, and vit is also the basis for the word violence.  The word for “life” in Latin, vit, is the same word that is contained in the word violence.

Ressentiment is inimical to life, it is an anti-life position.  You might not know what I am talking about.  If this sounds strange, please watch and listen to my videos on On the Genealogy of Morals, especially the second and the third video in the series, in which I discuss ressentiment.

Ressentiment is what Nietzsche calls “misarchism” because it denies that all organisms seek mastery, domination, lordliness over all other organisms.  Misarchism holds that all government, all administration, is evil, but it is a necessary evil, whereas anarchism holds that all government should be annihilated.

Life, by its very essence, is dissymmetrical and hierarchical, according to Nietzsche.

Let us not be ungrateful toward those who have power, he is suggesting, for they impel us to take power away from them.

So, Nietzsche is affirming life as the power-will from an extramoral perspective, beyond good and evil, without the interference of moral judgement or moral evaluation.

Some assume that Nietzsche must be a fascist because he developed the theory of the will-to-power.  Those who believe this have no understanding of fascism and no understanding of Nietzsche.  Nietzsche was a lifelong anti-nationalist and vituperates endlessly against anti-Judaism or what he calls “anti-Semitism.”  Nietzsche was a friend of the Jews.  He loved the Jewish people and even loved the Hebraic Bible, the central text of Judaism.  Let no one therefore mistype Nietzsche as a “fascist” or a “proto-fascist.”  Nietzsche was an enemy of, if not fascism, then at least many of the lineaments of what would come to be known as “fascism.”

Neither was he a misarchist or an anarchist, for hierarchies must exist, he thought.

He had a certain sympathy for the idea of an aristocracy, it is true.  But he was no proto-fascist, not at all.

So, what affects me calamitously, what affects me catastrophically paradoxically intensifies my personal power.  That is what Nietzsche means when he writes, in this book, “From life’s school of war: What does not kill me makes me stronger.”


The first idol that Nietzsche smashes is “the problem of Socrates.”  What is the problem of Socrates?  The problem of Socrates is the following problematical equation: Reason = Virtue = Happiness.  Vernunft ist gleich Tugend ist gleich Glück.

We learn from Socrates—particularly, in the Charmides—that the wise person is the one who restrains one’s desires.  This restriction of the impulses, of the desires, of the inclinations, of the appetites, of the proclivities, of the predilections is called “sophrosyne,” and it is linked to human flourishing or eudaemonia.

Nietzsche never actually uses the term sophrosyne in this text, but he is clearly thinking of it.

The Socratic problem, then, is that the restriction of the desires leads to virtuousness or the virtuous character and the virtuous character leads to human flourishing or eudaemonia.

Now, there are massive problems with this Socratic equation.  The first—and the one on which Nietzsche fixes his attention—that restraining one’s impulses will lead to happiness.  No, it will not.

Nietzsche writes: “When people need reason to act as a tyrant, which was the case with Socrates, the danger cannot be small that something else might start acting as a tyrant.”

What might that “something else” be?  Nietzsche does not give us a direct answer to this question, but I think that I know.  Restraining the desires by reason will lead to the recrudescence, the resurgence of the desires in their fullest force.  The more you try to repress your desires, the more your desires will surge upward.  This is what Freud calls “the return of the repressed,” Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten.

Repression is one attempt to manage the unruliness, the untrammeledness of the riot of emotions and the other feelings and moods.  But there is another form of self-maintenance, and that is the justification of the feelings and the moods.

For instance: Rationalized love.

Rationalized love is not instinctual love.  Think of a woman who tries to find a man attractive, even though she has no genuine passion for him.  She rationalizes her desire for the man—that is to say, she gives reasons to desire him.  This sort of thing seldom works.  Rational desire is not authentic desire at all.

Happiness comes from the release of the instincts, the liberation of the desires, the affects, the feelings, the instincts, not from the repression of the desires, the affects, the feelings, the instincts.  I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to say something in German: Die Moral ist eine Qual.  Morality is torment.  That is to say, the inhibition of the inclinations is a torment.  Every child knows this, but let no one suppose that Nietzsche is a hedonist.  Let no one suppose that Nietzsche is a eudaemonist, a sybarite, a hedonist.  No, not at all.

In the section of the book entitled “Morality as Anti-Nature,” Moralität als Widernatur, Nietzsche makes it quite clear that he is not endorsing the running-wild of the desires, the running-amok of the desires, the running-riot of the desires.

No, not at all.  The passions ought to be intellectualized, cosmeticized, sublimated, rather.  And the name of the intellectualization, cosmeticization, and sublimation of the passions has a name.  Its name is “love.”

Nietzsche writes: “The intellectualization of sensuality is called love: It represents a great triumph over Christianity,” Die Vergeisterung der Sinnlichkeit heisst Liebe: sie ist ein grosser Triumph ueber Christenthum.

Well, first of all, let me say that this is reminiscent of something that Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future: “What is done out of love always occurs beyond Good and Evil,” Was aus Liebe getan wird, geschieht immer jenseits von Gut und Böse.

The meaning of both of these statements is essentially the same.  Classical religious morality separates two different kinds of romantic love.  The first kind of romantic love is the pure kind, the sacred kind.  And the second is what is called concupiscence—that is to say, carnal love or lust.

Now, classical morality condemns carnal love.  It seeks to extirpate desires that are inextirpable.  Morality is inimical to the impulses; it rebels against life, it revolts against the impulses of life.

Nietzsche is affirmative of the impulses of life, but he is not a carnalist, either.  He doesn’t believe in a rigid distinction between pure love and carnal love.

This is a false antinomy, according to Nietzsche, even though he does not explicitly write this in the passage that I am citing.  The antithesis between pure love and fleshly passion is a false distinction.  What Nietzsche names “the intellectualization of sensuality” is the supersession of the false dualism between the so-called “spiritual love” and the so-called “carnal love.”  I believe that this is the main point which Nietzsche is making, even though he does not make this point explicit.

Love—Nietzschean love—exists beyond conventional religious morality because it is the synthesis of the pure and the crude; it is the marriage between the dove and the pig.

