April 17, 2005


The latter part of the Overture-chapter of NIETZSCHE, A Philosophical Biography (Rüdiger Safranski, 2000, 2002).

Man, Nietzsche contended, is a being that has leapt beyond the “bestial bounds of the mating season”, and seeks pleasure not just at fixed intervals but perpetually. Since, however, there are fewer sources of pleasure than his perpetual desire for pleasure demands, nature has forced man onto the “path of pleasure contrivance.”

Man, the creature of consciousness whose horizons extends to the past and future, rarely attains complete fulfillment within the present, and for this reason experiences something most likely unknown to any animal, namely boredom.
This strange creature seeks a stimulus to release him from boredom.
If no such stimulus is readily available, it simply needs to be created. Man becomes the animal that plays. Play is an invention that engages the emotions; it is the art of stimulating emotions. Music is prime example. Thus the anthropological and physiological formula for the secret of art: “Flight from boredom is the mother of all art.”

Not a trace remains of the pathos of art when it is viewed in this manner. Could the so-called secret of art be any more trivial? Must the ecstasy of enthusiasm for art be reduced to a flight from unalluring desert of the ordinary? Is art being degraded to mere entertainment?
Nietzsche flirted with this demystifying viewpoint devoid of pathos. He sought to desecrate art, which had been sacrosanct to him, and to cool his fervor in “antiromantic self-treatment” to determine “how these things look if they are turned around.
This process involves not only an inversion of the order of precedence of moral values but also a shift from a metaphysical to a physical and physiological outlook.

However, even “boredom” has its aura of mystery and is imbued with singular pathos by Nietzsche. Boredom, from which art provides a refuge, becomes terrifying – the yawning abyss of being. When people are bored, they regard the moment of empty passage of time.
External events, as well as people`s sense of self, become inconsequential. The phases of life lose their intentional tension and cave in on themselves like soufflé removed from the oven too soon. Routines and habits that otherwise provides stability suddenly prove to be nothing more than facades. Finally, the eerie scenario of boredom reveals a moment of true feeling. When people find nothing to do with themselves, nothingness besets them.
Against this backdrop of nothingness, art performs its task of self-stimulation – a virtually heroic enterprise, because people on the verge of a breakdown need to be entertained. Art steps in as a bridge to prevent succumbing to
nihilist ennui ("nihilistinen ikävä"). Art helps us live; without it, life cannot stem the onslaught of meaninglessness.

The formula of art as “flight from boredom” is rich in significance, assuming we take boredom to be an experience of nothingness. If we do so, however, we switch from the physiology of self-stimulation to the metaphysics of the
horror vacui ("tyhjyyden kauhu").

Nietzsche was a virtuoso of this leap from physics to metaphysics. He knew how to imbue his physiological disenchantment with a new metaphysical magic. For him everything was ultimately colossal.

Anything can take on colossal proportions – one`s own life and perceptions or the world as a whole. Music is so attuned to the colossal power that it helps us endure despite everything. Colossal power became Nietzsche´s lifelong theme.


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