Degeneration, by Max Nordau

What is the mind? What is the mind of a human? What is the mind of the one who investigates the human? Can the human mind understand itself? Can a human mind understand the mind of an other? This is psychology.

Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

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Part 1 of 3


As in Ibsen ego-mania has found its poet, so in Nietzsche it has found its philosopher. The deification of filth by the Parnassians with ink, paint, and clay; the censing among the Diabolists and Decadents of licentiousness, disease, and corruption; the glorification, by Ibsen, of the person who[416] ‘wills,’ is ‘free’ and ‘wholly himself’—of all this Nietzsche supplies the theory, or something which proclaims itself as such. We may remark, in passing, that this has ever been the task of philosophy. It plays in the race the same rôle as consciousness in the individual. Consciousness has the thankless task of discovering rational and elucidatory grounds for the explanation of the impulses and acts springing up in subconsciousness. In the same way philosophy endeavours to find formulæ of apparent profundity for the peculiarities of feeling, thought and deed, having their roots in the history of politics and civilization—in climatic and economic conditions—and to fit them with a sort of uniform of logic. The race lives on, conformably with the historical necessity of its evolution, not troubling itself about a theory of its peculiarities; and philosophy hobbles busily after it, gathers with more or less regularity into its album the scattered features of racial character, and the manifestations of its health and disease; methodically provides this album with a title, paging, and full stop, then places it with a contented air in the library, among the systems of the same regulation size. Genuine truths, real, apposite explanations—these are not contained in philosophical systems. But they furnish instructive evidence of the efforts of the racial consciousness to supply reason, skilfully or clumsily, with the excuses it demands for the unconscious impulses of the race during a given period of time.

From the first to the last page of Nietzsche’s writings the careful reader seems to hear a madman, with flashing eyes, wild gestures, and foaming mouth, spouting forth deafening bombast; and through it all, now breaking out into frenzied laughter, now sputtering expressions of filthy abuse and invective, now skipping about in a giddily agile dance, and now bursting upon the auditors with threatening mien and clenched fists. So far as any meaning at all can be extracted from the endless stream of phrases, it shows, as its fundamental elements, a series of constantly reiterated delirious ideas, having their source in illusions of sense and diseased organic processes, which will be pointed out in the course of this chapter. Here and there emerges a distinct idea, which, as is always the case with the insane, assumes the form of an imperious assertion, a sort of despotic command. Nietzsche never tries to argue. If the thought of the possibility of an objection arises in his mind, he treats it lightly, or sneers at it, or curtly and rudely decrees, ‘That is false!’ (‘How much more rational is that ... theory, for example, represented by Herbert Spencer!... According to this theory, good is that which has hitherto always proved itself to be useful, so that it may be estimated as valuable in the highest degree, as valuable[417] in itself. Although this mode of explanation is also false, the explanation itself is at least rational and psychologically tenable.’—Zur Genealogie der Moral, 2 Aufl., p. 5. ‘This mode of explanation is also false.’ Full-stop! Why is it false? Wherein is it false? Because Nietzsche so orders it. The reader has no right to inquire further.) For that matter, he himself contradicts almost every one of his violently dictatorial dogmas. He first asserts something and then its opposite, and both with equal vehemence, most frequently in the same book, often on the same page. Now and then he becomes conscious of the self-contradiction, and then he pretends to have been amusing himself and making sport of the reader. (‘It is difficult to be understood, especially when one thinks and lives gangasrotogati, among plain men who think and live otherwise—in other words, kromagati, or under the most favourable circumstances, among mandeigati, who “have the frog’s mode of progression”—I just do all I can to make myself hard to understand.... But with regard to the “good friends” ... it is well to accord them in advance room for the play and exercise of misconception; in this way one has still something to laugh at—or wholly to abolish these good friends—and still laugh!’—Jenseits von Gut und Böse, 2 Aufl., p. 38. Similarly on p. 51: ‘All that is profound loves the mask; the most profound things even hate imagery and parable. Should not contrast rather be the right disguise in which the shamefacedness of a god might walk abroad?’)

The nature of the individual dogmatic assertions is very characteristic. First of all it is essential to become habituated to Nietzsche’s style. This is, I admit, unnecessary for the alienist. To him this sort of style is well known and familiar. He frequently reads writings (it is true, as a rule, unprinted) of a similar order of thought and diction, and he reads them, not for his pleasure, but that he may prescribe the confinement of the author in an asylum. The unprofessional reader, on the contrary, is easily confused by the tumult of phrases. Once, however, he has found his way, once he has acquired some practice in discerning the actual theme among the drums-and-fifes of this ear-splitting, merry-go-round music, and, in the hailstorm of rattling words, that render clear vision almost impossible, has learned to perceive the fundamental thought, he at once observes that Nietzsche’s assertions are either commonplaces, tricked out like Indian caciques with feather-crown, nose-ring, and tattooing (and of so mean a kind that a high-school girl would be ashamed to make use of them in a composition-exercise); or bellowing insanity, rambling far beyond the range of rational examination and refutation. I[418] will give only one or two examples of each kind among the thousands that exist:

Also sprach Zarathustra[371] (‘Thus spake Zoroaster’), 3 Theil, p. 9: ‘We halted just by a gateway. “See this gateway, dwarf”—I said again—“it has two faces. Two roads meet here; no one has yet travelled to their end. This long road behind—it lasts an eternity. And that long road in front—that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these roads; they offend each other; and it is here at this gateway that they meet. The name of the gateway is inscribed above, “Now.” But if one continues to follow one of them further, and ever further, and ever further, believest thou, dwarf, that these roads eternally contradict each other?”’

Blow away the lather from these phrases. What do they really say? The fleeting instant of the present is the point of contact of the past and the future. Can one call this self-evident fact a thought?

Also sprach Zarathustra, 4 Theil, p. 124 ff.: ‘The world is deep, and deeper than the day thinks it. Forbear! forbear! I am too pure for thee. Disturb me not! Has my world not become exactly perfect? My flesh is too pure for thy hands. Forbear, thou dull doltish and obtuse day! Is not the midnight clearer? The purest are to be lords of earth, the most unknown, the strongest, the souls of midnight, who are clearer and deeper than each day.... My sorrow, my happiness, are deep, thou strange day; but yet am I no God, no Hell of God: deep is their woe. God’s woe is deeper, thou strange World! Grasp at God’s woe, not at me! What am I! A drunken sweet lyre—a lyre of midnight, a singing frog, understood by none, but who must speak before the deaf, O higher men! For ye understand me not! Hence! hence! O youth! O mid-day! O midnight! Now came evening and night and midnight.... Ah! ah! how it sighs! how it laughs, how it rattles and gasps, the midnight! How soberly even she speaks, this poetess! Without doubt she has overdrunk her drunkenness! She became too wide awake! She chews the cud! She chews the cud of her woe in dream, the old deep midnight, and still more her joy. For joy, if woe be already deep: joy is deeper still than heart-pain.... Woe says, “Away! get thee gone, woe!... But joy wishes for a second coming, wishes all to be eternally like itself. Woe says, “Break, bleed, O heart! Wander, limb! Wing, fly! Onward! Upward! Pain!” Well, then! Cheer up! Oh, my old heart! Woe says, “Away!” Ye higher men ... should ye ever wish for one time twice, should ye ever say, “Thou pleasest me, happiness! Quick! instant! then would[419] ye wish all back again! All anew, all eternally, all enchained, bound, amorous. Oh! then loved ye the world; ye eternities love it eternally and always; and to woe also speak ye: hence, but return! For all pleasure wishes—eternity. All pleasure wishes for the eternity of all things, wishes for honey, for the lees, wishes for drunken midnight, tombs, the consolation of the tears of tombs, gilded twilight—what does pleasure not wish for! She is thirstier, heartier, hungrier, more terrible, more secret than all woe; she wishes for herself, she gnaws into herself, the will of the ring struggles in her.... Pleasure wishes for the eternity of all things, wishes for deep, deep eternity!’

And the sense of this crazy shower of whirling words? It is that men wish pain to cease and joy to endure! This the astounding discovery expounded by Nietzsche in this demented raving.

The following are obviously insane assertions or expressions:

Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 59: ‘What is life? Life—it is the ceaseless rejection from itself of something wishing to die. Life—it is the being cruel and pitiless towards all in us that is weak and old, and not in us alone.’

Persons capable of thought have hitherto always believed that life is the unceasing reception into itself of something agreeable; the rejection of what is used up is only an accompanying phenomenon of the reception of new material. Nietzsche’s phrase expresses in a highly mysterious Pythian form the idea of the matutinal visit to a certain place. Healthy men connect with the conception of life the idea rather of the dining-room than that of the privy.

Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 92: ‘It is a delicacy that God learned Greek when He wished to become an author—and that He did not learn it better.’ P. 95: ‘Advice in the form of an enigma. If the cord is not to snap ... thou must first bite on it.’

I have no explanation or interpretation of this profundity to offer.

The passages quoted will have given the reader an idea of Nietzsche’s literary style. In the dozen volumes, thick or thin, which he has published it is always the same. His books bear various titles, for the most part characteristically crack-brained, but they all amount to one single book. They can be changed by mistake in reading, and the fact will not be noticed. They are a succession of disconnected sallies, prose and doggerel mixed, without beginning or ending. Rarely is a thought developed to any extent; rarely are a few consecutive pages connected by any unity of purpose or logical argument.[420] Nietzsche evidently had the habit of throwing on paper with feverish haste all that passed through his head, and when he had collected a heap of snippings he sent them to the printer, and there was a book. These sweepings of ideas he himself proudly terms ‘aphorisms,’ and the very incoherence of his language is regarded by his admirers as a special merit.[372] When Nietzsche’s moral system is spoken of, it must not be imagined that he has anywhere developed one. Through all his books, from the first to the last, there are scattered only views on moral problems, and on the relation of man to the species and to the universe, from which, taken together, there may be discerned something like a fundamental conception. This is what has been called Nietzsche’s philosophy. His disciples, e.g., Kaatz, already cited, and, in addition, Zerbst,[373] Schellwien,[374] and others, have attempted to give this pretended philosophy a certain form and unity by fishing out from Nietzsche’s books a number of passages in some measure agreeing with each other, and placing them in juxtaposition. It is true that it would be possible in this way to set up a philosophy of Nietzsche exactly opposed to the one accepted by his disciples. For, as has been said, each one of Nietzsche’s assertions is contradicted by himself in some place or other, and if it be resolved, with barefaced dishonesty, to pay regard to dicta of a definite kind only, and to pass over those in opposition to them, it would be possible at pleasure to extract from Nietzsche a philosophical view or its sheer opposite.

Nietzsche’s doctrine, promulgated as orthodox by his disciples, criticises the foundations of ethics, investigates the[421] genesis of the concept of good and evil, examines the value of that which is called virtue and vice, both for the individual and for society, explains the origin of conscience, and seeks to give an idea of the end of the evolution of the race, and, consequently, of man’s ideal—the ‘over man’ (Uebermensch). I desire to condense these doctrines as closely as possible, and, for the most part, in Nietzsche’s own words, but without the cackle of his mazy digressions or useless phrases.

The morality now prevailing ‘gilds, deifies, transports beyond the tomb, the non-egoistical instincts of compassion, self-denial, and self-sacrifice.’ But this morality of compassion ‘is humanity’s great danger, the beginning of the end, the halting, the backward-glancing fatigue of the will, turning against life.’ ‘We need a criticism of moral values. The value of these values is first of all itself to be put in question. There has hitherto been no hesitation in setting up good as of higher value than evil, of higher value in the sense of advancement, utility, prosperity, as regards man in general, including the future of man. What if truth lay in the contrary? What if good were a symptom of retrogression, a danger, a seduction, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present should live at the cost of the future? Perhaps more comfortably, less dangerously, but also on a smaller scale, more basely? So that precisely morality would be to blame for the fact that the highest might and splendour possible to the human type should never be attained? So that morality should be precisely the danger of dangers?’

Nietzsche replies to these questions thrown out by him in the preface to the book Zur Genealogie der Moral, in developing his idea of the genesis of present morality.

He sees at the beginnings of civilization ‘a beast of prey, a magnificent blond brute, ranging about and lusting for booty and victory.’ These ‘unchained beasts of prey were free from every social restraint; in the innocence of their wild-beast conscience they returned as exultant monsters from a horrible train of murder, incendiarism, rapine, torture, with an arrogance and composure as if nothing but a student’s freak had been perpetrated.’ The blond beasts constituted the noble races. They fell upon the less noble races, conquered them, and made slaves of them. ‘A herd of blond beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and masters, with military organization’ (this word ‘organization’ should be noticed; we shall have to revert to it), ‘with the power to organize, unscrupulously placing their fearful paws upon a population perhaps vastly superior in numbers, but still amorphous and wandering—this herd founded the State. The dream is dispelled which made the State begin with a contract. What has he to do with contracts, who can[422] command, who is master by nature, who comes on the scene with violence in deed and demeanour?’

In the State, then, thus established there were a race of masters and a race of slaves. The master-race first created moral ideas. It distinguished between good and evil. Good was with it synonymous with noble; evil with vulgar. All their own qualities they felt as good; those of the subject race as evil. Good meant severity, cruelty, pride, courage, contempt of danger, joy in risk, extreme unscrupulousness. Bad meant ‘the coward, the nervous, the mean, the narrow utilitarian, and also the distrustful with his disingenuous glance, the self-abasing, the human hound who allows himself to be abused, the begging flatterer—above all, the liar.’ Such is the morality of the masters. The radical meaning of the words now expressing the concept ‘good’ reveals what men represented to themselves as ‘good’ when the moral of the masters still held sway. ‘The Latin bonus I believe I may venture to interpret as “the warrior.” Provided I rightly trace bonus to a more ancient duonus (compare bellum, duellum, duen-lum, in which it seems to me that duonus is contained). Bonus, then, as a man of discord, of disunion (duo), as warrior: whereby it is seen what in ancient Rome constituted the “goodness” of a man.’

The subjugated race had naturally an opposing morality—the morality of the slaves. ‘The slave looks with envy on the virtues of the powerful; he is sceptical and distrustful; he has the cunning of distrust towards everything honoured by them as “good.” Conversely, those qualities were distinguished and glorified which served to ameliorate the existence of sufferers. Here the place of honour is given to compassion, to the complaisant hand ready to help, to the warm heart, to patience, diligence, humility, friendliness, for those are here the most useful qualities, and almost the only means by which the burden of existence can be borne. Slave-morality is essentially utilitarian morality.’

For a certain period the morality of masters and slaves subsisted side by side, or, more accurately, the one above the other. Then an extraordinary event occurred—slave-morality rebelled against master-morality, conquered and dethroned it, and set itself in the place thereof. Then ensued a new valuation of all moral concepts. (In his insane gibberish Nietzsche names this ‘transvaluation of values’—Umwerthung der Werthe.) That which, under the master-morals, had passed for good was now esteemed bad, and vice versâ. Weakness was meritorious, cruelty a crime; self-sacrifice, pity for the pain of others, unselfishness, were virtues. That is what Nietzsche terms ‘the slave revolt in morality.’ ‘The Jews[423] have brought about that marvel of inversion in values. Their prophets have melted into one substance “rich,” “godless,” “wicked,” “violent,” “sensual,” and for the first time minted the word “world” as one of opprobrium. In this inversion of values (to which belongs the use of the word “poor” as a synonym of “holy” and “friend”) lies the importance of the Jewish race.’

The Jewish ‘slave-revolt in morality’ was an act of vengeance on the master-race which had long oppressed the Jews, and the instrument of this vast vengeance was the Saviour. ‘Has not Israel, by the very subterfuge of this “Redeemer,” this seeming adversary and destroyer of Israel, attained the final goal of its sublime rage for vengeance? Does it not belong to the secret black art of a truly grand policy of vengeance, of a far-seeing, underground, slowly-gripping, foreplanning vengeance, that Israel itself should deny the proper instrument of its vengeance before the whole world, as something deadly inimical, and nail him to the cross, in order that the “entire universe,” viz., the enemies of Israel, might unhesitatingly bite at this very bait? And on the other hand, would it be possible, by all the refinement of intellect, to imagine a more dangerous bait? Something that should resemble in enticing, intoxicating, bewildering, corrupting power that symbol of the “holy cross,” that awful paradox of a “God on the cross,” that mystery of an ineffable final and utmost cruelty, and self-crucifixion of God for the salvation of man? It is at least certain that sub hoc signo Israel, with its vengeance and transvaluation of all values, has hitherto triumphed again and again over all other ideals, over all nobler ideals.’

To this passage I would most specially direct the reader’s attention, and beg him to transform into mental images all that jingle and clatter of words. Well, then, Israel wished to revenge itself on all the world, and therefore decided to nail the Saviour to the cross, and thereby create a new morality. Who was this Israel which conceived and executed the plan? Was it a parliament, a ministry, a ruler, a popular assembly? Was the plan, before ‘Israel’ set about realizing it, submitted for general deliberation and resolution? Before the total insanity of this string of words can be distinctly seen, an effort must be made to bring clearly to the mind, in all its actual details, the event described by Nietzsche as premeditated, intended, and of conscious purpose.

Since the Jewish slave-revolt in morality, life, till then a delight, at least for the powerful and bold, or the nobles and masters, has become a torment. Since that revolt the unnatural holds sway, under which man is becoming dwarfed,[424] enfeebled, vulgarized, and gradually degenerate. For the fundamental instinct of the healthy man is not unselfishness and pity, but selfishness and cruelty. ‘No injury, violence, exploitation, annihilation, can in itself be a “wrong,” inasmuch as life operates essentially—i.e., in its fundamental functions—by injuring, violating, exploiting, annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without this character. A legal regulation ... would be a principle hostile to existence, a destroyer and dissolver of man, a mark of lassitude, a crime against the future of man, a secret way to nothingness.’ ‘There is at present universal enthusiasm, even in scientific disguises, concerning coming conditions of society in which the exploiting character is to disappear. That sounds in my ears as if someone should promise to invent a life which should abstain from all organic functions. Exploitation does not belong to a decayed, imperfect, or primitive society: it belongs to the essence of living things, as organic function.’[375]

Thus the fundamental instinct of man is cruelty. For this, in the new slave-morality, there is no place. A fundamental instinct, however, is not to be uprooted. It still lives and demands its rights. Hence a series of diversions have been sought for it. ‘All instincts, not discharged outwardly, turn inwards. Those terrible bulwarks with which political organization protected itself against the ancient instincts of freedom—and punishments belong to the front line of these bulwarks—had for their result, that all those instincts of the savage roaming at large were turned backwards and against man. Animosity, cruelty, the joy of pursuit, of sudden assault, of change, of destruction—all that turns itself against the possessors of such instincts is the origin of a “bad conscience.” The man who, from the absence of external foes and opposition, forced into the oppressive constriction and regularity of custom,[425] impatiently tore himself, persecuted, gnawed, hunted, maltreated himself—this animal which it is sought to “tame,” wounding himself against the bars of his cage; this destitute creature, consumed with homesickness for the desert, who had to create his adventures, his places of torture, his insecure and dangerous wildernesses, out of his own self—this fool, this yearning, despairing prisoner, became the inventor of the evil conscience.’ ‘That inclination to self-torture, that retreating cruelty, of the human brute, forced into inner life, scared back into himself, he who had invented evil conscience that he might torture himself, after the natural outlet of this wish to inflict pain was stopped up,’ formed also the concept of guilt and sin. ‘We are the inheritors of the vivisection of conscience and of animal self-torture of thousands of years.’ But all administration of justice, the punishment of ‘so-called’ criminals, the greater part of art, especially tragedy, are also disguises in which primitive cruelty can still manifest itself.

Slave-morality, with its ‘ascetic ideal’ of self-suppression and contempt of life, and its tormenting invention of conscience, allowed the slaves, it is true, to take vengeance on their masters; it also subjugated the mighty man-beasts of prey and created better conditions of existence for the small and weak, for the rabble, the gregarious animals; but it has been pernicious to humanity as a whole, because it has prevented the free evolution of precisely the highest human type. ‘The collective degeneration of man to that which, in the eyes of socialistic ninnies and blockheads of the present day, seems their “man of the future”—their ideal!—this degeneration and dwarfing of man to the perfect herd animal (or, as they say, to the man of “free society”), this brutalizing of man to the animal pigmy of equal rights and pretensions,’ is the destructive work of slave-morality. In order to discipline humanity to supreme splendour we must revert to nature, to the morality of the masters, to the unchaining of cruelty. ‘The well-being of the most and the well-being of the fewest are contrary standpoints of valuation; we will leave it to the simplicity of English biologists to hold that the first as such is undoubtedly of the higher value.’ ‘In opposition to the lying watchword of the privilege of the majority, in opposition to the desire for abasement, humiliation, levelling, for the downward and duskward of man,’ we must sound forth ‘the watchword of the privilege of the minority.’ ‘As a last indicator of the other way appeared Napoleon, man most unique, and latest born of all time, and in him the incarnate problem of the aristocratic ideal as such,—Napoleon, that synthesis of the inhuman and the superhuman (Unmensch und Uebermensch).’

The intellectually free man must stand ‘beyond good and[426] evil’; these concepts do not exist for him; he tests his impulses and deeds by their value for himself, not by that which they have for others, for the herd; he does that which causes him pleasure, even when, and especially when, it torments and injures—nay, annihilates others; for him holds good the secret rule of life of the ancient Assassins of the Lebanon: ‘Nothing is true, all is permissible.’ With this new morality, humanity will finally be able to produce the ‘over-man.’ ‘Thus we find, as the ripest fruit on its tree, the sovereign individual, resembling himself alone, freed again from the morality of custom, the autonomous super-moral individual (for “autonomous” and “moral” are mutually exclusive)—in short, the man of his own, independent, long will.’ In Zarathustra the same thought is expressed dithyrambically: ‘“Man is wicked,” so spake to me in consolation all the wisest. Ah, if only it is yet true to-day! For wickedness is man’s best strength. Man must become better and more wicked, so I teach. The greatest wickedness is necessary to the best of the over-man. It might be good for that preacher of little people that he suffered and bore the sins of man. But I rejoice in great sins as my great consolation.’

This is Nietzsche’s moral philosophy which (disregarding contradictions) is deduced from separate concordant passages in his various books (in particular Menschliches Allzumenschliches, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, and Zur Genealogie der Moral). I will take it for a moment and subject it to criticism, before confronting it with Nietzsche’s own assertions diametrically opposed to it.

Firstly, the anthropological assertion. Man is supposed to have been a freely roaming solitary beast of prey, whose primordial instinct was egoism and the absence of any consideration for his congeners. This assertion contradicts all that we know concerning the beginnings of humanity. The Kjökkenmöddinge, or kitchen-middens, of quaternary man, discovered and investigated by Steenstrup, have in some places a thickness of three metres, and must have been formed by a very numerous horde. The piles of horses’ bones at Solutré are so enormous as quite to preclude the idea that a single hunter, or even any but a very large body of allied hunters, could have collected and killed such a large number of horses in one place. As far as our view penetrates into prehistoric time, every discovery shows us primitive man as a gregarious animal, who could not possibly have maintained himself if he had not possessed the instincts which are presupposed in life in a community, viz., sympathy, the feeling of solidarity and a certain degree of unselfishness. We find these instincts already existent in apes; and if, in those most[427] like human beings, the ourang-outang and gibbon, these instincts fail to appear, it is to many investigators a sufficient proof that these animals are degenerating and dying out. Hence it is not true that at any time man was a ‘solitary, roving brute.’

Now with regard to the historical assertion. At first the morality of masters is supposed to have prevailed, in which every selfish act of violence seemed good, every sort of unselfishness bad. The inverted valuation of deeds and feelings is said to have been the work of a slave-revolt. The Jews are said to have discovered ‘ascetic morality,’ i.e., the ideal of combating all desires, contempt of all pleasures of the flesh, pity, and brotherly love, in order to avenge themselves on their oppressors, the masters—the ‘blond beasts of prey.’ I have shown above, the insanity of this idea of a conscious and purposed act of vengeance on the part of the Jewish people. But is it, then, true that our present morality, with its conceptions of good and evil, is an invention of the Jews, directed against ‘blond beasts,’ an enterprise of slaves against a master-people? The leading doctrines of the present morality, falsely termed Christian, were expressed in Buddhism six hundred years prior to the rise of Christianity. Buddha preached them, himself no slave, but a king’s son, and they were the moral doctrines, not of slaves, not of the oppressed, but of the very masterfolk themselves, of the Brahmans, of the proper Aryans. The following are some of the Buddhist moral doctrines, extracted from the Hindu Dhammapada[376] and from the Chinese Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king:[377] ‘Do not speak harshly to anybody’ (Dhammapada, verse 133). ‘Let us live happily then, not hating those who hate us! Among men who hate us let us dwell free from hatred’ (verse 197). ‘Because he has pity on all living creatures, therefore is a man called Ariya’ (elect) (verse 270). ‘Be not thoughtless, watch your thoughts!’ (verse 327). ‘Good is restraint in all things’ (verse 361). ‘Him I call indeed a Brâhmana who, though he has committed no offence, endures reproach, bonds, and stripes’ (verse 399). ‘Be kind to all that lives’ (Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king, verse 2,024). ‘Conquer your foe by force, you increase his enmity; conquer by love, and you will reap no after-sorrow’ (verse 2,241). Is that a morality of slaves or of masters? Is it a notion of roving beasts of prey, or that of compassionate, unselfish,[428] social human beings? And this notion did not spring up in Palestine, but in India, among the very people of the conquering Aryans, who were ruling a subordinate race; and in China, where at that time no conquering race held another in subjection. Self-sacrifice for others, pity and sympathy, are supposed to be the morality of Jewish slaves. Was the heroic baboon mentioned by Darwin,[378] after Brehm, a Jewish slave in revolt against the masterfolk of blond beasts?

In the ‘blond beast’ Nietzsche evidently is thinking of the ancient Germans of the migratory ages. They have inspired in him the idea of the roving beast of prey, falling upon weaker men for the voluptuous assuaging of their instincts of bloodthirstiness and destruction. This beast of prey never entered into contracts. ‘He who comes on the scene violent in deed and demeanour ... what has he to do with contracts?’[379] Very well; history teaches that the ‘blond beast,’ i.e., the ancient German of the migratory ages, not yet affected by the ‘slave-revolt in morals,’ was a vigorous but peace-loving peasant, who made war not to riot in murder, but to obtain arable land, and who always first sought to conclude peaceful treaties before necessity forced him to have recourse to the sword.[380] And long before intelligence of the ‘ascetic ideal’ of Jewish Christianity reached it, the same ‘blond beast’ developed the conception of feudal fidelity, i.e., the notion that it is most glorious for a man to divest himself of his own ‘I’; to know honour only as the resplendence of another’s honour, of whom one has become the ‘man’; and to sacrifice his life for the chief!


Conscience is supposed to be ‘cruelty introverted.’ As the man to whom it is an irrepressible want to inflict pain, to torture, and to rend, cannot assuage this want on others, he satisfies it on himself.[381]

If this were true, then the respectable, the virtuous man, who had never satisfied the pretended primeval instinct of causing pain by means of a crime against others, would be forced to rage the most violently against himself, and would therefore of necessity have the worst conscience. Conversely, the criminal directing his fundamental instinct outwardly, and hence having no need to seek satisfaction in self-rending, would necessarily live in the most delightful peace with his conscience. Does this agree with observation? Has a righteous man who has not given way to the instinct of cruelty ever been seen to suffer from the stings of conscience? Are these not, on the contrary, to be observed in the very persons who have yielded to their instinct, who have been cruel to others, and hence have attained to that satisfaction of their craving, vouchsafed them, according to Nietzsche, by the evil conscience? Nietzsche says,[382] ‘It is precisely among criminals and offenders that remorse is extremely rare; prisons and reformatories are not the brooding places in which this species of worm loves to thrive,’ and believes that in this remark he has given a proof of his assertion. But by the commission of crime prisoners have shown that in them the instinct of evil is developed in special strength; in the prison they are forcibly prevented from giving way to their instinct; it is, therefore, precisely in them that self-rending through remorse ought to be extraordinarily violent, and yet among them ‘the prick of conscience is extremely rare.’ It is evident that Nietzsche’s idea is nothing but a delirious sally, and not worthy for a moment to be weighed seriously against the explanation of conscience proposed by Darwin, and accepted by all moral philosophers.[383]

Now for the philological argument. Originally, bonus is supposed to have read duonus, and hence signified ‘man of[430] discord, disunion (duo), warrior.’[384] The proof of the ancient form duonus is offered by ‘bellum = duellum = duen-lum.’ Now duen-lum is never met with, but is a free invention of Nietzsche, as is equally duonus. How admirable is this method! He invents a word duonus which does not exist, and bases it on the word duen-lum, which is just as non-existent and equally drawn from imagination. The philology here displayed by Nietzsche is on a level with that which has created the beautiful and convincing series of derivations alopex = lopex = pexpix = pux = fechs = fichs = Fuchs (fox). Nietzsche is uncommonly proud of his discovery, that the conception of Schuld (guilt) is derived from the very narrow and material conception of Schulden (debts).[385] Even if we admit the accuracy of this derivation, what has his theory gained by it? This would only prove that, in the course of time, the crudely material and limited conception had become enlarged, deepened, and spiritualized. To whom has it ever occurred to contest this fact? What dabbler in the history of civilization does not know that conceptions develop themselves? Did love and friendship, as primitively understood, ever convey the idea of the delicate and manifold states of mind now expressed by these words? It is possible that the first guilt of which men were conscious was the duty of restoring a loan. But neither can guilt, in the sense of a material obligation, arise amongst ‘blond brutes,’ or ‘cruel beasts of prey.’ It already presupposes a relation of contract, the recognition of a right of possession, respect for other individuals. It is not possible if there does not exist, on the part of the lender, the disposition to be agreeable to a fellow-creature, and a trust in the readiness of the latter to requite the benefit; and, on the part of the borrower, a voluntary submission to the disagreeable necessity of repayment. And all these feelings are really already morality—a simple, but true, morality—the real ‘slave-morality’ of duty, consideration, sympathy, self-constraint; not the ‘master-morality’ of selfishness, cruel violence, unbounded desires! Even if single words like the German schlecht (schlicht) (bad, plain, or straight) have to-day a meaning the opposite of their original one, this is not to be explained by a fabulous ‘transvaluation of values,’ but, naturally and obviously, by Abel’s theory of the ‘contrary double-meaning of primitive words.’ The same sound originally served to designate the two opposites of the same concept, appearing, in agreement with the law of association, simultaneously in consciousness, and it was only in the later life of language that the word became the exclusive vehicle of one or other of the contrary concepts. This phenomenon[431] has not the remotest connection with a change in the moral valuation of feelings and acts.