Happiness comes from the feeling of the enhancement, the intensification of one’s vitality.  But this is not some kind of do-whatever-you-want, let-chaos-reign, all-hail-disorder.  It is not some kind of unconstrained scruffiness, some kind of laisser-aller.

Nietzsche teaches us this in a different book, but one that was written in the same year as this book was written, The Anti-Christian, Der Antichrist.

According to Nietzsche, Socrates had a pathological obsession with reason.  Socratic philosophy is the pathology of rationality (according to Nietzsche).

Nietzschean thought is not a rationalism.  It is an agonistics and an erotics.


The second ideal that Nietzsche explodes is the idea of absolute being, the permanency of absolute presence.  The idea of a permanent being behind the whirlwind of the senses.  Now, this permanent being might be the stability of the “I” (the unchanging center of the Self).  It might be the eidos of Plato, which would exist in some spaceless space, in some timeless time.

It might be the idea of a signified meaning that exists behind words.

Meaning does not exist behind words—it is generated by the relations among words and among letters and syllables.

Permit me to quote Shakespeare, Henry IV: Part One.  The lines are spoken by Falstaff:

​“What is honour?  A word.  What is in that word honour?  What is that honour?  Air.  A trim reckoning!”

What Falstaff says about the word honour may be fairly said about all words.  What is a “man”?  “Man” is a word.  What is within that word?  Air.

The subject “I” is a grammatical superstition, and our concept of the Self (as an unchangeable and unageable center of consciousness) comes from a prejudice of Western grammar.  Because so many of our sentences begin with the word “I” (or some other subject), we assume, unconsciously, that every action has an agent.

As Nietzsche writes in this book, famously, “I am afraid that we have not got rid of God because we still have faith in grammar,” Ich fürchte, wir werden Gott nicht los, weil wir noch an die Grammatik glauben…

It is quite rare for a philosopher to write about the body.  Schopenhauer was one of the first philosophers to take the body seriously, in a positive manner.

Nietzsche, fascinatingly, writes about the nose, the nose which can detect motion.  Nietzsche thinks that the nose can distinguish subtleties that a spectroscope would miss.  That is an intentional allusion to a Brian Eno song.  Nietzsche inspired many musicians, including Marilyn Manson.  It is clear that Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christian inspired many of Marilyn Manson’s lyrics.

I’m not sure if the nose can detect motion, but I do know that the olfactory sense plays a role in hearing and gustation (the sensation of taste).

Nietzsche writes about the nose in order to highlight his argument that the so-called world of the appearances, the world of phenomenality, IS the so-called true world.  Our senses do not lie, as Plato believed.  The sensorium gives us the only information about the world that we can have: sensory information.

All of this is to highlight the argument that the nose and the other sense organs bring us into closer contact with reality than mathematics or logic.

There is no logos behind the maelstrom of appearances.  There is no Parousia, no permanence of absolute presence.  Everything is motion without fixity, everything is change without stasis.

Neither is there the absolute origin or the absolute finality.  What seems to be a terminal point is a node in a web.  There are no absolute beginnings or absolute ends.  There is only becoming, not being—if by “being,” one means “the stasis of presence.”

So, appearances—what appears to our senses—are not errors.  The dichotomy between the so-called “true world” and the so-called “world of appearances” is a false dichotomy.  There is only one world, and that is the world of the senses.  This is why Nietzsche writes, in italics: “[W]e got rid of the illusory world along with the true one!” [M]it der wahren Welt haben wir auch die scheinbare abgeschafft!  The true world is a fiction (I mean “fiction” in the sense of “something that has been fabricated”).

The importance of art, for Nietzsche, is that art reminds us that phenomena are all that we have.  Art highlights phenomenality—works of art illuminate the “fact” that there is only one world, the only demonstrable, probative, provable, livable world is the phenomenal world.


The third idol that is twilit in this book: Imaginary causation.

We know now that devils do not cause illnesses.  We know now that angels do not heal the sick.  We no longer believe that daemons imprecate humanity by diffusing plagues throughout the world.  But there was a time when such things were believed.

There was a time when people believed that meat gave birth to maggots.  Maggots emerge from meat left out in the sun.  This, of course, is a confusion of cause and effect.  There was a time when people believed that grain gave birth to mice.  This is another confusion of cause and effect.

There was a time when people thought that certain babies were evil.  I don’t believe this!  Don’t blame me!  They also believed that evil babies came from incubi—the mother mated, perhaps unknowingly, with an incubus who crawled into her bed at night.  The products of such an unholy union were called “cambions,” half-human, half-daemonic hybrid offspring.

Imaginary causality works in this fashion: A phenomenon is experienced and then an imaginary cause is superadded after the fact.  A chimerical cause is chimerized where a natural explanation would do much better.  Instead of applying Occam’s razor, one introjects an imaginary cause to a natural process.  Flies are attracted to meat and lay their eggs on meat to which they attracted; the larval stage of a fly is a maggot.  Mice are attracted to the grain in the barn.  The farmer sees a mischief of mice in the barn and assumes, erroneously, that the grain gave birth to the mice.  A child is born, and that child is unruly, unmanageable.  The father believes, falsely, that his wife coupled with an incubus.

This false logic might also take the form of the confusion of chronology and causality.  I went to a Japanese restaurant and woke up sick this morning.  I am now convinced that the food that I ate last night sickened me.  This might be the case, but it is not necessarily the case.  A creepy, irritating man leaves an insulting comment on someone’s YouTube channel.  The next day, the person who runs the YouTube channel deletes it.  I suppose that the manager of the YouTube channel deleted her channel because she was offended.  But there is no immediate evidence that would support this assertion.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc, “after this because of this,” is the confusion of chronology with causality.  Simply because something happens first does not mean that it is the cause of something else.

Morality is based on imaginary qualities or causes, such as human responsibility or the free will, to which I shall presently return.  There is a great deal of talk in this culture about whether or not it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person.  Then there is the theodical cliché: How can you reconcile the idea of a beneficent god with a world that is overflowing with misery?

But one doesn’t have to go that far.  Atheists have the tendency to attack theists for believing in an intervening God, but that seems hypocritical to be.  So many of the godless seem to believe in the imaginary.  Consider the imaginary presuppositions of traditional morality.  Traditional morality, even without religion, is based on the imaginary.

