The day I discovered Nietzsche

Before I had my own computer, I would rent out in Internet cafes located in malls, or just anywhere where I found myself to be, just to write and publish my own articles and reviews.

I would shell out money from my own hard-earned income writing, rewriting, editing, then rewriting again, all the stuff that I wrote about as if they all matter to me, and hoping that maybe one of my articles would one day be important to somebody else.  I don’t have a cult following but I still continue to write.  And most of the time, I would stay in front of a rented computer for many hours because sometimes I would also do some research, and would check my grammar which I never perfected because even up to now, whenever I re-read what I wrote, I would find grammatically incorrect sentences and it would give me a heart attack then I’d immediately correct it.  I write slowly because I think too much and yet I can write very long articles.

It was crazy doing something like that. I was so dedicated even if no one was paying me to do it. And even when I had no job, I would still rent a computer in Internet cafes/stores just to write and get my blogs and reviews published online. And to see them on the Internet was so liberating.

So my biggest regret was having to delete all my book and movie reviews together with my Multiply account (which is now a marketplace, no longer a social networking site).  Because it feels like I wasted those hard-earned money that I spent just to write them painstakingly for hours and hours and publish them online in my social networking site that was Multiply.  Fortunately, Multiply had this program wherein every time you posted something, it would automatically save a copy to my email.  So what was left was the last reviews I wrote.  And one of them was my book review on Friedrich Nietzsche’s autobiographical book, “Why I Am So Wise.”  And I am happy to post it here in WordPress.  Apologies for any wrong grammar.

Now, how can we basically recognize brilliance? We recognize that a brilliantwhy-i-am-so-wise or first-rate human being is agreeable to our senses: that he is made of a matter at once hard yet sweet and fragrant. He enjoys only what is conducive to him; his pleasure, his desire ceases as soon as the level of what is good for him has been overstepped. He divines remedies against injuries, he uses serious accidents to his own advantage; that which does not kill him makes him stronger. He instinctively gathers his sum-total from all that he sees, hears and experiences. He is a selective principle, he discards much. He is always in his own company, whether he deals with books, people or landscapes: he honours his choices by acknowledging them, by trusting them. He reacts slowly to all types of stimuli, with the very slowness bred in him by long years of caution and deliberate pride – he tests the stimulus that meets him head-on; no compromise is required. He believes in neither ‘misfortune’ nor ‘guilt’; he copes with himself and others; he knows when to let go – he is strong enough to turn everything to his greatest advantage.

Well then, I am the opposite of a Decadent: for I just described none other than myself.

— Friedrich Nietzsche (Why I Am So Wise)

*********************

I never heard of the name Friedrich Nietzsche until I got to watch the movie “Little Miss Sunshine,” where one of the characters there, a teenage boy, is an avid admirer of Nietzsche. A boy who has taken a vow of silence because of Nietzsche and because he has this dream of being a pilot. Since then, I’ve always been curious to know how it feels to be put under the spell of Nietzsche’s writings.

Today, the name Nietzsche means the father of modernism and the early existentialist, a philosopher. To me who doesn’t know him that well, I find these descriptions as mere words. It is because I haven’t experienced reading any of his books. So it is my rarest honor to declare that finally, I have read, of all his books, his autobiography entitled “Why I Am So Wise,” translated by Gerta Valentine, and here are some of the things I learned straight from Nietzsche himself.

He was born on October 15, 1844. His father was Carl Ludwig Nietzsche and his mother was Franziska. He had one younger brother, Joseph, and one younger sister, Elisabeth. Tragedy came to the family when his father died when he was around five years old. His brother also died two months later. He practically grew up surrounded by females, which included two maiden aunts. His role models were Voltaire, Rousseau and Stendahl. His first book, “Birth of Tragedy” (1872), was inspired by the works of Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer. His favorite poet was Heinrich Heine. He believed that genius is dependent on dry air and on clear skies. He preferred water over wine and beer. “Water is good enough… I prefer locations where I have an opportunity to drink water fresh from a fountain, for instance in Nice, Turin, and Sils; I keep a small glass by me wherever I go.” He loved to read his favorite books over and over again, “books that seem to have been written for me. Perhaps it is not in my nature to read many or a wide variety of books: a library makes me ill.”

He described himself as “by far the most awful human being that ever lived. However that does not mean I will not also be the kindest.” In this book, he also introduced himself as a missionary, a prophet, a leading philosopher and psychologist, a free spirit.

“To ‘want’ something, to ‘strive’ for something, to focus on a ‘purpose’ or a ‘wish’, all these things I do not know from experience. Even at this moment I look out upon my future – a wide future – as upon a calm sea; there is no foam of desire upon it. I have not the slightest wish that anything should change from the way it is; I myself do not wish to change. But I have always been like that. I never wished for anything. I am someone who can say at the age of forty-four that he was never interested in honours, women or money. Not that these things were lacking… For instance, one fine day I found myself to be a university professor! I never even thought about it; after all, I was only twenty-four years old.”

Nietzsche hated Germans even though he was a German himself. “I can’t bear this race which is always bad company, has no feelings for nuances (oh dear! I am a nuance), has no life in its feet and cannot even walk… Ultimately, the Germans have no feet at all, just legs…” and he really despised them to the core. “Wherever Germany reaches out to, she corrupts culture. It was the war that ‘redeemed’ the spirit of France.”

I also learned about the many books he had written and he explained his reasons or motivations of writing them. One of which is “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” which I felt was his favorite among his books even though not all people liked it.

“When Doctor Heinrich von Stein once seriously complained not to have understood a single word of my ‘Zarathustra’, I told him that that was as it should be: to have understood just six sentences or better; to have lived them, would lift a man on to a higher level among mortals than ‘modern man’ could reasonably hope for.”