Now the biological argument. The prevailing morality is supposed to be admittedly of a character tending to improve the chances of life in gregarious animals, but to be an obstacle to the cultivation of the highest human type, and hence pernicious to humanity as a whole, as it prevents the race from rising to the most perfect culture, and the attainment of its possible ideal. Hence the most perfect human type would, according to Nietzsche, be the ‘magnificent beast of prey,’ the ‘laughing lion,’ able to satisfy all his desires without consideration for good or evil. Observation teaches that this doctrine is rank idiocy. All ‘over-men’ known to history, who gave the reins to their instincts, were either diseased from the outset, or became diseased. Famous criminals—and Nietzsche expressly ranks these among the ‘over-men’[386]—have displayed, almost without exception, the bodily and mental stigmata characterizing them as degenerates, and hence as cripples or atavistic phenomena, not as specimens of the highest evolution and florescence. The Cæsars, whose monstrous selfishness could batten on all humanity, succumbed to madness, which it will hardly be wished to designate as an ideal condition. Nietzsche readily admits that the ‘splendid beast of prey’ is pernicious to the species, that he destroys and ravages; but of what consequence is the species? It exists for the sole purpose of making possible the perfect development of individual ‘over-men,’ and of satisfying their most extravagant needs.[387] But the ‘splendid beast of prey’ is pernicious to itself; it rages against itself, it even annihilates itself, and yet that cannot possibly be a useful result of highly-trained qualities. The biological truth is, that constant self-restraint is a necessity of existence as much for the strongest as for the weakest. It is the activity of the highest human cerebral centres. If these are not exercised they waste away, i.e., man ceases to be man, the pretended ‘over-man’ becomes sub-human—in other words, a beast. By the relaxation or breaking up of the mechanism of inhibition in the brain the organism sinks into irrecoverable anarchy in its constituent[432] parts, and this leads, with absolute certainty, to ruin, to disease, madness and death, even if no resistance results from the external world against the frenzied egoism of the unbridled individual.

What now remains standing of Nietzsche’s entire system? We have recognised it as a collection of crazy and inflated phrases, which it is really impossible seriously to seize, since they possess hardly the solidity of the smoke-rings from a cigar. Nietzsche’s disciples are for ever murmuring about the ‘depth’ of his moral philosophy, and with himself the words ‘deep’ and ‘depth’ are a mental trick repeated so constantly as to be insufferable.[388] If we draw near to this ‘depth’ for the purpose of fathoming it, we can hardly trust our eyes. Nietzsche has not thought out one of his so-called ideas. Not one of his wild assertions is carried a finger’s-breadth beneath the uppermost surface, so that, at least, it might withstand the faintest puff of breath. It is probable that the entire history of philosophy does not record a second instance of a man having the impudence to give out as philosophy, and even as profound philosophy, such railway-bookstall humour and such tea-table wit. Nietzsche sees absolutely nothing of the moral problem, around which, nevertheless, he has poured out ten volumes of talk. Rationally treated, this problem can only run thus: Can human actions be divided into good and evil? Why should some be good, the others evil? What is to constrain men to perform the good and refrain from the evil?

Nietzsche would seem to deny the legitimacy of a classification of actions from moral standpoints. ‘Nothing is true, all is permissible.’[389] There is no good and no evil. It is a superstition[433] and hereditary prejudice to cling to these artificial notions. He himself stands ‘beyond good and evil,’ and he invites the ‘free spirits’ and ‘good Europeans’ to follow him to this standpoint. And thereupon this ‘free spirit,’ standing ‘beyond good and evil,’ speaks with the greatest candour of the ‘aristocratic virtues,’[390] and of the ‘morality of the masters.’ Are there, then, virtues? Is there, then, a morality, even if it be opposed to the prevailing one? How is that compatible with the negation of all morality? Are men’s actions, therefore, not of equal value? Is it possible in these to distinguish good and evil? Does Nietzsche, therefore, undertake to classify them, designating some as virtues—‘aristocratic virtues’—others as ‘slave actions,’ bad for the ‘masters, the commanders,’ and hence wicked; how, then, can he still affirm that he stands ‘beyond good and evil’? He stands, in fact, mid-way between good and evil, only he indulges in the foolish jest of calling that evil which we call good, and vice-versâ—an intellectual performance of which every naughty and mischievous child of four is certainly capable.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:28 am

Part 2 of 3

This first and astounding non-comprehension of his own standpoint is already a good example of his ‘depth.’ But further. As the chief proof of the non-existence of morality, he adduces what he calls the ‘transvaluation of values.’ At one time good is said to have been that which is now esteemed evil, and conversely. We have seen that this idea is delirious, and expressed in a delirious way.[391] But let it be granted that Nietzsche is right; we will for once enter into the folly and accept the ‘revolt of slaves in morality’ as a fact. What has his fundamental idea gained by this? A ‘transvaluation of values’ would prove nothing against the existence of a morality, for it leaves the concept of value itself absolutely intact. These, then, are values; but now this, now that, species of action acquires the rank of value. No historian of civilization denies the fact that the notions concerning what is moral or immoral have changed in the course of history, that they continually[434] change, that they will change in the future. The recognition of this has become a commonplace. If Nietzsche assumes this to be a discovery of his own, he deserves to be decked with a fool’s cap by the assistant teacher of a village school. But how can the evolution, the transformation, of moral concepts in any way contradict the fundamental fact of the existence of moral concepts? Not only does this transformation not contradict these, but it confirms them! They are the necessary premise of this transformation! A modification of moral concepts is evidently possible only if there are moral concepts; but this is exactly the problem—‘are there moral concepts?’ In spite of all his spouting about the ‘transvaluation of values’ and the ‘revolt of slaves in morality,’ Nietzsche never approaches this primary and all-important question.

He contemptuously reproaches slave-morality as being a utilitarian morality,[392] and he ignores the fact that he extols his ‘noble virtues,’ constituting the ‘morality of masters,’ only because they are advantageous for the individual, for the ‘over-man.’[393] Are, then, ‘advantageous’ and ‘useful’ not exactly synonymous? Is, therefore, master-morality not every whit as utilitarian as slave-morality? And the ‘deep’ Nietzsche does not see this! And he ridicules English moralists because they have invented the ‘morality of utilitarianism.’[394]

He believes he has unearthed something deeply hidden, not yet descried by human eye, when he announces,[395] ‘What is there that is not called love? Covetousness and love—what different feelings do we experience at each of these words! And yet it might be the same instinct.... Our love for our neighbours—is it not an ardent desire for a possession?... When we see anyone suffering, we willingly utilize the opportunity [435]‘ proferred us to take possession of him; the pitying and charitable man, for example, does this; he also calls by the name “love” the desire for a new possession awakened in him, and takes pleasure in it, as he would in a fresh conquest which beckons him on.’ Is it any longer necessary to criticise these silly superficialities? Every act, even seemingly the most disinterested, is admittedly egoistic in a certain sense, viz., that the doer promises himself a benefit from it, and experiences a feeling of pleasure from the anticipation of the expected benefit. Who has ever denied this? Is it not expressly emphasized by all modern moralists?[396] Is it not implied in the accepted definition of morality, as a knowledge of what is useful? But Nietzsche has not even an inkling of the essence of the subject. To him egoism is a feeling having for its content that which is useful to a being, whom he pictures to himself as isolated in the world, separated from the species, even hostile to it. To the moralist, the egoism which Nietzsche believes himself to have discovered at the base of all unselfishness, is the knowledge of what is useful not alone to the individual, but to the species as well; to the moralist, the creator of the knowledge of the useful is not the individual, but the whole species; to the moralist also egoism is morality, but it is a collective egoism of the species, an egoism of humanity in face of the non-human co-habitants of the earth, and in the face of Nature. The man whom the healthy-minded moralist has before his eyes is one who has attained a sufficiently high development to extricate himself from the illusion of his individual isolation, and to participate in the existence of the species, to feel himself one of its members, to picture to himself the states of his fellow-creatures—i.e., to be able to sympathize with them. This man Nietzsche calls a herd animal—a term which he has found used by all Darwinist writers, but which he seems to regard as his own invention. He endows the word with a meaning of contempt. The truth is that this herding animal—i.e., man, whose ‘I’ consciousness has expanded itself to the capacity of receiving the consciousness of the species—represents the higher development, to which mental cripples and degenerates, for ever enclosed in their diseased isolation, cannot ascend.

Quite as ‘deep’ as his discovery of the egoism of all unselfishness is Nietzsche’s harangue ‘to the teachers of unselfishness.’[397] The virtues of a man are called good, not in respect of their effects upon himself, but in respect of the effects which we suppose them to have upon ourselves and society. ‘The virtues (such as diligence, obedience, chastity, piety, justice), are for the most part pernicious to their possessors.’ ‘Praise of the virtues is praise of something pernicious to the individual—the praise of instincts which deprive a man of his noblest egoism, and of the power of the highest self-protection.’ ‘Education ... seeks to determine the individual to modes of thought and conduct which, if they have become habit, instinct, and passion, rule in him and over him, against his ultimate advantage, but “for the general good.”’ This is the old silly objection against altruism which we have seen floating in every gutter for the last sixty years. ‘If everyone were to act unselfishly, to sacrifice himself for his neighbour, the result would be that everyone would injure himself, and hence humanity, as a whole, would suffer great prejudice.’ Assuredly it would, if humanity were composed of isolated individuals in no communication with each other. Whereas it is an organism; each individual always gives to the higher organism only the surplus of his effective force, and in his personal share of the collective wealth profits by the prosperity of the whole organism, which he has increased through his altruistic sacrifice. What would probably be said to the canny householder who should argue in this way against fire insurance: ‘Most houses do not burn down. The house-owner who insures himself against fire pays premiums his life long, and as his house will probably never burn down, he has thrown away his money to no purpose. Fire insurance is consequently injurious.’ The objection against altruism, that it injures each individual by imposing on him sacrifices for others, is of exactly the same force.

We have had quite enough tests of the ‘depth’ of Nietzsche and his system. I now wish to point out some of his most diverting contradictions. His disciples do not deny these, but seek to palliate them. Thus Kaatz says: ‘He had experienced a change in his own views concerning so many things, that he warned men against the rigid principle which would pass off dishonesty to self as “character.” In view of the shifting of opinions as evidenced in Nietzsche’s works, it is, of course, only that theory of life to which Nietzsche ultimately wrestled his way that can be taken[437] into consideration for the purposes of this book.’[398] This is, however, a conscious and intended falsification of the facts, and the hand of the falsifier ought, like that of the cheater at cards, to be forthwith nailed to the table. The fact is that the contradictions are to be found, not in works of different periods, but in the same book, often on the same page. They are not degrees of knowledge, of which the higher naturally surpass the lower, but opposing, mutually incompatible opinions co-existing in Nietzsche’s consciousness, which his judgment is neither capable of reconciling, nor among which it can suppress either term.

In Also sprach Zarathustra, pt. iii., p. 29, we read: ‘Always love your neighbour as yourself, but first be of those who love themselves.’ p. 56: ‘And at that time it happened also ... that his word praised selfishness as blessed, hale, healthy selfishness, which wells forth from the mighty soul.’ And p. 60: ‘One must learn to love one’s self—thus I teach—with a hale and healthy love, so that one bear with one’s self, and not rove about.’ In opposition to this, in the same book, pt. i., p. 108: ‘The degenerating sense which says, “All for me,” is to us a horror.’ Is this contradiction explained by an ‘effort to wrestle his way to an ultimate theory of life’? The contrary assertions are in the same book a few pages apart.

Another example. Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 264: ‘The absence of personality avenges itself everywhere; an enfeebled, thin, effaced personality, denying and calumniating itself, is worthless for any further good thing, most of all for philosophy.’ And only four pages further in the same book, p. 268: ‘Have we not been seized with ... the suspicion of a contrast—a contrast between the world—in which, hitherto, we were at home with our venerations ... and of another world, which is ourselves ... a suspicion which might place us Europeans ... before the frightful alternative, Either—Or: “either do away with your venerations or yourselves.”’ Here, therefore, he denies, or, at least, doubts, his personality, even if in an interrogative form; on which the reader need not dwell, since Nietzsche ‘loves to mask his thoughts, or to express them hypothetically; and to conclude the problems he raises by an interrupted phrase or a mark of interrogation.’[399]

But he denies his personality, his ‘I,’ still more decidedly. In the preface to Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 6, he explains that the foundation of all philosophies up to the present time has been ‘some popular superstition,’ such as ‘the superstition[438] of the soul, which, as a superstition of the subjective and the ‘I,’ as not ceased, even in our days, to cause mischief.’ And in the same book, p. 139, he exclaims: ‘Who has not already been sated to the point of death with all subjectivity and his own accursed ipsissimosity!’ Hence the ‘I’ is a superstition! Sated to the point of death with ‘subjectivity’! And yet the ‘I’ should be ‘proclaimed as holy.’[400] And yet the ‘ripest fruit of society and morality is the sovereign individual, who resembles himself alone.’[401] And yet ‘a personality which denies itself is no longer good for anything’!

The negation of the ‘I,’ the designation of it as a superstition, is the more extraordinary, as Nietzsche’s whole philosophy—if one may call his effusions by that name—is based only on the ‘Ego,’ recognising it as alone justifiable, or even as alone existing.

In all Nietzsche’s works we shall, it is true, find no more subversive contradiction than this; but a few other examples will show to what extent he holds mutually-destructive opposites in his mind in uncompromising juxtaposition.

We have seen that his last piece of wisdom is: ‘Nothing is true; all is permissible.’ At bottom all those ethics are repugnant to me which say: ‘Do not do this! Renounce! Overcome self!’ ‘Self-command!’ Those ethical teachers who ... enjoin man to place himself in his own power induce thereby in him a peculiar disease.[402] And now let the following sentences be weighed: ‘Through auspicious marriage customs there is a continual increase in the power and pleasure of willing, in the will to command self.’ ‘Asceticism and puritanism are almost indispensable means of education and ennoblement, if a race desires to triumph over its plebeian origin, and raise itself at some time to sovereignty.’ ‘The essential and priceless feature of every morality is that it is a long constraint.’[403]

The characteristic of the over-human is his wish to stand alone, to seek solitude, to flee from the society of the gregarious. ‘He should be the greatest who can be the most solitary.’ ‘The lofty independent spirituality—the will to stand alone.... (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, pp. 154, 123.) ‘The strong are constrained by their nature to segregate, as much as the feeble are by theirs to aggregate’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 149). In opposition to this he teaches[439] in other places: ‘During the longest interval in the life of humanity there was nothing more terrible than to feel one’s self alone’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 147). Again: ‘We at present sometimes undervalue the advantages of life in a community’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 59). We? That is a calumny. We value these advantages at their full worth. He alone does not value them who, in expressions of admiration, vaunts ‘segregation,’ i.e., hostility to the community and contempt of its advantages, as characterizing the strong.

At one time the primitive aristocratic man is the freely-roving, splendid beast of prey, the blond beast; at another: ‘these men are rigorously kept within bounds by morality, veneration, custom, gratitude, still more by reciprocal surveillance, by jealousy inter pares; and, on the other hand, in their attitude towards each other, inventive in consideration, self-command, delicacy, fidelity, pride, and friendship.’ Ay, if these be the attributes of ‘blond beasts,’ may someone speedily give us a society of ‘blond beasts’! But how does ‘morality, veneration, self-command,’ etc., accord with the ‘free-roving’ of the splendid beast of prey? That remains an unsolved enigma. It is true that Nietzsche, while making our mouths water by his description, adds to it this limitation: ‘Towards what lies beyond, where the stranger, and what is strange, begins, they are not much better than beasts of prey set free’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 21). But this is in reality no limitation. Every organized community regards itself, in respect of the rest of the world, as a conjoint unity, and does not accord to the foreigner, the man from without, the same rights as to a member of its own body. Rights, custom, consideration, are not extended to the stranger, unless he knows how to inspire fear and to compel a recognition of his rights. The progress in civilization, however, consists in the very fact that the boundaries of the community are continually enlarged, that which is strange and without rights or claim to consideration being constantly made to recede further and ever further. At first there existed in the horde reciprocal forbearance and right alone; then the feeling of solidarity extended itself to the tribe, the country, state, and race. At the present day there is an international law even in war; the best among contemporaries feel themselves one with all men, nay, no longer hold even the animal to be without rights; and the time will come when the forces of Nature will be the sole strange and external things which may be treated according to man’s need and pleasure, and in regard to which he may be the ‘freed beast of prey.’ The ‘deep’ Nietzsche is not capable, it is true, of comprehending a state of the case so simple and clear.

At one moment he makes merry over the ‘naïveté’ of those[440] who believe in an original social contract (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 80), and then says (in the same book, p. 149): ‘If they’ (the strong, the born masters, the ‘species of solitary beasts of prey’) ‘unite, it is only with a view to a collective act of aggression, a collective satisfaction of their volition to exert their power, with much resistance from the individual conscience.’ With resistance or without, does not a ‘union for the purpose of a collective satisfaction’ amount to a relation of contract, the acceptation of which Nietzsche with justice terms ‘a naïveté’?

At one time ‘agony is something which inspires pity’ (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 136), and a ‘succession of crimes is horrible’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 21); and then, again, the ‘beauty’ of crime is spoken of (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 91), and complaint is made that ‘crime is calumniated’ (the same book, p. 123).

Examples enough have been given. I do not wish to lose myself in minutiæ and details, but I believe that I have demonstrated Nietzsche’s own contradiction of every single one of his fundamental assertions, most emphatically of the foremost and most important, viz., that the ‘I’ is the one real thing, that egoism alone is necessitated and justifiable.

If the conceits which he wildly ejaculates—as it were, shrieks forth—are examined somewhat more closely, we cannot but marvel at the profusion of fabulous stupidity and abecedarian ignorance they contain. It is thus he terms the system of Copernicus (Jenseits von Gut und Böse), ‘which has persuaded us, against all the senses, that the earth is not immovable,’ ‘the greatest triumph over the senses hitherto achieved on earth.’ Hence he does not suspect that the system of Copernicus has for its basis exact observation of the starry heavens, the movements of the moon and planets, and the position of the sun in the zodiac; that this system was, therefore, the triumph of exact sense-perceptions over sense-illusions—in other words, of attentiveness over fugacity and distraction. He believes that ‘consciousness developed itself under the pressure of the need of communication,’ for ‘conscious thought eventuates in words, i.e., in signs of communication, by which fact the origin of consciousness itself is revealed’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 280). He does not know, then, that animals without the power of speech also have a consciousness; that it is possible also to think in images, in representations of movement, without the help of a word, and that speech is not added to consciousness until very late in the course of development. The drollest thing is that Nietzsche very much fancies himself as a psychologist, and wishes most particularly to be esteemed as such! According to this profound man, socialism has its roots in the fact that ‘hitherto manufacturers and[441] entrepreneurs lack those forms and signs of distinction of the higher races which alone make persons interesting; if they had in look and gesture the distinction of those born noble, there would, perhaps, be no socialism of the masses [!!]. For the latter are at bottom ready for slavery of every kind, on the condition that the higher class constantly legitimizes itself as higher, as born to command, by outward distinction’ [!!] (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 68). The concept ‘thou oughtest,’ the idea of duty, of the necessity of a definite measure of self-command, is a consequence of the fact that ‘at all times since men have existed, human herds have also existed, and always a very large number of those who obey relatively to the small number of those who command (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 118). Anyone less incapable of thought than Nietzsche will understand that, on the contrary, human herds, those obeying and those commanding, were possible at all, only after and because the brain had acquired the power and capacity to elaborate the idea, ‘thou oughtest,’ i.e., to inhibit an impulse by a thought or a judgment. The descendant of mixed races ‘will on the average be a weaker being’ (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 120); indeed, the ‘European Weltschmerz, the pessimism of the nineteenth century, is essentially the consequence of a sudden and irrational mixture of classes’; social classes, however, always ‘express differences of origin and of race as well’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 142). The most competent investigators are convinced, as we well know, that the crossing of one race with another is conducive to the progress of both, and is ‘the first cause of development.’[404] ‘Darwinism, with its incomprehensibly one-sided theory of the struggle for existence,’ is explained by Darwin’s origin. His ancestors were ‘poor and humble persons who were only too familiar with the difficulty of making both ends meet. Around the whole of English Darwinism there floats, as it were, the mephitic vapour of English over-population, the odour of humble life, of pinched and straitened circumstances’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 273). It is presumably known to all my readers that Darwin was a rich man, and was never compelled to follow any profession, and that, for at least three or four generations, his ancestors had lived in comfort.

Nietzsche lays special claim to extraordinary originality. He places this epigraph at the beginning of his Fröhliche Wissenschaft:

‘I live in a house that’s my own,
I’ve never in nought copied no one,
And at every Master I’ve had my laugh,
Who had not first laughed at himself.’

His disciples believe in this brag, and, with upturned eyes, bleat it after him in sheep-like chorus. The profound ignorance of this flock of ruminants permits them, forsooth, to believe in Nietzsche’s originality. As they have never learnt, read, or thought about, anything, all that they pick up in bars, or in their loafings, is naturally new and hitherto non-existent. Anyone, however, who regards Nietzsche relatively to analogous phenomena of the age, will recognise that his pretended originalities and temerities are the greasiest commonplaces, such as a decent self-respecting thinker would not touch with a pair of tongs.

Whenever he rants, Nietzsche is no doubt really original. On such occasions his expressions contain no sense at all, not even nonsense; hence it is impossible to unite them with anything previously thought or said. When, on the contrary, there is a shimmer of reason in his words, we at once recognise them as having their origin in the paradoxes or platitudes of others. Nietzsche’s ‘individualism’ is an exact reproduction of Max Stirner, a crazy Hegelian, who fifty years ago exaggerated and involuntarily turned into ridicule the critical idealism of his master to the extent of monstrously inflating the importance—even the grossly empirical importance—of the ‘I’; whom, even in his own day, no one took seriously, and who since then had fallen into well-merited profound oblivion, from which at the present time a few anarchists and philosophical ‘fops’—for the hysteria of the time has created such beings—seek to disinter him.[405] Where Nietzsche extols the ‘I,’ its rights, its claims, the necessity of cultivating and developing it, the reader who has in mind the preceding chapters of this book will recognise the phrases of Barrès, Wilde, and Ibsen. His philosophy of will is appropriated from Schopenhauer, who throughout has directed his thought and given colour to his language. The complete similarity of his phrases concerning will with Schopenhauer’s theory has evidently penetrated to his own consciousness and made him uncomfortable; for, in order to obliterate it, he has placed a false nose of his own invention on the cast he has made, viz., he contests the fact that the motive force in every being is the desire for self-preservation; in his view it is rather the desire for power. This addition is pure child’s play. In the lower orders of living beings it is never a ‘desire for power,’ but always only a desire for self-preservation, that is perceptible; and among men this seeming ‘desire for power’ can, by anyone[443] but the ‘deep’ Nietzsche, be traced to two well-known roots—either to the effort to make all organs act to the limit of their functional capacity, which is connected with feelings of pleasure, or to procure for themselves advantages ameliorative of the conditions of existence. But the effort towards feelings of pleasure and better conditions of existence is nothing but a form of the phenomenon of the desire for existence, and he who regards the ‘desire for power’ as anything different from, and even opposed to, the desire for existence, simply gives evidence of his incapacity to pursue this idea of the desire for existence any distance beyond the length of his nose. Nietzsche’s chief proof of the difference between the desire for power and the desire for existence is that the former often drives the desirer to the contemning and endangering, even to the destruction, of his own life. But in that case the whole struggle for existence, in which dangers are continually incurred, and for that matter are often enough sought, would also be a proof that the struggler did not desire his existence! Nietzsche would, indeed, be quite capable of asserting this also.

The degenerates with whom we have become acquainted affirm that they do not trouble themselves concerning Nature and its laws. Nietzsche is not so far advanced in self-sufficiency as Rossetti, to whom it was a matter of indifference whether the earth revolved around the sun or the sun around the earth. He openly avows that this is not a matter of indifference to him; he regrets it; it troubles him, that the earth is no longer the central point of the universe, and be the chief thing on the earth. ‘Since Copernicus, man seems to have fallen upon an inclined plane; he is now rolling ever faster away from the central point—whither?—into the nothing? into the piercing feeling of his nothingness?’ He is very angry with Copernicus concerning this. Not only with Copernicus, but with science in general. ‘All science is at present busied in talking man out of the self-respect he has hitherto possessed, just as if this had been nothing but a bizarre self-conceit’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 173). Is this not an echo of the words of Oscar Wilde, who complains that Nature ‘is so indifferent’ to him, ‘so unappreciative,’ and that he ‘is no more to Nature than the cattle that browse on the slope’?

In other places, again, we find the current of thought and almost the very words of Oscar Wilde, Huysmans, and other Diabolists and Decadents. The passage in Zur Genealogie der Moral (p. 171) in which he glorifies art, because ‘in it the lie sanctifies itself, and the will to deceive has a quiet conscience on its side,’ might be in the chapter in Wilde’s Intentions on ‘The Decay of Lying,’ as, conversely, Wilde’s aphorisms:[444] ‘There is no sin except stupidity.’ ‘An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.’ And his praises of Wainwright, the poisoner, are in exact agreement with Nietzsche’s ‘morality of assassins,’ and the latter’s remarks that crime is calumniated, and that the defender of the criminal is ‘oftenest not artist enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the crime to the advantage of the doer.’ Again, by way of joke, compare these passages: ‘It is necessary to get rid of the bad taste of wishing to agree with many. Good is no longer good when a neighbour says it’s good’ (Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 54), and ‘Ah! don’t say that you agree with me. When people agree with me, I always feel that I must be wrong’ (Oscar Wilde, Intentions, p. 202). This is more than a resemblance, is it not? To avoid being too diffuse, I abstain from citing passages exactly resembling these from Huysmans’ A Rebours, and from Ibsen. At the same time it is unquestionable that Nietzsche could not have known the French Decadents and English Æsthetes whom he so frequently approaches, because his books are in part antecedent to those of the latter; and neither could they have drawn from him, because, perhaps with the exception of Ibsen, it is only about two years since they could have heard as much as Nietzsche’s name. The similarity, or rather identity, is not explained by plagiarism; it is explained by the identity of mental qualities in Nietzsche and the other ego-maniacal degenerates.

Nietzsche presents a specially droll aspect when he confronts truth, in order to declare it unnecessary, or even to deny its existence. ‘Why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Or even ignorance?’ (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 3). ‘What, after all, are the truths of man? They are the irrefutable errors of man’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 193). ‘The will for truth—that might be a hidden will for death’ (Ibid., p. 263). The section of this book in which he deals with the question of truth is entitled by him, ‘We the Fearless,’ and he prefixes to it, as a motto, Turenne’s utterance: ‘Thou tremblest, carcass? Thou wouldst tremble much more if thou knewest whither I shall soon lead thee!’ And what is this terrible danger into which the fearless one runs with such heroic mien? The investigation of the essence and value of truth. But this investigation is really the A B C of all serious philosophy! The question as to whether objective truth exists at all has been also drawn up by him,[406] it is true with less blowing of trumpets, beating of drums, and shaking of locks, as its prologue, accompaniment, and conclusion. It is, moreover, highly characteristic that the same dragon-slayer who, with[445] such swaggering and snorting takes up the challenge against ‘truth,’ finds submissive words of most humble apology when he ventures very gently to doubt the perfection of Goethe in all his pieces. Speaking of the ‘viscosity’ and ‘tediousness’ of the German style, he says (Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 39): ‘I may be pardoned for affirming that even Goethe’s prose, with its mixture of stiffness and grace, is no exception.’ When he timidly criticises Goethe, he begs pardon; his heroic attitude of contempt for death is assumed only when he challenges morality and truth to combat. That is to say, this ‘fearless one’ possesses the cunning often observed among the insane, and comprehends that there is absolutely no danger in his babbling before the imbeciles composing his congregation, that fabulous philosophical nonsense, at which, on the contrary, they would be much enraged the instant it shocked their æsthetic convictions or prejudices.

