The Gay Science

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The Gay Science
FW82.jpg
Author Friedrich Nietzsche
Original title Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
Country Germany
Language German
Subject The death of God
Genre Philosophy, poetry
Published 1882
Preceded by Idylls from Messina (1881)
Followed by Thus Spoke Zarathustra
(1883–1885)

The Gay Science (German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft) is a book by Friedrich Nietzsche, first published in 1882 and followed by a second edition, which was published after the completion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, in 1887. This substantial expansion includes a fifth book and an appendix of songs. It was noted by Nietzsche to be "the most personal of all [his] books", and contains the greatest number of poems in any of his published works.

Title[edit]

The book's title uses a phrase that was well-known at the time. It was derived from a Provençal expression (gai saber) for the technical skill required for poetry-writing that had already been used by Ralph Waldo Emerson and E. S. Dallas and, in inverted form, by Thomas Carlyle in "the dismal science". The book's title was first translated into English as The Joyous Wisdom, but The Gay Science has become the common translation since Walter Kaufmann's version in the 1960s. Kaufmann cites The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1955) that lists "The gay science (Provençal gai saber): the art of poetry".

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche refers to the poems in the Appendix of The Gay Science, saying they were

...written for the most part in Sicily, are quite emphatically reminiscent of the Provençal concept of gaia scienza — that unity of singer, knight, and free spirit which distinguishes the wonderful early culture of the Provençals from all equivocal cultures. The very last poem above all, "To the Mistral", an exuberant dancing song in which, if I may say so, one dances right over morality, is a perfect Provençalism.

This alludes to the birth of modern European poetry that occurred in Provence around the 13th century, whereupon, after the culture of the troubadours fell into almost complete desolation and destruction due to the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229), other poets in the 14th century ameliorated and thus cultivated the gai saber or gaia scienza. In a similar vein, in Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche observed that,

...love as passion — which is our European speciality—[was invented by] the Provençal knight-poets, those magnificent and inventive human beings of the "gai saber" to whom Europe owes so many things and almost owes itself.

—[§260]

Another indicator of the deficiency of the original translation as The Joyous Wisdom is that the German Wissenschaft never indicates "wisdom" (wisdom = Weisheit), but a propensity toward any rigorous practice of a poised, controlled, and disciplined quest for knowledge, and is typically translated as "science".

The book is usually placed within Nietzsche's middle period, during which his work extolled the merits of science, skepticism, and intellectual discipline as routes to mental freedom. The affirmation of the Provençal tradition is also one of a joyful "yea-saying" to life.

Content[edit]

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche experiments with the notion of power but does not advance any systematic theory. The book contains Nietzsche's first consideration of the idea of the eternal recurrence, a concept which would become critical in his next work Thus Spoke Zarathustra and underpins much of the later works.[1]

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' [...] Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'

—[§341]

"God is dead"[edit]

Here also is the first occurrence of the famous formulation "God is dead," first in section 108.

After Buddha was dead, people
showed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a
cave,—an immense frightful shadow. God is dead:
but as the human race is constituted, there will
perhaps be caves for millenniums yet, in which
people will show his shadow.—And we—we have
still to overcome his shadow!

—§108

Section 125 depicts the parable of the madman who is searching for God. He accuses us all of being the murderers of God. "'Whither is God?' he cried; 'I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers..."

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kaufmann (1974), p. 188.

References[edit]

External links[edit]