Saturday, September 19, 2009

Existential Psychotherapy 2

The Basics of Existentialism (continued):

3. A third theme would be that of absurdity. I am my existence and it is absurd. Why am I thrown into this existence here? Why here? Why now? We are utterly contingent beings. In other words we are not logically necessary at all. We did not have to exist. And so my life is an absurd contingent fact. How many of us have stated something such as this to our parents or other significant adults: “I did not ask to be born!”

4. A fourth concert in existentialism is that of nothingness. Here is where I as the existential being, the conscious subject, rejecting all philosophies and theories that seek to define me objectively, strips away all these external structures or scaffolding. Then what am I left with? Following Kierkegaard’s lead I am left with absolutely nothing by way of structure. It is here that I stand in anguish at the edge of the abyss. All human beings have at some time in their lives stood at the edge of the abyss. I’m thinking of a friend’s son whom I taught many years ago who has recently contemplated suicide, ending it all because the abyss was so frightening, another friend who had a massive amputation due to cancer, another who has had a testicle cut out due to that same disease, some other good friends and many acquaintances who suffer from some sort of mental health problems. All of these have looked into the abyss. Good psychotherapy will accompany the client there, attempt to listen to the person hurting and try to give them the strength to turn and face that abyss without being crushed and accompany them away from any possibility of self-annihilation. Good friends will also do the same for the suffering person.

5. A fifth concern associated with and leading from the last is that of Death. Death is a huge black hole or void which concentrates nothingness into our very body and being. It is interesting to listen to the paraphrased words of Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) here:

…the whole of my being seems to drift away into nothing. The unaware person seeks to live as if death is not actual, he tries to escape its reality. But Heidegger says that my death is my most authentic, significant moment, my personal potentiality, which I alone must suffer. And if I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself… (Lavine, op.cit., 332)

6. Another theme or concern is that of alienation. Let’s look at the provenance of this term. In philosophy, I first heard this term with reference to Karl Marx. Marx's theory of alienation refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or antagonism between things that are properly in harmony. As a worker I am alienated from myself, from the product of my labour and from the the rich who make money from my work. Apparently, this theme was first adumbrated by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1851) who saw the Absolute (God) as being estranged from itself as it exists only in the development of a finite spirit in historical time. Then, from this emerged naturally the idea of humankind being estranged from its own true nature. Social alienation, then, obviously, is the individual subject's estrangement from its community, society, or world. We even have this term appearing in worlds as far apart as those of medicine and the cinema: Alienation effect which is a theatrical and cinematic device by which the audience is "alienated" from a play or film and Parental alienation or parental alienation syndrome, referring to hostility between a child and its parent. In medicine alienation is the medical term for the splitting apart of the faculties of the mind.

What’s behind all this alienation then? Well, it’s all about the “otherness” or “strangeness” of everything outside myself, everything outside my conscious thinking subjectivity. Everything is opaque to me except the vitality of my own subjectivity.

However, existential psychotherapy takes all these themes and works with them and seeks to lead the client away from such concerns by acknowledging them (strangely and ironically.) Kierkegaard said that the only way out of despair was the “leap of faith,” that is, the leap of faith into the lap of God as it were – only faith in God could answer these crises of the human spirit. Existential therapists take all the above concerns as concretely exemplified in the subjectivity of their clients or patients and seek to accompany them on the personal journey of self-integration, of piecing together the dis-integrated, fragmented, alienated and shattered self. In a sense this therapy is at once an acknowledgement of deep despair in the light a higher overarching hope. It’s the heralding of hope over despair.

