“All that is good is inherited…” — Nietzsche, Paris and me…

12 Apr

1 Nietzsche, Friedrich - Portrait, 1860


Rereading my post on leaving Paris: “Leaving…” (March 2), particularly the phrase: “And all marked by the supremely intelligent understanding that it all starts on the surface — that that’s what counts — and that it works its way down from there,” —  and all of my posts on France: “Toulouse: Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?” , it struck me how colored they were by early university readings of Nietzsche, particularly these two passages from The Will to Power, here taken from Walter Kaufmann’s translation, emphases from the original:

       “Beauty no accident. The beauty of a race or family, their grace and graciousness in all gestures, is won by work: like genius, it is the end result of the accumulated work of generations. One must have made great sacrifices to good taste, one must have done much and omitted much for its sake – seventeenth-century France is admirable in both respects – and good taste must have furnished a principle for selecting company, place, dress, sexual satisfaction; one must have preferred beauty to advantage, habit, opinion, and inertia. Supreme rule of conduct: before oneself too, one must not “let oneself go.” The good things are immeasurably costly; and the law always holds that those who have them are different than those who acquire them. All that is good is inherited: whatever is not inherited is imperfect, is a mere beginning.

       “In Athens, in the time of Cicero, who expresses his surprise about this, the men and youths were far superior in beauty to the women. But what work and exertion in the service of beauty had the male sex there imposed on itself for centuries! For one should make no mistake about the method in this case: a breeding of feelings and thoughts alone is almost nothing (this is the great misunderstanding underlying German education, which is wholly illusory): one must first persuade the body. Strict perseverance in significant and exquisite gestures together with the obligation to live only with people who do not “let themselves go” – that is quite enough for one to become significant and exquisite, and in two or three generations all this becomes inward. It is decisive for the lot of a people and of humanity that culture should begin in the right place – not in the “soul” (as was the fateful superstition of the priests and half-priests): the right place is the body, the gesture, the diet, physiology; the rest follows from that. Therefore the Greeks remain the first cultural event in history: they knew, they did, what was needed; and Christianity, which despised the body, has been the greatest misfortune of humanity so far.”


“One thing is needful. “Giving style” to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is exercised by those who see all the strengths and weaknesses of their own natures and then comprehend them in an artistic plan until everything appears as art and reason and even weakness delights the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed: both by long practice and daily labor. Here the ugly which could not be removed is hidden; there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime… It will be the strong and domineering natures who enjoy their finest gaiety in such compulsion, in such constraint and perfection under a law of their own; the passion of their tremendous will relents when confronted with stylized, conquered, and serving nature; even when they have to build palaces and lay out gardens, they demur at giving nature a free hand…  For one thing is needful: that a human being attain his satisfaction with himself – whether it be by this or by that poetry and art; only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold. Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is always ready to revenge himself therefore; we others will be his victims, if only by always having to stand his ugly sight. For the sight of the ugly makes men bad and gloomy.”

It’s easy to mock these — Nietzsche is an easy and cheap target — grandiloquent, sweeping statements of aristocraticness from a man who, in reality, was a socially inept, painfully shy and anxiety-ridden pastor’s son, who got through most of adult life on mountains of “mother’s little helpers” and whose last, lucid moments of consciousness of the world were spent weeping next to a dying horse on a street in Turin.  But I say more the mangia that accrues to him for seeing and calling life and existence as he felt them to be — or should be ideally —  even if he himself could not be that heroic ideal.  And not doing what most of us do: cater our credo and worldview to match what we already know are our limitations.

All that is good is inherited: whatever is not inherited is imperfect, is a mere beginning...” seems particularly true to me, as unfair as it must seem to some.

Paris chairs Rebecca Plotnickil_570xN.269434329photo: Rebecca Plotnick

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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