Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.

While Nietzsche's Gay Science does not offer anything so comprehensive as a theory of humour, he speaks often about laughter and pleasure. More than this, his concept of eternal recurrence, elaborated in this book as well, can be figured as a kind of nihilism that Nietzsche figures as ambivalent, equally a "tale told by an idiot, signifiying nothing" and a productive site of inquiry. As Kaufmann writes in a footnote, "The absence of all purpose and meaning to which one's first reaction may well be nausea or despair, can be experienced as liberating and delightful in what Nietzsche later calls a 'Dionysian' perspective" (248). Rather than a typical annotation, I've included a series of almost aphoristic quotes from the text that voice his ideas on topics around nihilism, cynicism, laughter, comedy and humour.


"How the theatrical scream of passion now hurts our ears, how strange to our taste the whole romantic uproar and tumult of the senses have become, which the educated mob loves, and all its aspirations after the elevated, inflated and exaggerated! No, if we convalescents still need art, it is another kind of art—a mocking, light, fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art that, like a pure flame, licks into unclouded skies... We know better afterward what above all is needed for this: cheerfulness, any cheerfulness" (37).


"To laugh at oneself as one would have to laugh in order to laugh out the whole truth—to do that even the best so far lacked sufficient sense for the truth, and the most gifted had too little genius for that. Even laughter may yet have a future. I mean, when the proposition 'the species is everything, one is always none' has become part of humanity, and this ultimate liberation and irresponsibility has become accessible to all at all times. Perhaps laughter will then have formed an alliance with wisdom, perhaps only 'gay science' will then be left" (74).


"For the present, the comedy of existence has not yet 'become conscious' of itself" (74).


"The gruesome counterpart of laughter, that profound emotional shock felt by many individuals at the thought: 'Yes, I am worthy of living!'" (75).


"Reflecting has lost all the dignity of its form: the ceremony and solemn gestures of reflecting have become ridiculous" (81).


"The greatest danger that always hovered over humanity and still hovers over it is the eruption of madness—which means the eruption of arbitrariness in feeling, seeing, and hearing, the enjoyment of the mind's lack of discipline, the joy in human unreason" (130).


"The lovely human beast always seems to lose its good spirits when it thinks well; it becomes 'serious.' And 'where laughter and gaiety are found, thinking does not amount to anything': that is the prejudice of this serious beast against all 'gay science'" (257).


"The whole pose of 'man against the world,' of man as a 'world-negating' principle, of man as the measure of the value of things, as judge of the world who in the end places existence itself upon his scales and finds it wanting—the monstrous insipidity of this pose has come home to us and we are sick of it. We laugh as soon as we encounter the juxtaposition of 'man and world,' separated by the sublime presumption of the little word 'and.' But look, when we laugh like that, have we not simply carried the contempt for man one step further? And thus also pessimism, the contempt for that existence which is knowable by us? Have we not exposed ourselves to the suspicion of an opposition—an opposition between the world in which we were at home up to now with our reverences that perhaps made it possible for us to endure life, and another world that consists of us—an inexorable, fundamental, and deepest suspicion about ourselves that is more and more gaining worse and worse control of us Europeans and that could easily confront coming generations with the terrifying Either/Or: 'Either abolish your reverences or—yourselves!' The latter would be nihilism; but would not the former also be—nihilism? –This is our question mark" (286-87).


"The desire for destruction, change, and becoming can be an expression of an overflowing energy that is pregnant with the future (my term for this is, as is known, 'Dionysian'); but it can also be the hatred of the ill-constituted, disinherited, and underprivileged, who destroy, must destroy, because what exists, indeed all existence, all being, outrages and provokes them" (329).


"romantic pessimism, the last great event in the fate of our culture. That there still could be an altogether different kind of pessimism... I can this pessimism of the future—for it comes! I see it coming!—Dionysian pessimism" (331).

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