Above a gaslight lamp in the Phoenix Park - a photograph I took a few years ago. The light of therapy (hope) versus the descending darkness of the night (despair).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Existential Psychotherapy 1

Existential psychotherapy originated in the work of four psychiatrists: Karl Jaspers in Germany, (1951, 1964), Ludwig Binswanger (1946, 1963) and Medard Boss (1957, 1962, 1979) in Switzerland, and Victor Frankl in Austria. Existential psychotherapy was introduced into the UK by Ronald Laing, but it fell to Emmy van Deurzen to create the Society of Existential Analysis, and the first training programme in existential psychotherapy in the UK, at Antioch University's London branch. Existential psychotherapy, as developed in the UK, is particularly appropriate to focal therapy and, with the shift from long-term to more focussed therapy in recent years, it has grown into a significant psychotherapy modality . Existential approaches to couples therapy, to the therapy of developmental disorders, and to group psychotherapy have been developed.

What has put all this in my mind? Well, I’m a teacher of children who suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorders. I spent over twenty minutes today talking to a parent of one such boy who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and also from a deep-rooted anxiety. For the latter, he is being treated by a psychiatrist who has rightly prescribed medication, because the boy’s anxiety is preventing his from living a reasonably calm and fulfilled life. The sheer anxiety evoked in the boy through the very act of living is almost intolerable. The mother informed me that anxiety and depression run in her family. Also Daniel’s comments on my post below , which can be viewed here Comment, provoked me into writing a little about another father of existentialism, viz., Soren Kierkegaard. Unfortunately, it is such a long time since I read he latter that my memory of his philosophy in depth is greatly clouded. Also, I have no primary texts at hand and am relying here on various general introductions to the subject, i.e., secondary sources. They will have to suffice for my purposes here.

The Basics of Existentialism:

1. This approach to philosophy is not interested in mere abstractions unrelated to lived experience. In fact, this branch of the subject is all about what it means to be a human being in the here and now, and then there follows a deep reflection on that experience. In philosophy-speak we say that “existence precedes essence.” In other words the human person is a feeling and thinking subject, and is not an object that has to be predicted or manipulated. The object is the essence of the thing while the subject is the existing feeling and thinking actor as it were. What does it mean to be a subject? What does it mean to be a conscious being? “Existentialism says I am nothing else but my own conscious existence.” (From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest, T.Z. Lavine, Bantam Books, 1984, 330)

2. The theme of anxiety was at the very heart of existentialism from its very origins. This is a sense of anguish which can be defined as a sense of dread of the nothingness of human existence. When I first started work as a young teacher of 22 many years ago I recall vividly one morning a colleague asking me the following question: “What’s it all about, anyway?” I replied immediately with something like, “What do you mean?” to which he responded “What’s life all about?” I started my teaching career as a teacher of Religious Studies, and Ger obviously presumed that I had some answers. I hasten to admit that I had not any answers then and I still have not now. I moved on from there to teach Languages and Life Skills and finally into Resource teaching for ASD children and those with other educational needs. I have re-defined and re-designed myself several times since, thankfully. But Ger’s deep existential question still remains with me as vividly as if I were still in that room. I was to find out a few years later that poor Gerard had a congenital heart disease from which he would soon die. Hence his question. This theme goes back as far as Kierkegaard in existentialism and way back further into ancient philosophy, too. In fact, anxiety as a theme pervades this philosopher’s work.

Soren Kierkegaard lived his relatively short life (1813-1855) in Denmark. The meaninglessness of his existence filled him with anxiety and despair and a sense of hopelessness and deep depression. At base his anxiety was a deep despair at the very nothingness of human existence. In the great universal scheme of things we are mere miniscule ants on a miniscule anthill called earth lost in the infinity of space. How do I cope with the fact that I as a thinking and feeling subject will come to nothing in the end… nothing, nothing, nothing? Let’s hear Kierkegaard’s words:

I stick my finger into existence – it smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it that has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted? (Quoted op. cit., 322)

This is the very heart of existentialism, then, the fear of the very nothingness of existence. This fear, Kierkegaard tells us can never be objective at all, because effectively it is a subjective anxiety that everything that I hold dear, including myself, will in the end, sooner or later and we don’t know when, crumble into nothingness. And the very uncertainty of when death (which ironically is very certain) will occur only adds to our anxiety or angst.