There are a number of famous atheists who seem very religious to me, for these atheistic public intellectuals believe in imaginary causes, such as moral responsibility.  It has never been proven that any human being is morally responsible.  Now, one might say that being morally responsible has its benefits, but isn’t that another question?

If someone believes in moral responsibility, that person believes in imaginary causation.  And it is very likely that such a person believes that morality is universal, as well, which it is not.

I have expanded on this subject elsewhere, but let me say a few words to refute the fallacious claim that morality is universal.

Anyone who believes that morality is universal is ignoring the historical fact that marriage, for example, was at one time regarded as something transgressive.  Today, marriage is regarded as a virtue; at other times, it was regarded as a vice.  For instance, throughout Europe, there was a practice known as jus primae noctis, “the right of the first night,” or the droit de seigneur.  The right of a feudal lord to take possession of a bride on the day of her wedding or at any time he wanted to.  This was a practice that we would regard as disgraceful today, but the point is that marriage was once regarded as something that was contrary to the right of the lord.

Hubris was regarded as a transgression in Ancient Greece.  Consider the myth of Prometheus—Prometheus stole fire from the gods and was punished by being shackled to a rock.  Every night, an eagle would devour his liver, which would then regrow only to be re-devoured.  In Ancient Greece any violation of nature (the gods were emblematical of nature) was seen a transgression, but look at the violation of nature which is mountaintop blasting!  This is something that is often practiced in our societies.

Revenge was considered a virtue in Ancient Greece (read the Orestia), but we disapprove of it today, etc., etc.


The fourth idol which is toppled from its pedestal is the argumentum ad consequentiam, the argument from consequence, though Nietzsche does not use this term.  The argumentum ad consequentiam is a logical fallacy.  I might believe that I am a hammerhead shark with every fiber of my being, but that does not mean that I am a hammerhead shark.  But pleasure proves nothing.  The pleasure produced by an idea proves absolutely nothing about the soundness of that idea.  Nietzsche makes the point that hope ferments comfort—it could just as easily be argued that hope ferments discomfort, but fine.  Irenicism might bring me comfort, I might desire with my entire being for there to be peace in the near future, but that doesn’t mean that one can look forward to the prospect of an irenic future.  It is impossible to make absolute statements about the future with any degree of justification, and the future doesn’t care about me and my emotional state.  Just because I desire a comforting cause, this doesn’t necessarily imply that the ostensible cause is the cause.


The fifth mythology is already one of the best-refuted mythologies in existence: voluntarism, the mythology of the freedom of the will.  Nietzsche doesn’t actually demolish the concept of the freedom of the will in this book.  He already annihilated the factitious concept of the free will in other of his books.  Instead, Nietzsche is wondering: What is the benefit of having other people believe in the freedom of the will?  Cui bono?

This is the argument, and it is an interesting one: Those who are invested in the propagation of free-will theory are practicing a form of sadism.

Epexegesis: “There must be a free will because I have the emotional need to believe in the free will” (this is another version of the argumentum ad consequentiam).  But there is a specific emotional need at play here:

Translation: “There must be a free will because I want to punish people.  And I cannot punish them by inflicting them with guilt unless they believe that they are free to choose whatever they choose.”

Now, we were taught in On the Genealogy of Morals that all human beings are cruel, but some of us interiorize our impulse toward cruelty.  When cruelty is reintrojected in the human self, that is called “guilt” and “the bad conscience.”  And the inculcation of guilt actively negates my self-esteem.

But all human beings are cruel.  Nothing is more natural to the human animal than a taste for cruelty.  Though Nietzsche never writes about sociopathy, this idea makes me rethink modern psychology’s take on sociopathy.  Perhaps it is inaccurate to throw certain people into a bucket labelled “Sociopaths.”  Perhaps there is an economy of sociopathy.  Perhaps everyone has the capacity for sociopathy.  If I am wrong about this, why do so many people enjoy violent sports, such as boxing or tauromachy (bullfighting)?  Is there a certain moment at which any human being can read about the destruction of other human beings with coldness, with indifference?


The sixth idol which is blown into smithereens is the ideal that life has a purpose.  Another of the most famous statements that Nietzsche ever made also appears in this book, and you will find it on memes all over social media.  It is Aphorism Twelve: “If someone has a Why? in life one can get along with almost any How?”

However, this aphorism has been often misinterpreted.  Nietzsche is suggesting that the idea of a purpose in life makes life tolerable, to be sure, but he is not suggesting that life actually has a real purpose.  Life has no purpose at all, according to Nietzsche.  As I wrote in my essay on Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits, all is purposeless yet necessary.

Life does not move in the direction of some transcendent goal, unless death and decomposition would be considered a “goal.”

But everyone is necessary in relation to the whole economy of life.  There is an amazing profusion of human types in the economy of life.  And one should never wish to wish away any human being, for each human being is necessary for the operation and self-maintenance of the whole economy of life.  Every mediocrity is essential to the economy of life; without the mediocre, the remarkable would be unremarkable.  Bad books are essential because they are consonant with the tastes of undiscerning people.


The seventh idol is that the idea that humanity is progressively improving, which it manifestly is not, and it is refreshing to read Nietzsche’s counter-argument to the Enlightenment.  If you’d like an example of the Enlightenment hypothesis that humanity is gradually refining itself, read Lessing, “The Education of the Human Race,” Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts.

I already discussed Nietzsche’s diagnosis of modernity in my lecture series on Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.  The malady of modernity, for Nietzsche, is the paralysis of the will.  In Götzen-Dämmerung: Oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, Nietzsche has a slightly different critique of modernity.  In modernity, according to the logic of this book, progression and regression are one and the same.  The ostensible “refining” of humankind is really a taming, a domesticating, a making-docile of the human beast.  Animals are trained—this doesn’t mean that they become sophisticated.  Neither is it the case that the human beast becomes sophisticated simply because it is trained to be “civilized.”  Making-civilized is retrogressive; it is the manipulation and curtailing of the life-instincts.  An uncaged animal is more advanced than the modern human being.

Nietzsche is in good company.  Kafka said something similar to Gustav Janouch: “In the light of Darwinism, human evolution looks like a monkey’s fall from grace.”

