Thoughts Out of Season, Part II

Фридрих Вильгельм Ницше
Thoughts Out of Season, Part II


The two essays translated in this volume form the second and third parts of the Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen. The essay on history was completed in January, that on Schopenhauer in August, 1874. Both were written in the few months of feverish activity that Nietzsche could spare from his duties as Professor of Classical Philology in Bâle.

Nietzsche, who served in an ambulance corps in '71, had seen something of the Franco-German War, and to him it was the “honest German bravery” that had won the day. But to the rest of his countrymen it was a victory for German culture as well; though there were still a few elegancies, a few refinements of manners, that might veneer the new culture, and in this regard the conquered might be allowed the traditional privilege of conquering the conquerors. Nietzsche answered roundly, “the German does not yet know the meaning of the word culture,” and in the essay on history set himself to show that the so-called culture was a morass into which the German had been led by a sixth sense he had developed during the nineteenth century – the “historical sense”: he had been brought by his spiritual teachers to believe that he was the “crown of the world-process” and that his highest duty lay in surrendering himself to it.

With Nietzsche, the historical sense became a “malady from which men suffer,” the world-process an illusion, evolutionary theories a subtle excuse for inactivity. History is for the few not the many, for the man not the youth, for the great not the small – who are broken and bewildered by it. It is the lesson of remembrance, and few are strong enough to bear that lesson. History has no meaning except as the servant of life and action: and most of us can only act if we forget. This is the burden of the first essay; and turning from history to the historian he condemns the “noisy little fellows” who measure the motives of the great men of the past by their own, and use the past to justify their present.

But who are the men that can use history rightly, and for whom it is a help and not a hindrance to life? They are the great men of action and thought, the “lonely giants amid the pigmies.” To them alone can the record of their great forebears be a consolation as well as a lesson. In the realm of thought, they are of the type of the ideal philosopher sketched in the second essay. To Nietzsche the only hope of the race lies in the “production of the genius,” of the man who can bear the burden of the future and not be swamped by the past: he found the personal expression of such a man, for the time being, in Schopenhauer.

Schopenhauer here stands, as a personality, for all that makes for life in philosophy, against the stagnation of the professional philosopher. The last part of the essay is a fierce polemic against state-aided philosophy and the official position of the professors, who formed, and still form, the intellectual aristocracy of Germany, with a cathedral authority on all their pronouncements.

But “there has never been a eulogy on a philosopher,” says Dr. Kögel, “that has had so little to say about his philosophy.” The essay on Schopenhauer is of value precisely because it has nothing to do with Schopenhauer. We need not be disturbed by the thought that Nietzsche afterwards turned from him. He truly recognised that Schopenhauer was here merely a name for himself, that “not Schopenhauer as educator is in question, but his opposite, Nietzsche as educator” (Ecce Homo). He could regard Schopenhauer, later, as a siren that called to death; he put him among the great artists that lead down – who are worse than the bad artists that lead nowhere. “We must go further in the pessimistic logic than the denial of the will,” he says in the Götzendämmerung; “we must deny Schopenhauer.” The pessimism and denial of the will, the blank despair before suffering, were the shoals on which Nietzsche's reverence finally broke. They could not stand before the Dionysian outlook, whose pessimism sprang not from weakness but strength, and in which the joy of willing and being can even welcome suffering. In this essay we hear little of the pessimism, save as the imperfect and “all-too-human” side of Schopenhauer, that actually brings us nearer to him. Later, he could part the man and his work, and speak of Schopenhauer's view as the “Evil eye.” But as yet he is a young man who has kept his illusions, and, like Ogniben, he judges men by what they might be.

Afterwards, he judged himself too in these essays by “what he might be.” “To me,” he said in Ecce Homo, “they are promises: I know not what they mean to others.”

It is also in the belief they are promises that they are here translated “for others.” The Thoughts out of Season are the first announcement of the complex theme of the Zarathustra. They form the best possible introduction to Nietzschean thought. Nietzsche is already the knight-errant of philosophy: but his adventure is just beginning.

A. C.



“I hate everything that merely instructs me without increasing or directly quickening my activity.” These words of Goethe, like a sincere ceterum censeo, may well stand at the head of my thoughts on the worth and the worthlessness of history. I will show in them why instruction that does not “quicken,” knowledge that slackens the rein of activity, why in fact history, in Goethe's phrase, must be seriously “hated,” as a costly and superfluous luxury of the understanding: for we are still in want of the necessaries of life, and the superfluous is an enemy to the necessary. We do need history, but quite differently from the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge, however grandly they may look down on our rude and unpicturesque requirements. In other words, we need it for life and action, not as a convenient way to avoid life and action, or to excuse a selfish life and a cowardly or base action. We would serve history only so far as it serves life; but to value its study beyond a certain point mutilates and degrades life: and this is a fact that certain marked symptoms of our time make it as necessary as it may be painful to bring to the test of experience.

