There are a couple of German blokes commonly associated with extreme intelligence. Albert Einstein is one. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is another. The latter clever clogs was a philosopher, composer, poet, and philologist (the study of language) – he also sported an epic moustache.
Why I Am So Wise is an extract from Nietzsche’s final work – Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Rather obsessed with understanding his intellectual excellence, the work was a way for the great man to present himself in a new light to readers.
Why I Am So Wise
Written in 1888, it first became available some nine years after Nietzsche’s death.
Having looked at the reactions to this “excerpt” of a book, various readers consider Nietzsche to be a “pompous ass” for the self-congratulatory nature of the prose.
But as the first of his works we ever read (we blasted through it on a bus journey down to London back 2006), it’s a unique introduction to the man’s genius.
Why I Am So Wise doesn’t have the same focus as his other philosophical works. Most of which developed his views on cultural theory, nihilism, the “death of God”, and ignoring mindless nationalism.
But as he had an obsession with “becoming what one is”, this extract from Ecce Homo displays a personal focus on the lifestyle preferences that shaped him into what he was (a man with an amazing moustache).
He was an iconoclastic philosopher scared of no boundaries, ramping up controversy in works such as Twilight of the Idols. That, incidentally, features the line:
"Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker." - "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."
And you way well prefer such titles. But, if you’re new to his philosophical musings then Why I Am So Wise is a meandering and engaging read.
Sure, there are those who’ll see the narcissistic side. Who likes to read someone going on about how amazing they think they are?
But Why I Am So Wise was also written at a time when the philosopher was on the verge of total madness. Within a few years of completing Ecce Homo, he had a mental breakdown – a lack of sanity defined the final years of his life.
But his philosophy was all about affirming life in all its tragedy. We’re not sure if Nietzsche knew he was losing it, but this work comes across as autobiographical in tone and stands as a self-aware testament of what made his mind great.
And even though Why I Am So Wise is only a minute snippet of his intellect, it’s a work that could well spur you on to his more far-reaching world views.
Nietzsche the Composer
Ending on a different note here, many of his fans often forget Nietzsche was also a pretty decent composer.
True, music wasn’t his main forte – Beethoven he was not – but this is an exceptionally difficult creative arena to excel in. But unlike Einstein (a keen violinist) who viewed music as a hobby, it appears this was a serious pursuit for Nietzsche.
His infatuation with music drove him to be taken seriously. As a polymath of prodigious ability, you can see why the drive was there to earn some extra respect.
And the philosopher did have one advantage over his musical peers – his higher academic intelligence and command of language.
Unfortunately, at the time much of his musical work was criticised. Even his friend, famed composer Richard Wagner, was apparently left rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter after hearing one of the philosopher’s piano compositions. OTT much, Waggers?
But Nietzsche used his formidable intellect to hit back, saying:
"Is Wagner actually a man? Is he not rather a disease? Everything he touches falls ill. He has made music sick."
It’s clear why he wanted to be taken seriously. Wagner introduced the philosopher to Franz Liszt in the 1850s and, of course, it wasn’t that long after Beethoven’s death (1827).
So with his various abilities in the academic and creative worlds, he plunged on in and, to his credit, had a go.
Always quotable, Nietzsche also landed this one on the world:
"Without music, life would be a mistake."