H.L. Mencken wrote something quite similar, but regrettably, I can’t find the citation.  Mencken made the argument that the human being evolved into an ape.  Of course, it is a falsification to think that human beings evolved from apes; they did not.  Mencken was inverting the common misconception of Darwinian evolution.

As I have said above, Nietzsche is an antinomian.  He reminds us, again and again, not to believe in any traditional concept that you haven’t evaluated yourself.  It makes no sense to believe in a concept merely because it is old.  To do so is to enter the logical fallacy known as the argumentum ad antiquatitam, the argument from tradition.  Simply because an idea is hoarily old, this does not imply that such an idea is valid.

Permit me to enumerate all of the ideals that are detonated in this book, all of the idols that are twilit:

False Idol One: Reason leads to virtue, which leads to happiness.

False Idol Two: Absolutes exist.  There is such a thing as absolute, motionless, changeless being, whether it is the Self, permanency, an unconditional origin, absolute finality, signified meaning that comes before language, etc.

False Idol Three: Imaginary causes are real causes.

False Idol Four: A belief that gives me pleasure is a true belief.

False Idol Five: There exists something like a free will.

False Idol Six: Life has a transcendent purpose.

False Idol Seven: Humanity is progressively improving.


The End

Joseph Suglia

Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE / An Analysis of Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE / Die fröhliche Wissenschaft / THE GAY SCIENCE by Friedrich Nietzsche / What does Nietzsche mean by “God is dead”? / What does this mean?: “What does not kill me makes me stronger” / Nietzsche and Schopenhauer / Was Nietzsche a proto-Nazi? / Was Nietzsche a fascist? / Was Nietzsche a misogynist? / Was Nietzsche a feminist? / Was Nietzsche a sexist? / What is the “Eternal Recurrence of the Same”? / What is the “will-to-power”? / Nietzsche and “The Will to Power” / Nietzsche and “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same” / Nietzsche and Buddhism / Nietzsche and Hinduism

For my videos on philosophy and literature, GO HERE!


On Nietzsche’s THE GAY SCIENCE

by Joseph Suglia

“At the beach and in the sand, small mussels are splashed about, into them we wriggle and see only wrigglers but never the waves and upsurge of beings!”

—Martin Heidegger, Black Notebooks, October 1931


The middle period of Nietzschean thought begins with The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) (1882; 1887).  Its invigorated and invigorating philosophy was made possible by the largely destructive Human, All-Too-Human (1878; 1886) and Daybreak (1881; 1887), the two books that immediately preceded The Gay Science.  In Human, All-Too-Human, Nietzsche explodes the concept of the free will and reveals the obscene selfishness, the crass self-interestedness, that underlies all human conduct.  In Daybreak, Nietzsche argues that all morality is false—indeed, impossible—if we conceive of moral behavior as being voluntary or other-directed.

The foundation of Nietzschean thought could be represented by one word: anankē (the Greek word for necessity).

We do not control what we think; we do not control what we do.  The sources of thought and action never exist within the horizons of consciousness.  All human thought and activity are uncontrollable / involuntary—that is to say, necessary—and therefore there is no reason to celebrate anyone for his or her “heroism” or condemn anyone for his or her “immoral” behavior.  It makes no sense, therefore, to regret what one has said or done, as it makes no sense to regret what one has not said or not done.  We are free to choose only what necessity has chosen for us.  Persephone rolls the dice of fate in Hades; we are free to play along.

The Gay Science—and the gay science—is the passionate assumption of necessity, amor fati (“the love of fate”).  The gay science is gaiety at the meaningless mechanism which is the world.  Everything is necessary yet purposeless.


The Gay Science marks a swerving-away from Nietzsche’s unofficial teacher Schopenhauer.  There were already indications of Nietzsche’s growing dissatisfaction with Schopenhauer in Human, All-Too-Human [cf. especially Paragraph Thirty-Nine], in which Nietzsche ridicules his master for believing that some “metaphysical need” is innate to human beings.  The “metaphysical need” comes after religion; religion is not responsive to a preexisting “metaphysical need.”  Nor, Nietzsche argues, does the human conscience imply human moral responsibility—this is a false inference on Schopenhauer’s part.  The human conscience is a hive of error.

The total break with Schopenhauer, again, is announced in the pages of The Gay Science.  I would direct the reader to Paragraph Ninety-Nine, where Nietzsche makes explicit statements against Schopenhauerian philosophy, as well as to the poem “Pessimisten-Arznei” and the 1887 Preface, wherein he describes pessimism in physiological terms as a sickness.  What Nietzsche writes is pellucid; little commentary from me is required.  Briefly: Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the One Will is indemonstrable (that all causes are manifestations of the One Will); the idea that a genius is a timeless, subjectless, desubjectified subject of knowledge is ridiculous; there is no such thing as animal magnetism; pity is not separate from the selfishness of individualism, etc.

What I would like to focus on here is something that is less obvious: the way that Nietzsche subtilizes Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the Will.

As the title of Schopenhauer’s masterwork, The World as Will and Representation, suggests, the world has two valences.  The innermost core of the world is the Will: the throbbing, palpitating, blind, stupid vital force, the will-to-live, the impulse to perpetuate and to preserve life.  The Will is the impelling force of Nature.  The Will is what makes one want to live, what keeps one alive, but more importantly, what makes us, usually inadvertently, continue the human species.  All that we do, whether we think we are doing so or not, is in the service of the life-will, of the impulse toward the enhancement and enlargement of life.

The fundamental trait of the Will is striving.  The exertions of the Will as objectivated in the human body are geared toward one thing (not a “purpose” or “goal”): the reduplication of humanity.  While this might sound “heteronormative” or “heterosexist” (to use two fuzz words), it is not.  Schopenhauer is not implying that the Will is a libido that is geared toward sexual reproduction; the Will is not the Will-to-sexually-reproduce.  Childless farmers, non-procreative artists, the celibate, gays, lesbians, the transgender—all of these, too, dance the regimented, compulsory dance of life, creating conditions for future humanity.  Homosexuality, for example, is a necessary counteraction / has a necessary counteractive effect which serves the drive to revitalize the human species.