Even in the minutest details it is surprising how Nietzsche agrees, word for word, with the other ego-maniacs with whom we have become acquainted. Compare, for example, the phrase in Jenseits von Gut und Böse, p. 168, where he vaunts, ‘What is really noble in works and in men, their moment of smooth sea and halcyon self-sufficiency, the golden and the cool,’ with Baudelaire’s praise of immobility and his enraptured description of a metallic landscape; or the remarks of Des Esseintes, and the side-thrusts at the press put by Ibsen into the mouths of his characters, with the insults continually heaped on newspapers by Nietzsche. ‘Great ascetic spirits have an abhorrence of bustle, veneration, newspaper’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 113). The cause of ‘the undeniably gradual and already tangible desolation of the German mind’ lies in being ‘all too exclusively nourished on newspapers, politics, beer, and Wagnerian music’ (Ibid., p. 177). ‘Behold these superfluities!... They vomit their bile, and name it a newspaper’ (Also sprach Zarathustra, pt. i., p. 67). ‘Dost thou not see the souls hanging like limp dirty rags? And they make newspapers out of those rags! Hearest thou not how the spirit has here become a play on words? He vomits a loathsome swill of words. And of this swill of words they make newspapers!’ (Ibid., pt. iii., p. 37). It would be possible to multiply these examples tenfold, for Nietzsche harks back to every idea with an obstinacy enough to make the most patient reader of sound taste go wild.

Such is the appearance presented by Nietzsche’s originality. This ‘original’ and ‘audacious’ thinker, imitating the familiar practices of tradesmen at ‘sales,’ endeavours to palm off as brand new goods the most shop-worn rubbish of great philosophers. His most powerful assaults are directed against[446] doors that stand open. This ‘solitary one,’ this ‘dweller on the highest mountain peaks,’ exhibits by the dozen the physiognomy of all decadents. He who is continually talking with the utmost contempt of the ‘herd’ and the ‘herd-animal’ is himself the most ordinary herd-animal of all. Only the herd to which he belongs, body and soul, is a special one; it is the flock of the mangy sheep.

Upon one occasion the habitual cunning of the insane has deserted him, and he has himself revealed to us the source of his ‘original’ philosophy. The passage is so characteristic that I must quote it at length:

‘The first impetus, to make known something of my hypotheses concerning the origin of morality, was given me by a clear, tidy, and clever—ay, precocious [!]—little book, in which there was for the first time presented to me an inverted and perverted kind of genealogical hypotheses, the truly English kind, and which attracted me with that attractive force possessed by everything contrary, everything antipodal. The title of this little book was Der Ursprung der moralischen Empfindunger [“The Origin of Moral Sensations”]; its author, Dr. Paul Rée; the year of its publication, 1877. I have, perhaps, never read anything to which I have in the same measure mentally said “No” as I did to every proposition and every conclusion in this book, yet without anger or impatience. In the previously-mentioned work on which I was at that time engaged [Menschliches Allzumenschliches—“Things Human, Things all too Human”], I referred, in season and out of season, to the propositions of that book, not refuting them—what have I to do with refutations?—but, as befits a positive spirit, to substitute the more probable for the improbable, and at times one error for another’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 7).

This gives the reader the key to Nietzsche’s ‘originality.’ It consists in simple infantile inversion of a rational train of thought. If Nietzsche imagines that his insane negations and contradictions grew spontaneously in his head, he is really the victim of a self-delusion. His rant may have existed in his mind before he had read Dr. Rée’s book. But in that case it had sprung up as a contradiction to other books without his having been so clearly conscious of its origin as after the perusal of Dr. Rée’s work. But he pushes the self-delusion to an incredible height, in terming himself a ‘positive spirit,’ after he has just frankly confessed his method of procedure, viz., that he does not ‘refute’—he would not have found that so easy, either—but that ‘to every proposition, and every conclusion he says ‘No!’

This explanation of the source of his ‘original’ moral[447] philosophy comprehends in itself a diagnosis, which at once obtrudes on the most short-sighted eye. Nietzsche’s system is the product of the mania of contradiction, the delirious form of that mental derangement, of which the melancholic form is the mania of doubt and negation, treated of in the earlier chapters of this work. His folie des négations betrays itself also in his peculiarities of language. There is ever in his consciousness a questioning impulse like a mark of interrogation. Of no word is he so fond as of the interrogative ‘What?’ constantly used by him in the most marvellous connection,[407] and he makes use ad nauseam of the turn of expression, that one should ‘say No’ to this and that, that this one and that one is a ‘No-sayer’—an expression which suggests to him by association the same immeasurably frequent use of the contrary expression, ‘say Yes’ and ‘Yes-sayer.’ This ‘saying-No’ and ‘saying-Yes’ is in his case a veritable Paraphasia vesana, or insane language opposed to usage, as the reader is shown by the examples cited in foot-note.[408]

Nietzsche’s assurance that ‘without anger or impatience’ he ‘said No’ to all Rée’s assertions may be believed. Persons afflicted with the mania of doubt and of denial do not get angry when they question or contradict; they do this under the coercion of their mental derangement. But those among them who are delirious have the conscious intention of making others angry, even if they themselves are not so. On this point Nietzsche allows an avowal to escape him: ‘My mode of thought demands a warlike soul, a wish to give pain, a pleasure in saying, No’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 63). This confession may be compared with the passages from Ibsen: ‘You were becoming reckless! In reality that you might anger these affected beings of both sexes here in the town’; and, ‘Something shall happen which will be a slap in the face to all this decorum’ (The Pillars of Society).

The origin of one of the most ‘original’ of Nietzsche’s doctrines, viz., the explanation of conscience as a satisfaction of the instinct of cruelty through inner self-rending, has already been gone into by Dr. Türck, in an excellent little work. He very justly recognises the diseased state of moral aberration at the base of this insane idea,[409] and continues thus:

‘Let us now picture to ourselves a man of this kind, with innate instincts of murder, or in general with ‘Anomalies or perversion of the moral feelings’ (Mendel); at the same time highly gifted, with the best instruction and an excellent education, reared in the midst of agreeable circumstances, and under the careful ... nurture of women ... and occupying at an early age a prominent position in society. It is clear that the better moral instincts must gain such strength as to be able to drive back to the deepest inner depths the bestial instinct of destruction and completely to curb it, yet without wholly annihilating it. It may not, indeed, be able to manifest itself in deeds, but, because it is inborn, the instinct remains in existence as an unfulfilled wish, cherished in the inmost heart ... as an ardent desire ... to yield itself up to its cruel lust. But every non-satisfaction of a ... deeply imprinted instinct has as its consequence pain and inner torment. Now, we men are very much inclined to regard as naturally good and justifiable that which gives us decided pleasure, and conversely to reprobate, as bad and contrary to nature, that which produces pain. Thus, it may happen that an intellectual and highly gifted man, born with perverted instincts, and feeling as torment ... the non-satisfaction of the instinct, will hit upon the idea of justifying the passion for murder, the extremest egoism ... as something good, beautiful, and according to Nature, and to characterize[449] as morbid aberration the better opposing moral instincts, manifesting themselves in us as that which we call conscience.

Dr. Türck is right in admitting Nietzsche’s innate moral aberration and the inversion in him of healthy instincts. Nevertheless, in the interpretation of the particular phenomena in which the aberration manifests itself, he commits an error, which is explained by the fact that Dr. Türck is seemingly not deeply conversant with mental therapeutics. He assumes that in Nietzsche’s mind the evil instincts are in severe conflict with those better notions instilled in him by education, and that he experiences as pain the suppression of his instincts by judgment. That is hardly the true state of the case. It is not necessary that Nietzsche should have the wish to commit murder and other crimes. Not every aberrant person (pervers) is subject to impulsions. The perversion may be limited exclusively to the sphere of ideation, and get its satisfaction wholly in ideas. A subject thus affected never gets the notion of transforming his ideas into deeds. His derangement does not encroach upon the centres of will and movement, but carries on its fell work within the centres of ideation. We know forms of sexual perversion in which the sufferers never experience the impulse to seek satisfaction in acts, and who revel only in thought.[410] This astonishing rupture of the natural connection between idea and movement, between thought and act, this detachment of the organs of will and movement from the organs of conception and judgment which they normally obey, is in itself a proof of deepest disorder throughout the machinery of thought. Incompetent critics eagerly point to the fact that many authors and artists live unexceptionable lives in complete contrast to their works, which may be immoral or contrary to nature, and deduce from this fact that it is unjustifiable to draw from his works conclusions as to the mental and moral Nature of their author. Those who talk in this manner do not even suspect that there are purely mental perversions which are quite as much a mental disease as the impulsions of the ‘impulsivists.’

This is obviously the case with Nietzsche. His perversion is of a purely intellectual character, and has hardly ever impelled him to acts. Hence, in his mind there has been no conflict between instincts and the morality acquired by[450] education. His explanation of conscience has quite another source than that assumed by Dr. Türck. It is one of those perverted interpretations of a sensation by the consciousness perceiving it which are so frequently observed. Nietzsche remarks that with him ideas of a cruel kind are accompanied by feelings of pleasure—that they are, as mental therapeutics expresses it, ‘voluptuously accentuated.’ In consequence of this accompaniment of pleasure he has the inclination to conjure up sensually sensuous representations of that kind, and to dwell on them with enjoyment.[411] Consciousness then seeks to give some sort of rational explanation of these experiences by assuming cruelty to be a powerful primordial instinct of man, that, since he may not actually commit cruel deeds, he may, at least, take pleasure in the representation of them, and that the rapturous lingering over representations of this kind, man calls his conscience. As I have shown above, it is Nietzsche’s opinion that stings of conscience are not the consequence of evil deeds, but appear in men who have never committed any evil. Hence he obviously makes use of the word in a sense quite different from that of current usage, a sense peculiar to himself; he designates by it, simply his revelling in voluptuously accentuated representations of cruelty.

The alienist, however, is familiar with the perversion in which the invalid experiences voluptuous stimulation from acts or representations of a cruel nature. Science has a name for it. It is called Sadism. Sadism is the opposite form of sexual perversion to masochism.[412] Nietzsche is a sufferer from Sadism in its most pronounced form, only with him it is[451] confined to the intellectual sphere alone, and is satisfied by ideal debauchery. I do not wish to dwell too long on this repulsive subject, and will, therefore, quote only a few passages, showing that, in Nietzsche’s thought, images of cruelty are without exception accompanied by ideas of a sensual character, and are italicized by him: ‘The splendid beast ranging in its lust after prey and victory’ (Zur Genealogie der Moral, p. 21). ‘The feeling of content at being able, without scruple, to wreak his power on a powerless being, the voluptuousness de faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire, the enjoyment of vanquishing’ (Ibid., p. 51). ‘Do your pleasure, ye wantons; roar for very lust and wickedness’ (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, p. 226). ‘The path to one’s own heaven ever leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell’ (Ibid., p. 249). ‘How comes it that I have yet met no one ... who knew morality as a problem, and this problem as his personal distress, torment, voluptuousness, passion?’ (Ibid., p. 264). ‘Hitherto he has felt most at ease on earth at the sight of tragedies, bull-fights, and crucifixions; and when he invented hell, behold, that was his heaven on earth. When the great man cries aloud, the little man runs swiftly thither, and his tongue hangs out from his throat for very lusting’ (Also sprach Zarathustra, pt. iii., p. 96), etc. I beg the unprofessional reader particularly to observe the association of the words italicized with those expressing something evil. This association is neither accidental nor arbitrary. It is a psychical necessity, for in Nietzsche’s consciousness no image of wickedness and crime can arise without exciting him sexually, and he is unable to experience any sexual stimulation without the immediate appearance in his consciousness of an image of some deed of violence and blood.

Hence the real source of Nietzsche’s doctrine is his Sadism. And I will here make a general remark on which I do not desire to linger, but which I should like to recommend to the particular attention of the reader. In the success of unhealthy tendencies in art and literature, no quality of their authors has so large and determining a share as their sexual psychopathy. All persons of unbalanced minds—the neurasthenic, the hysteric, the degenerate, the insane—have the keenest scent for perversions of a sexual kind, and perceive them under all disguises. As a rule, indeed, they are ignorant of what it is in certain works and artists which pleases them, but investigation always reveals in the object of their predilection a veiled manifestation of some Psychopathia sexualis. The masochism of Wagner and Ibsen, the Skoptzism of Tolstoi, the erotomania (folie amoureuse chaste) of the Diabolists, the Decadents, and of Nietzsche, unquestionably obtain for[452] these authors and tendencies a large, and, at all events, the most sincere and fanatical fraction of their partisans. Works of a sexually psychopathic nature excite in abnormal subjects the corresponding perversion (till then slumbering and unconscious, perhaps also undeveloped, although present in the germ), and give them lively feelings of pleasure, which they, usually in good faith, regard as purely æsthetic or intellectual, whereas they are actually sexual. Only in the light of this explanation do the characteristic artistic tendencies of the abnormals, of which we have proof,[413] become wholly intelligible.
This confounding of æsthetic with sexual feelings is not surprising, for the spheres of these two feelings are not only contiguous, but, as has been proved elsewhere, are for the most part even coincident.[414] At the base of all oddities of costume, especially that of women, there is hidden an unconscious speculation in something of a sexual-psychopathy, which finds incitation and attraction in the temporary fashion in dress. No professional person has yet viewed fashions from this standpoint. I may not here allow myself so broad a departure from my principal theme. The subject may, however, be most emphatically recommended to the consideration of experts. In the domain of fashions they will make the most remarkable psychiatrical discoveries.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:29 am

Part 3 of 3

I have devoted very much more space to the demonstration of the senselessness of Nietzsche’s so-called philosophical system than the man and his system deserve. It would have been enough simply to refer to the all-sufficient and expressive fact that, after having been repeatedly confined in lunatic asylums, he has for some years past been living as incurably mad in the establishment of Professor Binswanger at Jena—‘the right man in the right place.’ It is true that a critic is of the opinion that ‘it is possible for mental darkness to extinguish the clearest mental light; for this reason its appearance cannot with certitude be urged against the value and accuracy of what anyone has taught before the appearance of his affliction.’ The answer to this is that Nietzsche wrote his most important[453] works between two detentions in a lunatic asylum, and hence not ‘before,’ but ‘after, the appearance of his affliction,’ and that the whole question hinges on the kind of mental disease appealed to as proof of the senselessness of any doctrine. It is clear that insanity caused by an accidental lesion of the brain, by a fall, blow, etc., can prove nothing against the accuracy of that which the patient may have taught previous to his accident. But the case is different when the malady is one which has undoubtedly existed in a latent condition from birth, and can with certainty be proved from the works themselves. Then it amply suffices to establish the fact that the author is a Bedlamite, and his work the daubing of a lunatic, and all further criticism, all efforts at rational refutation of individual inanities, become superfluous, and even—at least, in the eyes of those who are competent—a little ridiculous. And this is the case with Nietzsche. He is obviously insane from birth, and his books bear on every page the imprint of insanity. It may be cruel to insist on this fact.[415] It is, however, a painful, yet unavoidable, duty to refer to it anew, because Nietzsche has become the means of raising a mental pestilence, and the only hope of checking its propagation lies in placing Nietzsche’s insanity in the clearest light, and in branding his disciples also with the marks most suited to them, viz., as hysterical and imbecile.

Kaatz[416] affirms that Nietzsche’s ‘intellectual seed’ is everywhere ‘beginning to germinate. Now it is one of Nietzsche’s most incisive points which is chosen as the epigraph of a modern tragedy, now one of his pregnant turns of expression incorporated in the established usage of language.... At the present time one can ... read hardly any essay touching even lightly on the province of philosophy, without meeting with the name of Nietzsche.’ Now, that is certainly a calumnious[454] exaggeration. Things are not quite so bad as that. The only ‘philosophers’ who have hitherto taken Nietzsche’s insane drivel seriously are those whom I have above named the ‘fops’ of philosophy. But the number of these ‘fops’ is, as a matter of fact, increasing in a disquieting way, and their effrontery surpasses anything ever witnessed.

It is, of course, unnecessary to say that Georges Brandès has numbered himself among Nietzsche’s apostles. We know, indeed, that this ingenious person winds himself around every human phenomenon in whom he scents a possible primadonna, in order to draw from her profit for himself as the impresario of her fame. He gave lectures in Copenhagen on Nietzsche, ‘and declaimed in words of enthusiasm about this German prophet, for whom Mill’s morality is nothing but a diseased symptom of a degenerate age; this radical “aristocrat,” who degrades to the rank of slave-revolts all the great popular movements in history for freedom—the Reformation, the French Revolution, modern socialism—and dares to assert that the millions on millions of individuals composing the nations exist only for the purpose of producing, a few times in each century, a great personality.’[417]

A series of imitators are eagerly busying themselves to make Nietzsche their model, whether in clearing the throat or in expectorating. His treatise Schopenhauer als Erzieher (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, 3 Stück) has found a monstrous travesty in Rembrandt als Erzieher. True, the imbecile author of the latter parody could not imitate Nietzsche’s gushing redundancy of verbiage and the mad leaps of the maniac’s thought. This symptom of disease it were indeed hardly possible to simulate; but he has appropriated as his own the word-quibbling, the senseless echolalia of his model, and endeavours also stammeringly to imitate, as well as his small means allow, Nietzsche’s megalomaniacal and criminal individualism. Albert Kniepf,[418] another imbecile, has been smitten chiefly by Nietzsche’s affected superiority, and with princely mien and gestures struts about in the most diverting manner. He calls himself ‘a man of superior taste and more refined feeling’; he speaks contemptuously of the ‘profane daily bustle of the masses’; sees ‘the world beneath him’ and himself ‘exalted above the world of the multitude’; he does not wish to ‘go into the streets, and squander his wisdom on everyone,’ etc., quite in the style of Zarathustra, the dweller[455] on the highest peaks. The already mentioned Dr. Max Zerbst affects, like Nietzsche, to regard himself as terrible, and to believe that his opponents tremble before him. When he makes them speak he puts whimpering tones into their mouths,[419] and he enjoys with cruelly superior scorn the mortal fear with which he inspires them. In a maniac this attitude is natural and excites pity. But when a fellow like this Dr. Max Zerbst assumes it, it produces an irresistibly comic effect, and calls to remembrance the young man with the weak legs in Pickwick, who ‘believes in blood alone,’ ‘will have blood.’ Zerbst dares to utter the words ‘natural science’ and ‘psycho-physiology.’ That is an agreement among Nietzsche’s disciples: they pass off the insane word-spouter whom they worship for a psycho-physiologist and a physicist! Ola Hansson speaks of Nietzsche’s ‘psycho-physiological intuition’! and in another place says: ‘With Nietzsche, that modern subtle psychologist, who possesses in the highest degree psycho-physical intuition [again], that peculiar power of the end of the nineteenth century, of listening to and spying out all the secret processes and hidden corners in itself,’ etc. ‘Psycho-physical intuition!’ ‘Listening to and spying out itself!’ Our very eyes deceive us. These men, therefore, have no suspicion of what constitutes ‘psychophysics,’ they do not suspect that it is the exact contrary of ancient psychology, which dealt with ‘intuition’ and introspection, i.e., ‘listening to one’s self’ and ‘spying out one’s self’; that it patiently counts and mixes with the apparatus in laboratories, and ‘spies and listens to,’ not itself, but its experimentists and instruments! And such babble of brainless parrots, who chatter in repetition the words they accidentally hear, without comprehending them, is able to make its way in Germany, the creator of the new science of psycho-physiology, the fatherland of Fechner, Weber, Wundt! And no professional has rapped with a ruler the knuckles of these youths, whose fabulous ignorance is surpassed only by their impudence!

But worse still has befallen—something at which all jesting really ceases. Kurt Eisner, who it is true does not agree with Nietzsche’s ‘philosophy,’ is, nevertheless, of the opinion that[456] he has ‘bequeathed us some powerful poems,’[420] and goes so far as to make use of this unheard-of expression: ‘Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is a work of art like Faust.’ The question first of all obtruding itself is: Has Kurt Eisner at any time read a line of Faust? This, I take it, must be answered in the affirmative, for it is hardly conceivable that at this time of day there is in Germany any adult, seemingly able to read and write, into whose hands Faust has not fallen at some time or other. Then there remains only one other question: What may Kurt Eisner have understood of Faust? To name in the same breath the senseless spirting jet of words of a Zarathustra with Faust is such a defilement of our most precious poetical treasure that verily if a man of any greater importance than Kurt Eisner had perpetrated it there had been need of an expiatory festival to atone for the insult to Goethe, even as the Church newly consecrates a place of worship when it has been profaned by a sacrilegious act.

Not only in Germany is the Nietzsche gang working mischief; it is also infesting other lands. Ola Hansson,[421] already mentioned, entertains his Swedish fellow-countrymen most enthusiastically with ‘Nietzsche’s Poetry’ and ‘Nietzsche’s Midnight Hymn’; T. de Wysewa[422] assures the French, who are not in the position to prove the accuracy of his assertions, that ‘Nietzsche is the greatest thinker and most brilliant author produced by Germany in the last generation,’ etc.

It has, nevertheless, been reserved to a lady to beat the male disciples of Nietzsche, in the audacious denial of the most openly manifest truth. This feminine partisan of Nietzsche, Lou Salomé, with a cool imperturbability fit to take away the breath of the most callous spectator, turns her back on the fact that Nietzsche has for years been confined in a lunatic asylum, and proclaims with brazen brow that Nietzsche, from the aristocratic contempt of the world belonging to the ‘over-human,’ has voluntarily ceased to write, and withdrawn himself into solitude. Nietzsche is a man of science and a psycho-physiologist, and Nietzsche keeps silence, because he no longer finds it worth the trouble to speak to the men of the herd; these are the catch-words cried aloud throughout the world by the Nietzsche band. In the face of such a conspiracy against truth, honesty, sound reason, it is not enough to have proved the senselessness of Nietzsche’s system, it must[457] also be shown that Nietzsche has always been insane, and that his writings are the abortions of frenzy (more exactly, of ‘maniacal exaltation’).

A few followers of Nietzsche, undoubtedly not fit to hold a candle to Lou Salomé, do not contest the fact of Nietzsche’s insanity, but say that he became insane because he withdrew himself too much from men, because he lived too long in the deepest solitude, because his speed of thought was so ruinously, unnaturally rapid. This unheard-of idiocy could circulate throughout the entire German press, and yet not a single newspaper had the gumption to remark that insanity can never be the consequence of solitude and too speedy thought, but that, on the contrary, a propensity for solitude and vertiginously rapid thought are the primary and best known signs of existing insanity, and that this prattle of Nietzsche’s partisans is, perhaps, of equal force with the assertion that someone had contracted lung disease through coughing and hæmorrhage!

For Nietzsche’s ‘anthropophobia’ we have the evidence of his biographers, who cite curious examples of it.[423] His rapid thought, however, is a phenomenon never absent in frenzied madness. That the unprofessional reader may know what he is to understand by this, we will present him with the clinical picture of this form of insanity traced by the hand of the most authoritative masters.

‘The acceleration of the course of thought in mania,’ says Griesinger, ‘is a consequence of the facilitation of the connection between representations, where the patient humbugs, romances, declaims, sings, calls into service all the modes of exteriorizing ideas, rambles incoherently from one topic to another, the ideas hurtling against and overthrowing each other. The same acceleration of ideation is found in certain forms of dementia and in secondary psychical enfeeblement, “with activity produced by hallucinations.” The logical concatenations are not in this case intact, as in argumentation and hypochondriacal dementia; or the precipitate sequence of representations no longer follows any law; or, again, only words and sounds devoid of meaning succeed each other with [458]impetuous haste.... Thus there arises ... a ceaseless chase of ideas, in the torrent of which all is borne away in pell-mell flight. The latter conditions appear chiefly in raving madness; at its inception especially, a greater mental vivacity often manifests itself, and cases have been observed where the fact that the patient became witty was a sure sign of the imminence of an attack of frenzy.’[424]

Still more graphic is the description given by Krafft-Ebing.[425] ‘The content of consciousness is here [in ‘maniacal exaltation’] pleasure, psychical well-being. It is just as little induced by events of the external world as the opposite state of psychical pain in melancholia, and is, therefore, referable to an inner organic cause only. The patient literally revels in feelings of pleasure, and declares, after recovery, that never, when in good health, has he felt so contented, so buoyant, so happy, as during his illness. This spontaneous pleasure undergoes powerful increments ... through the perception by the patient of the facilitated processes of ideation ... through the intensive accentuation of ideas by feelings of pleasure and by agreeable cœnæstheses, especially in the domain of muscular sensation.... In this way the cheerful mood temporarily exalts itself to the height of pleasurable emotions (gay extravagance, exuberance), which find their motor exteriorization in songs, dances, leaps.... The patient becomes more plastic in his diction ... his faculties of conception act more rapidly, and, in accelerated association, he is at once more prompt in repartee, witty and humorous to the point of irony. The plethora of his consciousness supplies him with inexhaustible material for talk, and the enormous acceleration of his ideation, in which there spring up complete intermediate forms with the rapidity of thought, without undergoing exteriorization in speech, causes his current of ideas, in so far as they find expression, to seem rambling.... He continually exercises criticism in respect of his own condition, and proves that he is himself aware of his abnormal state by ... claiming, among other things, that he is only a fool, and that to such everything is permissible.... The invalid cannot find words enough to depict his maniacal well-being, his “primordial health.”’

And now every individual feature of this picture of disease shall be pointed out in Nietzsche’s writings. (I repeat my previous remark, that I am compelled to limit myself in citing examples, but that literally on every page of Nietzsche’s writing examples of the same kind are to be found.)

His cœnæstheses, or systemic sensations, continually inspire[459] him with presentations of laughter, dancing, flying, buoyancy, generally of movement of the gayest and easiest kind—of rolling, flowing, plunging. ‘Let us guard ourselves from immediately making gloomy faces at the word “torture” ... even there something remains for laughter.’ ‘We are prepared for a carnival in the grand style, for the most spiritual carnival-laughter and exuberance, for the transcendental height of the most exalted idiocy and Aristophanic derision of the universe.... Perhaps if nothing else of to-day has a future, our very laughter still has a future.’ ‘I would even permit myself to classify philosophers according to the quality of their laughter—up to those capable of golden laughter[!] ... The gods are jocular. It seems as if, even in sacred deeds, they could not forbear laughing.’ ‘Ah! what are ye then, ye written and painted thoughts of mine? It is not long since ye were so fantastic, so young and naughty ... that ye made me sneeze and laugh.’ ‘Now the world laughs, the dismal veil is rent.’ ‘It is laughter that kills, not wrath. Come, let us kill the spirit of heaviness!’ ‘Truly there are beings chaste by nature; they are milder in heart; they laugh more agreeably and copiously than ye. They laugh as well over chastity, and ask, What is chastity?’ ‘Had He [Jesus Christ] remained in the desert, perhaps He would have learned to live and to love the earth—and to laugh besides.’ ‘The tension of my cloud was too great; between the laughters of the lightnings I will cast hail-showers into the deep.’ ‘To-day my shield quivered gently and laughed at me; that is the holy laughter and tremor of beauty.’

It will be seen that in all these cases the idea of laughter has no logical connection with the real thought; it is far rather an accompaniment of his intellection as a basic state, as a chronic obsession, having its explanation in the maniacal excitation of the centres of ideation. It is the same with the presentations of dancing, flying, etc. ‘I should only believe in a god who knew how to dance.’ ‘Truly, Zarathustra is no hurricane and whirlwind; and if he is a dancer, yet is he by no means a dancer of the tarantella.’ ‘And once upon a time I wished to dance, as I never yet have danced; away over the whole heaven did I wish to dance.... Only in the dance do I know of parables for the highest things.’ ‘I found this blessed security in all things also: that on the feet of chance they preferred—to dance. O thou heaven above me, O pure! O sublime! thy purity is now for me ... that thou art a dancing-floor for divine chances.’ ‘Ask of my foot ... truly after such a rhythm, such a tick-tack, it likes neither to dance nor rest.’ ‘And, above all, I learned to stand and walk and run and leap and climb and dance.’ ‘It is a fine fool’s jest[460] this, of speech; thanks to it, man dances over all things.’ ‘O my soul, I taught thee to say “to-day,” as well as “once” and “formerly,” and to dance thy measure over all the “here” and “there” and “yonder.” Thou castest thy glance at my foot crazy for the dance.’ ‘If my virtue is a dancer’s virtue, and I often bounded with both feet into a rapture of golden emerald,’ etc.

(‘A state of mind he experienced with horror:’) ‘A perpetual movement between high and deep, and the feeling of high and deep, a constant feeling as if mounting steps, and at the same moment as if reposing on clouds.’ ‘Is there, indeed, one thing alone that remains uncomprehended by it ... that only in flight is it touched, beheld, lightened upon?’ ‘All my will would fly alone, would fly into thee.’ ‘Ready and impatient to fly, to fly away; that is now my nature.’ ‘My wise longing cried out from me, and laughed also ... my great longing, with rushing wings. And often it dragged me forth, and away in the midst of my laughter; then, indeed, I flew shuddering ... thither, where gods dance, ashamed of all clothes.’ ‘If I ever spread still heavens above me, and with my own wings flew in my own heavens.... If my malice is a laughing malice ... and if my Alpha and Omega is that all heaviness may become light, all body a dancer, all spirit a bird; and verily that is my Alpha and Omega,’ etc.

