Gay Science

The Gay Science

The Gay Science [German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft ("la gaya scienza")], is a book written 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 my books". It contains the most poetry ever published by him.

Title

The book's title uses a phrase that was well-known at the time. It was derived from a Provençal expression for the technical skill required for poetry-writing. It had already been used by Emerson and E. S. Dallas and in inverted form by Thomas Carlyle (see dismal science). However, it was first translated into English as The Joyous Wisdom. Nevertheless The Gay Science has become the canonical translation of the title since Walter Kaufmann's version in the 1960's. Kaufmann references The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1955) that lists "The gay science (=Pr[ovençal] gai saber): the art of poetry." The title should not be read with any homosexual connotation.

Nietzsche himself comments in Ecce Homo about the poems in the Appendix, saying they were,

written for the most part in Sicily, are quite emphatically reminiscent of the Provençal concept of gaya 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 12th 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. (Section 260)

Another indicator of the deficiency of the original translation as The Joyous Wisdom is that the German Wissenschaft never indicates "wisdom", 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, when his work extolled the merits of science, scepticism and intellectual discipline as routes to mental freedom. The affirmation of the Provencal tradition is also one of a joyful affirmation of life.

Content

In The Gay Science Nietzsche experiments with the notion of power but does not advance any systematic theory. The book contains the 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.
"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"

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

References

  • Kaufmann, Walter, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Princeton University Press, 1974.
  • The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs by Friedrich Nietzsche; translated, with commentary, by Walter Kaufmann (Vintage Books, March 1974, ISBN 0-394-71985-9)

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