Life, then, has no “purpose” other than its own perpetuation and promotion.  Human beings are playthings of the will-to-live.  The will-to-live continues, despite the endless deaths of individuals (there are no individuals, for Schopenhauer)—which is why suicide is both foolish and repulsive.  You can kill yourself, but you can’t kill life.  “Individuality” is subordinate to the push-to-keep-humanity-alive.  The gay science is consciousness of the thrustings, the wellings, and the swellings of the Will and of the purposelessness of existence (Nietzsche, in this regard, likens the Will to the Wave, der Wille to die Welle).

Human beings think that they are their own masters, when behind every gesture, action, and word is the ascendant urge to renew the human species.  As I explained above, in Human, All-Too-Human, Nietzsche destroyed the philosophical foundations of altruism and the free will; in Daybreak, he destroyed morality on the basis of the destructions of Human, All-Too-Human.  In The Gay Science, we learn what human acts and thoughts subserve.  We are marking time, marching in place, when we believe that we matter.

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are one at this stage: Individuals who believe that they are masters of themselves are self-deceptive.  They are puppeteered by the Will (which Schopenhauer believes is the will-to-preservation; Nietzsche believes the Will is something else, as we shall see).  Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, however, differ in their positions toward life.  For Schopenhauer, life is tragedy (life is a business that cannot cover its own expenses; human beings arise only to be extinguished; the character of life is suffering).  Nietzsche does not deny any of this—far from it—but for him, life is a comedy, a comedy because it has no goal, and consciousness of the pointlessness of life is the gay science.  Why else would Nietzsche invite the Grillen to dance the dance of life?  Grillen: this interesting word means both “crickets” and “whimsical (often, bad) moods.”  We are invited to confront and absorb the negative in the dream-dance of life: hence, the frequent terpsichorean and oneiric figures that proliferate throughout the text.  Nietzsche rejects Schopenhauer’s gloominess, his dourness, though he agrees that the maintenance, sustenance, and perpetuation of the human species is the result of a more fundamental human impulse than that of the principle of individuality (the principium indivuationis).

Nietzsche advances another step beyond his ex officio teacher and mentor, Schopenhauer, when he calls attention to how vices and how (later) squandering contribute to the will-to-live: Hatred, malice, envy, aggression, the desire to steal—all of these forms of so-called “wickedness” belong to “the astounding economy of the conservation of the species” ([die] erstaunliche[-] Oekonomie der Arterhaltung) [Paragraph One].  Much later, Nietzsche informs us that “Evil” is nothing more than another name for those who are vigorous, for those who are passionate (leidenschaftlich) [Paragraph 326], for those who enhance life, for those who stimulate opposition, with their passionate individualism and unconventional ideas.

Life is neither ugly nor beautiful, good nor evil in itself; we make it so.  That is to say: Neither Good nor Evil exists.  “Good” and “Evil” are mystifications, simplifications (and hence falsifications), abstractions.  The dichotomy of Good and Evil is replaced, by Nietzsche, with the terms strong / fertile / healthy and the feeble / sterile / sick.  Nietzsche seems to be using dualisms / dichotomies / binary oppositions himself.  One must be careful not to think that Nietzsche is substituting one dualism for another, however.

The strong and the weak do not form a dualism, but a continuum or an “axis” (to use Brian Eno’s term).  There are no opposites, only continua / axes.  Sickness and health are not opposites—there are subdivisions, gradations, degrees, nuances, levels between the antipodes of “strength” and “feebleness,” between “sickness” and “health.”  Health cannot do without sickness, as we learn from Paragraph 120 of The Gay Science and the 1886 Preface of Human, All-Too-Human.  All values are derived from disvalues.  Logic comes from illogic [cf. Paragraph 111].  Altruism is the chick that is hatched from the egg of selfishness.  In Human, All-Too-Human, we learn that generosity is drawn from a selfish lust for power.  In Paragraph 118 of The Gay Science and Daybreak, passim, we learn that benevolence (and pity, the affect that motivates benevolence) is the effort of the strong to appropriate the weak.  Opposites interpenetrate.

The most fundamental human impulse is not the will-to-reproduce-life, as Schopenhauer believes.  In the following words, Nietzsche definitively breaks with Schopenhauer: “In nature, it is not distress which rules, but rather abundance, squandering, even to the point of absurdity.  The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the life-will; the great and small struggle revolves everywhere around preponderance, around growth and expansion, around power, in accordance with the will-to-power, which is simply the will-to-live” ([I]n der Natur herrscht nicht die Nothlage, sondern der Überfluss, der Verschwendung, sogar bis in’s Unsinnige.  Der Kampf um’s Dasein ist nur eine Ausnahme, eine zeitweilige Restriktion des Lebenswillens; der grosse und kleine Kampf dreht sich allenthalben um’s Übergewicht, um Wachsthum und Ausbreitung, um Macht, gemäss dem Willen zur Macht, der eben der Wille des Lebens ist) [Paragraph 349].

The will-to-live is only the restriction of a much greater will.  For Schopenhauer, the Will is the will-to-live; in Nietzsche, the Schopenhauerian Will is transformed into the will-to-power.

What is the will-to-power?  The “will-to-power” means the following: All of life is composed of relativities of power.  One creature is the dominant; the other is the subordinate.  One creature is the master; the other is the slave.  Not the desire for power, but desire as power is the fundamental characteristic of the will.  Exertion, struggling, striving for the preservation of the human species is a secondary characteristic.  The essential trait of the Will is the drive toward supremacy, toward ascendancy, over other organisms and entities.

All live organisms strive for dominance over other live organisms—but they also strive for dominance over the world.  Such is the will-to-power.  Power is not an object that is separate from the will; it is inherent to the will itself.  The will-to-power is the will of power, the power-will.


Nietzsche, sadly, writes a number of disobliging things about women in The Gay Science.

Am I the first reader to notice that Nietzsche writes about women in almost the same way in which he writes about mountains?  In Paragraph Fifteen, he tells us that mountains are only beautiful at a distance.  A mountain is beautiful to look at, but it is not beautiful to be a mountain.  The man who gazes at the mountain from the comfort of the Swiss boarding house is charmed; the mountaineer is not so enchanted.  (Schopenhauer gave exactly the same example to illustrate the ephemerality of beauty, before Nietzsche did.)