In the examples hitherto cited the insane ideas are mainly in the sphere of movement. In those that follow it is excitations of the sensorial centres that find expression. Nietzsche has all sorts of illusions of skin-sensibility (cold, warmth, being breathed upon), of sight (lustre, lightning, brightness), of hearing (rushing, roaring), and of smell, which he mixes up in his fugitive ideation. ‘I am too hot and burnt with my own thoughts.’ ‘Ah! ice surrounds me; my hand is burnt by iciness.’ ‘The sun of my love lay brooding upon me; Zarasthustra was stewing in his own juice.’ ‘Take care that there be honey ready to my hand ... good, icy-fresh, golden honeycomb.’ ‘Into the coldest water I plunged with head and heart.’ ‘There I am sitting ... lusting for a maiden’s round mouth, but still more for maidenly, icy-cold, snow-white, cutting, biting teeth.’ ‘For I deal with deep problems as with a cold bath—soon into it, soon out of it.... Ho! the great cold quickens.’ ‘Over thy surging sea I blew with the storm that is called spirit; I blew from it all clouds.’ ‘To their bodies and to their spirits our happiness would be as ice-caverns! and, like strong winds, we will live above them ... and like a wind will I once blow among them.’

‘I am light ... but this is my loneliness, that I am engirdled with light.... I live in my own light; I drink back into myself the flames that break forth from me.’

‘Mute over the roaring sea art thou this day arisen for me.’ ‘They divine nothing from the roaring of my happiness.’ ‘Sing, and riot in roaring, O Zarathustra!’ ‘Almost too fiercely for me thou dost gush forth, well-spring of joy ... too violently doth my heart gush forth to meet thee.’ ‘My desire now breaks forth from me like a fountain.’

‘There is often an odour in her wisdom, as if it came forth from a swamp.’ ‘Alas! that I should have so long lived in the midst of their noise and foul breath. O blessed stillness around me!’ ‘O pure odours around me!’ ‘That was the falsehood in my pity, that in each I saw and smelt what was mind enough for him.... With blissful nostrils again I breathed the freedom of the mountain! My nose is at length redeemed from the odour of all that is human!’ ‘Bad air! bad air!... Why must I smell the entrails of a misguided soul?’ ‘This workshop, where ideals are manufactured, meseems it stinks of nothing but lies.’ ‘We avoided the rabble ... the stink of shopkeepers ... the foul breath.’ ‘This rabble, that stinks to heaven.’ ‘O odours pure around me!... These crowds of superior men—perhaps they do not smell nice,’ etc.

As these examples show, Nietzsche’s thought receives its special colouring from his sense illusions, and from the excitation of the centres forming motor presentations, which, in consequence of a derangement of the mechanism of co-ordination, are not transformed into motor impulses, but remain as mere images, without influence on the muscles.

In respect of form, Nietzsche’s thought makes the two characteristic peculiarities of madness perceptible: the sole domination of the association of ideas, watched over and restrained by no attention, no logic, no judgment; and the giddy rapidity of the course of ideation.

As soon as any idea whatsoever springs up in Nietzsche’s mind, it immediately draws with it into consciousness all presentations related to it, and thus with flying hand he throws five, six, often eight, synonyms on paper, without noticing how overladen and turgid his literary style is thereby rendered: ‘The force of a mind measures itself ... by the degree to which it is obliged to attenuate, veil, sweeten, damp, falsify the truth.’ ‘We are of the opinion that severity, violence, slavery, danger in the street and in the heart, concealment, stoicism, the tempter’s art and devilry of every kind; that all things wicked, fearful, tyrannical, bestial, and serpent-like in man, are of as much service in the elevation of the species “man” as their opposites. He knows ... on what miserable things the loftiest Becoming has hitherto been shattered, snapped off, has fallen away, become miserable.’ ‘In man there is material, fragment, surplus, clay, mud, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, constructor, hammer-hardness,[462] divinity-of-the-beholder, and the seventh day.... That which for this one must be formed, broken, forged, torn, burnt, made red-hot, purified.’ ‘It would sound more courteous if ... an unrestrained honesty were related, whispered, and praised (nachsagte, nachraunte, nachrühmte) of us.’ ‘Spit upon the town ... where swarms all that is rotten, tainted, lustful, gloomy, worm-eaten, ulcerous, seditious.’ ‘We forebode that it is ever growing downwards into the more attenuated, more debonnaire, more artful, more easy-going, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian.’ ‘All these pallid Atheists, Anti-Christians, Immoralists, Nihilists, Sceptics, Ephectics, Hectics of the mind,’ etc.

From these examples, the attentive reader must have already remarked that the tumultuous rush of words frequently results from the merest resemblance in sound. Not seldom does the riot of words degenerate into paltry quibbling, into the silliest pun, into the automatic association of words according to their sound, without regard to their meaning. ‘If this turn (Wende) in all the need (Noth) is called necessity (Nothwendigkeit).’ ‘Thus ye boast (brüstet) of yourselves—alas! even without breasts (Brüste).’ ‘There is much pious lick-spittle-work (Speichel-Leckerie), baking-of-flattery (Schmeichel-Bäckerei) before the Lord of Hosts.’ ‘Spit upon the great town, which is the great slum (Abraum), where all the scum (Abschaum) froths together (zusammanschäumt).’ ‘Here and there there is nothing to better (bessern), nothing to worsen (bösern).’ ‘What have they to do there, far-seeing (weitsichtige), far-seeking (weit-süchtige) eyes?’ ‘In such processions (Zügen) goats (Ziegen) and geese, and the strong-headed and the wrong-headed (Kreuz und Querköpfe), were always running on before.... O, Will, turn of all need (Wende aller Noth)! O thou my necessity (Nothwendigkeit)!’ ‘Thus I look afar over the creeping and swarming of little gray waves (Wellen) and wills (Willen).’ ‘This seeking (Suchen) for my home was the visitation (Heimsuchung) of me.’ ‘Did not the world become perfect, round and ripe (reif)? O for the golden round ring (Reif)!’ ‘Yawns (Klafft) the abyss here too? Yelps (Kläfft) the dog of hell here too?’ ‘It stultifies, brutalizes (verthiert), and transforms into a bull (verstiert).’ ‘Life is at least (mindestens), at the mildest (mildestens), an exploiting.’ ‘Whom I deemed transformed akin to myself (verwandt-verwandelt),’ etc.

Nietzsche, in the wild hurry of his thought, many a time fails to comprehend the scintillating word-images elaborated in his centres of speech; his consciousness, as it were, hears wrongly, misses its aim in interpreting, and invents wondrous neologisms, which sound like known expressions, but have no[463] sort of fellowship in meaning with these. He speaks, for example, of Hinterweltlern (inhabitants of remote worlds) from Hinterwäldlern (backwoodsmen), of a Kesselbauche (kettle’s belly) when he is thinking of Kesselpauche (kettledrum), etc.; or he even repeats, as his centres of speech prompt, wholly incomprehensible, meaningless sounds. ‘Then I went to the door: Alpa! I cried, who is carrying his ashes to the mountain? Alpa! Alpa! who is carrying his ashes to the mountain?’

He frequently associates his ideas, not according to the sound of the word, but according to the similarity or habitual contiguity of the concepts; then there arise ‘analogous’ intellection and the fugitive ideation, in which, to use Griesinger’s expression, he ‘rambles incoherently from one topic to another.’ Speaking of the ‘ascetic ideal,’ e.g., he elaborates the idea that strong and noble spirits take refuge in the desert, and, without any connection, adds: ‘Of course, too, they would not want for camels there.’ The representation of the desert has irresistibly drawn after it the representation of camels, habitually associated with it. At another time he says: ‘Beasts of prey and men of prey, e.g., Cæsar Borgia, are radically misunderstood; Nature is misunderstood so long as a fundamental diseased condition is sought for in these healthiest of all tropical monsters and growths. It seems that there is among moralists a hatred against the primeval forest and against the tropics, and that the tropical man must, at any price, be discredited. But why? For the benefit of the temperate zone? For the benefit of the temperate (moderate) men? Of the mediocre?’ In this case the contemplation of Cæsar Borgia forces upon him the comparison with a beast of prey; this makes him think of the tropics, the torrid zone; from the torrid zone he comes to the temperate zone, from this to the ‘temperate’ man, and, through the similarity of sound, to the ‘mediocre’ man (in German, gemässigt and mittelmässig).

‘In truth nothing remains of the world but green twilight and green lightnings. Do as it pleases ye, ye wantons ... shake your emeralds down into the deepest depth.’ The quite incomprehensible ‘emeralds’ are called up into consciousness by the representation of the ‘green’ twilight and lightnings.

In this and hundreds of other cases the course of ideation can, to a certain extent, be followed, because all the links in the chain of association are preserved. It often happens, however, that some of these links are suppressed, and then there occur leaps of thought, incomprehensible, and, consequently, bewildering to the reader: ‘It was the body who[464] despaired of the earth, who heard the belly of being speaking to itself.’ ‘More honestly and more purely speaks the healthy body, the perfect and rectangular.’ ‘I am polite towards them as towards all petty vexation; to be prickly against pettiness seems to me wisdom for hedgehogs.’ ‘Deep yellow and hot red; so would my taste have it. This one mixes blood in all colours. He who whitewashes his house betrays to me his whitewashed soul.’ ‘We placed our seat in the midst—so their smirking tells me—and as far from dying gladiators as from contented pigs. But this is mediocrity.’ ‘Our Europe of to-day is ... sceptic ... at one time with that mobile scepticism which leaps impatiently and wantonly from branch to branch, at another gloomy as a cloud overladen with notes of interrogation.’ ‘Let us grant that he [the ‘courageous thinker’] has long enough hardened and pricked up his eye for himself.’ (Here the representation of ‘ear’ and ‘pricked-up ears’ has evidently crossed with confusing effect the associated idea of ‘eye.’) ‘It is already too much for me to keep my opinions to myself, and many a bird flies away. And sometimes I find flown into my dovecot an animal that is strange to me, and that trembles when I lay my hand on it.’ ‘What matters my justice? I do not see that I should be fire and coal.’ ‘They learned from the sea its vanity, too; is the sea not the peacock of peacocks?’ ‘How many things now go by the name of the greatest wickedness, which are only twelve feet wide and three months long! But greater dragons will one day come into the world.’ ‘And if all ladders now fail thee, then must thou understand how to mount on thine own head; how wouldst thou mount otherwise?’ ‘Here I sit, sniffing the best air, the very air of Paradise, luminous, light air, rayed with gold; as good an air as ever yet fell from the moon.’ ‘Ha! up dignity! Virtue’s dignity! European dignity! Blow, blow again, bellows of virtue! Ha! roar once more, morally roar! As a moral lion roar before the daughters of the desert! For virtue’s howl, ye dearest maidens, is more than all European fervour, European voraciousness! And here am I, already a European; I cannot otherwise, God help me! Amen! The desert grows, woe to him who hides deserts!’

The last passage is an example of complete fugitive ideation. Nietzsche often loses the clue, no longer knows what he is driving at, and finishes a sentence which began as if to develop into an argument, with a sudden stray jest. ‘Why should the world, which somewhat concerns us, not be a fiction? And to him who objects: “But a fiction must have an author,” could not the reply be roundly given: Why? Does not this “must” perhaps belong also to the fiction? Is it not permissible to be at last a little ironical towards the[465] subject as well as towards the predicate and object? Ought not the philosopher to rise above a belief in grammar? With all respect for governesses [!], is it not time that philosophy should renounce its faith in governesses?’ ‘“One is always too many about me,” so thinks the hermit. One times one to infinity at last makes two!’ ‘What, then, do they call that which makes them proud? They name it culture; it distinguishes them from the goat-herds.’

Finally, the connection of the associated representations suddenly snaps, and he breaks off in the midst of a sentence to begin a new one: ‘For in religion the passions have once more rights of citizenship, provided that.’ ‘The psychologists of France ... have not yet enjoyed to the full their bitter and manifold pleasure in la bêtise bourgeoise, in a manner as if—enough; they betray something thereby.’ ‘There have been philosophers who knew how to lend yet another seductive ... expression to this admiration of the people ... instead of adducing the naked and thoroughly obvious truth, that disinterested conduct is very interesting and interested conduct, provided that—— And love?’

This is the form of Nietzsche’s intellection, sufficiently explaining why he has never set down three coherent pages, but only more or less short ‘aphorisms.’

The content of this incoherent fugitive ideation is formed by a small number of insane ideas, continually repeating themselves with exasperating monotony. We have already become acquainted with Nietzsche’s intellectual Sadism, and his mania of contradiction and doubt, or mania for questioning. In addition to these he evinces misanthropy, or anthropophobia, megalomania, and mysticism.

His anthropophobia expresses itself in numberless passages: ‘Knowledge is no longer sufficiently loved as soon as it is communicated.’ ‘Every community leads somehow, somewhen, somewhere—to vulgarity.’ ‘There are still many void places for the lonesome and twosome [!] around which wafts the odour of tranquil seas.’ ‘Flee, my friend, into thy lonesomeness!’ ‘And many a one who turned away from life, only turned away from the rabble ... and many a one who went into the desert and suffered thirst with the beasts of prey, only wished not to sit with filthy camel-drivers about the tank.’

His megalomania appears only exceptionally as monstrous self-conceit; but it is, nevertheless, clearly conceivable; as a rule it displays a strong and even predominant union of mysticism and supernaturalism. It is pure self-conceit when he says: ‘In that which concerns my “Zarathustra,” I accept no one as a connoisseur whom each of his words has not at some time deeply wounded and deeply enraptured; only then[466] can he enjoy the privilege of reverentially participating in the halcyon element out of which every work is born, in its sunny brightness, distance, breadth, and certainty.’ Or when, after having criticised and belittled Bismarck, he cries, with transparent allusion to himself: ‘But I, in my happiness and my “beyond,” pondered how soon the stronger becomes master of the strong.’ On the other hand, the hidden, mystic, primary idea of his megalomania already distinctly comes out in this passage: ‘But at some given time ... must he nevertheless come, the redeeming man of great love and contempt, the creative spirit who his impulsive strength is ever driving away out of all that is apart and beyond, whose loneliness is misunderstood by the people as if it were flight from reality. It is only his immersion, interment, absorption [three synonyms for one concept!] into reality, in order that at some time if he again comes into the light, he may bring home the redemption of this reality.’

The nature of his megalomania is betrayed by the expressions ‘redeeming man’ and ‘redemption.’ He imagines himself a new Saviour, and plagiarizes the Gospel in form and substance. Also Sprach Zarathustra is a complete stereotype of the sacred writings of Oriental nations. The book aims at an external resemblance to the Bible and Koran. It is divided into chapters and verses; the language is the archaic and prophetic language of the books of Revelation (‘And Zarathustra looked at the people, and was astonished. Then he spake and said thus:’); there frequently appear long enumerations and sermons like litanies (‘I love those who do not seek a reason only behind the stars ...; I love him who lives to know ...; I love him who labours and invents ...; I love him who loves his virtue ...; I love him who withholds for himself not one drop of mind,’ etc.), and individual paragraphs point verbatim to analogous portions of the Gospel, e.g.: ‘When Zarathustra had taken leave of the city ... there followed him many who called themselves his disciples and bore him company. Thus they came to a cross-road; then said Zarathustra unto them, that thenceforth he would go alone.’ ‘And the happiness of the spirit is this: to be anointed by tears and consecrated as a beast of sacrifice.’ ‘Verily, said he to his disciples, yet a little and there comes this long twilight. Ah! how shall I save my light?’ ‘In this manner did Zarathustra go about, sore at heart, and for three days took no food or drink.... At length it came to pass that he fell into a deep sleep. And his disciples sat around him in long night-watches,’ etc. Many of the chapters have most expressive titles: ‘On Self-Conquest;’ ‘On Immaculate Knowledge;’ ‘On Great Events;’ ‘On the Redemption;’ ‘On the Mount of Olives;[467]’ ‘On Apostates;’ ‘The Cry of Sore Need;’ ‘The Last Supper;’ ‘The Awakening,’ etc. Sometimes, it is true, it befalls him to say, atheistically: ‘If there were gods, how could I endure to be no god? Hence’ (italics his) ‘there are no gods;’ but such passages vanish among the countless ones in which he refers to himself as a god. ‘Thou hast the power and thou wilt not reign.’ ‘He who is of my nature escapes not such an hour—the hour which says to him: Only now art thou going the way of thy greatness.... Thou art entering on the way of thy greatness; that which has hitherto been thy last danger has now become thy last resource. Thou art entering on the way of thy greatness; now must thy best courage be, that there is no longer any way behind thee. Thou art going on the way of thy greatness; here shall no one slink behind thee,’ etc.

Nietzsche’s mysticism and megalomania manifest themselves not only in his somewhat more coherent thought, but also in his general mode of expression. The mystic numbers, three and seven, frequently appear. He sees the external world, as he does himself—vast, distant, deep; and the words expressing these concepts are repeated on every page, almost in every line: ‘The discipline of suffering, of great suffering....’ ‘The South is a great school of healing.’ ‘These last great searchers....’ ‘With the signs of great destiny.’ ‘Where together with great compassion he has learnt great contempt—to learn, at their side, great reverence.’ ‘Guilt is all great existence.’ ‘That I may celebrate the great noon with you.’ ‘Thus speaks all great love.’ ‘Not from you is great weariness to come to me.’ ‘Men who are nothing but a great eye, or a great mouth, or a great belly, or something great....’ ‘To love with great love, to love with great contempt.’ ‘But thou, O depth, thou sufferest too deeply.’ ‘Immovable is my depth, but it gleams with floating enigmas and laughters.’ (It is to be observed how, in this sentence, all the obsessions of the maniac crowd together—depth, brilliancy, mania of doubt, hilarious excitation.) ‘All depth shall ascend to my height.’ ‘They do not think enough into the deep,’ etc. With the idea of depth is connected that of abyss, which recurs with equal constancy. The words ‘abyss’ and ‘abysmal’ are among the most frequent in Nietzsche’s writings. His words which have the prefix ‘over’ are associated with his motor images, especially those of flying and hovering: ‘Over-moral sense’; ‘over-European music’; ‘climbing monkeys and over-heated’; ‘from the species to the over-species’; ‘the over-hero’; ‘the over-human’; ‘the over-dragon’; ‘the over-urgent’ and ‘over-compassionate,’ etc.

As is general in frenzied madness, Nietzsche is conscious of[468] his diseased interior processes, and in countless places alludes to the furiously rapid outflow of his ideation and to his insanity: ‘That true philosophic reunion of a bold, unrestrained mentality, running presto.... They regard thought as something slow, hesitant, almost a toil; not at all as something light, divine, and nearest of kin to the dance, to exuberance.’ ‘The bold, light, tender march and flight of his thought.’ ‘We think too rapidly.... It is as if we carried about in our head an incessantly rolling machine.’ ‘It is in impatient spirits that there breaks out a veritable pleasure in insanity, because insanity has so joyous a tempo.’ ‘All talking runs too slowly for me; I leap into thy chariot, Storm!... Like a cry and a huzza would I glide away over vast seas.’ ‘Eruptive insanity forever hovers above humanity as its greatest danger.’ (He is, of course, thinking of himself when speaking of ‘humanity.’) ‘In these days it sometimes happens that a gentle, temperate, self-contained man becomes suddenly frenzied, breaks plates, upsets the table, shrieks, rages, offends everyone, and finally retires in shame and anger against himself.’ (Most decidedly ‘that sometimes happens,’ not only ‘in these days,’ but in all times; but among maniacs only.) ‘Where is the insanity with which ye were forced to be inoculated? Behold, I teach you the over-man, who is ... this insanity.’ ‘All things are worth the same; each is alike. He who feels otherwise goes voluntarily [?] into a madhouse.’ ‘I put this exuberance and this foolishness in the place of that will, as I taught; in all one thing is impossible—reasonableness.’ ‘My hand is a fool’s hand; woe to all tables and walls, and wherever there is yet room for the embellishments of fools—scribbling of fools!’ (In the original there is here a play on the words Zierrath, Schmierrath.)[426] He also, in the manner of maniacs, excuses his mental disease: ‘Finally, there would remain open the great question whether we could dispense with disease even for the development of our virtue, and especially if our thirst for knowledge and self-knowledge needed the sick soul as much as the healthy soul.’

Finally, he is not even wanting in the maniacal idea of his ‘primæval health.’ His soul is ‘always clearer and always healthier’; ‘we Argonauts of the ideal’ are ‘healthier than one would fain allow us to be—dangerously healthy, more and more healthy,’ etc.

The foregoing is a necessarily condensed summary of the special colour, form, and content of Nietzsche’s thought, originating in illusions of sense; and this unhappy lunatic has been earnestly treated as a ‘philosopher,’ and his drivel put forward as a ‘system’—this man whose scribbling is one[469] single long divagation, in whose writings madness shrieks out from every line! Dr. Kirchner, a philosopher by profession, and the author of numerous philosophical writings, in a newspaper article on Nietzsche’s book, Der Fall Wagner, lays great stress on the fact that ‘it superabounds, as it were, in intellectual health.’ Ordinary university professors—such as G. Adler, in Freiburg, and others—extol Nietzsche as a ‘bold and original thinker,’ and with solemn seriousness take up a position in respect of his ‘philosophy’—some with avowed enthusiasm, and some with carefully considered reservations! In the face of such incurably deep mental obtuseness, it cannot excite wonder if the clear-thinking and healthy portion of the young spirits of the present generation should, with hasty generalization, extend to philosophy itself the contempt deserved by its officially-appointed teachers. These teachers undertake to introduce their students into mental philosophy, and are yet without the capacity to distinguish from rational thought the incoherent fugitive ideation of a maniac.

Dr. Hermann Türck[427] characterizes in excellent words the disciples of Nietzsche: ‘This piece of wisdom [‘nothing is true; all is permissible’] in the mouth of a morally insane man of letters has ... found ready response among persons who, in consequence of a moral defect, feel themselves to be in contradiction to the demands of society. This aforesaid intellectual proletariat of large towns is especially jubilant over the new magnificent discovery that all morality and all truth are completely superfluous and pernicious to the development of the individual. It is true that these persons have always in secret said to themselves, “Nothing is true—all is permissible,” and have also, as far as possible, acted accordingly. But now they can avow it openly, and with pride; for Friedrich Nietzsche, the new prophet, has vaunted this maxim as the most exalted truth of life.... It is not society which is right in its estimation of morality, science, and true art. Oh dear no! The individuals who follow their egoistical personal aims only—who act only as if truth were of consequence to them—they, the counterfeiters of truth, those unscrupulous penny-a-liners, lying critics, literary thieves, and manufacturers of pseudo-realistic brummagem—they are the true heroes, the masters of the situation, the truly free spirits.’

That is the truth, but not the whole truth. Without doubt, the real Nietzsche gang consists of born imbecile criminals, and of simpletons drunk with sonorous words. But besides these gallows birds without the courage and strength for criminal actions, and the imbeciles who allow themselves to be stupefied and, as it were, hypnotized by the roar and rush of[470] fustian, the banner of the insane babbler is followed by others, who must be judged otherwise and in part more gently. In fact, Nietzsche’s ranting includes some ideas which, in part, respond to a widespread notion of the age, and in part are capable of awakening the deception that, in spite of all the exaggeration and insane distortion of exposition, they contain a germ of truth and right; and these ideas explain why many persons agree with them who can hardly be reproached with lack of clearness and critical capacity.

Nietzsche’s fundamental idea of utter disregard and brutal contempt for all the rights of others standing in the way of an egoistical desire, must please the generation reared under the Bismarckian system. Prince Bismarck is a monstrous personality, raging over a country like a tornado in the torrid zone; it crushes all in its devastating course, and leaves behind as traces, a widespread annihilation of character, destruction of notions of right, and demolition of morality. In political life the system of Bismarck is a sort of Jesuitism in cuirass. ‘The end sanctifies the means,’ and the means are not (as with the supple sons of Loyola) cunning, obstinacy, secret trickery, but open brutality, violence, the blow with the fist, and the stroke with the sword. The end which sanctifies the means of the Jesuit in cuirass may sometimes be of general utility; but it will quite as often, and oftener, be an egoistical one. In its author this system of the most primitive barbarism had ever a certain grandeur, for it had its origin in a powerful will, which with heroic boldness always placed itself at stake, and entered into every fight with the savage determination to ‘conquer or die.’ In its imitators, on the contrary, it has got stunted to ‘swaggering’ or ‘bullying,’ i.e., to that most abject and contemptible cowardice which crawls on its belly before the strong, but maltreats with the most extreme insolence the completely unarmed, the unconditionally harmless and weak, from whom no resistance and no danger are in any way to be apprehended. The ‘bullies’ gratefully recognise themselves in Nietzsche’s ‘over-man,’ and Nietzsche’s so-called ‘philosophy’ is in reality the philosophy of ‘bullying.’ His doctrine shows how Bismarck’s system is mirrored in the brain of a maniac. Nietzsche could not have come to the front and succeeded in any but the Bismarckian and post-Bismarckian era. He would, doubtless, have been delirious at whatever period he might have lived; but his insanity would not have assumed the special colour and tendency now perceptible in it. It is true that sometimes Nietzsche vexes himself over the fact that ‘the type of the new Germany most rich in success in all that has depth ... fails in “swagger,”’ and he then proclaims: ‘It were well for us not to exchange too[471] cheaply our ancient renown as a people of depth for Prussian “swagger,” and the wit and sand of Berlin.’[428] But in other places he betrays what really displeases him in the ‘swagger,’ at which he directs his philosophical verse; it makes too much ado about the officer. ‘The moment he [the ‘Prussian officer’] speaks and moves, he is the most forward and tasteless figure in old Europe—unknown to himself.... And unknown also to the good Germans, who wonder at him as a man of the highest and most distinguished society, and willingly take their tone from him.’[429] Nietzsche cannot consent to that—Nietzsche, who apprehends that there can be no God, as in that case he himself must be this God. He cannot suffer the ‘good German’ to place the officer above him. But apart from this inconvenience, which is involved in the system of ‘swagger,’ he finds everything in it good and beautiful, and lauds it as ‘intrepidity of glance, courage and hardness of the cutting hand, an inflexible will for dangerous voyages of discovery, for spiritualized North-Polar expeditions under desolate and dangerous skies,’[430] and prophesies exultingly that for Europe there will soon begin an era of brass, an era of war, soldiers, arms, violence. Hence it is natural that ‘swaggerers’ should hail him as their very own peculiar philosopher.

Besides anarchists, born with incapacity for adaptation, his ‘individualism,’ i.e., his insane ego-mania, for which the external world is non-existent, was bound to attract those who instinctively feel that at the present day the State encroaches too deeply and too violently on the rights of the individual, and, in addition to the necessary sacrifices of strength and time, exacts from him such as he cannot undergo without destructive loss of self-esteem, viz., the sacrifice of judgment, knowledge, conviction, and human dignity. These thirsters for freedom believe that they have found in Nietzsche the spokesman of their healthy revolt against the State, as the oppressor of independent spirits, and as the crusher of strong characters. They commit the same error which I have already pointed out in the sincere adherents of the Decadents and of Ibsen; they do not see that Nietzsche confounds the conscious with the subconscious man; that the individual, for whom he demands perfect freedom, is the man, not of knowledge and judgment, but of blind craving, requiring the satisfaction of his lascivious instincts at any price; that he is not the moral, but the sensual, man.

Finally, his consequential airs have also increased the number[472] of his followers. Many of those marching in his train reject his moral doctrine, but wax enthusiastic over such expressions as these: ‘It might some time happen that the masses should become masters.... Therefore, O my brothers, there is need of a new nobility, the adversary of all plebeians and all violent domination, and who inscribes anew on a new tablet the word “Nobility.”’[431]

There is at the present time a widespread conviction that the enthusiasm for equality was a grievous error of the great Revolution. A doctrine opposed to all natural laws is justly resisted. Humanity has need of a hierarchy. It must have leaders and models. It cannot do without an aristocracy. But the nobleman to whom the human herd may concede the most elevated place will certainly not be Nietzsche’s ‘over-man,’ the ego-maniac, the criminal, the robber, the slave of his maddened instincts, but the man of richer knowledge, higher intelligence, clearer judgment, and firmer self-discipline. The existence of humanity is a combat, which it cannot carry on without captains. As long as the combat is of men against men, the herd requires a herdsman of strong muscles and ready blow. In a more perfect state, in which all humanity fights collectively against Nature only, it chooses as its chief the man of richest brain, most disciplined will and concentrated attention. This man is the best observer, but he is also one who feels most acutely and rapidly, who can most vividly picture to himself the condition of the external world, hence the man of the liveliest sympathy and most comprehensive interest. The ‘over-man’ of the healthy development of the species is a Paraclete of knowledge and unselfish love, not a bloodthirsty ‘splendid beast of prey.’ This is not borne in mind by those who believe that in Nietzsche’s aristocratism they have found a clear expression of their own obscure views as to the need of noble natures of light and leading.

