Very brief notes on: Nietzsche, F (1989) Ecce Homo. In Kaufmann, W. ( 1989) Ed and Trans The Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. New York:Vintage.

Dave Harris

[These are brief notes because there's not much to say by way of summary.  At one level, it is pleasantly easy to read, if occasionally manic and zself-aggrandizing.  Kaufmann's Introduction spells out the main issues...]

Ecce Homo [EH] should be read as literature, and it summarises the whole range of work from Nietzsche's perspective.  No doubt the prose is beautiful.  Nietzsche's life is described briefly, terminating in his decade of madness.  The self portrait in EH has been seen as largely insane, but it is really a non naturalistic style that gives it its character, or possibly with traces of madness occasionally.  'Nietzsche should be compared with Van Gogh' (202).

The argument is not at all professorial or scholarly, and there are very few footnotes or references to other work.  It shows Nietzsche as a Dionysian [the admiration for Dionysus runs throughout - roughly, Dionysus was worshipped as the god that valued life, pleasure, light heartedness].  The themes that develop are first of all critical passion, 'the revolt against hallowed pieties' (203), a new vision of the world that valued clarity and spirit.  'Ecce Homo', the words spoken by Pilate presenting Jesus, is designed to suggest that a realistic conception of man is required, waerts and all, petty sins and mistakes included, modern man, not a saint or savior.

Nietzsche suffered by being seriously misinterpreted at the hands of his sister, who tried to turn him into a conventional great man.  Much subsequent commentary took this rendition for granted, and did not go back and check the quotations from the works themselves.  The self interpretations in EH are therefore particularly valuable, even though some of them are mysterious and obscure.  [There is a great deal of self aggrandisement] including embarrassing references to the great value of Zarathustra.

Nietzsche was hostile to what he took as being the cultural characteristics of the Germans - rather vulgar, lacking depth, militarist, nationalist and colonial, even racist and anti-semitic, especially in his The Case of Wagner, or rather the brief account of it in here.  The criticisms of Wagner are severe, but also 'imbued with gratitude and love—with amor fati, love of fate [later cited as making it impossible to criticize or regret anything that was necessary] '.  Nietzsche has Zarathustra say that it is important to learn from enemies, to see that they've done us some good.  N's stance extends to attempting to triumph over ressentiment rather than bearing a grudge against the unfairness and unfortunate accidents of the world.

Dionysus is contrasted with the crucified god, the Jesus that has escaped from history and been idealised, turned into an ascetic enemy of the world.  The criticism of Socrates similarly demystified him and pointed out his flaws.  Malice was identified in Goethe.  Nietzsche attempted to overcome any resentment in his own character by sublimating it, turning it to more positive ends.  Any negative statements that remain are better seen as directed against obstructions towards the development of life and creativity.  It is essential to take on infamy, including any infamy in Christianity.  Kaufmann thinks that Nietzsche has not been entirely successful in keeping resentment out of these criticisms, however. Nietzsche's classical background is also apparent, for example in his portrait of Aristotle especially his support of the 'great souled' person who deserves recognition.  Nietzsche also gets some of the humourous bits from the Greeks.

The main theme is celebrating Dionysus, who becomes 'the symbol of the affirmation of life with all its suffering and terror', a different account from Christian theodicy, and a particular angle on the meaning of tragedy, which had always involved affirmation.

Ecce Homo

The first problem might well be dealing with the titles of the opening chapters: 'Why I Am So Wise', 'Why I Am So Clever', 'Why I Write Such Good Books',and 'Why I Am a Destiny'.  When you get into reading these, it's not quite so bad.  Nietzsche explains that his family background was partly drawn from the aristocracy of Germany and Poland, clearly implying that there are some hereditary gifts of insight and aristocratic spirit.  He acknowledges that there is an hereditary illness as well.  We also get a lot of stuff about the importance of 'physiology' , health, diet, climate, and what might be called mental hygiene.  The bits I liked in particular include the need to avoid scholastic system which is tedious and pettifogging - Nietzsche realised that his career as a philologist was getting him down and stultifying him and was very glad to use illness as a pretext to resign his professorship and travel to more stimulating climates in Italy and France,where he gradually recovered his health and found his voice in various ecstatic [manic?] moments.  He also practiced mental hygiene in the sense that he did not read very much: he was avoiding the distraction of listening to other voices or reading them, in order to let his own dazzling insights emerge.  We are urged not to engage in any soporifics, whether this is alcohol or the usual comforting beliefs including dabbling in the more sentimental bits of Wagner.  In particular, he liked walks in the mountains and in the fresh air.  His comments about the Germans being so stodgy partly come from this much more stimulating atmosphere in Southern Europe.

We also get the major themes that we have misunderstood the notions of 'good' and 'bad', so we need to move beyond them, and a general critique of idealism, and asceticism in particular, as developed in the notes on the Genealogy.  He wants to stress that the human condition, in all its faults, is nothing to feel guilty about, and that we do not need to idealise saints, saviours or ascetic ways of life to rescue us: what such idealizations actually do is to degrade humanity.  He thinks that the new man will emerge  - Zarathustra, with his critiques of the old idols and his rather manly stance towards life and all its vicissitudes.  He is particularly proud of that book.

He briefly summarizes the other books, and I see what Kaufman means by saying that some of the summaries are pretty baffling, more like additional comments.  However, Genealogy of Morals is pretty well summarized.  Nietzsche distinguishes between his necessarily negative books where he criticizes an awful lot of received opinion, displaying courage and risking misunderstanding, and the more positive ones where he is urging us to be affirmative towards life and so on.

The book ends with N saying he knows he will be taken as an explosive thinker, but he wants no followers, because that would make his thought into a religion. He admits he might be a buffoon but still claims to be the voice of truth, rejecting all the lies before. But it is an affirmation as well as a critique -- first we have to destroy, including the old systems of morality, which hide the truth, criticize and negate --hence he is an open 'immoralist'. You need 'intestinal fortitude' (328) to do this, to be a Zarathustra. We have to go beyond the idealizing of the good and altruistic, beyond decadent Christian morality. Seeing goodness as the essence of humanity is a lie. The terrible bits of existence are necessary. Naive optimism is harmful, suitable only for herd animals and beautiful souls. A codified religion of the good is the beginning of the end. We should welcome 'evil' as a necessary stage -- and all the manly virtues have been described as evil. Superhuman virtues are now required -- naturally this will terrify the normal man and appear as evil. Yet this metaphor is needed so we can rise above Christianity and its 'slander of the world' (331).

This is psychology replacing traditional philosophy, and it is his destiny to announce it and to expose Christian morality in this provocative way, in interests of life itself. Christiniaty has dominated discussions of morality yet it has led to mendacity, vanity and malignance of the will. It celebrates 'antinature' (332) , teaching us to despise life, including sexuality ( seen as unclean), self-love as bad rather than necessary, the decline of the instincts in the name of a false 'selflessness' [earlier,N argues that self-empowering action is the salvation of humanity] .Christianity marks the decadence of humanity and its decline and the rise of the parasitical priest. Christian morality is 'the idiosyncrasy of decadents with the ulterior motive of revenging oneself against life' (333). Anyone who sees that is a [sic] destiny. The revaluation of values is necessary -- 'true' means 'harmful','improving' humanity means sucking its life blood, God becomes the 'counterconcept of life' (334), the invention of the soul means we despise the body, sin and its paired concept 'free will' means mistrusting instinct, duty means self-destruction, the good man is someone who is 'weak, sick, fail[ing], suffering' (335). Celebrate Dionysus, not the Crucified!.

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