In Paragraph Sixty, Nietzsche writes almost exactly the same thing about women.  Women, we are told, produce magical effects on the spectator only at a distance.  Fascination / bewitchment / enchantment implies distance.  The comparison between women and mountains could easily be interpreted as a misogynistic comparison (for what is a mountain but a large rock?).  However, as I have written elsewhere (in my commentary on Human, All-Too-Human), Nietzsche is not always merely a misogynist.

At other times, Nietzsche praises women to the sky.  Consult Paragraph Sixty-Four: Old women—Nietzsche slyly utters while twisting his Vercingetorix moustache—know that the superficiality of existence is its essence.  In other words, experienced women are more philosophically minded than experienced men.  A philosopher (I will return to this point below) is not someone who sees the Platonic idea (eidos) through the masquerade of appearances.  A philosopher is one who knows that there is no idea behind the curtain.

Anyone who still thinks that all of Nietzsche’s thoughts on women are reducible to misogyny should read on.  In the poignant paragraph that follows, we learn that Nietzsche has sympathy (perhaps even empathy) for women who offer their bodies—and their shame—to men who neither appreciate them nor return their love.  At another point, he even equates life itself to women / women to life itself: “Yes, life is a female!” (Ja, das Leben ist ein Weib!) [Paragraph 339].  This is the highest encomium that could ever be accorded to anyone.  What is this if not philogyny (the love of women)?  What is this if not crypto-feminism?


Of all the tabloid lies that have been told about him, none is as blatantly untrue as the rumor that Nietzsche was a fascist or a proto-Nazi.  Such slanderous gossip could be refuted in a few words.  Nietzsche renounced his German (Prussian) citizenship in 1869.  He vilified the authoritarian state in Thus Spoke Zarathustra—and there has never been a fascist who did not revere the authoritarianism of the state.  He believed in a rule of intellectuals [cf. Paragraph 283], or, to invent words, a cognocracy or a philosophocracy—surely, fascism is nothing if not anti-intellectualist (see my brief article “Fascism”).  He inveighed against nationalism, racial hatred (Rassenhass), and the fetishistic piety of epidermal worship or “mendacious racial self-admiration” (verlogne[-] Rassen-Selbstbewunderung) [Paragraph 377].  Not only does Nietzsche suggest that “racial purity” (whatever this means) is undesirable—he even seems to suggest that it is impossible.  He never ceased to ridicule and condemn Anti-Judaism (for one example of this, consult the final pages of Toward the Genealogy of Morals).  He constantly expresses his admiration for the Jewish people [read Paragraph 475 of Human, All-Too-Human and Paragraph 205 of Daybreak].  On 29 March 1887, Nietzsche inked and mailed a letter to Theodor Fritsch, self-anointed Anti-Semite and one of the vilest ideological precursors of National Socialism, that contained these words as its closing paragraph: “Finally, how do you think I feel when the name Zarathustra is mouthed by an Anti-Semite?”  Nietzsche was demanding that Fritsch stop sending him copies of the rag that Fritsch edited: the Antisemitische Correspondenz und Sprechsaal für innere Partei-Angelegenheiten.

This is scarcely the profile of a fascist or a proto-Nazi.  The ethnic purifiers, the racial homogenizers, the phenotype idolaters, the ideological Aryans, the alt-rightists, the Neo-Nazis should find another “fave” philosopher (might I suggest Hegel?).  Nietzsche revolted against everything these thugs, mugs, and lugs stand for.


The title Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (“the gay science”) has at least four meanings:

1.) At the most literal level, the gay science is poetry. The term gaya scienza was used by twelfth-century troubadours from Provence as another name for poetic art.  The book itself is fringed by two series of poems: “Joke, Cunning, and Revenge” and “The Songs of Prince Vogelfrei.”  The most significant of these is “To Goethe” (from “The Songs of Prince Vogelfrei”), to which I will turn, briefly, below.

2.) The title carries a personal meaning. In the 1887 Preface, Nietzsche attributes the provenance of the book to a personal convulsion, the “saturnalia of a mind” (Saturnalien eines Geistes), an overturning, an overthrow of the romantic pessimism of Schopenhauer and of Schopenhauer’s disciple Wagner.  The rejection of romantic pessimism does not lead Nietzsche into optimism (thank goodness).  “The gay science” is the impassioned affirmation of the world-as-such in all of its ugliness, not the naïve hyperbole of Leibnizian optimism, which sees the world as the best of all possible worlds.  To see the world as the best of all possible worlds is to see the world as better than it is, since there is only one world.  This is the world, and there is no other.  Optimism and pessimism are surpassed in favor of the life-affirming repudiation of all religion, of all morality, and of all metaphysics (which serves as the foundation of religion and morality).  Metaphysics, by definition, posits a supraworld, a world-beyond-the-world, an Apart-from-the-world, an επέκεινα.  This explains the book’s frequent references to Epicurus, who believed that if there are gods, they do not concern themselves with us.  The Gay Science is not a Leibnizian book (far from it); it is an Epicurean book.

3.) The gay science, as I suggested above, is the consciousness of the purposelessness of existence—unless the promotion of life is itself a purpose. But how could the impulse to continue, to perpetuate, to reproduce the human species be a “purpose”?  If the concept of purpose implies free will (and surely it does), then the impulse to propagate the human species is no purpose at all.  The gay science is the joyous assumption of necessity.  It is the cheerful knowledge that a supercomputer would be able to preprogram all of human behavior centuries before any of that behavior was enacted.

4.) The gay science is Nietzsche’s phenomenological ontology.

Let me address this final theorem here.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche gives us a philosophy of superficiality.  Nietzsche tells us, “We cannot see around our corner” (Wir können nicht um unsre Ecke sehn); the human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself, things in the world, and other selves under its own perspectival forms [Paragraph 374].  All we have are surfaces and surfaces of surfaces.  The world is a glittering, glistening, trembling, quivering play of surfaces without depth—a scintillating mosaic with nothing behind it.