Nietzsche’s false individualism and aristocratism is capable of misleading superficial readers. Their error may be accounted a mitigating circumstance. But even taking this into consideration, it still ever remains a disgrace to the German intellectual life of the present age, that in Germany a pronounced maniac should have been regarded as a philosopher, and have founded a school.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:29 am

Part 1 of 2



It was necessary to treat in detail the two forms of degeneracy in literature and art hitherto examined, i.e., mysticism and ego-mania, inasmuch as their career of development seems to be still in the ascendant, and they are actively at work in making themselves masters of the æsthetic conscience of our times. Concerning the third form, realism or naturalism, I can afford to be much briefer, for two reasons: one having to do with my subject, the other with myself. The former reason is that, in the land of its origin, naturalism is already wholly vanquished, and we do not kill a corpse—we bury it. The personal reason is that I have already devoted myself elsewhere to the thorough examination of naturalism.[432] The conclusions I there came to I continue to maintain, as regards the appreciation of its tendency, and I should only wish to limit them by a strong reservation, in so far as they greatly over-estimate M. Zola’s abilities.

That naturalism in France is done with is admitted by all the world, and is really only disputed by Zola himself. ‘There is no doubt whatever as to the tendencies of the new generation of literary men,’ says M. Rémy de Gourmont; ‘they are rigorously anti-naturalist. There has been no question of forming a party or issuing orders; no crusade was organized; it is individually that we have separated ourselves, horror-stricken, from a literature the baseness of which made us sick. Perhaps there is even less disgust than indifference. I remember, when M. Zola’s last novel but one came out, that, among the eight or ten collaborators of the Mercure de France[474] (a Symbolist journal), it was impossible for us to find anyone who had read through La Bête humaine, or anyone who would have consented to read it with sufficient care to review it. This species of book, and the method which dictates it, appears to us quite antiquated with the flavour of bygone years; more remote and more superannuated than the most truculent follies of romanticism.’[433]

Among the disciples of Zola, among those who collaborated in the Soirées de Médan, as among those who followed him later, there is scarcely one who has remained faithful to his tendency. Guy de Maupassant, before he was placed in the lunatic asylum where he died, ended by turning more and more towards the psychological novel. Joris Karl Huysmans, whom we have studied above in his new skin as a Diabolist and Decadent, cannot find words bitter enough for naturalism. J. H. Rosny writes novels now in which the scene is laid in the Stone Age, and the subject of which is the abduction of a brawny brachycephalous pre-Aryan woman by a tall, white-skinned, dolichocephalous Aryan man.[434] When Zola’s La Terre appeared, five of his disciples—Paul Bonnetain, J. H. Rosny, just mentioned, Lucien Descaves, Paul Margueritte, and Gustave Guiches—deemed it necessary to protest, in a public manifesto, and with a solemnity somewhat comical, against the obscenities of this novel, and to disavow their master in proper and befitting form. If the novels of M. Zola himself still continue to find a very good and steady market, as he declares with pride, this in no way proves that his tendency is still popular. The masses persist in habits, once adopted, much longer than the leaders and creators do. If the former continue to follow M. Zola as before, the latter have already wholly left him. The success of his last novels is explained, moreover, on quite other than artistic grounds. His flair for what is occupying public opinion is, perhaps, the most essential part of his talent. He chooses from the outset subjects in favour of which he is assured of the positive interest of a numerous public, no matter how they may be treated. With books which relate, in the form of a novel, the story of the financial crisis of 1882, or the war of 1870, as L’Argent and La Débâcle, every known French author is sure to awaken in his own country a passionate interest even to this day. And M. Zola could equally count on a numerous connection of lovers of the obscene and nasty. This public remains faithful to him, and finds in him all it seeks. But it is a long time since he acquired any new adherents in his own country, and abroad he only obtains them among people who[475] anxiously follow every fashion, whether it be in neckties or books, but who are too ignorant to know as yet that M. Zola, in France itself, has long since ceased to be the last fashion.

In the opinion of his disciples, M. Zola is the inventor of realism in literature. This is a pretension which only young fellows, who are ignorant beyond all conception, could raise, and for whom the history of the world only begins at the moment when they have deigned to recognise it.

First of all, the word ‘realism’ itself has no æsthetic significance. In philosophy it denotes an opinion for which the general phenomenon of the world is the expression of a material reality. Applied to art and literature, it possesses no conception whatever. This I have explicitly demonstrated in another place (Paris unter der dritten Republik), and will confine myself here to going very briefly over the argument.

Those ale-house æsthetics, who distinguish between realism and idealism, explain the former as the effort of the artist to observe things and to reproduce them with truth. But this attempt is common to every author, whoever he may be. No one of deliberate purpose wanders from the truth in his creations; and even if he wished to do so, he could not, as this would contradict all the laws of human thought. Every one of our presentations, in fact, is based on an observation once made by us, and even when we invent ad libitum, we only work with the memory-images recollected from previous observations. If, in spite of this, one work gives a greater impression of truth than another, it is a question, not of this or that æsthetic tendency, but exclusively of the degree of talent. A true poet is always true; an incapable imitator can never be so. The first is true even when he disdains always to adhere closely to reality in details; the latter is not so even when he clings, with punctilious attention, and with the method of a land-surveyor, to little external details.

If one bear in mind the psychological conditions in which a work of art comes into existence, all the rhodomontade of so-called ‘realism’ is immediately recognised. The origin of every veritable work of art is an emotion. This is aroused either by a vital process in the internal organs of the artist, or by a sense-impression which he receives from the external world. In both cases the artist feels the necessity of giving expression to his emotion in a work of art. If this emotion is of organic origin, he will choose from among his memory-images, or his sense-impressions of the moment, those which are in harmony with his emotion, and will compose with them. If its origin is external, he will employ in his composition mainly phenomena of the external world, sensuous experiences which have evoked in him the emotion demanding objective[476] shape, and he will combine with this, similar memory-images in accordance with the laws of association. As may be seen, the process in the two cases is absolutely the same: the artist, under the control of an emotion, welds direct sense-perceptions and memory-images into a work of art which brings him relief; only, sometimes the former, sometimes the latter, are predominant, according to whether the emotion has its origin in sense-perceptions or in organic processes. Speaking roughly, the works which result from an emotion aroused by the phenomena of the world may well be called realistic, and those expressing an organic emotion idealistic. These denominations, however, have not any really distinctive value. Among thoroughly sane individuals the emotions originate almost solely from impressions of the external world; among those whose nervous life is more or less diseased, namely, among hysterical, neurasthenic, and degenerate subjects, and every kind of lunatic, they originate much more frequently in internal organic processes. Sane artists will produce works, as a rule, in which perception will predominate; artists unhealthily emotional will produce works in which the play of association of ideas predominates—in other words, imagination working principally on memory-images. And if a false designation is absolutely adhered to, it might be said that the first, as a general rule, will produce works which are so-called realistic, and the second, works so-called idealistic. In no case is the work of art a faithful image of material reality; its genesis excludes this possibility. It is always the incarnation of a subjective emotion only. To desire to know the world by means of a work of art is a false proceeding; but the whole essence of a personality reveals itself in it to him who knows how to read. The work of art is never a document in the sense attached by naturalistic cant to this word, i.e., a reliable objective presentation of external facts; but it is always a confession of the author; it betrays, consciously or unconsciously, his way of feeling and thinking; it lays bare his emotions, and shows what ideas fill his consciousness, and are at the disposal of the emotion which strives for expression. It is not a mirror of the world, but a reflection of the soul of the artist.

It might be thought, perhaps, that at least the mainly imitative arts, painting and sculpture, are capable of a faithful reproduction of reality, and thus are realisms properly so called. Even this is an error. It would never occur to a painter or a sculptor to place himself before a phenomenon, and reproduce it without selection, without accentuations and suppressions. And why does he do this? If he imitates an aspect, it is evidently because something in that aspect captivates or pleases him—a harmony of colours, an effect of light,[477] a line of motion. Involuntarily he will accentuate and throw into relief the feature which has inspired him with the desire to imitate the aspect in question, and his work, consequently, will no more represent the phenomenon such as it really was, but as he saw it; it will only be a fresh proof, therefore, of his emotion, not the cast of a phenomenon. To work absolutely in the method of a camera obscura and a sensitive plate would be only possible to a very obtuse handicraftsman, who, in the presence of the visible world, had no feeling for anything, no pleasure, no disgust, no aspirations of any kind. However, it is not at all probable that so atrophied a being will ever have had the inclination to become an artist, and could acquire, even in a moderate degree, the technical skill necessary for such a profession.

And if literal realism, the positive actual imitation of the phenomenon, be interdicted even in the plastic arts by their intrinsic nature, with how much greater reason is it forbidden to imaginative writing! The painter can, after all, if he wishes to debase himself and his art to the lowest degree, reduce the co-operation of his personality in a work of art (or, to be more exact, to the work, for then there can be no question of art) to an extremely feeble, a scarcely perceptible point; he can reduce himself to the condition of a mere camera obscura, transmit his visual impressions in the most mechanical manner possible to his motor organs, and compel himself to think and feel nothing during the progress of the work. His picture is furnished for him by Nature itself: it is his optical horizon. If, then, he wishes to exercise no choice, to express nothing of his own, not even to compose, still there remains the possibility of copying the phenomena which are enclosed within the limits of his field of vision. His so-called picture is then no more than an expressionless fragment of the world, in which the artist’s personality is only represented by the frame which encloses it, not because the phenomena of Nature really terminates at that point, but because the eye of the painter only embraces that portion, and no more; nevertheless, it is a picture in a technical sense, i.e., a picture that can be hung upon the wall and looked at. The imaginative writer (dichter), on the contrary, does not find his work ready in this way. It is not provided for him by Nature itself. His subjects are not developed in space, but in time. They are not arranged by the side of one another in such a way that the eye perceives them and can retain all it sees; but they succeed each other, and the imaginative writer must by his own intellect assign them their limits, he must himself decide what he ought to seize upon and what he must let go; where the phenomenon begins which he wishes to utilize in his work, and where it ends. He cannot begin or end a conversation in[478] the middle of a word, in imitation of M. Jean Béraud, for example, who in a well-known picture has made the frame cut off the wheels of a waggon in the middle. He may not produce an inexpressive photograph of the uniform course of events of life and the world. He must fence round and dam up certain places in the course of events. In doing this he clearly affirms himself and his personality. He betrays his original stamp. He allows his intentions, views, and sentiments to be recognised. If amongst a million of contemporary human destinies he relates one only, it is that for some reason or other this particular one has interested him more than the rest of the million. If he transmits to us only some few features, ideas, conversations, and actions of the person he has selected (not even a millionth part of all that makes up his actual life) it is because, for some reason or other, these seemed to him more important and more characteristic than all the rest; because in his opinion they prove something, they express an idea not conceived by things as they are, but which he believes he can deduce from reality, or which he desires to read into it. Thus, his ‘realistic’ work always reproduces his thoughts only, his interpretation of reality, his interest in it, and not reality itself. If the imaginative writer wished to transcribe the world phonographically or photographically, his work would no longer be a poem, even in a purely technical sense; it would not even be a book, to the extent that the work of the painter who only photographs still continues, in a purely technical sense, to be a picture; it would be something with neither form, sense, nor name; for, in reproducing the existence of a single human being during one day only, thousands of pages could be filled if all his sensations, thoughts, words, and actions were treated as of equal value. That selection is therefore made among them which is the subjectivity of the imaginative writer, i.e., the reverse of ‘realism.’

Besides, the work of the painter addresses itself to the same senses as the phenomenon of Nature itself, and reproduces it with the help of the same means by which the world itself is revealed to the senses, viz., with light and colour. Of course the lights, colours, and lines of the painter are not exactly those of the real phenomenon, and it is only in consequence of an illusion that, in his imitation, the phenomenon is recognised; but this illusion is the work of such inferior cerebral centres that even animals are capable of it, as is demonstrated by the classical anecdote so well known of the birds wishing to peck at the bunch of grapes painted by Zeuxis. The imaginative writer, on the contrary, does not address himself to the senses; to be more exact, he appeals by hearing or sight, to which he presents spoken or written words, not to the centres of perception,[479] as the plastic artist does in the first instance, but to the higher centres of conception, judgment, and reasoning. Nor has he the means for directly reproducing the sensible phenomenon itself, but he must first translate the phenomenon into concepts under a linguistic, i.e., a conventional, form. This is, however, an excessively complicated and highly differentiated activity, which bears completely the impress of the personality exercising it. If even two eyes do not see in the same manner, how much less can two brains perceive and interpret in the same way what the eye has seen, class it with pre-existing concepts, associate it with feelings and representations, and clothe it in traditional forms of language? The activity of the imaginative writer, therefore, is incomparably more than that of the artist, essentially personal; the elaboration of sense-impressions into representations, and the translation of representations into words, are so peculiarly individual, so exclusively subjective, that for this cause also imaginative writing can never be reality itself, i.e., ‘realistic.’

The notion of so-called ‘realism’ cannot withstand either psychological or æsthetic criticism. We might, perhaps, attempt an external, superficial, practical conception of it, and say, for example, Realism is the method in the application of which the imaginative writer starts from his perceptions and observations, and seeks his subjects in the environment he knows personally; idealism is the opposite method, which that writer employs who, in creating, yields to the play of imagination, and who, in order not to impede its free energy, borrows his materials from remote times and countries, or from social strata of which he has no direct knowledge, but which he conceives only in the visions of aspiration, intuition, or surmise. Reasonable and plausible as this explanation appears, it, too, nevertheless, dissolves into blue mist when more closely examined. For, in fact, the choice of subject-matter, the surroundings from which it is borrowed, or in which it is placed, have no decisive signification; no method is therein manifested, but merely the author’s personality. One in whom observation predominates will be ‘realistic,’ i.e., will express experiences, even if he pretends to speak of men and things placed wholly beyond the reach of his observation; and the other in whom the mechanical association of ideas prevails will be ‘idealistic,’ i.e., he will simply follow the wanderings of his imagination, even when he desires to represent circumstances which may be personally familiar to him.

Let us give one example only of the two cases. What is more ‘idealistic’ than fairy-stories? Very well, here are some passages from the best-known fairy-tales of the brothers Grimm: ‘There was once upon a time a king’s daughter who[480] went into the forest and seated herself on the brink of a cool fountain’ (The Frog Prince; or, Iron Henry). ‘But the little sister at home [he is speaking of the daughter of a king who had driven away his twelve sons] grew up, and remained the only child. Once there was a great washing-day, and amongst the washing were twelve men’s shirts. “For whom are these shirts?” demanded the princess; “they are much too small for my father.” Then the laundress told her that she had had twelve brothers,’ etc.; ‘and as the little sister sat in the meadow in the afternoon bleaching the linen, the words of the laundress came into her mind,’ etc. (The Twelve Brothers). ‘The wood-cutter obeyed; he fetched his child, and gave her to the Virgin Mary, who carried her up into heaven. There the child lived happily; she ate nothing but sweet cakes, and drank new milk,’ etc. ‘So fourteen years went by in heaven. Then the Virgin Mary had to take a long journey; but before she went away, she called the girl to her, and said, “Dear child, I entrust you with the keys of the thirteen doors of Paradise,”’ etc. (Mary’s Child). The unknown writer of these fairy-tales transports his stories into royal palaces, or even into heaven—i.e., into surroundings which he certainly does not know; but he endows beings and things, and even the Virgin Mary, with such traits as are known and familiar to him by observation. From the royal palace one enters a wood or a meadow as one might on leaving a farm; the princess runs to the fountain in the forest quite alone, looks after the linen, and bleaches it on the grass, just like a domestic servant. The Holy Virgin undertakes a journey, and confides the keys of the household to her adopted daughter, as a rich châtelaine might do. These fairy-tales are composed from a peasant’s own experience, who describes his own world with honest realism, and simply gives other names to the figures and circumstances with which he is familiar. M. Edmond de Goncourt, on the contrary, the great pioneer ‘realist,’ relates, in his novel La Faustin, the love-story of a Lord Annandale and an actress of the Théâtre Français, which elicits from M. F. Brunetière, the critic, these observations: ‘I should much like to hear M. Zola’s opinion on M. de Goncourt’s novel. What can M. Zola, who has jested so eloquently on the subject of novels of adventure—of those novels in which princes walked about incognito with their pockets full of diamonds—think in his inmost heart of this Lord Annandale throwing handfuls of gold out of the windows, and ruling from one day to another over fifty English servants in his mansion in Paris, without counting the retainers of his lady? What can M. Zola, who has made merry so comfortably over the idealistic novel, as he calls it, think of this one in which love triumphant carries off the lovers into the adorable world of[481] dreams—what can he think to himself concerning this passionate tenderness which M. de Goncourt’s Englishman has for the tragedienne, this almost deified gallantry, this sensual liaison dans le bleu, this physical love in ideality, and all the rest of the jargon which I spare the reader?’[435] M. Edmond de Goncourt professes to depict a contemporary Englishman, an actress also of our own times, events in Parisian life—i.e., all of them matters he might have observed, and with which he ought to be familiar; but what he does relate is so incredible, so impossible, unprecedented, that one can only shrug one’s shoulders over the childish fable. Thus, the German story-teller who conducts us into a society of angels, saints, and kings, really shows us healthy, robust peasants and lasses whose living reality is in no way diminished by the carnival crowns and gilded-paper halos playfully placed on their heads; while the French realist who would transport us into Parisian life among Parisians, floats before our eyes fleshless phantoms moving in clouds of cigar-smoke, marsh-mists, and punch-flames, and who remain just as unreal, for all the effort of the author to conjure into them a distant resemblance to an Englishman in a frock-coat, and a hysterical lady in a lace-trimmed négligée. The author of the fairy-tales is a realist in the sense of the explanation given above; the novelist of Parisian manners, Edmond de Goncourt, is an idealist of the most aggravating type.

From whatever side we approach this pretended realism, we never succeed in seeing in it a concept, but only an empty word. Every method of investigation leads us to the same result—viz., that there is no realism in poetry, i.e., no impersonal, actual copy of reality; there are only the various personalities of the poet. The only decisive thing is the individuality of the poet. One of them draws from the phenomenon of Nature, another from his internal organic processes, those emotions which incite them to create. One is capable of attention, and observes; another is the slave of an unbridled association of ideas. In one the presentation of the ‘not-self’ predominates in consciousness, in another the ‘self.’ I do not hesitate to express the matter in a single word—one is healthy and in an evolution of growth; the other is changed more or less pathologically—has more or less fallen into degeneracy. The healthy poet mingles knowledge with every one of his works, whether it be Dante’s Inferno or Goethe’s Faust; and if held desirable, this element of knowledge, which it is not possible to acquire except by attention and observation, may be called realism. The degenerate poet never[482] fashions anything but empty soap-bubbles of knowledge, even when he maintains, and is himself convinced, that he is giving out what he has observed; and this confused ebullition of ideas, shot in the best cases with changing hues, but most frequently simply dirty froth, is very often called, by a misnomer, idealism.

Still another and the latest meaning has been applied to realism; it stands for the systematic treatment of the lower ranks of life, and commonplace men and things. According to this definition, the works in which labourers, peasants, petty bourgeois, etc., appear, would be realistic, and those in which gods, heroes, kings, etc., take part, idealistic. Louis XIV., according to the well-known anecdote when Teniers’ tavern-scenes were exhibited before him, let fall the indignant and disdainful comment, ‘Take away these grotesque things!’ He would not have condemned an artistic method and manner of representation, but the baseness of the subject only would have offended his Olympian eye. This explanation of the term ‘realism’ is a little more comprehensible than the others; but I have no need to show how grossly external and how philosophically and æsthetically worthless it is. We have seen, in fact, above, how the simplest feelings and ideas of peasants may be attributed to gods and to kings; and, conversely, there is no lack of works in which a royal crown or a saintly halo hovers invisibly over the heads of human beings in the lowest social position. In Gregory Samarow’s novels, emperors and kings disport themselves who feel, think, and speak like the commercial travellers of a third-rate wine business; in Berthold Auerbach’s village stories we see peasants who in heart and head are of the highest nobility, sometimes even semi-divine. The one kind is as unreal as the other, only in the first we discern the craft of the sensation-monger, in the second there speaks to us the refined and tender-souled poet. In The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot, we find a farm-servant, Luke, and a miller’s daughter, Maggie, who would do honour to any Pantheon in the grandeur of their character and morals; in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair we are shown a Marquis of Steyne, very magnificent and very proud, and another such, Earl Bareacres, with neither of whom would any decent man shake hands. Those are as true as these; but whereas the former betray the heart of a poet full of love and pity, the latter reveal the soul of an artist overflowing with bitterness and wrath. Which, now, is noble—the emperors and kings of Samarow or the Black Forest peasants of Auerbach? Which is plebeian—the farming men of George Eliot or the powerful English peers of Thackeray? And which of these works must be qualified as realistic, which as[483] idealistic, if realism signifies being occupied with inferior persons and conditions, idealism with those that are superior?

Hence to serious investigation, which does not stop at the mere jingle of words, the expressions ‘realism’ and ‘idealism’ convey no meaning. We will now see what the partisans of M. Emile Zola give out as his originality, in what he himself claims to be a model and a pioneer, and how he justifies his pretension of impersonating a totally new epoch in the history of literature.

M. Zola’s disciples boast of his art of description and his ‘impressionism.’ I make a great difference between the two. Description endeavours to seize upon the characteristic features of the phenomenon by all the senses at once, and convey them in words; impressionism shows the conscious state of a person receiving impressions in the domain of one sense only, seeing things only, hearing them only, feeling them only, etc. Description is the work of a brain which comprehends the things it perceives in their connection and their essence; impressionism is the work of a brain which receives from the phenomenon only the sensuous elements—and by a one-sided aspect—of knowledge, but not knowledge itself. The describer recognises in a tree, a tree, with all the ideas which this concept includes. The impressionist sees before him merely a mass of colour composed of spots of different greens, on which the sun flashes here and there points and rays of light. Description for its own sake, as well as impressionism, are, in poetry, an æsthetic and psychological error, as will be demonstrated as briefly as possible; but even this error was not invented by M. Zola, for long before him the romanticists, and Théophile Gautier particularly, cultivated the broad style of description, inorganically interpolated into literary composition; and, on the subject of impressionism, the brothers De Goncourt showed M. Zola the way.

The purely objective description of objects is science, when it is worth anyone’s while to acquire of them as clear a representation as may be communicated by words without the assistance of image or number. Such description is simply child’s play and waste of time, when no one is interested to pause and look at the things described, either because they are too well known or because they are without importance.[436][484] Finally, it rises into art while remaining of an inferior species, when it chooses words so well that it follows the most delicate peculiarities of the objects, and at the same time calls out the emotions that the observer experiences during his observations, i.e., when the words employed have not only the value of a just portrayal of sensuously perceptible properties, but have an emotional colouring, and appear accompanied by images and metaphors. We may cite as examples of art of portrayal all good descriptions of travel, from the Voyage to the Equinoxial Regions of the New Continent, by Alexander Humboldt, to Sahara and Soudan, by Nachtigal, Im Herzen Afrikas, by Schweinfurth, or Edmond de Amicis’ books on Constantinople, Morocco, Spain, Holland, etc. But these have nothing in common with imaginative writing, which always has for its object man, with his ideas and sentiments, not excepting fables of animals, parables, allegories, fairy-tales, all the hybrid forms in which the human element of all imagination appears disguised as an anthropomorphism applied to animals, and even to inanimate objects. The material frame, the scene and surrounding, have no importance in an imaginative work, except in so far as they affect the person or persons of whom it treats. The imaginative writer may be regarded either as a spectator who narrates human events as they develop before his eyes, or as an actor in these events, which he looks upon and feels with the consciousness of one of the personages concerned. In both cases he can naturally only perceive in the material surroundings whatever plays a part in the events themselves. If he is a spectator, he will certainly not let his eyes wander over the field of vision indifferently, but will pause before a scene which attracts his attention, and for which he seeks to arouse our interest. If he has himself adopted the disguise of one of the actors, he will be even more completely absorbed by the human events in which he himself co-operates, and will preserve still less any inclination to stroll indifferently by the side of scenes which have nothing to do with his given state of mind, and divert him from acts and feelings with which he is preoccupied at the moment. Hence an imaginative work[485] which is true to human nature will only contain descriptions of such material surroundings as a spectator (absorbed in the actual events which form the subject of the work, or as one of its actors) is in a state to perceive, i.e., only what is directly connected with the events. If the description includes extraneous matter, it is psychologically false; it disturbs moods, interrupts events, diverts the attention from what ought to be the essential point in the work of art, and transforms the latter into a patchwork; showing signs that its author lacked artistic earnestness, that the work is not born from the need to give poetic expression to a genuine emotion.

A very much worse error than desultory, cold-blooded description in imaginative writing is impressionism. In painting it has its authorization. The latter reproduces the impressions of the visual senses, and the painter is within the limits of his art when he presents his purely optical perceptions without composing, or without relating a story, i.e., without introducing any idea into the scene he reproduces, without combining any activity of his highest centres of ideation with the activity of the centres of perception. The picture produced according to this method will be very inferior from an æsthetic point of view, but it will be a picture, and can be defended as such. Poetical impressionism, on the other hand, is a complete misconception of the essence of imaginative work; it is the negation and suppression of it. The medium of poetry is language. Now this is an activity, not of the centres of perception, but of the centres of ideation and judgment. The immediate phonetic reaction upon sensory excitations is merely an exclamation. Without the co-operation of the highest centres a perception cannot express itself phonetically except by an ‘Ah!’ or an ‘Oh!’ But in the same ratio that the purely emotional cry of an animal rises to the height of intelligible grammatically articulated human speech, the purely sensuous perception rises also to the height of concept and judgment, and it is psychologically quite false so to depict the language of the external world as if it set free only a sensation of colour or of sound, and provoked neither ideas, concepts, nor judgments. Impressionism in literature is an example of that atavism which we have noticed as the most distinctive feature in the mental life of degenerates. It carries back the human mind to its brute-beginnings, and the artistic activity of its present high differentiation to an embryonic state; that state in which all the arts (which were later to emerge and diverge) lay side by side inchoate and inseparate. Consider, as an example, these impressionist descriptions by the brothers De Goncourt: ‘Above it a great cloud lowered, a heavy mass of a sombre purple, a scud from the north.... This cloud rose and ended[486] in sharp rents against a brightness where pale green merged into rose. Then the sky became dull, of the colour of tin, swept by fragments of other gray clouds.... Beyond the softly-swaying pinetops, under which the broad garden walk could be seen bare, leafless, red, almost carmine, ... the eye took in the whole space between the dome of the Salpétrière and the mass of the Observatory; first, a great plane of shadow resembling a wash of Indian ink on a red ground, a zone of warm bituminous tones, burnt with those frost-touched reds and those wintry glows that are found on an English artist’s water-colour palette; then, in the infinite delicacy of a degraded tint, a whitish streak arose, a milky nacreous vapour, pierced by the bright tones of new buildings.’ ‘The delicate tones of an old man’s complexion played on the yellowish and bluish pink of his face. Through his tender, wrinkled ears—ears of paper interwoven by filaments—the day in passing became orange.’ ‘The air, streaked with water, had an over-wash of that violet blue with which the painter imitates the transparency of thick glass.... The first vivid smile of green began on the black branches of the trees, where, like strokes from a brush, touches of spring could be discerned leaving behind it light coatings of green dust.’[437]

Such is the procedure of impressionism. The writer gives himself the air of a painter; he professes to seize the phenomenon, not as a concept, but to feel it as simple sense-stimulation. He writes down the names of colours as an artist lays on his washes, and he imagines that he has herewith given the reader a particularly strong impression of reality. But it is a childish illusion, for the reader, nevertheless, comes to see no colours, but merely words. He has to transform these names of colours, like every other word, into images, and with the same mental effort he would procure himself a much livelier impression if, instead of heavily enumerating to him one after another of the optical elements of the phenomenon, the phenomenon were presented to him ready elaborated into a concept. M. Zola has borrowed this absurdity from the De Goncourt brothers with some exactitude, but it was not he who invented it.

Another of his originalities is said to be the observation and reproduction of the milieu, the environment, human and material, of the persons represented. Coming after the indulgence in useless description, and after impressionism, the theory of the ‘milieu’ produces a most comical effect, since it is the exact contrary of the psychological theory which forms the point of departure of impressionism and of the mania for[487] description. The impressionist places himself over against some phenomenon as a mere sense, as photographer or phonographist, etc. He registers the nerve-vibrations. He denies himself all higher comprehension, the elaboration of perceptions into concepts, and the classification of the concepts in the experiences which, as general knowledge, pre-exist in his consciousness. The theorist of the ‘milieu,’ on the contrary, systematically attributes the chief importance, not to the phenomenon, but to its causal connection; he is not a sense which perceives, but a philosopher who endeavours to interpret and explain according to a system. What, in fact, does the theory of the ‘milieu’ mean? It means that the imaginative writer asserts that the individuality and mode of conduct of any person are a consequence of the influences that his environment, living or dead, exert upon him, and that he is trying to discover these influences, and the nature of their action on that person. The theory in itself is right, but, again, it is not M. Zola who invented it, for it is as old as philosophic thought itself. In our own times, Taine has distinctly conceived and established it, and, long before M. Zola, Balzac and Flaubert sought to introduce its operation into their novels. And yet this theory, extremely fertile as it is in anthropology and sociology, and giving, as it does, an impulse to meritorious research, is in imaginative writing but another error, and constitutes a confusion of kinds engendered by vague thought. The task of the man of science is to investigate the causes of phenomena. Sometimes he finds them, frequently he does not; often he believes he has discovered them, till more exact observation subsequently tells him he has deceived himself and must rectify his hypotheses. The investigation of the conditions under which man acquires his various physical and mental qualities is in full progress, but is only at its commencement, and has as yet furnished extremely few positive facts. We do not even know why one human race is tall or another short in stature; why this one has blue eyes and fair hair, that one dark eyes and hair; and yet these are incomparably simpler, more external and more accessible properties than the subtle peculiarities of mind and character. On the causes of these peculiarities we know nothing definite. We can make conjectures on this subject, but, meanwhile, even the most plausible of these have still the character of hypotheses, of probable, but not of verified, truth. And here the imaginative writer would like to come upon the scene, carry off unfinished scientific hypotheses, complete them by means of his own fantastic conceits, and teach: ‘Do you see? this man whom I show you has become what he is because his parents have had such and such attributes, because he has lived here or there, because when a child he received such and such impressions,[488] because he has been thus nurtured, thus educated, has had such and such intercourse, etc.’ He is here doing what is not his office. Instead of an artistic creation he attempts to give us science, and he gives us false science, since he has no suspicion of the influences which really form the man, and the details of the ‘milieu’ which he throws into relief as being the causes of individual peculiarities are probably the least essential, and, in any case, only a minimum portion of what, in the formation of the personality, has played a really determining part. Think of it for a moment. The one question as to the origin of the criminal has produced in these last twenty years thousands of books and pamphlets; hundreds of medical men, jurists, economists, and philosophers of the first rank, have devoted to it the most profound and assiduous research, and we are still far from being able to indicate with certainty what share heredity, social influences (i.e., the ‘milieu,’ properly so called) and unknown biological peculiarities of the individual, have in the formation of the criminal type. And then there comes a wholly ignorant writer, who, quite by himself, with the sovereign infallibility claimed for himself by the author in his own province, decides a question which the combined ten years’ labour of a whole generation of professional investigators has brought but very little nearer to a solution! This is an audacity only explicable by this fact, that the writer has not the very smallest idea of the weight of the task which he undertakes with so light a heart.