Above a caricature of Soren Kierkegaard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nietzsche – Insights of a Troubled Soul 4

What inspired these last three posts on Nietzsche was reading the new book entitled Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (Jossey-Bass, 2009) from the pen of the great contemporary psychiatrist and existential analyst Irvin D. Yalom. Therein he makes many allusions to Friedrich Nietzsche and illustrates how the wisdom of this great existentialist philosopher can be profitably used in therapy. By way of concluding these posts on the insights of Friedrich Nietzsche I wish to write a short account of how Yalom considers our man to be of help in the therapy room.

Quotation 1: Die at the right time.

Quotation 2: Consummate your life. Fulfill your potential.

Commentary: An unlived life is the worst thing for us because such a life will cause us much death anxiety according to Yalom. (See op. cit., 50). In other words, “carpe diem,” or “seize the day” or simply: “live your life to the full.”

Quotation 3: When we are tired we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

Quotation 4: Amor fati: Create the fate that you can love.

Commentary: I have often found that when I am tired worries and concerns which I had thought I had dealt with come back to the surface. Nietzsche’s insight here is very consoling. When we are tired, down and stressed, not just new worries, but even all the old ones surface in our consciousness. Then we have here his positive insight that we can create our own destiny. Then Yalom illustrates how he uses the Nietzschean insight of “eternal return” in his psychotherapeutic practice. He would say to a patient/client: Would you be willing to live this past year of your life eternally? The idea here is interesting. Let’s listen to Yalom’s own words:

If you engage in this experiment and find the thought painful or even unbearable, there is one obvious explanation: you do not believe you have lived your life well. I would proceed by posing such questions as, How have you not lived well? What regrets have you about your life? (Yalom, 101)

Yalom then quotes two aphorisms which I have teased out in the last few posts: he calls them “granite” sentences. They are: “Become who you are” and “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

To become wise you must learn to listen to the wild dogs barking in your cellar. (Yalom, 211)

The above aphorism is a restatement by Yalom in his own words of one of Nietzsche’s insights into the human psyche that we must face our own worst fears, even our own worst temptations, temptations that we will never ever act on.

Finally, I loved the way Yalom used his Nietzschean insights in his existentialist therapy. His final insight on why Nietzsche was so hostile to Socrates and Plato, and indeed St Paul, was because of their disdain of the body, their emphasis on the soul’s immortality to such an extent that the body became just a mere husk or shell. This has great relevance for me as I grow older, as I cope with my personal death anxiety, as the reality of the body becomes more real for me in its very breaking down as I age. And the soul has become less “spiritual” in the religious or holy sense of that word and more real in the sense of its connectedness with the whole of reality.

Above Irvin D. Yalom.

Nietzsche: Insights of a Troubled Soul 3

Nietzsche was a most complex individual, if not, indeed, much conflicted. His philosophy, while well thought out, bears the hallmarks of having been written from the very depths of angst. Oftentimes those who have plumbed the depths of their very own being through nervous breakdowns, accidents, traumas, and all the various addictions make the best counsellors – quite simply, because they have been there, or as the cliché has it – they have been there and have got the tee-shirt. That’s why so many of us are attracted to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche – he is writing from experience and a deep philosophical reflection on that lived experience. And so now I want to share another few insights of this great philosopher with you:

For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer! At long last the search for knowledge will reach out for its due: — it will want to rule and possess, and you with it! The Gay Science (1882) (Section 283)

As I have said before in the previous post, it is best to view the writings of Nietzsche as being deliberately provocative. He wishes to wake us up, to startle us into thinking. Hence, he loved aphorisms, which by their nature overstate a truth because they get us thinking through shock tactics. The above passage wishes to push us to take risks, to leave the security of the familiar and to explore the unfamiliar, even to go into uncharted waters and deserts of our lives and in so doing build ourselves up. Nietzsche uses many metaphors. He is not to be taken literally. On a psychotherapeutic level, it benefits us to face our worst fears, to take courage and to try new activities because in that way we grow. As another cliché has it: “No pain, no gain.” We always gain something from every struggle, even if it appears to be unjustly weighed against us.

