Nietzsche on the Public Intellectual

Sep 22 2010 Published by under Quotable

"Almost always the books of scholars are somehow oppressive, oppressed: the "specialist" emerges somewhere—his zeal, his seriousness, his fury, his overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins, his hunched back; every specialist has his hunched back. Every scholarly book also mirrors a soul that has become crooked; every craft makes crooked.…Nothing can be done about that. Let nobody suppose that one could possibly avoid such crippling by some artifice of education. On this earth one pays dearly for every kind of mastery.…For having a specialty one pays by also being the victim of this specialty. But you would have it otherwise—cheaper and fairer and above all more comfortable—isn't that right, my dear contemporaries. Well then, but in that case you also immediately get something else: instead of the craftsman and master, the "man of letters," the dexterous, "polydexterous" man of letters who, to be sure, lacks the hunched back—not counting the posture he assumes before you, being the salesman of the spirit and the "carrier" of culture—the man of letters who really is nothing but "represents" almost everything, playing and "substituting" for the expert, and taking it upon himself in all modesty to get himself paid, honored, and celebrated in place of the expert.

No, my scholarly friends, I bless you even for your hunched back. And for despising, as I do, the "men of letters" and culture parasites. And for not knowing how to make a business of the spirit. And for having opinions that cannot be translated into financial values. And for not representing anything that you are not. And because your sole aim is to become masters of your craft, with reverence for every kind of mastery and competence, and with uncompromising opposition to everything that is semblance, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, or histrionic in litteris et artibus—to everything that cannot prove to you its unconditional probity in discipline and prior training, [The Gay Science, sec. 366]"

[Stolen from Brian Leiter at the Philosophical Gourmet, who was writing on some of the limitations -- and virtues -- of analytic philosophy.  Haven't looked at The Gay Science since I was 19 or so, but am tempted now to reread it; Nietzsche is by far the best writer of any philosopher I've ever read, and the most wonderful sort of aesthetic thinker.]

9 responses so far

  • razib says:

    are assessments of nietzsche invariant by language in which your'e reading him?

    • melodye says:

      i don't know.. despite having a german middle name, i can't read german (or properly pronounce my middle name, for that matter) 😉

      i remember when i was reading being and nothingness in english, i thought -- this is just terrible, it must be the translation. so i picked up a copy in french and then had that "oh" moment, where i realized it was just sartre being.. well, sartre. (though existentialism is a humanism is quite accessible).

      i've heard german can be more problematic though -- have heard lots of complaints about wittgenstein in translation, for example. i've never had any complaints about nietzsche, but then, i probably wouldn't know what i was missing.

      • Neuro-conservative says:

        Well, you know what Heidegger said of Being and Nothingness ("How am I supposed to read this Dreck?")... but then again Heidegger maybe isn't the best role model, either for philosophy or for writing style.

  • Rob says:

    edition is the best (and well worth revisiting).

  • Ejypt says:

    The delightful irony of Nietzsche is that, far from being someone full of spirit, leaping with joy in the fields, he was a hunched, lonely, sickly shut-in who died an insane man (whether through syphilis or whathaveyou), much like that earlier champion of affirmation, Baruch Spinoza. And Gilles Deleuze got lung cancer and killed himself. I find little contradiction here.

    • Neuro-conservative says:

      Learning about the lives of the great philosophers should be required for anyone studying philosophy. It definitely puts their thought in a new perspective.

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