Nietzsche was a genius, but also witty and understandable. His philosophy is somewhat poetic. He offered many arguments for many personal perspectives, so you might not agree with him on many accounts, but you have to give him credit for the clarity with which he develops an argument and brings it to the point. We have prepared for you some of his main conclusions about various notions, which can be found in his posthumously published Ecce homo (read here), and also works such as The Birth of Tragedy (read here) and the most famous Thus Spoke Zarathustra (read here).
Nietzsche’s work Ecce homo must be one of the most humorous writings I’ve ever read, but with a very serious matter in the focus. Here, you will confront yourself with his ideas of what the core of human nature is, all in a light and approachable style. It will seem as if you are enjoying a pleasant and enjoyable conversation with Nietzsche, and hearing his explanations of why he writes such good books, why he is so clever, and why he is fatality. This self-apotheosis can be considered even ironic, but it stands firmly in the philosopher’s arguments. It is an autobiography in small, it is intimate but wide open to anyone’s eye. You will find a lot of details about the author’s life, his family, disease, and brilliance. The philosophy of illness is extremely important here, given the fact that this experience marked a great part of Nietzsche’s life. He explains the ambivalence of the notion of disease, since it destroys the body and pushes it faster towards death, but it also provokes the intellect, showing it higher spheres of the rational and forcing it to think outside of the box. There is a strong connection between this state and genius. Besides that, illness gives you freedom. It releases you from your everyday life, from your real work and duties. In that sense, it gives you time, but at the same time – it steals time from you. It gives you time to contemplate, but it shortens your time in total, your life. As Nietzsche says:
My disease was setting me free, slowly: it saved me from breaking, from every future violent and daring step I would take. I did not lose my ability to be in a good mood then, on the contrary – I gained it, a lot. My illness gave me a right to completely change all of my habits, it even ordered me to forget about them. Instead, it gave me a gift, a gift of constraint, to lie still, to wait and to be patient. But that meant – to think!
Of course, the character and the personality of the one who’s sick – was important. Illness would not offer the same freedom to one who is dull, as it would to one who is brilliant. In the second case, it would actually support the process of bringing that brilliance to the surface, and sharing it with others. Exceptional spirits of this kind have made their mark in the overall progress of humanity, they have become immortal in that sense, but Nietzsche warns us:
To become immortal is expensive. You have to pay for it since it requires dying several times during your life.
You can read a lot more about music (especially Wagner), different vices, freedom, dignity, and the dialectics of war in Ecce homo.
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche discusses the two different forces of life, the Dionysian and Apollonian principles. Nietzsche, as a poetical nature, favors the first mentioned principle. What exactly are these two? The author interprets these two notions, which originated in Ancient Greece. The Dionysian principle implies consuming life beyond any limits, enjoying it through drinking and physical love, celebrating life, at its fullest. The Apollonian, on the other hand, advocates moderation, in every possible way. It does not negate the Dionysian principle, rather it complements it. The Dionysian principle is not to be confused with modern hedonism, although it has its similarities. The Dionysian is connected to the old religious cult of the celebration of the god Dionysus, and in its core lies ambivalence. It recreates and destroys life, it shows the cyclical nature of life, everything being reborn and vanishing. Nietzsche was fascinated by this eternal life and the circle of it. Apollo is a guardian of spiritual serenity and tranquility, of clear consciousness, waking knowledge; he loves what is measured, determined and clearly shaped, and rejects what is unrestricted and gigantic. Dionysus is the god of festive drunkenness and mad enthusiasm, ecstasy and screaming life. As Nietzsche says:
Apollo and Dionysus were two different worlds: one was a part of the artistic dream and the other of enthusiastic drunkenness.
Nietzsche further argues about the nature of music and the eternal belonging of true artists to the Dionysian. In this sense, he is a true god of inspiration. You can see how these ideas intersect with the ones of the French symbolists, who believed that drunkenness was a state that brought them closer to the gods, beyond the limits of the rational.
The most famous book by Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, discusses the limitations of man and his inability to overcome weakness and focus on progress. Here, Nietzsche is talking about Übermensch, a Superhuman or Overman, there are many ways to translate it into English. The weaknesses of man would be beaten, moral would be questioned, revised and overcome, and man would be truly using all of his potential. You may not want to agree with the dialectic of war that the author offers here. From our point of view, wars are incredibly dehumanizing and destructive. From Nietzsche’s point of view, wars are creational by default, they destroy what needs to be destroyed, in order to make a greater world. Moral needs to be changed through history, and a man has this power inside, he just needs to find it. But, first, he has to stop being a man and become a Superhuman. This idea might trigger thoughts about World War II and about Darwin’s idea of natural selection. Fascists often tended to justify their ideology using Nietzche, which was devious. Those are mainly a confirmation of loading into a certain text ideas that are extraneous to it, and then pretending that they were inside the text all along. As Thomas Mann once said, Nietzsche didn’t create fascism, fascism created fascistic Nietzsche, no matter what came first in history. The philosopher was onto something big. Wars are layered and complex, and Nietzsche spoke about them having in mind their necessity to humanity. If we mark them as something that is barbaric and animalistic, we are closing our eyes to the facts of history. Because wars are omnipresent, whether they are revolutionary or they have other political goals in focus. The main conclusion would be to strive towards peace, but not ignore the fact that through history, violence was often a means of great changes. Too often, if we may say. A Superhuman doesn’t necessarily mean a destructive force, but rather a being that would overcome its disadvantages. It takes courage to face these facts and to try to conclude what’s right for yourself. As Nietzsche says:
I love the one who is with a free spirit and a free heart: that way his head becomes a womb for his heart, and his heart forces him to march towards his doom.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, you will see many statements against religion, but also Nietzsche’s interpretation of the human need to believe in something. The reasons for faith are here rationalized and rejected as weaknesses by Nietzsche, through humor and irony. The book also points out the hiatus between the genius and the ordinary man, given the fact that a genius sees further than others, and is lonely in his conclusions. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is filled with lovely metaphors (such as the one about the development of one’s soul), but also makes you question a lot of things you knew, but always took for granted. It that sense, all of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche referred in this article are extremely provocative and intellectually stimulating.