But if there is no depth, can there be a surface?  For Nietzsche, there can be depthless surfaces—there is nothing beneath the surface; there are only grooves, filigrees, fissures, grooves incised on the surface of the world.  There are nothing but veils and veils that veil veils.  As he writes in the 1887 Preface: “We no longer believe that the truth still remains the truth when the veil is pulled off” (Wir glauben nicht mehr daran, dass Wahrheit noch Wahrheit bleibt, wenn man ihr die Schleier abzieht).

The disciple of the Temple of Sais pulls off the veil that veils the statue of Isis—there is nothing there beneath the veil.  No revealed mystery, no depth.  The unveiling is a forced striptease that does not lead to nudity, that does not lead to the truth, that never reaches an essence, that never comes to an ultimate profundity, but one that leads to another set of impermeable veils.  What this means is that depth is superficiality, as superficiality is depth.  A frog is a frog, a log is a log, a bog is a bog.

It takes a deep person to recognize that the world is superficial, which is why Nietzsche writes that mystics are not even superficial / surficial: “Mystical explanations are estimated as deep; the truth is, they are not even superficial” (Die mystischen Erklärungen gelten für tief; die Wahrheit ist, dass sie noch nicht einmal oberflächlich sind) [Paragraph 126].  My interpretation of this statement: A mystic / mystagogue is someone who ignores the surfaces of life in favor of a deeper world that does not even exist.

The all-important Paragraph Fifty-Four—the centrifugal force of the book—liberates appearances from essences.  We learn here that a phenomenon is not the appearance of a thing; a phenomenon has its own integrity.  Appearance is not the opposite of some essence (Gegensatz irgend eines Wesens).  Appearance is not a death mask (eine todte Maske), an unknown X (ein[-] unbekannt[es] X), the crust or shell of a thing.  “Semblance,” Nietzsche writes, is “the acting and living themselves” (Schein ist für mich das Wirkende und Lebende selber).  Though Nietzsche does not write the following explicitly, he implies: Appearance is essence.

In this extraordinary paragraph, Nietzsche emancipates himself from his unofficial teacher Schopenhauer and from Schopenhauer’s unofficial teacher Kant.  It is not merely the case that we only know appearances and never things in themselves, Nietzsche suggests to us.  Nietzsche celebrates and affirms—with the giddiness of gaiety—phenomenality without Dinge an sich (“things in themselves”).  Here, Nietzsche is moving away from Schopenhauer (and from Schopenhauer’s predecessor, Kant), who still believed that there is a supersensible truth beyond the world of appearances.  Whereas Kant believed that things in themselves underlie appearances, Nietzsche here affirms that there are only appearances and no things in themselves.

Further, Nietzsche positions himself against all ethics of prudence.  Reason does not have a pure employment—all ethics are ethics of prudence, of convenience, of self-interest.

Kant does assert repeatedly that the forms of knowledge (particularly, the forms of sensibility, space and time) cannot be applied to things as they are in themselves.  Neither are they applicable to three “Ideas of Reason” that entranced the originators of Christianity (and, to an extent, Christian Wolff): God, the free will, and immortality.  On this, Nietzsche and Kant are in agreement.  The “Ideas of Reason” have no correlative in experience.  Where is God?  Where is the free will?  Where is immortality?

However, Nietzsche goes much further than Kant.  Nietzsche utterly denies the reality of God.  He utterly denies the reality of the free will.  He utterly denies the reality of immortality.  We must admit that Nietzsche was far more enlightened than Kant.  In comparison with Nietzsche, Kant appears to be clouded by intellectual benightedness.  Nietzsche thinks that God, the free will, and immortality are intellectual errors and that human reason is by no means bound to accept them even as noumenal realities.

Nietzsche, then, is out-Kanting Kant: There is no noumenal self, no supersensible morality, no noumenal world.  There is no separation between the phenomenal and the noumenal worlds.  Although Nietzsche never actually writes this, we can aver with confidence that Kant was not enlightened enough.  Kant is not the representative of the Enlightenment that most think him to be.  Nietzsche, who was born forty years after Kant died, takes the Enlightenment to its logical conclusion.  He certainly took the Enlightenment much further than Kant ever did.

Nietzsche phenomenalizes the world.  That is to say: Nietzsche superficializes the world.

Heidegger is wrong when he claims that Nietzsche inverts Platonism.  To “invert” Platonism would be to place the phenomenon above the essence (eidos).  Nietzsche does not invert Platonism.  He displaces Platonism.

Does this imply that life is a lie?  Nietzsche will write in the Nachlass that “[t]ruth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live.”  This, regrettably, is one of the most unfortunate things that Nietzsche ever wrote.  For does not this interpretation of truth presuppose truth?  Is Nietzsche not assuming that his own statement is true?  Is he not hoping that we, the readers, will accept his statement as a true statement?  Or is he suggesting that his own statement is erroneous?  This is one of the Megarian paradoxes: A man comes from a city where everyone lies.  He says, “I am lying.”  Is he telling the truth?  Nietzsche writes that truth is a lie.  Is he telling the truth?

Nietzsche’s argument might be saved if we rewrite his statement as follows: “There is no truth (no absolute reality, no reality absolved of perception and perceptibility); there are only things that we take as the truth.”  To cite a popular-cultural example: The film I, Tonya (2017) seems to proceed from this understanding—all the while discounting any perspective other than that of Team Tonya.  In the film, Tonya Harding is the victim, not Nancy Kerrigan.

Most of the poems in The Gay Science are nothing more than silly fun (and Nietzsche admits this), but there is one that stands out: “To Goethe.”

World-Play, the masterful, / Blends being and semblance:—

Welt-Spiel, das herrische, / Mischt Sein und Schein:—

To paraphrase: There is no “deeper life.”  Being is appearance, Sein is Schein, ontology is phenomenology.  Life is a scintillating mosaic, a play of surfaces.  Again, this is not an inversion, but a displacement of Platonism.