I have tried to describe a feeling that has often troubled me: I revenge myself on it by giving it publicity. This may lead some one to explain to me that he has also had the feeling, but that I do not feel it purely and elementally enough, and cannot express it with the ripe certainty of experience. A few may say so; but most people will tell me that it is a perverted, unnatural, horrible, and altogether unlawful feeling to have, and that I show myself unworthy of the great historical movement which is especially strong among the German people for the last two generations.

I am at all costs going to venture on a description of my feelings; which will be decidedly in the interests of propriety, as I shall give plenty of opportunity for paying compliments to such a “movement.” And I gain an advantage for myself that is more valuable to me than propriety – the attainment of a correct point of view, through my critics, with regard to our age.

These thoughts are “out of season,” because I am trying to represent something of which the age is rightly proud – its historical culture – as a fault and a defect in our time, believing as I do that we are all suffering from a malignant historical fever and should at least recognise the fact. But even if it be a virtue, Goethe may be right in asserting that we cannot help developing our faults at the same time as our virtues; and an excess of virtue can obviously bring a nation to ruin, as well as an excess of vice. In any case I may be allowed my say. But I will first relieve my mind by the confession that the experiences which produced those disturbing feelings were mostly drawn from myself, – and from other sources only for the sake of comparison; and that I have only reached such “unseasonable” experience, so far as I am the nursling of older ages like the Greek, and less a child of this age. I must admit so much in virtue of my profession as a classical scholar: for I do not know what meaning classical scholarship may have for our time except in its being “unseasonable,” – that is, contrary to our time, and yet with an influence on it for the benefit, it may be hoped, of a future time.


Consider the herds that are feeding yonder: they know not the meaning of yesterday or to-day, they graze and ruminate, move or rest, from morning to night, from day to day, taken up with their little loves and hates, at the mercy of the moment, feeling neither melancholy nor satiety. Man cannot see them without regret, for even in the pride of his humanity he looks enviously on the beast's happiness. He wishes simply to live without satiety or pain, like the beast; yet it is all in vain, for he will not change places with it. He may ask the beast – “Why do you look at me and not speak to me of your happiness?” The beast wants to answer – “Because I always forget what I wished to say”: but he forgets this answer too, and is silent; and the man is left to wonder.

He wonders also about himself, that he cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he run, that chain runs with him. It is matter for wonder: the moment, that is here and gone, that was nothing before and nothing after, returns like a spectre to trouble the quiet of a later moment. A leaf is continually dropping out of the volume of time and fluttering away – and suddenly it flutters back into the man's lap. Then he says, “I remember…” and envies the beast, that forgets at once, and sees every moment really die, sink into night and mist, extinguished for ever. The beast lives unhistorically; for it “goes into” the present, like a number, without leaving any curious remainder. It cannot dissimulate, it conceals nothing; at every moment it seems what it actually is, and thus can be nothing that is not honest. But man is always resisting the great and continually increasing weight of the past; it presses him down, and bows his shoulders; he travels with a dark invisible burden that he can plausibly disown, and is only too glad to disown in converse with his fellows – in order to excite their envy. And so it hurts him, like the thought of a lost Paradise, to see a herd grazing, or, nearer still, a child, that has nothing yet of the past to disown, and plays in a happy blindness between the walls of the past and the future. And yet its play must be disturbed, and only too soon will it be summoned from its little kingdom of oblivion. Then it learns to understand the words “once upon a time,” the “open sesame” that lets in battle, suffering and weariness on mankind, and reminds them what their existence really is, an imperfect tense that never becomes a present. And when death brings at last the desired forgetfulness, it abolishes life and being together, and sets the seal on the knowledge that “being” is merely a continual “has been,” a thing that lives by denying and destroying and contradicting itself.