We are, all of us, growing volcanoes that approach the hour of their eruption; but how near or distant that is, nobody knows — not even God. (Op.cit. Sec. 9)

We are always in our own company. (Ibid Sec. 166)

Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings — always darker, emptier, simpler. (Ibid., Sec. 179)

What does your conscience say? — "You shall become the person you are." (It is also translated as “Become who you are.” Nietzsche is here quoting Pindar who first used this phrase) (Ibid., Sec. 270.)

We want to be poets of our life — first of all in the smallest most everyday matters. (Ibid., Sec. 299.)

Only those who keep changing remain akin to me. (Concluding poem of Beyond Good and Evil)

I tell you: one must have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star. (Prologue 5 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1885)

What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. (Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows, 8, 1888)

Without music, life would be a mistake. (ibid., Maxims and Arrows, 33)

The very word "Christianity" is a misunderstanding — in truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross. This has commonly been paraphrased: The last Christian died on the cross. (Ibid., Sec. 39)

What does not kill him, makes him stronger. ("Why I Am So Wise", 2; this is often paraphrased as: What does not kill me, makes me stronger. Ecce Homo, 1888)

There have been many pithy phrases used in the history of human thought, and none was or is as famous as "Know Thyself" which was an original Ancient Greek aphorism : γνῶθι σεαυτόν gnōthi seauton and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It has been variously attributed to Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Solon of Athens and Thales of Miletus such was its common currency. Deep in this saying lies much wisdom. Pindar's phrase, quoted above, and often attributed to Nietzsche, is almost as famous: "Become who you are!" Both of these phrases sum up essentially the heart of all good psychotherapy. The whole goal of all therapy and analysis is to allow the client to discover his or her Self in all its colours and shades and to be "at home" and accepting of that Self in all its uniqueness and authenticity. The phrase, "we want to be the poets of our lives" has roughly the same meaning, though it is phrased in a far more metaphorical way, and Nietzsche loved metaphors. A poet thinks and writes at great intensity and is a sort of "distiller of experience" (my formulation). In doing so, he/she is also on the road to self-discovery. This task obviously requires much hard work.

And, then, the insight that we must keep changing if we are to grow. Our experience teaches us that most people hate change with a vengeance because it entails encountering so much of the unknown which is more often than not very frightening. Nietzsche saw change as one of the keys to life. And further, his insight that we must encounter chaos within ourselves so that we may give birth to something brilliant like a dancing star. Only those of us who have experienced the chaos of any illness - mental or physical or both - can understand this saying at its deepest. This is essentially an awakening experience, where we appreciate life anew after we have come through the crisis. In like manner, our philosopher friend realised that all the hard and harsh experiences of life strengthen us: what does not destroy us does, indeed, make us stronger.

Truthfully one can say that the degree of introspection achieved by Nietzsche has been and is rarely achieved. Freud several times said of our philosopher friend that he had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was likely to live. This was, undoubtedly, overstating the case, nevertheless his comments contain not a little truth.

A fairly young Nietzsche with his trademark moustache.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nietzsche:Insights of a Troubled Soul 2

A truth denied or a truth avoided is one bound to eventually torment. It will surface as the demons that haunt our deepest dreams. This is essentially what Nietzsche sought to do in his life and in his writings. He sought to unmask the impostors who strode across the stage of his pretensions; to unmask each one, one after another; to look deeper and ever deeper into his own soul; to question his motivations; to question the very value system he was encouraged by contemporary society to follow; to question his own values; to question all accepted values and meanings; to question all the sacred cows of society in all its dimensions whether they were religious or secular, theological or philosophical. Like Freud after him, and even more so, he did not care too much as to how far he ruffled the feathers of others. His way was to be a provocative way, a questioning way, a way which sought to avoid easy answers and which embraced hard questions. Modernity, and indeed modernism and postmodernism, owe him much. However, to look into the Sun of Truth is always scary, very scary. Our very souls can get scorched, if not badly burnt!