If, in spite of this, Balzac and Flaubert seem to have produced excellent works with this theory of the ‘milieu,’ it is an optical illusion. They have devoted great attention and detailed descriptions to the environment of their characters (especially Flaubert in Madame Bovary), and the superficial reader thereby receives the impression that there exists a connection of causality between the environment and the being and doing of the personages, it being one of the most elementary and tenacious peculiarities of human thought to link causally one with another all phenomena which present themselves simultaneously or successively. This peculiarity is one of the most fruitful sources of defective conclusions, and it cannot be overcome except by the most attentive observation, often even only with the help of experiment. In the novels of Balzac and Flaubert, where the ‘milieu’ plays so great a part, the ‘milieu,’ in fact, explains nothing. For the personages who move in the same ‘milieu’ are, notwithstanding, wholly different. Everyone reacts on the influences of the ‘milieu’ in his own particular way. This distinctive character must be the datum, it cannot be the result, of the ‘milieu.’ The latter has, at most, the significance of an immediate proximate cause, but the[489] most remote causes of the effect in question are found in the distinctive character of the personality, and on the latter, the ‘milieu’ that the poet depicts gives us no real enlightenment.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:30 am

Part 2 of 2

On the pretension of M. Zola and his partisans, that his novels are ‘slices from real life’ (tranches de vie), it is useless to linger. We have seen above that M. Zola is far from being capable of transcribing in his novels life as real and as a whole. Like all the imaginative writers before him, he also makes a choice; from a million thoughts of his personages, he reproduces one only; from ten thousand functions and actions, one only; from years of their life, some minutes, or merely seconds; his supposed ‘slice from life’ is a condensed and rearranged conspectus of life, artificially ordered according to a definite design, and full of gaps. Like all other imaginative writers, he also makes his choice according to his particular personal inclinations, and the only difference is that these inclinations, which we shall at once recognise, are very dissimilar from those of other writers.

M. Zola calls his novels ‘human documents’ and ‘experimental novels.’ I have already, thirteen years ago, expressed myself so fully on this double pretension, that I have now nothing more to add to what I said then. Does he think that his novels are serious documents from which science can borrow facts? What childish folly! Science can have nothing to do with fiction. She has no need of invented persons and actions, however ben trovati they may be; but she wants beings who have lived, and actions which have taken place. The novel treats of individual destinies, or at most those of families; science has need of information on the destinies of millions. Police reports, lists of imposts, tables of commerce, statistics of crimes and suicides, information on the prices of provisions, salaries, the mean duration of human life, the marriage rate, the birth rate, legitimate and illegitimate—these are ‘human documents.’ From them we learn how people live, whether they progress, whether they are happy or unhappy, pure or corrupt. The history of civilization, when it wants facts, puts M. Zola’s entertaining novels aside as of no account, and has recourse to tedious statistical tables. And a very much more singular whim still is his ‘experimental novel.’ This term would prove that M. Zola, if he employs it in good faith, does not even suspect the nature of scientific experiment. He thinks he has made an experiment when he invents neuropathic personages, places them in imaginary conditions, and makes them perform imaginary actions. A scientific experiment is an intelligent question addressed to Nature, and to which Nature must reply, and not the questioner himself. M. Zola also puts questions. But to whom? To Nature?[490] No; to his own imagination. And his answers are to have the force of proof. The result of scientific experiment is constraining. Every man in possession of his senses can perceive it. The results at which M. Zola arrives in his pretended ‘experiment’ do not exist objectively; they exist only in his imagination; they are not facts, but assertions, in which every man can believe, or not, at his pleasure. The difference between experiments, and what M. Zola calls such, is so great that it is difficult for me to impute the abusive application of the term to ignorance only, or to incapacity for thought. I believe rather in a conscious premeditated snare. The appearance of M. Zola occurred at a time when mysticism was not yet the fashion in France, and when the favourite catch-words of the writing and gossiping gang were positivism and natural science. In order to recommend himself to the masses, a man had to represent himself as a positivist and as scientific. Grocers, hotel-keepers, small inventors, etc., have everywhere and always the habit of decorating their sign-boards or their produce with a name which is connected with an idea dominant with the public. At the present day a hotel-keeper or a tradesman recommends his house or his shop by such titles as ‘The Progress’ or ‘International Commerce;’ and a manufacturer extols his goods as ‘Electric’ braces or ‘Magnetic’ ink. We have seen that the Nietzscheans designate their tendency as ‘psycho-physiological.’ In the same way Zola long before them hung out the catch-word sign to his novels—‘Ye scientificke experimente.’ But his novels had no more visible connection with natural science and experiment than the ink above mentioned with magnetism, and the braces with electricity.

M. Zola boasts of his method of work; all his books emanate from ‘observation.’ The truth is that he has never ‘observed;’ that he has never, following Goethe, ‘plunged into the full tide of human life,’ but has always remained shut up in a world of paper, and has drawn all his subjects out of his own brain, all his ‘realistic’ details from newspapers and books read uncritically. I need only recall a few cases in which his sources have been placed within his reach. All the information on the life, manners, habits, and language of the Parisian workmen in L’Assommoir are borrowed from a study by M. Denis Poulot, Le Sublime. The adventure of Une Page d’Amour is taken from the Mémoires de Casanova. Certain features in which the masochism or passivism of Count Muffat is declared in Nana, M. Zola found in a quotation from Taine relative to the Venice Preserved of Thomas Otway.[438] The scene of the confinement, in La Joie de Vivre, the description of the[491] Mass, in La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, etc., are copied word for word from an obstetric manual and a Mass-book. One reads sometimes in the newspapers very pretentious statements of the ‘studies’ to which M. Zola gives himself up when he undertakes a new novel. These ‘studies’ consist, on his part, in making a visit to the Bourse when he wishes to write on speculation, in undertaking a trip on a locomotive when he desires to describe the working of a railway, in once casting a glance round some available bedroom when he means to depict the mode of life of the Parisian cocottes. Such a manner of ‘observation’ resembles that of a traveller who passes through a country in an express train. He may perceive some external details, he may notice some scenes and arrange them later in descriptions rich in colour, if wholly inaccurate; but he learns nothing of the real and essential peculiarities of the country, and the life and ways of its inhabitants. Like all degenerates, M. Zola, too, is a complete stranger to the world in which he lives. His eyes are never directed towards nature or humanity, but only to his own ‘Ego.’ He has no first-hand knowledge of anything, but acquires, by second or third hand, all that he knows of the world or life. Flaubert has created, in Bouvard et Pécuchet, the characters of two blockheads, who, with unsuspecting ingenuousness, attack all the arts and sciences, and imagine they have acquired them when they have dipped into, or, more correctly, have skimmed through, the first book on the subject which falls into their hands. Zola is an ‘observer’ of the Bouvard et Pécuchet species, and on reading Flaubert’s posthumous novel one is tempted to believe in places that when describing the ‘studies’ of his heroes he was thinking, at least amongst others, of Zola.

I think I have shown that M. Zola has not the priority in any one of the peculiarities which constitute his method. For all of them he has had models, and some few are as old as the world. The supposed realism, mania for description, impressionism, the emphasis on the ‘milieu,’ the human document, the slices of life—all these are so many æsthetic and psychological errors, but Zola has not even the doubtful merit of having conceived them. The only thing he has invented is the word ‘naturalism,’ substituted by him for ‘realism’ (the sole term in vogue till then), and the expression ‘experimental novel,’ which means absolutely nothing, but possesses a piquant little smattering of science which Zola’s public, at the period when this novelist made his appearance, felt as an agreeable seasoning.

The only real and true things contained in M. Zola’s novels are the little traits borrowed by him from the items of news in[492] the daily papers and from technical works. But these also become false from the lack of criticism and taste with which he employs them. In fact, in order that the borrowed detail should remain faithful to reality, it must preserve its right relation to the whole phenomenon, and this is what never happens with M. Zola. To quote only two examples. In Pot-Bouille, among the inhabitants of a single house in the Rue de Choiseul, he brings to pass in the space of a few months all the infamous things he has learnt in the course of thirty years, by reports from his acquaintances, by cases in courts of law, and various facts from newspapers about apparently honourable bourgeois families; in La Terre, all the vices imputed to the French peasantry or rustic people in general, he crams into the character and conduct of a few inhabitants of a small village in Beauce; he may in these cases have supported every detail by cuttings from newspapers or jottings, but the whole is not the less monstrously and ridiculously untrue.

The self-styled innovator who, it is asserted, has invented hitherto unknown methods of construction and exposition in the province of the novel, is in reality a pupil of the French romanticists, from whom he has appropriated and employed all the tricks of the trade, and whose tradition he carries on, walking in the straight road of historical continuity, without interruption and without deviation. This is what is most clearly proved by the descriptions, which reflect not the world, but the view that the poet is capable of taking of the world. I will quote, for the sake of comparison, some characteristic passages from Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo, and from different novels by Zola, which will show the reader that both could be very easily confounded, the self-styled inventor of ‘naturalism’ and the extreme romanticist. ‘The broom ransacked the corners with an irritated growling.’ ‘The Kyrie Eleison ran like a shiver into this kind of stable.’ ‘The pulpit ... stood in front of a clock with weights, enclosed in a walnut wood case, and the hollow vibrations of which shook the whole church, like the beatings of an enormous heart, hidden somewhere beneath the flag-stones.’ ‘The rays [of the sun], more and more horizontal, withdraw slowly from the pavement of the square, and mount perpendicularly along the gabled front, making its thousand bas-reliefs spring out from their shadow, while the great central rose-window blazes like a Cyclop’s eye inflamed by the glow of the forge.’ ‘When the priest ... quitted the altar ... the sun remained sole master of the church. It had rested in its turn on the altar cloth, illuminated the door of the tabernacle with splendour, celebrating the fruitful promise of May. A warmth arose from the flag-stones. The whitewashed walls, the great Virgin, the great Christ himself,[493] took on a shiver of vital sap [!], as if death had been vanquished by the eternal youth of the earth.’ ‘In a crevice of this spout two pretty gilliflowers in blossom, shaken and animated by the breath of the air, made sportive salutations to each other.’ ‘At one of the windows a great service-tree reared itself, throwing its branches across the broken panes, extending its shoots as if to look within.’ ‘Towards the east, the morning breeze chased some white flocks of down across the sky, torn from the foggy fleece of the hills.’ ‘The closed windows slept. Some few, here and there, brightly lit, opened their eyes, and seemed to make certain corners squint.’ ‘Already some whiffs of smoke were disgorged here and there over all that surface of roofs, as by the fissures of an immense sulphur-kiln.’ ‘A miserable guillotine, furtive, uneasy, ashamed, which seems always afraid of being caught in flagrante delicto, so quickly does it disappear after having given its blow.’ ‘The alembic went on dully, without a flame, or any gaiety in the extinct reflexions of its coppers, letting flow its alcoholic sweat, like a slow and obstinate spring, which should end by invading the rooms, spreading over the boulevards without inundating the immense hollow of Paris.’ ‘At the barrier, the herd-like trampling went on in the cold of the morning.... This crowd, from a distance, was a chalky blur, a neutral tone, in which a faded blue and dirty gray predominated. Occasionally, a workman stopped short ... while around him the others walked on, without a smile, without a word to a comrade, with cadaverous cheeks, faces turned towards Paris, which, one by one, devoured them by the gaping street of the Faubourg Poissonnière.’ ‘And then, as he dived farther into the street, legless cripples, blind and lame men multiplied around him; the one-armed and the one-eyed, and the lepers with their wounds, some coming from the houses, some from the adjacent small streets, some from the air-holes of cellars, howling, bellowing, screaming, all limpingly, lamely, rushing towards the light, and wallowing in the mire like snails after rain.’ ‘The square ... presented ... the appearance of a sea, in which five or six streets, like so many mouths of rivers, discharged new waves of heads at every instant.... The great stairs, ascended and descended without intermission by a double stream ... flowed incessantly into the square, like a cascade into a lake.’ ‘The flickering brightness of the flames made them appear to move. There were serpents which had the appearance of laughing, gargoyles that one seemed to hear yelping, salamanders which breathed in the fire, dragons which sneezed in the smoke.’ ‘And the steam-engine, ten paces off, went on steadily breathing, steadily spitting from its scorched metal throat.’ ‘These were no longer the cold windows of the morning; now[494] they appeared as if warmed and vibrating with internal tremor. There were people looking at them, women, standing still, squeezing against the plate-glass, quite a crowd brutalized by covetousness. And the stuffs seemed alive in this passion of the pavement: the laces shivered, fell back and hid the depths of the shop, with a disquieting air of mystery.’ It would be easy to extend these comparisons to some hundreds of pages. I have indulged in the little joke of not adding the author’s name to the passages quoted. By the nature of the object described the specially attentive reader will perhaps be able to guess in one or another of these quotations, whether they are from Victor Hugo or from Emile Zola; I have tried to facilitate the matter by borrowing the passages by Victor Hugo from the Notre Dame de Paris alone; but the greatest number he will certainly not know to whom to attribute until I tell him that examples three, five, seven, nine, ten, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen, are from Victor Hugo, and all the others from Zola.

This is because the latter is an out-and-out romanticist in his way of envisaging the world and in his artistic method. He constantly practises in the most extensive and intensive fashion that atavistic anthropomorphism and symbolism, consequent on undeveloped or mystically confused thought, which is found among savages in a natural form, and among the whole category of degenerates in an atavistic form of mental activity. Like Victor Hugo, and like second-class romanticists, M. Zola sees every phenomenon monstrously magnified and weirdly distorted. It becomes for him, as for the savage, a fetish to which he attributes evil and hostile designs. Machines are horrible monsters dreaming of destruction; the streets of Paris open the jaws of Moloch to devour the human masses; a magasin de modes is an alarming, supernaturally powerful being, panting, fascinating, stifling, etc. Criticism has long since declared, though without comprehending the psychiatrical significance of this trait, that in every one of M. Zola’s novels some phenomenon dominates, like an obsession, forms the main feature of the work, and penetrates, like an appalling symbol, into the life and actions of all the characters. Thus, in L’Assommoir, the still; in Pot-Bouille, the ‘solemn staircase’; in Au Bonheur des Dames, the draper’s shop; in Nana, the heroine herself, who is no ordinary harlot, but ‘je ne sais quel monstre géant à la croupe gonflée de vices, une enorme Vénus populaire, aussi lourdement bête que grossièrement impudique, une espèce d’idole hindoue qui n’a seulement qu’à laisser tomber ses voiles pour faire tomber en arrêt les vieillards et les collégiens, et qui, par instants, se sent elle-même planer sur Paris et sur le monde.’[439] This[495] symbolism we have encountered among all degenerates, among symbolists properly so called, and other mystics, as well as among diabolists, and principally in Ibsen. It never fails in the madness of doubt or negation.[440] The would-be ‘realist’ sees the sober reality as little as a superstitiously timid savage, or a lunatic afflicted by hallucinations. He puts into it his own mental dispositions. He disposes of phenomena arbitrarily, so that they appear to express an idea which is dominating him. He gives to inanimate objects a fantastic life, and metamorphoses them into so many goblins endowed with feeling, will, cunning and ideas; but of human beings he makes automata through whom a mysterious power declares itself, a fatality in the ancient sense, a force of Nature, a principle of destruction. His endless descriptions delineate nothing but his own mental condition. No image of reality is ever obtained by them, for the picture of the world is to him like a freshly varnished oil-painting to which one stands too close in a disadvantageous light, and in which the reflection of one’s own face may be discerned.

M. Zola calls his series of novels ‘The Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire,’ and he seeks in this way to awaken the double idea that the Rougon-Macquarts are a typical average family of the French middle class, and that their history represents the general social life of France in the time of Napoleon III. He expressly asserts, as the fundamental principle of art, that the novelist should only relate the everyday life observed by himself.[441] I allowed myself for thirteen years to be led astray by his swagger, and credulously accepted his novels as sociological contributions to the knowledge of French life. Now I know better. The family whose history Zola presents to us in twenty mighty volumes is entirely outside normal daily life, and has no necessary connection whatever with France and the Second Empire. It might just as well have lived in Patagonia, and at the time of the Thirty Years’ War. He who ridicules the ‘idealists’ as being narrators of ‘exceptional cases,’ of that which ‘never happened,’ has chosen for the subject of his magnum opus the most exceptional case he could possibly have[496] found—a group of degenerates, lunatics, criminals, prostitutes, and ‘mattoids,’ whose morbid nature places them apart from the species; who do not belong to a regular society, but are expelled from it, and at strife with it; who conduct themselves as complete strangers to their epoch and country, and are, by their manner of existence, not members of any modern civilized people whatever, but belong to a horde of primitive wild men of bygone ages. M. Zola affirms that he describes life as he has observed it, and persons he has seen. He has in reality seen nothing and observed nothing, but has drawn the idea of his magnum opus, all the details of his plan, all the characters of his twenty novels, solely from one printed source, remaining hitherto unknown to all his critics, a characteristic circumstance due to the fact that not one of them possesses the least knowledge of the literature of mental therapeutics. There is in France a family of the name of Kérangal, who came originally from Saint-Brieuc, in Brittany, and whose history has for the last sixty years filled the annals of criminal justice and mental therapeutics. In two generations it has hitherto produced, to the knowledge of the authorities, seven murderers and murderesses, nine persons who have led an immoral life (one the keeper of a disorderly house, one a prostitute who was at the same time an incendiary, committed incest, and was condemned for a public outrage on modesty, etc.), and besides all these, a painter, a poet, an architect, an actress, several who were blind, and one musician.[442] The history of this Kérangal family has supplied M. Zola with material for all his novels. What would never have been afforded him in the life he really knows he found ready to his hand in the police and medical reports on the Kérangals, viz., an abundant assortment of the most execrable crimes, the most unheard-of adventures, and the maddest and most disordered careers, permeated by artistic inclinations which make the whole particularly piquant. If any common fabricator of newspaper novels had had the luck to discover the treasure he would probably have made a hash of the subject. M. Zola, with his great power and his sombre emotionalism, has known how to profit very effectively by it. Nevertheless, the subject he broaches is the roman du colportage, i.e., of a perishing romanticism which transports his dreams into no palaces like the flourishing romanticism, but into dens, prisons, and lunatic asylums, which are quite as far from the[497] middle stratum of sane life as the latter, only in an opposite direction, tending not upwards, but downwards. But if M. Zola has infinitely more talent than the German romanticists, to whom we owe such works as Rinaldo Rinaldini, Die blutige Nonne um Mitternacht, Der Scharfrichter vom Schreckenstein, etc., he has, on the other hand, infinitely less honesty than they. For they, at least, admit that they relate the most marvellous and unique horrors of their kind, while Zola issues his chronicles of criminals and madmen, the fruits of his reading, as a normal account of French society, drawn from the observation of daily life.

By choosing his subject in the domain of the most extraordinary and most exceptional, by the childish or crazy symbolism and anthropomorphism displayed in his extremely unreal survey of the world, the ‘realist’ Zola proves himself to be the immediate descendant in a direct line of the romanticists. His works are distinguished from those of his literary ancestors by only two peculiarities, which M. Brunetière has well discerned, viz., by ‘pessimism and premeditated coarseness.’[443] These peculiarities of M. Zola furnish us finally with a characteristic sign also of so-called realism or naturalism, which we should have in vain attempted to discover by psychological, æsthetic, historical, and literary inquiries. Naturalism, which has nothing to do with Nature or reality, is, taken all in all, the premeditated worship of pessimism and obscenity.

Pessimism, as a philosophy, is the last remains of the superstition of primitive times, which looked upon man as the centre and end of the universe. It is one of the philosophic forms of ego-mania. All the objections of pessimist philosophers to Nature and life have but one meaning, if their premise be correct as to the sovereignty of man in the Cosmos. When the philosopher says, Nature is irrational, Nature is immoral, Nature is cruel, what is this, in other words, but: I do not understand Nature, and yet she is only there that I may understand her; Nature does not consider what is for my utility alone, and yet she has no other task than to be useful to me; Nature grants me but a short period of existence, often crossed by troubles, and yet it is her duty to make provision for the eternity of my life and my continual joys? When Oscar Wilde is indignant that Nature makes no difference between himself and the grazing ox, we smile at his childishness. But have Schopenhauer, Hartmann, Mainländer, Bahnsen, done anything more than inflate into thick books Oscar Wilde’s ingenuous self-conceit? and that with terrible seriousness. Philosophic pessimism has the geocentric conception of the world as its postulate. It stands and falls with the Ptolemaic[498] doctrine. As soon as we recognise the Copernican point of view we lose the right, and also the desire to apply to Nature the measure of our logic, our morals, and our own advantage, and there ceases to be any meaning in calling it irrational, immoral, or cruel.

But what is also true is that pessimism is not a philosophy, but a temperament. ‘The systemic or organic sensations which arise from the simultaneous states of the several organs, digestive, respiratory, etc.,’ says Professor James Sully, ‘appear, as Professor Ferrier has lately pointed out, to be the basis of our emotional life. When the condition of these organs is a healthy one, and their functions vigorous, the psychical result is an undiscriminated mass of agreeable feeling. When the state of the organs is unhealthy, and their functions feeble or impeded, the psychical result is a similar mass of disagreeable feeling.’[444] Pessimism is always the form under which the patient becomes conscious of certain morbid conditions, and first and foremost of his nervous exhaustion. Tædium vitæ, or disgust of life, is an early premonition of insanity, and constantly accompanies neurasthenia and hysteria. It is evident that a period which suffers from general organic fatigue must necessarily be a pessimistic period. We recognise also the constant habit which consciousness has of inventing, post facto, apparently plausible motives, borrowed from its store of representations, and in conformity with the rules of its formal logic, to justify the emotional states of which it has acquired the knowledge. Thus, for the datum of the pessimistic disposition of mind, which is the consequence of organic fatigue, there arises the pessimist philosophy as an ulterior creation of interpretative consciousness. In Germany, in conformity with the speculative tendency and high intellectual culture of the German people, this state of mind has sought expression in philosophical systems. In France it has adopted an artistic form in accordance with the predominating æsthetic character of the national mind. M. Emile Zola and his naturalism are the French equivalent of the German Schopenhauer and his philosophical pessimism. That naturalism should see nothing in the world but brutality, infamy, ugliness, and corruption, corresponds with all that we know of the laws of thought. We know that the association of ideas is strongly influenced by emotion. A Zola, filled from the outset with organically unpleasant sensations, perceives in the world those phenomena alone which accord with his organically fundamental disposition, and does not notice or take into consideration those which differ from or contradict it. And from the associated[499] ideas which every perception awakens in him, consciousness likewise only retains the disagreeable, which are in sympathy with the fundamentally sour disposition, and suppresses the others. Zola’s novels do not prove that things are badly managed in this world, but merely that Zola’s nervous system is out of order.

His predilection also for coarseness is a well-known morbid phenomenon. ‘They’ (the imbeciles), says Sollier, ‘love to talk of obscenities.... This is a peculiar tendency of mind observable specially among degenerates; it is as natural to them as a wholesome “tone” is to normal minds.’[445] Gilles de la Tourette has coined the word ‘coprolalia’ (mucktalk) for obsessional explosions of blasphemies and obscenities which characterize a malady described most exhaustively by M. Catrou, and called by him ‘disease of convulsive tics.’[446] M. Zola is affected by coprolalia to a very high degree. It is a necessity for him to employ foul expressions, and his consciousness is continually pursued by representations referring to ordure, abdominal functions, and everything connected with them. Andreas Verga described some years ago a form of onomatomania, or word-madness, which he called mania blasphematoria, or oath-madness. It is manifested when the patient experiences an irresistible desire to utter curses or blasphemies. Verga’s diagnosis applies completely to Zola. It can only be interpreted as mania blasphematoria, when in La Terre he gives the nickname of Jesus Christ to a creature afflicted with flatulency, and that without any artistic necessity or any aiming thereby at æsthetic effect either of cheerfulness or of local colour. Finally, he has a striking predilection for slang, for the professional language of thieves and bullies, etc., which he does not only employ when making personages of this kind speak, but makes use of himself, as an author, in descriptions or reflections. This inclination for slang is expressly noticed by Lombroso as an indication of degeneration in the born criminal.[447]

The confusion of thought which is shown in his theoretic writings, in his invention of the word ‘naturalism,’ in his conception of the ‘experimental novel,’ his instinctive inclination to depict demented persons, criminals, prostitutes, and semi-maniacs,[448] his anthropomorphism and his symbolism, his[500] pessimism, his coprolalia, and his predilection for slang, sufficiently characterize M. Zola as a high-class degenerate. But he shows in addition some peculiarly characteristic stigmata, which completely establish the diagnosis.

That he is a sexual psychopath is betrayed on every page of his novels. He revels continually in representations from the region of the basest sensuality, and interweaves them in all the events of his novels without being able in any way to assign an artistic reason for this forced introduction. His consciousness is peopled with images of unnatural vice, bestiality, passivism, and other aberrations, and he is not satisfied with lingering libidinously over human acts of such a nature, but he even produces pairing animals (see La Terre, pp. 9, 10). The sight of a woman’s linen produces a peculiar excitation in him, and he can never speak without betraying, by the emotional colouring of his descriptions, that representations of this kind are voluptuously accentuated in him. This effect of female linen on degenerates affected by sexual psychopathy is well known in mental therapeutics, and has often been described by Krafft-Ebing, Lombroso, and others.[449]

Connected with the sexual psychopathy of M. Zola is the part played in him by the olfactory sensations. The predominance of the sense of smell and its connection with the sexual life is very striking among many degenerates. Scents acquire a high importance in their works. Tolstoi (in War and Peace) represents to us Prince Pierre suddenly deciding on marrying the Princess Hélène when he smells her fragrance at a ball.[450] In the narrative entitled The Cossacks he never[501] mentions the uncle Ieroschka without speaking of the smell he emitted.[451] We have seen in the previous chapters with what satisfaction the Diabolists and Decadents, Baudelaire, Huysmans, etc., lingered on odours, and especially on bad odours. M. Barrès makes his little princess say, in L’Ennemi des Lois: ‘I go every morning to the stables. Oh, that little stabley smell, so warm and pleasant! And she inhaled with a pretty[!] sensual expression....’[452] M. de Goncourt describes, in La Faustin, how the actress lets her Lord Annandale smell her bosom: ‘“Smell! What do you smell?” she asked Lord Annandale. “Why, carnations!” he replied, tasting it with his lips. “And what else?” “Your skin!”’[453] M. A. Binet declares that ‘it is the odours of the human body which are the causes responsible for a certain number of marriages contracted by clever men with female subordinates belonging to their households. For certain men, the most essential thing in a woman is not beauty, mind, or elevation of character; it is her smell. The pursuit of the beloved odour determines them to pursue some ugly, old, vicious, degraded woman. Carried to this point, the pleasure in smell becomes a malady of love’[454]—a malady, I will add, from which only the degenerate suffer. The examples that Binet quotes in the course of his work, and which can be there referred to, as I have no inclination to repeat them here, prove this abundantly; and Krafft-Ebing, while insisting on the ‘close connection between the sexual and the olfactory sense,’ nevertheless expressly declares: ‘At all events, the perceptions of smell play a very subordinate part within the physiological limits (i.e., within the limits of the healthy life).[455] Even after the abstraction of its sexual significance, the development of the sense of smell among degenerates, not only of the higher, but even of the lowest type, has struck many observers. Séguin speaks of ‘idiots who discriminated species of woods and stones merely by smell without having recourse to sight, and who, nevertheless, were not disagreeably affected by the smell and taste of human ordure, and whose sense of touch was obtuse and unequal.’[456]


M. Zola’s case belongs to this series. He shows at times an unhealthy predominance of the sensations of smell in his consciousness, and a perversion of the olfactory sense which make the worst odours, especially those of all human excretions, appear to him particularly agreeable and sensually stimulating. The inspector of the Montpellier Academy, Leopold Bernard, has taken the trouble, in an elaborate work—which, curiously, has remained almost unknown[457]—to bring together all the passages in Zola’s novels which touch on the question of odours, and to show that men and things do not present themselves to him as to normal individuals, viz., in the first instance as optical and acoustic phenomena, but as olfactory perceptions. He characterizes all his personages by their smell. In La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, Albine appears ‘like a great nosegay of strong scent.’ Serge, at the seminary, was ‘a lily whose sweet scent charmed his masters’(!!) Désirée ‘smells of health.’ Nana ‘dégage une odeur de vie, une toute-puissance de femme.’ In Pot-Bouille, Bachelard exhales ‘une odeur de débauche canaille’; Madame Campardon has ‘a good fresh perfume of autumn fruit.’ In Le Ventre de Paris, Françoise ‘smells of earth, hay, the open air, the open sky.’ In the same novel the ‘cheese-symphony’ occurs, as celebrated among Zola’s enthusiasts as the minute description of the variety of offensive smells of the dirty linen in L’Assommoir.