If happiness and the chase for new happiness keep alive in any sense the will to live, no philosophy has perhaps more truth than the cynic's: for the beast's happiness, like that of the perfect cynic, is the visible proof of the truth of cynicism. The smallest pleasure, if it be only continuous and make one happy, is incomparably a greater happiness than the more intense pleasure that comes as an episode, a wild freak, a mad interval between ennui, desire, and privation. But in the smallest and greatest happiness there is always one thing that makes it happiness: the power of forgetting, or, in more learned phrase, the capacity of feeling “unhistorically” throughout its duration. One who cannot leave himself behind on the threshold of the moment and forget the past, who cannot stand on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without fear or giddiness, will never know what happiness is; and, worse still, will never do anything to make others happy. The extreme case would be the man without any power to forget, who is condemned to see “becoming” everywhere. Such a man believes no more in himself or his own existence, he sees everything fly past in an eternal succession, and loses himself in the stream of becoming. At last, like the logical disciple of Heraclitus, he will hardly dare to raise his finger. Forgetfulness is a property of all action; just as not only light but darkness is bound up with the life of every organism. One who wished to feel everything historically, would be like a man forcing himself to refrain from sleep, or a beast who had to live by chewing a continual cud. Thus even a happy life is possible without remembrance, as the beast shows: but life in any true sense is absolutely impossible without forgetfulness. Or, to put my conclusion better, there is a degree of sleeplessness, of rumination, of “historical sense,” that injures and finally destroys the living thing, be it a man or a people or a system of culture.

To fix this degree and the limits to the memory of the past, if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present, we must see clearly how great is the “plastic power” of a man or a community or a culture; I mean the power of specifically growing out of one's self, of making the past and the strange one body with the near and the present, of healing wounds, replacing what is lost, repairing broken moulds. There are men who have this power so slightly that a single sharp experience, a single pain, often a little injustice, will lacerate their souls like the scratch of a poisoned knife. There are others, who are so little injured by the worst misfortunes, and even by their own spiteful actions, as to feel tolerably comfortable, with a fairly quiet conscience, in the midst of them, – or at any rate shortly afterwards. The deeper the roots of a man's inner nature, the better will he take the past into himself; and the greatest and most powerful nature would be known by the absence of limits for the historical sense to overgrow and work harm. It would assimilate and digest the past, however foreign, and turn it to sap. Such a nature can forget what it cannot subdue; there is no break in the horizon, and nothing to remind it that there are still men, passions, theories and aims on the other side. This is a universal law; a living thing can only be healthy, strong and productive within a certain horizon: if it be incapable of drawing one round itself, or too selfish to lose its own view in another's, it will come to an untimely end. Cheerfulness, a good conscience, belief in the future, the joyful deed, all depend, in the individual as well as the nation, on there being a line that divides the visible and clear from the vague and shadowy: we must know the right time to forget as well as the right time to remember; and instinctively see when it is necessary to feel historically, and when unhistorically. This is the point that the reader is asked to consider; that the unhistorical and the historical are equally necessary to the health of an individual, a community, and a system of culture.

Every one has noticed that a man's historical knowledge and range of feeling may be very limited, his horizon as narrow as that of an Alpine valley, his judgments incorrect and his experience falsely supposed original, and yet in spite of all the incorrectness and falsity he may stand forth in unconquerable health and vigour, to the joy of all who see him; whereas another man with far more judgment and learning will fail in comparison, because the lines of his horizon are continually changing and shifting, and he cannot shake himself free from the delicate network of his truth and righteousness for a downright act of will or desire. We saw that the beast, absolutely “unhistorical,” with the narrowest of horizons, has yet a certain happiness, and lives at least without hypocrisy or ennui; and so we may hold the capacity of feeling (to a certain extent) unhistorically, to be the more important and elemental, as providing the foundation of every sound and real growth, everything that is truly great and human. The unhistorical is like the surrounding atmosphere that can alone create life, and in whose annihilation life itself disappears. It is true that man can only become man by first suppressing this unhistorical element in his thoughts, comparisons, distinctions, and conclusions, letting a clear sudden light break through these misty clouds by his power of turning the past to the uses of the present. But an excess of history makes him flag again, while without the veil of the unhistorical he would never have the courage to begin. What deeds could man ever have done if he had not been enveloped in the dust-cloud of the unhistorical? Or, to leave metaphors and take a concrete example, imagine a man swayed and driven by a strong passion, whether for a woman or a theory. His world is quite altered. He is blind to everything behind him, new sounds are muffled and meaningless; though his perceptions were never so intimately felt in all their colour, light and music, and he Seems to grasp them with his five senses together. All his judgments of value are changed for the worse; there is much he can no longer value, as he can scarcely feel it: he wonders that he has so long been the sport of strange words and opinions, that his recollections have run around in one unwearying circle and are yet too weak and weary to make a single step away from it. His whole case is most indefensible; it is narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to danger, deaf to warnings, a small living eddy in a dead sea of night and forgetfulness. And yet this condition, unhistorical and antihistorical throughout, is the cradle not only of unjust action, but of every just and justifiable action in the world. No artist will paint his picture, no general win his victory, no nation gain its freedom, without having striven and yearned for it under those very “unhistorical” conditions. If the man of action, in Goethe's phrase, is without conscience, he is also without knowledge: he forgets most things in order to do one, he is unjust to what is behind him, and only recognises one law, the law of that which is to be. So he loves his work infinitely more than it deserves to be loved; and the best works are produced in such an ecstasy of love that they must always be unworthy of it, however great their worth otherwise.