Nietzsche’s Path To Healing:

Let me try here a brief summary in layman’s words what I recorded Nietzsche as saying in his own words in my last post. Being deeply existentialist (although, of course, this word did not exist at his time) he sought at all times to be AUTHENTIC. Authenticity is a key word for philosophers who deem themselves existentialist. Authenticity in philosophy nicely corresponds to what we call congruence in psychotherapy. Authenticity or congruence or integrity is essentially a deep inner acceptance of one’s personal truth, a calm ability to accept the shadow side of our nature, a calm ability to love ourselves in all our being – every aspect of it – the bad as well as the good. It means a deep and accepting knowledge of the self; an openness to the truth within the Self and the truth without or outside the Self, an openness to the truth in all others also. Now let’s put his words in psychotherapeutic terms:

Firstly, he is recommending to people, especially young students, to value the importance of being able to listen to the ideas of others, even if they are opposite to our own. More than this he is teaching other minds to be open to other ideas, and essentially other ways of believing and indeed living. Truth was never singular for Nietzsche – never single or set in stone. Truth was indeed many, was essentially plural, that is, truths with a small “t” where each person sought to discover his or her own truth…

Some of his sayings are aphoristic and like all aphorisms they seek to shock, and I feel while such aphorisms contain much truth they are not the whole of it. Their value lies in their provocation or in their shock values. We always need thinkers who shock the rest of us into questioning our presumptions and prejudices. It’s in this sense that we should reflect on the following aphorism: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Having reflected on this aphorism in the light of what I have said one can then balance it out by asking such questions: Surely science is totally objective? Or is it? How much of my prejudices do I bring to my own thoughts?

Then he tells us that we human beings are “deeply immersed in illusions and dream images.” Yes, yes, yes. How far is Nietzsche correct here? Are we victims of our own illusions and pipe dreams? Another way of putting this: How truthful are we to ourselves? What are the masks we wear? It is interesting that Nietzsche does actually use the word “mask” in the paragraph quoted in the last post.

He even questions how far it is possible for each of us to get to know ourselves. Could we ever be objective about ourselves at all? In other words, to what extent can we be truthful even to ourselves? These are all good hard questions worth asking.

It follows, then, obviously, that we can never really truly know another thing in itself or another person in himself or herself at all. And then we have this extremely sceptical passage: “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.” Once again, I suggest this should be used in an aphoristic sense, in its shock sense, in its sensational, provocative sense to get us questioning. That way, we won’t become stagnant or smug or superficial. Incidentally, one can only love Nietzsche’s beautiful use of words in this passage.

Again, I love his wisdom where he says that the human animal – I’m appropriating the contemporary philosopher, John Gray’s terminology here – must give attention to both Reason and Intuition in order to think in a fully human manner. This is surely very therapeutic and very real advice, and also a deep insight for a nineteenth century philosopher. It sounds very modern, does it not?

Then our philosopher therapist becomes aphoristic again by saying: “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” As one who values a philosophical approach to life; who looks on philosophy as therapeutic; as one who loves to meditate and be open to Eastern thought and practice, to be open to both the Intuitive and the Reason, oftentimes one feels that one is gazing into a nothingness or an abyss and that is frightening and yet all the great meditators and spiritual leaders encourage one to persist, with help from others and from reading in case one might break under the strain. In that sense one stares into the abyss. Then, it it equally true that the abyss stares back. We learn the lessons of Eastern thought, that all is illusion anyway, that we are indeed “undone by death” as T.S. Eliot said of the crowd flowing over London Bridge in his great poem Four Quartets.

Then, our master thinker and philosopher advises us to dance and to laugh, to laugh and to dance and in that way give credence to our very own truth. How wonderful this advice really is. Don’t think about it. Do it and live it!