To the ‘comprehensives’ whom we have learnt to know, this insistence on the odours emitted by men and things is naturally one more merit and perfection. A poet who scents so well and receives through the nose such rich impressions of the world, is ‘a more keenly vibrating instrument of observation,’ and his art in representing things is more many-sided than that of poets who reproduce their impressions from fewer senses. Why should the sense of smell be neglected in poetry? Has it not the same rights as all the other senses? And thereupon they rapidly built an æsthetic theory which, as we have seen, induces Huysmans’ Des Esseintes to compose a symphony of perfumes, and prompts the Symbolists to accompany the recital of their compositions on the stage with odours, which they pretend are assorted to the contents of the verses. The ‘comprehensive’ drivellers do not for a moment suspect that they are simply fencing with the march of organic evolution in the animal kingdom. It does not depend on the good pleasure of a being to construct for himself his idea of the external world with the help of a group of such or such sense-perceptions. In this respect he is completely subservient to the conformation of his nervous system. The senses which predominate are those which his being utilizes in acquiring[503] knowledge. The undeveloped or insufficiently developed senses help the brain little or not at all, to know and understand the world. To the vulture and condor the world is a picture; to the bat and the mole it is a sound and a tactile sensation; to the dog it is a collection of smells. Concerning the sense of smell in particular, it has its central seat in the so-called olfactory lobe of the brain, which diminishes in proportion as the frontal lobe is developed. The more we descend in the vertebrates the greater is the olfactory, the smaller the frontal, lobe. In man the olfactory lobe is quite subordinated, and the frontal lobe, the presumable seat of the highest mental functions, including language, greatly predominates. The consequence of these anatomical relations, which evade our influence, is that the sense of smell has scarcely any further share in man’s knowledge. He obtains his impressions of the external world no longer by the nose, but principally by the eye and ear. The olfactory perceptions only furnish a minimum contribution to the concepts which are formed out of ideational elements. It is only in the most limited degree that smells can awaken abstract concepts, i.e., a higher and complex mental activity, and stimulate their accompanying emotions; a ‘symphony of perfumes’ in the Des Esseintes sense can, therefore, no longer give the impression of moral beauty, this being an idea which is elaborated by the centres of conception. In order to inspire a man with logical sequences of ideas and judgments, with abstract concepts by scents alone; to make him conceive the phenomenon of the world, its changes and causes of motion, by a succession of perfumes, his frontal lobe must be depressed and the olfactory lobe of a dog substituted for it, and this, it must be admitted, is beyond the capacity of ‘comprehensive’ imbeciles, however fanatically they may preach their æsthetic folly. Smellers among degenerates represent an atavism going back, not only to the primeval period of man, but infinitely more remote still, to an epoch anterior to man. Their atavism retrogrades to animals amongst whom sexual activity was directly excited by odoriferous substances, as it is still at the present day in the muskdeer, or who, like the dog, obtained their knowledge of the world by the action of their noses.

The extraordinary success of Zola among his contemporaries is not explained by his high qualifications as an author, that is, by the extraordinary force and power of his romantic descriptions, and by the intensity and truth of his pessimistic emotion, which makes his representation of suffering and sorrow irresistibly impressive; but by his worst faults, his triviality and lasciviousness. This can be proved by the surest of methods, that of figures. Let us consult as to the diffusion of his[504] different novels, the printed indications, for example, at the beginning of the last edition of L’Assommoir (bearing the date 1893). They have been put down as follows: Of Nana, 160,000; La Débâcle, 143,000; L’Assommoir, 127,000; La Terre, 100,000; Germinal, 88,000; La Bête humaine and Le Rêve, each 83,000; Pot-Bouille, 82,000; as a contrast, L’[Œuvre, 55,000; La Joie de Vivre, 44,000; La Curée, 36,000; La Conquête de Plassans, 25,000; of the Contes à Ninon not even 2,000 copies, etc. Thus, the novels which have had the greatest sale are those in which lust and bestial coarseness appear most flagrantly, and the demand diminishes with mathematical exactitude in proportion as the layer of obscenity, spread by Zola over his work as with a mason’s trowel, becomes more thin and less ill-smelling. Three novels appear as an exception to this rule: La Débâcle, Germinal, and Le Rêve. Their high position as regards the number of the editions is explained by the fact that the first treats of the war of 1870, the second of socialism, the third of mysticism. These three works appeal to the frame of mind of the period. They swim with the fashionable current. But all the rest have owed their success to the lowest instincts of the masses, to its brutish passion for the sight of crime and voluptuousness.

M. Zola was bound to make a school—first, because of his successes in the book trade, which drove into his wake the whole riff-raff of literary intriguers and plagiarists, and then because of the facility with which his most striking peculiarities can be imitated. His art is accessible to every bungler of the day who dishonours the literary vocation by his slovenly hand. An empty and mechanical enumeration of completely indifferent aspects under the pretext of description exacts no effort. Every porter of a brothel is capable of relating a low debauch with the coarsest expressions. The only thing which might offer some difficulty would be the invention of a plot, the construction of a frame of action. But M. Zola, whose strength does not lie in the gift of story-telling, boasts of this imperfection as a special merit, and proclaims as a rule of art that the poet must have nothing to relate. This rule suits excellently the noxious insects who crawl behind him. Their impotence becomes their most brilliant qualification. They know nothing, they can do nothing, and they are on that account particularly adapted to ‘die Moderne,’ as they say in Germany. Their so-called ‘novels’ depict neither human beings, nor characters, nor destinies; but, thou poor Philistine who canst not see it, it is precisely this which constitutes their value!

Moreover, justice exacts that among Zola’s imitators two groups should be distinguished. The one cultivates chiefly his[505] pessimism, and accepts his obscenities into the bargain, though without enthusiasm, and often even with visible embarrassment and secret repugnance. It consists of hysteric and degenerate subjects who are bonâ fide, who, in consequence of their organic constitution, actually feel pessimistic, and have found in Zola the artistic formula which corresponds most truly with their sentiments. I place in this group some dramatic authors of the ‘Théâtre-Libre’ in Paris, directed by M. Antoine; and the Italian ‘Verists.’ The naturalistic theatre is the most untrue thing that has been seen hitherto, even more untrue than the operetta and the fairy-play. It cultivates the so-called ‘cruel terms,’ i.e., phrases in which the persons openly make a display of all the pitiable, infamous and cowardly ideas and feelings which surge through their consciousness, and systematically neglect this most primitive and palpable fact, that by far the most widespread and tenacious characteristic of man is hypocrisy and dissimulation. The forms of customs survive incalculably longer than morality, and man simulates the greater honesty, and hides his baseness under appearances so much the more seeming-pious, as his instincts are more crafty and mean. The Verists, among whom are many powerful literary natures, are one of the most surprising and distressing phenomena in contemporary literature. One understands pessimism in sorely-tried France; one comprehends it also in the insupportable narrowness of social life in the crepuscular North, with its cloudy gray skies and its scourge of alcoholism. Eroticism, too, is comprehensible among the overexcited and exhausted Parisian population, and in the Scandinavian North, as a kind of revolt against the zealous discipline and morose constraint of a bigotry without joy, and mortifying to the flesh. But how could pessimism spring up under the radiant sunshine and eternally blue sky of Italy, in the midst of a handsome and joyous people who sing even in speaking (invalids like Leopardi might naturally appear as exceptions everywhere)? and how did Italians arrive at insane lubricity, when in their country there still exists, living in the temples and in the fields, a souvenir of the artlessly robust sensuality of the pagan world, with its symbols of fecundity; where also natural and healthy sexuality has always preserved through centuries the right to express itself innocently in art and literature? If Verism is anything else but an example of the propagation of intellectual epidemics by imitation, the task devolves upon the scientific Italian critic to explain this paradox in the history of manners.

The other group of Zola’s imitators is not composed of superior degenerates, unhealthy persons who sincerely give themselves out for what they are, and express often with talent[506] what they feel; but of people who morally and mentally stand on a level with supporters of evil, who, instead of the trade of night-birds, have chosen the less dangerous and hitherto more esteemed vocation of authors of novels and dramas, when the theory of naturalism had made it accessible to them. This brood has only taken immodesty from M. Zola, and conformably with the degree of culture has carried it into obscenity without circumlocution. To this group belong the professional Parisian pornographers, whose daily and weekly papers, stories, pictures, and theatrical representations in M. de Chirac’s style, continually give employment to the correctional tribunals; the Norwegian authors of novels on street-walkers; and, unhappily, also a portion of our ‘Young German’ realists. This group stands outside of literature. It forms a portion of that riff-raff of great towns who professionally cultivate immorality, and have chosen this trade with full responsibility, solely from horror of honest work and greed for lucre. It is not mental therapeutics, but criminal justice, which is competent to judge them.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:31 am

Part 1 of 2


This chapter is not, properly, within the scope of this book. It must not be forgotten that I did not wish to write a history of literature, nor to indulge in current æsthetic criticism, but to demonstrate the unhealthy mental condition of the imitators of fashionable literary tendencies. It does not enter into my plan to deal with those degenerates or lunatics who evolve their works from their own morbid consciousness, and themselves discover the artistic formula for their own eccentricities—in other words, with those leaders who go their own way because they choose or because they must. Mere imitators I have neglected on principle throughout the whole of my inquiry, first because the genuine degenerates only form a feeble minority among them, while the great majority is a perfectly responsible rabble of swindlers and parasites, and next because even the few diseased persons who are found in their ranks do not belong to the class of ‘higher’ degenerates, but are poor weak minds who, taken separately, possess no importance whatever, and at most only deserve a fleeting mention in so far as they testify to the influence of their masters on ill-balanced minds.

If, then, in spite of this, I devote a special chapter to the so-called ‘Young-German’ ‘realists,’ while I have despatched[507] in a few words the Italian and Scandinavian Zolaists, it is verily and by no means because the former are any more worthy than the latter. On the contrary, some of the Italian ‘Verists,’ the Dane, J. P. Jakobsen, the Norwegian, Arne Garborg, the Swede, Auguste Strindberg, devoid as they are of real originality, possess, nevertheless, more vigour and talent in their little finger than all ‘Young-Germany’ put together. I only dwell on the latter because the history of the propagation of a mental contagion in his own country is not without importance for the German reader, and also because the way in which this group has appeared and permeated shows up certain traits in which we can detect the neurosis of the age, and, lastly, because some few of their members are good examples of intensive hysteria, having, in addition to complete incapacity and a general feebleness of mind, that malicious and anti-social ego-mania, that moral obtuseness, that irresistible need of attracting attention to themselves, no matter by what means, that facetious vanity and self-approbation, which characterizes the complaint.

I will not deny that when I turn towards the ‘Young-German’ movement I can scarcely maintain the cool equanimity with which, according to scientific method, I have hitherto observed any given phenomena. As a German writer I feel deep shame and sorrow at the spectacle of the literature which has been so long and so brutally proclaimed, with flourish of trumpets, and with systematic disdain of all that did not bear its seal, as the unique and exclusively German literature of the present time, and even that of the future.[458]

Since genius was congregated at Weimar, German literature has ever taken the lead in civilized humanity. We were the inventors, foreigners were the imitators. We provisioned the world with poetic forms and ideas. Romanticism originated among us, and only became a literary and artistic[508] fashion in France a good many years later, whence it passed on into England. Görres, Zacharias Werner, Novalis, and Oscar Von Redwitz, created lyric mysticism and neo-Catholicism among us, and these have only just reached France. Our poet-precursors of the revolution of 1848, Karl Beck, George Herwegh, Freiligrath, Ludwig Seeger, Friedrich von Sallet, R. E. Prutz, etc., had even then sung of the misery, the uprisings, and the hopes of the disinherited, before the Walt Whitmans, the William Morrises, and the Jules Jouys, were born, men whom to-day people in America, England, and France, would like to consider as the discoverers of the Fourth Estate for lyric poetry. Pessimism was embodied almost at the same time in Italy (in Leopardi) and among us in Nicholas Lenau, more than a generation before French naturalism built its art upon it. Goethe created symbolic poetry in the second part of Faust half a century before Ibsen and the French Symbolists parodied this tendency. Every healthy current and every pathological current in contemporary poetry and art can be traced back to a German source, every progress and every decadence in this sphere have their point of departure in Germany. The philosophical theory of every novel method of thought, as well as of every new error, which, during a hundred years, have gained a hold over civilized humanity, has been furnished by the Germans. Fichte gave us the theory of romanticism; Feuerbach (almost at the same time as Auguste Comte), that of the mechanical conception of the world; Schopenhauer, that of pessimism; the Hegelians, Max Stirner, and Karl Marx, that of the most rigid ego-mania and the most rigid collectivism, etc. And now we suffer the humiliation of seeing a heap of contemptible plagiarists hawking about the dullest and coarsest counterfeit of French imitations (which all the clever men in France have already abandoned and repudiated) as ‘the most modern’ production offered by Germany, as the flower of German literature, present and future. We even permit foreign critics to say: ‘Ancient fashions disdained in France even by village beauties, are to be seen exhibited in German shop-windows as the greatest novelties, and credulously accepted by the public.’ The realists naturally deny that they are mere repeaters and limping belated followers.[459] But he who knows[509] a little more of art and poetry than is learnt in a Berlin tavern frequented by realists, or in a low newspaper informed by this sort of company; he who contemplates in its entire range the contemporary movement of thought without stopping on the frontiers of his own country, can have no doubt whatever that German realism, as a local phenomenon, may have for Germany itself a melancholy importance, but does not exist at all for universal literature, because all trace of personal or national originality is lacking. To the chorus in which the voices of humanity express its feelings and thoughts, not the faintest new note has been added by it.

Plagiarists so low down in the scale as the German realists are not in the least entitled to a detailed individual examination. To do this would be to make one’s self both ridiculous in the eyes of competent judges and of a piece with strolling players, to whom it is a matter of small importance whether they are praised or blamed, provided they are mentioned. Other motives also warn me to be prudent in the choice of examples I propose to lay before the reader. I am firmly convinced that in a few years all this movement will be forgotten even to the name itself. The lads who now pretend to be the future of German literature will discover little by little that the business to which they have devoted themselves is less agreeable and lucrative than they had imagined.[460] Those among them who yet possess a last remnant of health and strength will find the way to their natural vocation, and become restaurant-waiters or servants, night-watchmen or peddlers, and I should fear to injure their advancement in these honest professions if I nailed here the remembrance of their aberration of past days, which would otherwise be forgotten by all. The feebler and weaker among them, who could not manfully resolve to earn their bread by a decent occupation, will disappear probably as drunkards, vagabonds, beggars, perhaps even in a house of correction, and if, after the lapse of years, a serious reader happened to come across their names in this book, he would be right in exclaiming, ‘What sort of bad joke is this? What[510] does the author want to make me believe? There never have been such men!’ Finally, an absolutely incapable pseudo-writer is individually deprived of all importance, and only acquires it as one of a number. He cannot therefore be treated critically, but merely statistically. For all these reasons I shall only draw from the whole number a few characters and works, to show with their help what German ‘realism’ really is.

The founder of the realist school is Karl Bleibtreu. He accomplished this work of foundation by publishing a brochure of which the principal feature was a cover of brilliant red furrowed by black lightning in zigzags, and which bore this title like the roll of a kettledrum, Revolution in Literature. In this literary ‘tout’ Bleibtreu, without the slightest attempt at substantiation, but with a brazen brow, depreciated a whole series of esteemed and successful authors, swore with great oaths that they were dead and buried, and announced the dawn of a new literary epoch, which already counted a certain number of geniuses, at the head of whom he himself stood.

As an author Bleibtreu, in spite of the many and various works he has already published, does not yet count for much. It would, however, be unjust to ignore his great ability as a book-maker. In this respect Revolution in der Literatur is a model production. With skilful address, he mingled authors of repute whom he hacked into sausage-meat with a few shallow scribblers in vogue, whom it was no doubt rather foolish to fight, with the grand airs of a gladiator, but whom no one would have defended against a smiling disdain. The presence of these unwarranted intruders into the group whom he undertook to extirpate from literature, may give to his raising of the standard a semblance of reason in the eyes of superficial readers. Not less cleverly chosen were the people whom he presented to readers as the new geniuses. With the exception of two or three decent mediocrities, for whom there is always a little modest corner in the literature of a great people, these were complete nullities from whom he himself never had to fear a dangerous competition. The greatest of his geniuses is, for example, Max Kretzer, a man who writes, in the German of a Cameroon-Negro, some professedly ‘Berlin’ novels, of which the best known, Die Verkommenen, is ‘Berlinish’ to such a degree that it simply dilutes the history of the widow Gras and the workman Gaudry, which took place in Paris in 1877. This event, celebrated as the first adventure with cocottes in which vitriol played a part, could only happen in Paris, and under the conditions of Parisian life. It is specifically Parisian. But Kretzer calmly removed the Paris[511] trade-mark, replacing it with that of Berlin, and he thus created a ‘Berlin’ novel, vaunted by Bleibtreu as the ideal of a ‘genuine’ and ‘true’ exposition. He reclothes his newly-discovered ‘geniuses,’ who recall Falstaff’s recruits, Mouldy, Shadow, Wart, Feeble, and Bullcalf (King Henry IV., Part II.), in a uniform which he could not have chosen more effectively. He dressed them out in the costume of Schiller’s brigands in the Bohemian forests; he pronounced them to be a troop of rebels, fighters at barricades, Lützow huntsmen in the struggle for freedom against hypocrisy perukes, and pig-tails, and all obstructionists; and he hoped that youth and the friends of progress would take him for something serious, on seeing him march at the head of his poor, infirm cripples and knockknees, thus disguised.

His plan, although excellently contrived and conducted, was only partially successful. Scarcely had he in a certain measure organized and drilled his little troop, when it mutinied and drove him away. It did not choose another captain, for each private soldier wished himself to be chief, and the feeblest and most timid of the band alone recognised any other genius outside his own. Bleibtreu has not to this day got over the ingratitude of the people who had taken his mystification seriously, and had really looked upon themselves as the geniuses he had proclaimed them to be, without, as he thought, running any risks; and in his last publication he still utters his sorrow in these bitter verses (Aus einem lyrischen Tagebuch):

‘For what purpose this long struggle? ’Tis vain! And my hand is paralyzed. Long live falsehood, stupidity, folly! Adieu, thou German piggery! The earth of the tomb will extinguish the conflagration. I have been, as long as I could think, a veritable booby. I was no honest German, I was a wounded swan.’

Bleibtreu could not give any talent to the realists invented by him, but the latter borrowed from him a few of his turns of expression. To make an impression on the ignorant, they have associated with themselves as honorary members some respectable authors whom one is surprised to meet with dans ce galère. Thus the realists include among their numbers, for example, Théodore Fontane, a true poet, whose novels honourably hold their place among the best productions of the kind in any literature of Europe; H. Heiberg, of vigorous although unequal talent; unfortunately compelled, as it would seem, by external circumstances to hasty and excessive work, against which, perhaps, his artistic conscience vainly protests; and Detlev von Liliencron, who is by no means a genius, but a good lyric poet with a sense of style, and who may rank by the side of epigoni such as a Hans Hopfen, a Hermann Lingg, a Martin Greif. Considering the high level that[512] German lyric poetry—the first in the world even in the judgment of foreign nations—has occupied uninterruptedly since Goethe, it is giving a German poet no small praise if one can say he is not inferior to the average of the last seventy years. Liliencron, however, does not surpass it, and I do not see how he can be fairly placed above Rudolf Baumbach, for example, whom the realists affect to despise, probably because he has disdained to join their gang. It is not incomprehensible that a Fontane or a Heiberg should consent to suffer the importunate promiscuousness of the realists. The Church, too, admits sometimes to serve in the Mass young rogues from the street, who have only to swing the censer. The sole thing that is demanded of them as realists honoris causâ, is to bear silently and smilingly this compromise of an honourable name. Liliencron alone thinks himself obliged to make some concessions to his new companions, in using here and there in his last poems, not his own language, but theirs.

Besides the smuggling in of some esteemed names among theirs, the realists have carefully practised and cultivated another business-trick of Bleibtreu’s—that of effective disguise. They assumed (in the collection of lyric poetry entitled Young Germany, Friedenau and Leipzig, 1886) the name of ‘Young Germany,’ which calls up a faint remembrance of the great and bold innovators of 1830, as well as ideas of blooming youth and spring, with a false nose of modernism tied on. But let us here at once remark that the realists, plagiarists to the backbone, do not even possess sufficient independence to find a name peculiarly their own, but have quietly plagiarized the denomination under which the Heine-Boerne-Gutzkow group has become renowned.

As the first specimen of ‘realist’ literature of ‘Young Germany,’ I will quote the novel by Heinz Tovote, Im Liebesrausch.[461] He relates the history of a landed proprietor and former officer, Herbert von Düren, who makes the acquaintance of a certain Lucy, formerly a waitress at an inn, and the mistress of quite a number of young men in succession. He makes her his mistress, and indulges in his passion until, being unable to live without her, he induces her to marry him. Herbert, who is only partially acquainted with Lucy’s past, presents her to his mother. The latter, who very soon perceives the relations existing between her son and this person, nevertheless gives her consent, and the marriage takes place. In the aristocratic and military society of Berlin, in which the couple move for a time, Lucy’s antecedents soon[513] become known, and she is ‘cut’ by all the world. Herbert himself remains faithfully attached to her, until he discovers one day by accident, at the house of one of his friends—of course a ‘realist’ painter—a picture representing the nude figure of Lucy bathing in the sea! He very logically concludes that his wife had posed as a model to the painter, and he drives her away. As a matter of fact, however, the ‘realist’ had painted the nude figure from imagination, and involuntarily given it Lucy’s features, because of the respectful admiration he secretly cherishes for her. (Judge for a moment how that could be if she had been disreputable!) Then Herbert, smitten with remorse, seeks the vanished Lucy, whom he discovers, after heart-breaking efforts, in his own house, where she has lived for months unknown to him. The reconciliation of husband and wife takes place amid general pathos, and the young wife dies in giving birth to a child, and uttering affecting sentiments.

I will not waste time by pointing out the silliness of this story. The essential part in a novel, moreover, is not the plot, but the form, in both the narrower and the broader sense—language, style, composition—and these I will examine a little later.

The very first thing we have a right to expect of a man who assumes to write for the public, i.e., for the educated people of his own nation, is evidently that he should be master of his own language. Now, Heinz Tovote has no idea whatever of German. He commits the grossest errors every moment—solecisms, mistakes of syntax, ignorance of the value of words—which make one’s hair stand on end. Some few of these abominable faults of language are tolerably widespread, others belong to the jargon of the roughest class of the people; but there are some that Tovote could never have heard. They are the result of his personal ignorance of German grammar.

Next as to his style. When Tovote writes a description, in order to determine and strengthen the substantive, he chooses, on principle, the adjective naturally contained in that substantive. Here are some examples of this intolerable tautology: ‘An icy January storm.’ ‘In the Friedrichstrasse light elegant equipages were crowded.’ ‘Incarnation of the most lovable grace.’ ‘A slowly creeping fever’ ‘A lazy somnolence.’ ‘They glowed fiery in the last light.’ ‘She suffered cruel torments,’ etc. I doubt if any author, having but little respect for himself, his vocation, his maternal tongue or his readers, would put such words together. There is no necessity, in hunting for the ‘rare and precious epithet,’ to go so far as the French stylists, but such a sweeping together of the[514] stalest, most useless, and most inexpressive adjectives is not literature; it is properly, to echo the French critic, the work of scavengers. Another characteristic of this style is its silliness. The author relates that Herbert von Düren was ‘keenly interested, from its first appearance,’ in Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado. ‘Now that it had cast off its English garb, it seemed to him still more indigenous.’ Thus he seriously declares that an English operetta has seemed to a German more indigenous in the German language than in English. ‘Suddenly he was seized with a senseless fury against this man who saluted him so politely, whereby he, who was habitually politeness itself to everyone, did not return the salute, and turned away.’ Not to respond to a salute by way of expressing his ‘senseless fury’ is truly not very ferocious on the part of an old officer. ‘The horses were hanging their heads sadly, and sleeping.’ That it is possible to sleep sadly or gaily is a discovery by Tovote. ‘Like walls, the colossi of houses stood crowding against each other.’ Like walls? One would think that houses really have walls. It is exactly as if Tovote had said: ‘Like men, the people stood crowding against each other.’

When Tovote strives to write in a sublime and beautiful style, the result we get is as follows: ‘Yet there lay in the slender perfectly levelled lines a slumbering strength.’ (What can the lines be which are ‘slender,’ i.e., not thick and ‘perfectly levelled’?) ‘She was already smiling through her tears, and her face resembled a summer landscape which, while the rain still falls on the corn, is bathed again in the bright rays of the sun emerging from clouds.’ Thus, what we are first to think of when contemplating a face is a summer landscape. ‘He felt how her lips clung [sich klammerten!] to his.’ ‘It must be granted that, considering his youth, he has the incontestable genius of a lively conception,’ etc.

Tovote seeks to plagiarize the diffuse descriptions of the French naturalists, and unfolds pictures the novelty, clearness, and vigour of which the following quotations will enable us to admire. (End of a theatrical representation:) ‘In the stalls the seats clapped back with a muffled sound.... The audience rose, doors were opened, curtains were drawn back, and the theatre emptied slowly, while a few isolated spectators alone remained in their places.’ ‘Unceasingly, the whole night the snowflakes fell. In thick bales [!] it lay on the bare branches of the trees, which threatened to break down in winterly weakness. The pines and low bushes were enveloped in a thick mantle of snow. To the straw, wound round the standard roses, the snow clung, and formed strange figures; it lay a foot high on the walls, and delicately veiled the points[515] of the iron railings. All tracks were effaced. The wind, which drove the flakes before it, threw them into all the hollows, so that all the corners and all the unevennesses disappeared.’ ‘They stood high above the sea, which spread around them like an infinite plain.’ ‘The sun had set.... The clouds, heavily encamped on the horizon, still glowed with flaming crimson purple; then they passed into violet, which changed into a colourless gray [so there is a coloured gray also?] until night descended, and all colours gradually died out.’ (Compare this pitiable attempt to counterfeit ‘impressionism’ with the French models quoted in the preceding chapter.) ‘The night had completely closed in—a dark, profoundly black night.’ (Consider the juxtaposition of these two adjectives.) ‘The moon alone hung mournfully above the waters [the moon in a night both ‘dark’ and ‘profoundly black!’], and the lighthouse threw its flood of light into the distance. Deep at their feet the sea raved with muffled roar in the spite of a thousand years[!], and licked the creviced rocks.’ A ‘raving spite’ which ‘licks’ does not appear to be a very dangerous spite. ‘She retained the deep wound over her eye as a little scar all her life long.’ If she had a ‘little scar,’ she did not therefore keep a deep wound ‘all her life long.’ ‘Above them, in the blue sky, a vulture wheeled in circles with outspread wings, lost like a black point in this sea of light.’ In a vulture which is only seen as ‘a black point,’ it is not possible to distinguish the ‘outspread wings.’ Here is the description of a face: ‘Two full fresh lips, chaste[!], bright red, a graceful little nose, imperceptibly tilted, but parting in a narrow straight line from the forehead.’ We will leave the reader the trouble of imagining for himself this ‘little nose imperceptibly tilted’ in ‘the narrow straight line.’ ‘The engine of the express train panted across the level plain which stretched all round like a burning desert. Right and left, field after field of corn, fruitful orchards and verdant meadows.’ Fields, orchards, meadows, and yet a ‘burning[?] desert’? ‘The half-closed eyes, with their white membranes, look at him so steadily.’ This does not mean, as one might suppose, the eyes of a bird, but those of a human being, in which our novelist professes to have discovered these incomprehensible ‘white membranes.’