Should any one be able to dissolve the unhistorical atmosphere in which every great event happens, and breathe afterwards, he might be capable of rising to the “super-historical” standpoint of consciousness, that Niebuhr has described as the possible result of historical research. “History,” he says, “is useful for one purpose, if studied in detail: that men may know, as the greatest and best spirits of our generation do not know, the accidental nature of the forms in which they see and insist on others seeing, – insist, I say, because their consciousness of them is exceptionally intense. Any one who has not grasped this idea in its different applications will fall under the spell of a more powerful spirit who reads a deeper emotion into the given form.” Such a standpoint might be called “super-historical,” as one who took it could feel no impulse from history to any further life or work, for he would have recognised the blindness and injustice in the soul of the doer as a condition of every deed: he would be cured henceforth of taking history too seriously, and have learnt to answer the question how and why life should be lived, – for all men and all circumstances, Greeks or Turks, the first century or the nineteenth. Whoever asks his friends whether they would live the last ten or twenty years over again, will easily see which of them is born for the “super-historical standpoint”: they will all answer no, but will give different reasons for their answer. Some will say they have the consolation that the next twenty will be better: they are the men referred to satirically by David Hume: —

“And from the dregs of life hope to receive,
What the first sprightly running could not give.”

We will call them the “historical men.” Their vision of the past turns them towards the future, encourages them to persevere with life, and kindles the hope that justice will yet come and happiness is behind the mountain they are climbing. They believe that the meaning of existence will become ever clearer in the course of its evolution, they only look backward at the process to understand the present and stimulate their longing for the future. They do not know how unhistorical their thoughts and actions are in spite of all their history, and how their preoccupation with it is for the sake of life rather than mere science.

But that question to which we have heard the first answer, is capable of another; also a “no,” but on different grounds. It is the “no” of the “super-historical” man who sees no salvation in evolution, for whom the world is complete and fulfils its aim in every single moment. How could the next ten years teach what the past ten were not able to teach?

Whether the aim of the teaching be happiness or resignation, virtue or penance, these super-historical men are not agreed; but as against all merely historical ways of viewing the past, they are unanimous in the theory that the past and the present are one and the same, typically alike in all their diversity, and forming together a picture of eternally present imperishable types of unchangeable value and significance. Just as the hundreds of different languages correspond to the same constant and elemental needs of mankind, and one who understood the needs could learn nothing new from the languages; so the “super-historical” philosopher sees all the history of nations and individuals from within. He has a divine insight into the original meaning of the hieroglyphs, and comes even to be weary of the letters that are continually unrolled before him. How should the endless rush of events not bring satiety, surfeit, loathing? So the boldest of us is ready perhaps at last to say from his heart with Giacomo Leopardi: “Nothing lives that were worth thy pains, and the earth deserves not a sigh. Our being is pain and weariness, and the world is mud – nothing else. Be calm.”

But we will leave the super-historical men to their loathings and their wisdom: we wish rather to-day to be joyful in our unwisdom and have a pleasant life as active men who go forward, and respect the course of the world. The value we put on the historical may be merely a Western prejudice: let us at least go forward within this prejudice and not stand still. If we could only learn better to study history as a means to life! We would gladly grant the super-historical people their superior wisdom, so long as we are sure of having more life than they: for in that case our unwisdom would have a greater future before it than their wisdom. To make my opposition between life and wisdom clear, I will take the usual road of the short summary.


A historical phenomenon, completely understood and reduced to an item of knowledge, is, in relation to the man who knows it, dead: for he has found out its madness, its injustice, its blind passion, and especially the earthly and darkened horizon that was the source of its power for history. This power has now become, for him who has recognised it, powerless; not yet, perhaps, for him who is alive.

History regarded as pure knowledge and allowed to sway the intellect would mean for men the final balancing of the ledger of life. Historical study is only fruitful for the future if it follow a powerful life-giving influence, for example, a new system of culture; only, therefore, if it be guided and dominated by a higher force, and do not itself guide and dominate.

History, so far as it serves life, serves an unhistorical power, and thus will never become a pure science like mathematics. The question how far life needs such a service is one of the most serious questions affecting the well-being of a man, a people and a culture. For by excess of history life becomes maimed and degenerate, and is followed by the degeneration of history as well.

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