Then, he warns us to be questioning of our very own convictions, because they can be grossly misleading. He is saying that our convictions can be masks for prejudices, presuppositions and even deep hatred of others. Finally, we read his insightful words of wisdom that those who have a why to live can bear almost any how. This is all in line with good and healing psychotherapy. Viktor Frankl called his therapy “Logotherapy” namely therapy based on meaning. He discovered that deep down every human being needs to have a meaning in his or her life and that the task of life is in finding and enhancing that meaning. That essentially for him was and is the road to healing. That’s also what Nietzsche meant by this last aphorism.

The whole drift of Nietzsche is to make us think, to make us question our own presuppositions and our own prejudices, to make us ask hard questions of ourselves, of others, of society itself and to go on questioning. His emphasis on being open to one’s own truth in all its colours is itself a major therapeutic tool. Let’s ponder the writings of this good old philosopher. He can lead far on the journey to self knowledge.

Above a picture of Nietsche in 1864 at the age of 20

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nietzsche: Insights of a Troubled Soul 1

I have long been captivated not just by the thoughts of this great philosopher who rocked the foundations of the traditional beliefs of Western culture in the late nineteenth century, but also with the personal suffering of his complex life. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 - 1900) was a German philosopher, whose critiques of contemporary culture, religion, and philosophy centred on a basic question regarding the foundation of values and morality.  The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy succinctly sums up his contribution to modern philosophy thus:

He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first existentialist philosophers, Nietzsche's revitalizing philosophy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries. SEP

Images and thoughts that have remained in my mind over the years since my first introduction to this great thinker way back in the middle seventies of the last century are as follows: this rather too serious looking scholar with a shock of black hair, small round spectacles on his nose and a huge drooping moustache which covered his very mouth; that he died a sad and lonely death in the throes of insanity brought on by syphilis; that his sister sanitised his works by editing out anything she found to be socially unacceptable and that he had several mental break-downs culminating with one dramatic, almost histrionic event in one of the great squares of nineteenth century Geneva, where the ailing and demented Nietzsche lovingly embraced a horse by throwing his arms around the poor creature’s neck after it had been severely whipped by its irate owner.   More recent studies have also shown that this tormented man was a closet homosexual, while other studies would see him as bisexual.  One way or another, this much is true, he was a singularly troubled and disturbed individual, but from the depths of his personal suffering would come deep insights into the the human psyche itself, into culture and morality and into the very act of living authentically on this earth.  To this extent, with Soren Kierkegaard, he has often been called the father of the existentialism.

However, here, I merely wish to draw attention to and to quote from some of my favourite passages and aphorisms from this great and wonderful thinker.  With the likes of Professor Irvin Yalom, and many others, I should like to acknowledge how helpful his insights can be, not alone in the task of psychotherapy but in the very task of growing as an individual (individuation – Jung; self-actualization – Goldstein, Maslow and Rogers; self-realization (Buddhist psychology) or self-integration (Anthony Storr).  To a great extent, Nietzsche could be said to prefigure a lot of the wisdom that we have learned from the above and other various schools of psychotherapy.


  • The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.
    • The Dawn, Sec. 297


  • There are no facts, only interpretations.
    • Notebooks, (Summer 1886 – Fall 1887)


  • Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendour, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself — in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity — is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them. They are deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see "forms." On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873) Part 1


  • What does man actually know about himself? Is he, indeed, ever able to perceive himself completely, as if laid out in a lighted display case? Does nature not conceal most things from him — even concerning his own body — in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibres! She threw away the key. (Ibid.)


  • We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colours, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities. (Ibid.)


  • What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins. (Ibid.)


  • There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an "overjoyed hero," counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty. (Ibid.)


  • The man who is guided by concepts and abstractions only succeeds by such means in warding off misfortune, without ever gaining any happiness for himself from these abstractions. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption — in addition to obtaining a defence against misfortune. To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. (Ibid.)


  • And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.


  • And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.


  • All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.


  • All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.


  • Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.


  • Faith: not wanting to know what is true.


  • He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.