We have seen what impressionism and the descriptive tic of naturalism have become in the hands of Tovote. I will now show how this ‘realist’ can observe and reproduce reality in the smallest as in the greatest things. Herbert, the first evening of his acquaintance with Lucy, takes her to a restaurant and orders, among other things, a bottle of burgundy. ‘The waiter placed the pot-bellied bottle on the[516] table, in a flourishing curve.’ Burgundy in ‘pot-bellied’ bottles! They eat soup, served in ‘silver bowls’(!), green peas and a capon, the excellence of which forms the subject of their incredible conversation at table, and when this repast is disposed of, and Lucy has lighted a cigarette, she asks for oysters, which are brought and eaten by her ‘served according to the rules of art.’ I should certainly not reproach anyone for not knowing a bottle of burgundy by sight, nor at which stage of a repast one eats oysters. I myself did not grow up amongst oysters and burgundy, but it would be more honest not to speak of these good things till one knows something of them. Let us give a passing notice to the unconscious respect, mingled with envy, for the difficult and distinguished occupation of eating oysters, deliciously revealed in this admiring declaration, that Lucy has oysters ‘served’(?) ‘according to the rules of art,’ and the backwoodsman’s ignorance of the most elementary good breeding which Tovote betrays in making a man of the world talk incessantly at table about the food. To continue. Lucy’s lover has travelled, viâ Brussels, ‘from Havre to Egypt.’ In that case he must have chartered a steamer on his own account, as there is no regular line of steamers between Havre and Egypt. For some months Herbert has had on his writing-table some unfinished manuscripts. ‘He rummaged through this heap of yellow manuscripts.’ Under shelter the worst ligneous fibre paper itself would certainly not turn yellow in the space of a few months. The bed-chamber, arranged with all possible care by Herbert for his Lucy, has ‘blue silk curtains,’ and ‘pale pink satin’ seats. Such a wild combination of colours would be avoided by the better second-hand dealers even in their shop windows.

I grant that all these blunders, although amusing, are insignificant. They must not be passed over, however, when committed by a ‘realist,’ who boasts of ‘observation’ and ‘truth.’ Graver still are the impossible actions and characters of the men. In a moment of grief Lucy lets ‘fall her arms on the table-napkin in her lap, and looks vacantly before her, biting her under lip.’ Has anyone ever seen or done such a thing in this state of mind? Wild ecstasy of love Lucy expresses thus: ‘“Kiss me,” she implored, and her whole being seemed to wish to lose itself in him—“kiss me!”’ Herbert had made her acquaintance in Heligoland, where she lived with an Englishman named Ward, and had taken her to be Ward’s betrothed. A German officer of good family, being considerably over thirty, was actually able to look upon a woman living with a rich young foreigner alone at a watering-place as his betrothed! The latter, an absolutely neglected child of the working class, learnt English with Ward in less than a[517] year so perfectly that she was everywhere mistaken for an Englishwoman, and played the piano so well that she could execute pieces from operettas, etc.

I do not consider it a crime when Tovote, in using French words, confounds tourniquet with moulinet, and speaks of cabinets séparés instead of cabinets particuliers. A German does not require to know French. It would be a good thing indeed if he knew German. Good taste, however, would prevent his making a display of scraps of a language of which he knows absolutely nothing.

The obscenities with which the novel swarms are incomparably weaker than in analogous passages by Zola, but they are peculiarly repulsive because, in spite of the absolute incapacity of Tovote to rise above the coarseness of commercial travellers relating their love adventures in hotels, they, nevertheless, betray his determination to be violently sensational and subtly sensual.

If I have lingered thus long over this bungling piece of work, so far below the level of literature, it is because of its being thoroughly typical of German realism. The language transgresses the simplest rules of grammar. Not one expression is accurately chosen, and really characterizes the object or the concept that is brought before the reader. That an author should speak not only accurately, but expressively, that he should be able to reproduce impressions and ideas in an original and powerful way, that he must have a feeling for the value and delicate sense of words; of this Tovote has not the slightest idea. His descriptions are shabby enough to raise a blush on the cheek of the police reporter of a low class paper. Nothing is seen, nothing is felt; the whole is but a droning echo of reading of the worst sort. ‘Modernism’ consists finally in this, that a pitiable commonplace is partly located in Berlin, with here and there vague talk of socialism and realism. German criticism in the seventies demanded, very justly, that the German novel should rest on a solid basis, that it should be worked out in some well-known period, amid real surroundings, in the German capital of our day. This demand has produced the ‘Berlinese’ novel of the plagiarists. The especial and characteristic Berlinism of this novel consists in this, that the author whenever he has to mention a street, displays the boundless astonishment of a Hottentot at the ‘Panoptikum’ (the Grévin Museum in Berlin), because he finds the street full of people, carriages, and shops, and seeks opportunities to quote the names of the streets in this capital. This method is within the reach of every hotel porter. In order to introduce such Berlinism into a bad novel, the author need only possess a plan of the town, and perhaps a[518] guide-book. The peculiarities of life in the capital are represented by passages such as this: ‘On both sides of the pavement [he meant to say, on the pavement on both sides of the street] a dense crowd of people surged, and in the middle of the avenue, under the trees, just bursting into leaf, a scattered multitude, resembling the irregular [?] waves of a flood, pushed on to get out of the town.’ Or: ‘On all the pavements people walking and pushing against each other in confusion and haste, which increased to a run, in order to avoid falling under the wheels, while escaping to a place of refuge from the deafening clatter of cabs, tramways, and large heavy omnibuses, with their roofs fully occupied,’ etc. Thus, the only thing Tovote sees in Berlin is what a peasant from Buxtehude would remark, who has left his village for the first time, and cannot recover from his astonishment in finding more people and carriages than in his own village street. This is just the view which a resident in a town no longer notices, and which need not be specially described, because it is implied in the concept of a ‘town,’ and, above all, of a ‘large town,’ and is, notably, in no way characteristic of Berlin, since Breslau, Hamburg, Cologne, etc., present exactly the same sight.

Socialism enters into the ‘modern’ novel like Pilate into the Creed. Tovote relates, e.g., how Herbert seeks for Lucy, who has disappeared; he arrives at last at the workman’s quarter in Berlin, which supplies the author with this fine picture: ‘Everywhere the blue and gray-red blouse of the workman, which is never seen Unter den Linden, who stands, day after day, near the panting machine, at the work-table, where he carries on, during long years, as if asleep, the same manual labours, until the callosities on his hands become as hard as iron.’ Either Herbert, despairingly seeking his mistress, or the narrator, wishing to awaken our interest in these events, has thought of the callosities of the workmen!

The automata who in the ‘realist’ novel execute mock-movements, and between whom the dullest and most miserable back-stair sentimentality is played off, are always the same: a gentleman, an ex-officer whenever possible, who, we are assured, is engaged upon ‘works on socialism’ (of what kind we never learn, it is simply asserted that they are ‘very important’); a waitress at an inn, as the embodiment of the ewig-Weibliche; and a realist painter who plans or executes pictures destined to regenerate humanity, and to establish the millennium on earth. Here is the recipe for the ‘modernism’ of the ‘Young-German’ realism: quotation of the names of the Berlin streets, rapture at the sight of some cabs and omnibuses, a little Berlinese dialect in the mouth of the characters, coarse[519] and stupid eroticism, unctuous allusions to socialism and phrases on painting, such as a goose-fattener grown rich might make if she wished to pass herself off as a lady. Of the three persons who are always the supporters of this ‘modernity’ the waitress is the only really original one. The merit of this treasure belongs to Bleibtreu, who first presented her to the admiration and imitation of his little band in his collection of novels entitled Schlechte Gesellschaft. She is a conglomeration of all the fabulous beings that have hitherto been imagined in poetry: a winged chimæra, a sphinx with lion’s claws, and a siren with a fish’s tail, all at one and the same time. She contains in herself every charm and every gift, love and wisdom, virtue and love-glowing paganism. It is by the waitress at the inn that the talent for observation and creative power of the German ‘realist’ can be most accurately gauged.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:31 am

Part 2 of 2

If Tovote is a representative type—by no means diseased, but merely incapable beyond conception—of intruders into literature with which they will at most be connected as peddling hawkers of trashy novels, we meet in Hermann Bahr with a clearly pathological individuality. Bahr is an advanced hysteric who wants at all hazards to get himself talked about, and has had the unfortunate idea of achieving this result by books. Devoid of talent to an almost impossible degree, he seeks to captivate attention by the maddest eccentricities. Thus, he calls the book most characteristic of his method among those he has hitherto published, Die gute Schule; Seelenstände.[462] Seelenstände literally means ‘states of soul.’ He had read and not understood the term états d’âme in the new French authors, état having been used in the political sense which it has in tiers-états.

In the story related in the Seelenstände, a part at least of the recipe previously mentioned is utilized. The hero is an Austrian painter living in Paris. One day, weary of living alone, he picks up a girl in the street, who, contrary to the orthodox procedure, is not a waitress, but a dressmaker, possessing, nevertheless, all the mythical excellence of the ‘Young German’ barmaid; he lives with her for a time, then wearies of her, and torments her to such a degree that she leaves him one fine day and goes off with a rich negro, whom she induces to buy pictures at a high price from her abandoned lover.

This fine story is the frame in which Bahr reveals the ‘state’ of his hero’s ‘soul.’ This author is a plagiarist of an inveterate type, such as is only met with in serious cases of hysteria. Not a single author of any individuality who has passed before his eyes has been able to escape his rage for servile imitation.[520] The principle of the ‘Good School’—the misery of a painter who struggles with the conception of a work of art intended to express his whole soul, and who recognises with despair his impotence to realize it—is subtilized from Zola’s L’[Œuvre, All the details, as we shall see, he has taken from Nietzsche, Stirner, Ibsen, the Diabolics, Decadents, and French Impressionists. But all he plagiarizes becomes, under his pen, a parody of inimitably exquisite absurdity.

The painter’s distress of mind is ‘the lyrism of red. His whole soul was steeped in red, all his feelings, all his aims, all his desires, in sonnets of lament and hope; and in general a complete biography of red, what took place in him and usually whatever could happen to him.... But this lofty canticle of the red fulfilled itself in the real, simple tones of daily life.... It was a large well-boiled lobster, in which he embodied the masterful spirit and the violence of the red, his languor in a salmon on one side, and his mischievousness and gaiety of disposition in many radishes in cheerful variations. But the great and supreme confession of his whole soul hung on a purple tablecloth with heavy folds, on which the sun shone, a narrow shaft, but with all the more fiery glow.’ If the struggle with the ‘biography of the red’ was a torture to him, even worse things were about to happen. One day ‘the curse struck him behind, coming from an excellent salmon, juicy and sweet, which one would never have suspected of perfidy as it lay cradling itself in a rosy shimmer in its rich herb sauce.’ (A cooked salmon cradling itself! This must have produced a ghostly effect. And this uncanny salmon struck him ‘behind,’ although it was on the table before him!) But it was precisely this sauce, this sauce of green herbs, the pride of the cook—yes, it was this that did it. It was this that conquered him. He had never seen anything like it—never before, as far back as he could remember, a softer and sweeter green, at once so languishing and so joyous that one could have sung and shouted for joy. The whole rococo was in it, only in a much more gracious, yearning note. It had to go into his picture. But he could never hit off that green sauce, and this was the tragedy of his life. He ‘kept the truth locked up cowardly and idle, he who alone could grant it; he did not give it to them to assuage thirst, this healing and redeeming work of his breast,’ namely, the green sauce! ‘He would have liked to make a gigantic gimlet revolve in his flesh with a burning screw ... deep, very deep, till there was a great hole ... an immense triumphal gate of his art, through which the internals could spit it out.’

What makes this struggle with the green sauce, for the purpose of overcoming it in a ‘healing and redeeming’ work[521] of art, so irresistibly comic is that the whole passage is written in an entirely serious view, and without the least idea of joking!

Bahr describes his own style in these words: ‘A wild, feverish, tropical style, which calls nothing by its usual name in the ordinary idiom, but which racks itself in the hope of finding unheard-of, obscure, and strange neologisms, in a forced and singular combination.’

The painter’s mistress must have been a superb creature, to judge by the description. When a stranger spoke to her in the street ‘she slightly quickened her steps, and with eyelids haughtily raised, and her little head thrown back sideways, she began to hum softly, sharply snapping her fingers with impatience, in such a way as to rouse his desire to persevere in his useless suit.’ This behaviour induces Bahr to call her a ‘majestically inaccessible young lady.’ But she is far more remarkable at her morning toilet at home than she is in the street. ‘Often, when under the greetings of the morning, which enamelled with gold [!] her hyacinthine flesh, she plaited her hair while standing before her mirror, surrounded by his desires, and stretched, moistened, and slowly curved, with twitching fingers which glittered like swift serpents, quite gently and persistently, her tangled [!] eyelashes, her dishevelled eyebrows, while her lips grew round with silent whistling, between which the rapid, restless tongue hissed, shot out, and clacked, and then, with closed eyelids, leant forward as in submissive adoration, the powder-puff passed slowly, cautiously, fervently, over the bent cheeks, while the little nose, fearful of the dust, turned aside,’ the painter, as may be imagined, became so amorous that ‘he licked the soap from her fingers to refresh his fevered gums.’ ‘Suddenly standing upright on one leg, with a swing of the other she kicked her shoe into the air, to catch it again by a nimble, firm movement. In this graceful attitude she remained.’ ‘Sometimes she bent down languorously towards herself, very gently, very slowly, remaining voluptuously in the curve of her breasts, deep into her knees, while her lips moved; sometimes, while her hips turned in a circle, her neck glided lasciviously into swan-like [!] curves towards her obsequious image.’ This sight filled her lover with such enthusiasm that it seemed to him ‘as if from a thousand springs blasted [!] torrents blazed through his veins.’

It is not necessary, I think, to multiply specimens of this style, which simulates insanity, and which is not German, either in formation, use of terms, or construction. I wish merely to show to what degree Bahr is a plagiarist. Here we see a copy of Nietzsche: ‘Always the same. He ought to do this, and[522] not to do that; the same litany from his first infancy—always and only; he should and he shouldn’t. What he would was the only thing never demanded of him; and thus, in this frightful servitude, he felt himself possessed by an immense desire to be for once himself at last, and an immense anguish at being always someone else eternally.’ ‘To say that everyone only came out of himself to penetrate into another ... to dominate him! That a man could never, should never, he himself, not have one hour of bliss, but everlastingly renounce, transform, annihilate himself for another’s gratification.... Alone—alone; why would they not leave one alone?’ ... ‘To make a desert for himself—a still silent desert.’ ‘Others had not this sentiment of the “I” to such an exuberant and immeasurable extent.’ ‘The joyous hatred of men and the world.’ Here we have Ibsen: ‘He wished to go into the country—he himself, precisely as proposed by the other, certainly. But he wished to go into the country in virtue of his free resolve, because it was his will, and not the proposal of another.... And rather than bend to another’s will he renounced his own. Moreover, since another wished it, the pleasure of wishing it himself was lost to him.’ Here the De Goncourts: ‘There was around her out of the sorrowful violet and bright gold a misty shimmer.’ ‘His feeling was always something inconceivable, and also on a yellow ground—dirty yellow—gasping, ecstatic, faint, pining away with a death-rattle, and with violet tones, but very soft.’ ‘It was chaste voluptuousness. He had it there in his brain, pearly gray, melting into faint violet.’ Villiers de l’Isle-Adam: ‘He was bound to establish the new love.... The question was of doing it in the style of electricity and steam. An Edison-love ... yes, a machine-like love.’ A mixture of Baudelaire and Huysmans: ‘In the undulating silver dust of the light a lovely quivering sheen, woven of blue-black and pale green vapour, bathed her rosy flesh, exhaled by its soft down.... He wished utterly to destroy and flay her. Nothing but blood—blood. He only felt at ease when it streaked [!] down.... He established a theory according to which this was the way towards the new love, viz., by torture.’ ‘There lay the meadows red as fire spread out in lovely slopes ... and hopes, the blue vampires, grew listless. But upright in its pride and with imperial mourning walked a huge gray sunflower, silent and pale, on the arm of an awkward fat stinking thistle, which trailed noisily afar with large rough gold.’ ‘This now became for him true art, the art which alone could redeem and make happy—the art of odours.... From pale and moaning fumes of the white rose, in which the suicide triumphs, he awakened the eternal doctrine of Buddha,’ etc. The rehardness,[523] ainder is better expressed in the original, in Huysmans’ novel, A Rebours. As to the passages full of a heat which clamours for a strait-jacket, and simulates satyriasis and Sadism; as to the quaint confusions and orthographical errors in French names which the author, who poses as a Parisian, commits at every step; and as to his frequent manifestation of megalomania, it is enough to refer to them. These things are not essential, but they contribute to make Bahr’s book the only product of hysterical mental derangement hitherto existing in German literature.

The greater number of Young-German plagiarists have not yet risen to the monumental productions of a Tovote or a Bahr, and have stopped at short pieces of lyric poetry.

Special mention ought to be accorded to Gerhart Hauptmann, who has, unfortunately, permitted himself to be enrolled among the ‘Young Germans.’ It is difficult to confuse him with them, for if he makes concessions to their æsthetics of the commonplace with a carelessness which of itself betrays a disquieting obtuseness of artistic taste and conscience, he nevertheless may be distinguished from them by some great qualities. He possesses a luscious, vivid vocabulary, full of expression and feeling, even though it is a dialect. He knows how to see reality, and he has the power to render it in poetry.

It will not occur to anyone to pronounce any final judgment on this author of thirty years of age. As yet only his début can be mentioned, and hopes be formed for his future development. What he has hitherto produced has been surprisingly unequal. Side by side with originality his works present a barren imitation; with high artistic insight, a schoolboy’s awkwardness and ingenuousness; with flights of genius, the most afflicting commonplaces. One scarcely knows if he is a novelist or a dramatic writer. In two of his pieces, in fact, Vor Sonnenaufgang and College Crampton, there is such a complete absence of progressive action, a condition of things so purely stationary and devoid of development, that even the instinct of a natural talent for the stage could never have so forgotten itself. Perhaps Hauptmann is only temporarily under the spell of an æsthetic theory, from which he will free himself later. He desires, indeed, to describe the ‘milieu’ faithfully and closely, and loses sight in so doing of the principal thing in poetry—of the characters and their fate. His dramas frequently fall asunder for this reason into a series of episodes, in themselves well observed and characteristic, but only distantly, or it may be not at all, connected with the plot, as, e.g., in the play Vor Sonnenaufgang, the appearance of Hopslabär, the servant Mary who is leaving, the coachman’s wife stealing[524] the milk, etc. All are pictures of manners, but at the same time cease to form united compositions.

If Hauptmann has borrowed from the French realists the excessive and useless accentuation of the ‘milieu,’ he has taken from Ibsen the charlatanism of ‘modernity’ and the affectation of the ‘thesis.’ On the model of the Norwegian poet he suddenly inserts into some commonplace history belonging exclusively to no particular period or locality, some intrusive phrase containing an obscure allusion to ‘the great times in which we live,’ or the ‘mighty events which are coming to pass,’ etc. For example, Einsame Menschen (Lonely Folk) is the needlessly pretentious title of a drama in which we are shown a really Ibsenian idiot, who fancies himself misunderstood by his excellent wife, and becomes enamoured of a Russian girl-student, who is their visitor. As is generally the case with such feeble wights, he desires to possess the Russian, while not losing his wife; he has neither the courage to wound his wife by openly separating from her, nor the strength to conquer his guilty passion for the stranger. In his torment he tries to deceive himself, to persuade himself that his feelings towards the Russian are only those of friendship and of gratitude, that she has understood him and intellectually stimulated him. The Russian, however, is more clear-sighted, and is about to leave the house. The end of the story is that the idiot drowns himself. The conception of a weak man vacillating between two women, of whom one is the embodiment of duty, and the other of presumptive happiness, is as old as the theatre itself. It has nothing to do with the times. It can only be made to pass as ‘modernism’ by prevarication. And in this feeble drama Hauptmann makes his characters hold learned conversations full of allusions, such as the following:

Fräulein Anna (the Russian). These are, indeed, great times in which we are living. I seem to feel as if something close and oppressive were gradually lifting off from us. Do you not agree with me, Doctor?

Johannes (the idiot). In what way?

Fräulein Anna. On one side, a stifling dread was mastering us; on the other, a gloomy fanaticism. The excessive strain seems now to be straightened. Something like a breath of fresh air, let us say from the twentieth century, has come in upon us.[463]

The same swagger of modernity made the author decide on this title, Vor Sonnenaufgang (Before Sunrise), for his first work, and to qualify it as a ‘social drama.’ It is no more ‘social’ than any other drama, and has no connection whatever with ‘sunrise’ in a metaphorical sense. It reveals the state of affairs in a Silesian village, where the discovery of[525] coal-mines on their land has made the peasants millionaires. The contrast between the coarseness of the rustics and their opulence furnishes good scenes for a farce; but what has it to do with the age and its problems? A fragment of thesis is dovetailed into the farce. The peasant millionaire is a drunkard. The daughter may have inherited her father’s vice. And so a man who has become attached and engaged to her leaves her with sorrowful determination on learning that the old man drinks. This thesis is an absurdity. A drunkard can transmit his vice to his children, but is not bound to do so, and, in the instance in point, the grown-up daughter does not betray the slightest inclination to drink. His thesis is worked out on the model of Ibsenian maunderings, and is as little taken from life as the lover who subordinates his love to a very uncertain theory. In this man we recognise our old friend, the type of the recipe for realist novels, who makes vague allusions to socialistic studies which he is reputed to pursue,[464] and proves himself, by these shadowy indications, to be a ‘modern’ man.

Hauptmann is true and strong only when he makes the poor of the lowest class speak in their own dialect. The maidservants in Vor Sonnenaufgang are excellent. The nurse, who sings the baby to sleep; the laundress, Frau Lehmann, who laments her domestic troubles, are by far the most successful characters in Einsame Menschen. And if Die Weber is the best work he has hitherto produced, it is because only the poorest people, speaking only their own dialect, appear in it. But as soon as he has to deal with more complex human beings of the educated classes—beings who are not perishing with hunger nor suffering from poverty, who speak high German, and have a wider intellectual horizon—he becomes uncertain and flat, and catches up the pattern-album of realism instead of taking reality as his model.

Die Weber (The Weavers) is the only real drama among the five which Hauptmann has hitherto written.[465] There is[526] not much action in this piece; but it is sufficient, and it progresses. First, we see the profound misery in which the weavers are perishing; then we behold the rousing of their fury at their intolerable condition, and then their passion gradually developed before our eyes in ever-deepening intensity, rising into frenzy, destructive madness, tumults and riots, with all their tragic consequences. The extraordinary part of this drama is that the author has triumphed, with a genius which entitles him to our respect, over the enormous difficulty of captivating and stirring our human feelings, without making any individual character the centre-point of his piece, and of distributing the action between a great number of persons and a multitude of individual traits, without its ever ceasing to be a united and compact whole. These features, revealing a painfully minute observation, necessarily belong to individuals; nevertheless, they excite a very lively interest, sympathy and pity, not for the person, but for a whole class of men. We reach through emotion a generalization which usually is only a work of the intellect, through a poetic composition to a feeling which usually is excited only by history. In making this possible, Hauptmann rises infinitely above the bog of barren imitation, and creates a truly new form, viz., the drama in which the hero is not an individual, but the crowd; he succeeds, by artistic means, in presenting us with the hallucination that we are constantly seeing before us the nameless millions, while naturally there are never more than a few persons in the scene who suffer, speak, and act. Besides this great and radical innovation, other burning æsthetic questions are solved in the piece with overpowering beauty and sobriety. We have here a drama without love, and at the same time a proof that other sentiments besides the one instinct of sex can powerfully stir the soul of the reader. The piece is, moreover, a curious contribution to the wholly new ‘psychology of the masses,’ with which Sighele, Fournial, and others have been occupied,[466] and it gives an absolutely exact picture of the delirium and hallucinations which take possession of the individual in the midst of an excited crowd, and transforms his character and all his instincts after the model of the usually criminal leaders. It comprises, finally, this demonstration, which I have nowhere found so fully in all the international literature with which I am acquainted, viz., that beautiful effects, when rightly employed, can be obtained even with repulsive subjects. A poor weaver, who has not touched meat for two years, asks a comrade—not having the heart to do it[527] himself—to kill a pretty little dog which had run up to him, and his wife roasts it for him. He cannot control his craving, and begins dipping into the saucepan almost before the meat is done. His stomach, however, cannot bear the dainty, and to his great despair he is forced to reject it.[467] The incident in itself is not appetizing. But here it becomes beautiful and deeply affecting, for it describes with incomparably tragic power the misery of these woebegone starving people.

This piece, apparently so realistic in the sense attached to this word by superficial talkers, is, on the whole, the most convincing refutation of the theory of realism. For it is incredible that all the incidents which mark the dreadful position of the weavers could have been condensed into exactly one hour of the day, and into one single room of the workman Dreissiger’s house; it is, if not wholly impossible, at all events very improbable, that the soldier’s murderous bullet should happen to kill the weaver Hilse, the only man trusting in God and resigned to his fate, who remained quietly at his work when all the others rushed out to pillage and riot in the streets. The poet has not depicted ‘real’ life here, but has freely utilized the materials which he has gained through his observation of life in order to give artistic expression to his personal ideas. His desire was to excite our pity as vividly as that felt by himself for a definite form of human misery. With this object he collected with the sure hand of an artist, into a narrow compass, events which in life would be distributed over months or years, and at long intervals, and he has guided the flight of a blindly unconscious bullet in such a way that it commits, like a villain endowed with reason, a peculiarly dastardly crime, thus raising our compassion for the poor weavers to the height of indignation. The piece, then, shows us the ideas and designs of the poet, his manner of viewing and interpreting reality; it enables us to discern the sentiments aroused in him by the drama of life. It is, then, in the highest degree a ‘subjective’ work, i.e., the opposite of a ‘realistic’ copy of fact, which would have to be photographically objective.


How does it happen that an artist, who applies his means with so fine a taste and with so skilful a calculation of the effect, can commit at the same time such naïvetés as, for example, these stage-directions in Vor Sonnenaufgang: ‘Frau Krause, at the moment of seating herself, remembers [!] that grace has not yet been said, and mechanically folds her hands, though without otherwise controlling her malice.’ ‘It is the peasant Krause who, as always [!], is the last to leave the inn.’ ‘He embraces her with the awkwardness of a gorilla,’ etc. How is an actor to set to work by his awkwardness to make a spectator think precisely of a gorilla, or to show him that, ‘as always,’ he is the last to leave the inn? More especially, how is it to be explained that this same Hauptmann, who has created Die Weber, should after this lofty composition have written the novels Der Apostel and Bahnwärter Thiel?[468] Here we fall back into the lowest depths of Young-German incapacity. The idea is nonsensical and a plagiarism, the story has not a ray of truth, and the language (so original and lifelike, and so exactly rendering the lightest shades of thought when the author has recourse to patois) is commonplace and slipshod enough to make one weep. No words must be wasted on Der Apostel. A dreamer, manifestly touched by insanity, perambulates the streets of Zürich in the costume of an Oriental prophet, and is taken to be Christ by the crowd who worship him. This is the whole story. It is represented in such a way that we never know whether the narrative is telling what the Apostle dreamed or what really happened. His ideas and sentiments are an echo of Nietzsche. Zarathustra has incontestably got into Hauptmann’s head, and left him no peace till he had himself produced a second infusion of this idiocy. The railway signalman, Thiel, has lost his wife at the birth of their first child. Constantly away from home on duty, he is obliged to marry again that his child may be cared for. The second wife, who soon gives her husband a child of her own, ill-treats the motherless one. In spite of Thiel’s warnings, she one day leaves her stepchild on the rails untended, and it is crushed by a train. The signalman then murders his wife and her child with a hatchet in the most horrible manner at night, and is shut up in a lunatic asylum as a furious madman. Let me quote just a few of his descriptions: ‘In the obscurity ... the signalman’s hut was transformed into a chapel. A faded photograph of the dead woman on the table before him, his Psalm-book and Bible open, he read and sang alternately the whole night through, interrupted only by the trains tearing past at intervals, and fell into an[529] ecstasy so intense that he saw visions of the dead woman standing before his eyes.’ ‘The [telegraphic] pole, at the southern extremity of the section, had a particularly full and beautiful chord.... The signalman experienced a solemn feeling—as at church. And then in time he came to distinguish a voice which recalled to him his dead wife. He imagined that it was a chorus of blessed spirits in which her voice was mingled, and this idea awakened in him a longing, an emotion amounting to tears.’ The ‘Young German’ speaks with contempt of Berthold Auerbach, because he depicts sentimental peasants. Is there a single one of Auerbach’s Black Forest folk impregnated with such a rose-watery sentimentality as this signalman of the ‘realist’ Hauptmann, who leans against a telegraph-pole, and is moved to tears at its sound? Again, the passage (pp. 22, 23) which shows us Thiel in amorous excitement at the sight of his wife (‘from the woman an invincible, inevitable power seemed to emanate, which Thiel felt himself impotent to resist’) Hauptmann has drawn from Zola’s novels, and not from the observations of German signalmen. Or has he rather desired to depict in a general way a madman who has always been such long before his furious insanity broke out? In this case he has drawn the picture very falsely.

And the style of this unhappy book! ‘The Scotch firs ... rubbed their branches squeaking against each other,’ and ‘a noisy squeaking, rattling, clattering, and clashing [of a train with the brake on] broke upon the stillness of the evening.’ One and the same word to describe the noise of branches rubbing each other, and of a train with the brake on! ‘Two red round lights [those of a locomotive] pierced the darkness like the fixed and staring eyes of a gigantic monster.’ ‘The sun ... sparkling at its rising like an enormous blood-red jewel.’ ‘The sky which caught, like a gigantic and stainlessly blue bowl of crystal, the golden light of the sun.’ And once again: ