Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nietzschean Patience

Nietzsche's various remarks on patience and virtues have lurked in the background of my thinking as I've worked on my papers and book about patience, at times as a kind of warning, questioning voice, that asks things like, "Are you covering up what is weakness as strength? Are you thinking like a 'slave'?" But Nietzsche himself also has positive things to say about patience (Geduld). I'm trying to write some on this now, and am currently trying to think about how the following two passages fit (or fail to fit) together.

First, from The Gay Science §336:
One must learn to love. —This happens to us in music: first one must learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate and delimit it as a life in itself; then one needs effort and good will to stand it despite its strangeness; patience with its appearance and expression, and kindheartedness about its oddity. Finally comes a moment when we are used to it; when we expect it; when we sense that we’d miss it if it were missing; and now it continues relentlessly to compel and enchant us until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers, who no longer want anything better from the world than it and it again. But this happens to us not only in music: it is in just this way that we have learned to love everything we now love. We are always rewarded in the end for our good will, our patience, our fair-mindedness and gentleness with what is strange, as it gradually casts off its veil and presents itself as a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even he who loves himself will have learned it this way—there is no other way. Love, too, must be learned.
Second, from Twilight of the Idols, "What the Germans Lack," §6:
People must learn to see, they must learn to think, they must learn to speak and to write: the goal in all three cases is a noble culture.—Learning to see—getting your eyes used to calm, to patience, to letting things come to you; postponing judgment, learning to encompass and take stock of an individual case from all sides. This is the first preliminary schooling for spirituality: not to react immediately to a stimulus, but instead to take control of the inhibiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is close to what an unphilosophical way of speaking calls a strong will: the essential thing here is precisely not ‘to will’, to be able to suspend the decision. Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus—you have to react, you follow every impulse. In many cases this sort of compulsion is already a pathology, a decline, a symptom of exhaustion,—almost everything that is crudely and unphilosophically designated a ‘vice’ is really just this physiological inability not to react.—A practical application of having learned to see: your learning process in general becomes slow, mistrustful, reluctant. You let foreign things, new things of every type, come towards you while assuming an initial air of calm hostility,—you pull your hand away from them. To keep all your doors wide open, to lie on your stomach, prone and servile before every little fact, to be constantly poised and ready to put yourself into—plunge yourself into—other things, in short, to espouse the famous modern ‘objectivity’—all this is in bad taste, it is ignobility par excellence
Nietzsche's patience seems significantly more circumspect in TI; there's not the seeming optimism in GS that patience always "pays off" or that anything and everything will, with enough patience, reveal to us its hitherto hidden beauty. In TI, the idea seems mainly to be that we need to be able to sit still and be calm, unjudging, long enough to arrive at a better judgment. But that might well be, so it seems, that this thing or person doesn't deserve a whit more of my patience (or forbearance, etc.).

Perhaps Nietzsche is worried about different things in each of these passages; in GS, there is a general theme of being adventurous and open. But TI reigns that in at least to remind us that, as it were, a mind that is too open is like a parachute with a hole in it. Splat. The "always" in the GS passage ("We are always rewarded in the end...") might seem out of tune with the caution and distrust and "calm hostility" in the TI. But maybe not, if the reward of patience is just that we come better to see what there is to be seen. If TI is supposed to show us the perils of decadence--as Ridley suggests in his introduction to the Cambridge edition--then is there still the issue that there is perhaps some decadence in the optimism--that there is beauty to uncover in everything--in GS? (Or: we can't even assume in advance what the particular "reward" of our patience will be? And some things might just be irredeemably ugly, stupid, monstrous, etc., in which case we'd better be careful about being forbearing lest we get squashed or sullied, etc.)


  1. i believe the 'doors open' metaphor in the TI passage is repeated elsewhere in GS - don't have the reference handy.

    that would suggest that a similar degree of restraint is acknowledged in the GS view of patience.

    (re decadence, you might find one of elijah millgram's very good papers relevant on the costs and rewards of patience - www.elijahmillgram.net/publications/eh.pdf‎ - his approach would at least leave open the possibility that GS, with its different form, has a different aim.)

  2. Thanks, j. As I've worked further, I've started to come to that conclusion, too. I'll have a draft paper soon, I hope. Thanks for the link to the Millgram paper--I hope to look at it tomorrow.

  3. agh, i just cannot find that passage! at first glance it is not in GS, which is the book i'm most familiar with. i've looked around a bit more, done some searches, but it escapes me. i think the passage in question mentions something like hospitality or liberality, with specific mention of chambers still further within the house that one nevertheless does not admit just anyone to.

  4. twilight IX, 25 is the passage i was thinking of; it starts 'to accommodate people, to keep an open house with your heart…'