19 October 2009

Behold the man

I've just started reading Nietzsche's Ecce homo, which is a kind of philosophical autobiography. The title's taken from the words Pilate spoke to Christ: 'Behold the man!' I've read extracts from it before, and even ripped them off in an artist statement, but not the whole thing.

The chapter titles are a good indication of the treat I have in store. They are 'Why I am so wise', 'Why I am so clever', 'Why I write such good books', and 'Why I am a destiny'.

Here's the first section of the preface:
Seeing that before long I must confront humanity with the most difficult demand ever made of it, it seems indispensable to me to say who I am. Really, one should know it, for I have not left myself 'without testimony'. But the disproportion between the greatness of my task and the smallness of my contemporaries has found expression in the fact that one has never heard nor even seen me. I live on my own credit; it is perhaps a mere prejudice that I live.

I only need to speak with one of the 'educated' who come to the Upper Engadine for the summer, and I am convinced that I do not live.

Under these circumstances I have a duty against which my habits, even more the pride of my instincts, revolt at bottom – namely, to say: Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else.

The irony is that he has been constantly mistaken for someone else, from proto-fascist to proto-postmodernist. As the translator, Walter Kaufmann, says, 'we should gladly trade the whole vast literature on Nietzsche for this one small book'.

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