Nietzsche on suffering

Two reflections on suffering from Nietzsche, the first from The Gay Science and the second from Twilight of the Idols:

Knowledge of distress. — Perhaps nothing separates human beings or ages from each other more than the different degrees of their knowledge of distress — distress of the soul as well as of the body. Regarding the latter we moderns may well, in spite of our frailties and fragilities, be bunglers and dreamers owing to lack of ample first-hand experience, compared with an age of fear, the longest of all ages, when individuals had to protect themselves against violence and to that end had themselves to become men of violence. In those days, a man received ample training in bodily torments and deprivations and understood that even a certain cruelty towards himself, as a voluntary exercise in pain, was a necessary means of his preservation; in those days, one trained one’s surroundings to endure pain, in those days, one gladly inflicted pain and saw the most terrible things of this kind happen to others without any other feeling than that of one’s own safety. As regards the distress of the soul, however, I look at each person today to see whether he knows it through experience or description; whether he still considers it necessary to fake this knowledge, say, as a sign of refined cultivation, or whether at the bottom of his soul he no longer believes in great pains of the soul and reacts to its mention in much the same way as to the mention of great bodily sufferings, which make him think of his toothaches and stomachaches. But that is how most people seem to me to be these days. The general inexperience with both sorts of pain and the relative rarity of the sight of suffering individuals have an important consequence: pain is hated much more now than formerly; one speaks much worse of it; indeed, one can hardly endure the presence of pain as a thought and makes it a matter of conscience and a reproach against the whole of existence. The emergence of pessimistic philosophers is in no way the sign of great, terrible states of distress; rather, these question marks about the value of all life are made in times when the refinement and case of existence make even the inevitable mosquito bites of the soul and the body seem much too bloody and malicious, and the poverty of real experiences of pain makes one tend to consider painful general ideas as already suffering of the highest rank. There is a recipe against pessimistic philosophies and excessive sensitivity, things which seem to me to be the real ‘distress of the present’ — but this recipe may sound too cruel and would itself be counted among the signs that lead people to judge, ‘existence is something evil’. Well, the recipe against this ‘distress’ is: distress.


Christian and anarchist. — When the anarchist, as the mouthpiece of the declining strata of society, demands with a fine indignation what is “right,” “justice,” and “equal rights,” he is merely under the pressure of his own uncultured state, which cannot comprehend why he actually suffers — what it is that he is poor in: life … A causal instinct asserts itself in him: it must be somebody’s fault that he is in a bad way … Also, the “fine indignation” itself soothes him; it is a pleasure for all wretched devils to scold: it gives a slight intoxication of power. Even plaintiveness and complaining can give life a charm for the sake of which one endures it: there is a fine dose of revenge in every complaint; one charges one’s own bad situation, and under certain circumstances even one’s own badness, to those who are different, as if that were an injustice, a forbidden privilege. “If I am canaille, you ought to be too”: on such logic are revolutions made. — Complaining is never any good: it stems from weakness. Whether one charges one’s misfortune to others or to oneself — the socialist does the former; the Christian, for example, the latter — really makes no difference. The common and, let us add, the unworthy thing is that it is supposed to be somebody’s fault that one is suffering — in short, that the sufferer prescribes the honey of revenge for himself against his suffering. The objects of this need for revenge, as a need for pleasure, are mere occasions: everywhere the sufferer finds occasions for satisfying his little revenge. If he is a Christian — to repeat it once more — he finds them in himself … The Christian and the anarchist are both decadents. — But when the Christian condemns, slanders, and besmirches the “world,” his instinct is the same as that which prompts the socialist worker to condemn, slander, and besmirch society. The “last judgment” is the sweet comfort of revenge — the revolution, which the socialist worker also awaits, but conceived as a little farther off … The “beyond” — why a beyond, if not as a means for besmirching this world? …

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