According to Valentine, “He wanted to set generations of writers and thinkers free to try to find their own meaning of life, without being hampered by the rigid and inflexible rules and strictures of religious institutions… He gave his mouthpiece Zarathustra almost divine status to promote ideas Nietzsche felt he was born to fight for – to release Christians from slavery to the church and ordinary people from the curse of their ordinariness. He wanted to set mankind free.”

He was an atheist, he even proudly called himself the first immoralist. An anti-Christ. He questioned Christian morality.

“’God’, ‘immortality of the soul’, ‘redemption’, ‘heaven’, these are all terms for which I never had any time and to which I never paid any attention, even as a child – was I perhaps not enough of a child for that? For me, atheism is not at all a result, even less an event: to me it is instinctive. I am much too inquisitive, too sceptical, and too high-spirited to put up with an obvious if coarse answer. God is such a coarse and obvious answer, a lack of delicacy towards us thinkers – at heart He is just a coarse command not to think: thou shalt not think!”

Even though Nietzsche put down and criticized God and morality many times in this book, I did not feel any revulsion. I’d like to think that I understand where he was coming from. In fact, his animosity about the concept of God and everything else related to it made me hang on still to this Invisible Being, disregarding all these many names of cult and religion. Religion, to me, is irrelevant but I still want to believe on one thing – that there is a Supreme Being watching over me, Who created me, Whom I can reach out to in my darkest moments. Granting that He is a lie, and everything that is regarded sacred here on earth is a lie, including the Bible, well, I can’t live my life without believing in something, even if that something is the only thing that I will hold on to. I still want to believe on this one thing: hope.

For Nietzsche: “To redeem those from the past and to turn every ‘it was’ into a ‘that is how I wanted it’: that alone I should call redemption.”

There is this human act that I never bothered to question but something that Nietzsche had different feelings about but made sense to me. It was about compassion:

“Let us assume that our task, the purpose, the destiny of the task exceeds by far an average norm, then there could be no greater danger but to come face-to-face with this task. To become what you are presupposes that you do not have the remotest idea what you are. From this point of view, even the blunder in your life have a unique meaning and value, the occasional deviation or straying from the path, the hesitations, the ‘modesties’, the seriousness, wasted upon tasks that are beyond the main task. This outlines a great prudence, possibly even the highest prudence; whereas ‘Know Yourself’ would be a sure way to lead to downfall, to forget yourself, to misunderstand yourself, to belittle yourself, to limit and moderate yourself becomes reason itself. In moral terms: neighbourly love and living for others and other things may be the means of protection to maintain the most rigorous egoism. This is the exception where I, against all my self-imposed rules and conviction, take the part of the ‘selfless’ instincts: here they are engaged in the service of egoism and self-discipline.”

On other aspect of human relations, Nietzsche said: “It seems to me that the rudest word, the rudest letter, is still kinder, still more virtuous than silence. Those who are silent are almost always lacking in delicacy and refinement of the heart; silence is an objection, swallowing grievances makes for a bad character – it even upsets the stomach. All those who are silent suffer from dyspepsia.”

This book, just by its title alone, instantly gave me the impression that Nietzsche, the author, was too proud of himself. But isn’t this the quality of a writer? Conceited? And I learned this from our National Artist for Philippine Literature Mr. F. Sionil Jose. He said, “All writers are mayabang (conceited) and I am no exception. You will not be a writer if you are not mayabang. All of us are deeply conceited. Yung yabang na iyan, we express it in different ways. Some have it under control; some have it in the way they act, they speak, even in the way they write. Some mayabang writers cannot write about anything except themselves.”

Nietzsche was a mayabang writer as proven by this book – besides, this is his autobiography. He threw “decency,” “image,” and “reputation” out the window, then he said things the way he wanted it, dishing out words that can be considered “blasphemous” and offensive” by others. On the contrary, Nietzsche, who claimed to be an anti-Christ, unconsciously convinced me more to hang on to my faith. There are so many religions and religious groups out there – Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. – and it is the right of every individual to choose what kind of religion he/she would like to believe in. It is also his right if he chooses to be an atheist, or perhaps even a Satanist. Unlike restaurants or businesses, in religion, there is no main religion. There is no main branch of religion where all the moral standards are based. Just the same, it is also my right if I choose to go solo as a Catholic, if I’d rather do my prayer in my room alone than be in a church for a lot of people to see. Each of us has our own spiritual journey to find out for ourselves and learn from.

Reading this also felt like somebody just poured out his heart and soul as if there was no tomorrow and I was just there to listen and understand. Because just like the title of one of his books, Nietzsche, hailed as one of the great thinkers from the nineteenth century, was basically “human, all too human.”

Friedrich Nietzsche died on August 20, 1900. “Why I Am So Wise” (written in 1888 but only published twenty years later in 1908 under the title “Ecce Homo: How we become what we are”) is the last book he wrote before he suffered a complete mental collapse from which he never recovered.

I have to make a confession: I didn’t actually get this book the first time I read it. I was already halfway through the pages when I realized I didn’t remember a thing (!) so I closed the book, opened it, and read it again from the very beginning. Instead of reading it like a novel, reading it fast, I took my time to relish each and every word. In fact, instead of reading it quietly, I read it out loud. Hearing myself, this is where I truly felt that I was reading something that was written by a man from the nineteenth century. And this is how I got to experience that “poetic intensity and linguistic precision” of Nietzsche that the translator of this book, Gerta Valentine, was talking about. I understood now how it feels to be put under the spell of Nietzsche’s writings and it was marvelous.  (January 13, 2012)

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