This is why Nietzsche praises artists, creators of illusions of profundity.  This is why artists are compared to lovers, and lovers are compared to artists; both conceal naturalness [Paragraph Fifty-Nine].  Art is the “good will to semblance” (gute[r] Wille[-] zum Scheine) (Paragraph 107)—that is, art is illusion without the pretext of being true (unlike, say, religion).  Art resembles existence, which is already aesthetic.  This does not mean that art represents things in the world, as Aristotle believes.  It means that art repeats the phenomenal character of existence.  We are drawn to works of art because they remind us that life is already art—that is, they remind us that life is already a shallow play of appearances.  Art reminds us that life is already a constellation / a clutch / a cluster of illusions.

This is why what flying fish love most about life is its skinnishness / skinness / skinnedness / epidermality (Hautlichkeit) [Paragraph 256].  For life is a vast skin without fat or muscle—a skin of many pigmentations.

This is why the name of a thing (its reputation) is more important than the thing itself.  A name describes the human relation to a thing; it does not describe the thing itself.  The name of a thing is the skin that becomes its very body [cf. Paragraph Fifty-Eight].  Indeed, without a name, a thing is not accessible at all.  Language gives birth to reality—Nietzsche almost writes this [cf. Paragraph 261].

Language is not reducible to some meaning behind letters and punctuation marks.  Language inheres in letters and punctuation marks.  This point is reflected by Nietzschean novelist Hermann Hesse, a writer who has long been adored by public and reviled by Germanists, in the fourth chapter (“Awakening”) of his novel Siddhartha.  In this chapter, the eponymous protagonist throws off religion and affirms his self, the surfaceness of life, and the signifierness of language (sit venia verbo):

“Meaning and essence were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them” (Sinn und Wesen waren nicht irgendwo hinter den Dingen, sie waren in ihnen, in allem).

The affirmation of the empirical is not scientific reductionism, for science destroys mystery / ambiguity [cf. Paragraph 373].  It is not scientific reductionism; it is the gay science.  The gay science: to be unfavorably disposed toward meta-phenomenal ideas and toward absolute unbudgeable, unrustable convictions.  The gay science is the joyous, impassioned affirmation of empty phenomena.

The lightness of being is not unbearable—to write against the worst of the pseudo-Nietzschean novelists, Milan Kundera (Hesse is his superior).  Not only is the lightness of being bearable, it is joy-inspiring.  Nietzsche celebrates the joyous weightlessness of existence.  The gay science—and The Gay Science—is a gay phenomenology.


How could God die, if God never existed to begin with?: Both Foucault and Christopher Hitchens have posed this question.  The answer, of course, is that Nietzsche never intended the literal death of God when he wrote, “God is dead.”  He meant the implausibility of believing in the otherworld, the unbelievability of belief in the otherworld.  One should recall the story of the lunatic in the marketplace that Nietzsche tells us in The Gay Science: The people of the marketplace do not even believe in God and are indifferent to the lunatic’s rantings.  The point is not that God does not exist but that the idea of God is unbelievable.

If God is dead, this is because God is depth.  Any belief in metaphysical depth becomes incredible.

God is dead because God is depth.


Nietzsche is a thinker who many talk about, but few have read—thoroughly, at least.  One of his statements that is repeated everywhere throughout American popular culture, a statement that permeates everything from the now-moldering and –smoldering Web site MySpace to the sounds of Kayne West, is “What does not kill me makes me stronger” (Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker) [from Götzendämmerung].

The 1887 Preface to The Gay Science helps one understand this statement, probably the most oft-quoted statement that Nietzsche ever made (eclipsing perhaps even the death of God and the abyss-that-is-looking-into-you): “I doubt that [the great] pain ‘improves’ us—; but I know that it deepens us” (Ich zweifle, ob [der grosse] Schmerz ‘verbessert’—; aber ich Weiss, dass er uns vertieft).

The 1887 Preface clarifies in advance what Nietzsche meant by “What does not kill me makes me stronger”: What Nietzsche means by “what does not kill me” is “the great pain,” the most excruciating pain of one’s life.  The great pain makes me deeper.

But what or who is this “me”?  The “me” is the free spirit.  What does not kill the free spirit makes the free spirit deeper.  Pain makes the free spirit become another person—the free spirit is always becoming another person.  A way of retranslating this famous formulation, then, might be: “The great pain annihilates and recreates the free spirit.”

What does not kill me kills me.

The new person is a questioner—one who poses questions as to the questionableness of existence.  After an experience of pain, the free thinker—the survivor of the trauma—delights in the experience, for s/he knows that pain is necessary and produces meaning.  Pain problematizes existence, highlighting its ambiguity / equivocality.

What does not kill me makes me more profound—and (to retranslate this remark into the terms of The Gay Science) my profundity makes the world appear superficial.


The Gay Science contains the first published reference to the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same (an unpublished reference occurs earlier, in the notebooks—see the notebook of August 1881): In order to attain your highest humanity, “you desire the eternal recurrence of war and peace” (du willst die ewige Wiederkunft von Krieg und Frieden) [Paragraph 285].  By the “eternal recurrence of war and peace,” Nietzsche does not intend that our lives will repeat themselves infinitely.  He intends that we ought to live our lives as if our lives will repeat themselves infinitely.  The infinite repetition of our lives is a thought-experiment, not a metaphysical claim.  The infinite repetition of our lives is a philosophical imperative, an “Ought.”  (I will pursue this topic in much greater depth when I discuss Beyond Good and Evil and the Nachlass.)  The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is the philosophical imperative: Live your life for nothing other than its own infinite repetition.

Schopenhauer constantly refers to Hinduism (or as he calls it “Brahmanism” or “the Vedanta philosophy”) throughout The World as Will and Representation.  The extent to which Nietzsche is indebted to Hinduism has yet to be sufficiently explored.  One should not ignore the epigraph to Morgenröthe, which comes from the Rig Veda: “There are many days that have yet to be dawned.”

Is it possible that Nietzsche was inspired by Hinduism when he came up with the Eternal Recurrence of the Same?  I am thinking of the Hindu concept of samsāraSamsāra is the endless recycling of rebirth and redeath.  The only way out is nirvāna, the extinction of the self (the word nirvāna originally referred to the extinguishing, the snuffing-out, of a candle flame).  For the Hindu, the point of life is not to reenter the cycle of samsāra.  The point of life is to suspend samsāra—not to perpetuate it.

The Eternal Recurrence of the Same is not a matter of hopefulness, even though the future is perfect.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

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