Thursday, February 23, 2017

On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

Let us take the simplest and most frequent example.  Think of artless and feebly artistic natures girded and armed by monumental history of art and artists: against whom will they now direct their weapons?  Against their traditional enemies, the strong artistic spirits, namely against those who alone are capable of learning truly, that is, for the sake of life, from that history and of putting what they have learned into higher practice.  It is their path which is obstructed and their air which is darkened when one dances idolatrously and diligently round a half understood monument of some great past, as though to say, “See, this is true and real art: what do you care about aspiring newcomers!”  Apparently this dancing swarm even has a monopoly on “good taste”: for the creator has always been at a disadvantage to him who openly looked on without even trying his hand; as at all times the armchair politician has been wiser, more just and judicious than the governing statesman.

Furthermore, if the use of the popular vote and numerical majorities were transferred to the realm of art and the artist required to defend himself before a forum of the aesthetically inactive, you may bet your life that he would be condemned: not despite, but just because of the fact that his judges have solemnly proclaimed the canon of monumental art (that is, according to a given explanation, of art which has at all times “produced an effect’). While for all art which is not yet monumental because still contemporary they lack first, any need, second, any genuine inclination, third, just that authority of history.

On the other hand their instinct tells them that art may be beaten to death with art: the monumental art must definitely not be produced again, and what happens to have the authority of monumentality from the past is just the right preventative.  This is how the connoisseurs are because they wish to eliminate art altogether; they give the appearance of physicians while their real intention is to dispense poisons; so they cultivate their tongue and their taste in order to explain fastidiously why they so insistently decline whatever nourishing artistic fare is offered them.  For they do not want something great to be produced: their expedient is to say “see, the great already exists!”  In truth they care as little about existing greatness as about greatness in the making: to that their life bears witness.

Monumental history is the disguise in which their hatred of the mighty and the great of their time parades as satisfied admiration of the mighty and great of past ages. Cloaked in this disguise they turn the proper sense of monumental history into its opposite; whether they know it clearly or not, at any rate they act as though their motto were: let the dead bury the living.- Friedrich Nietzsche

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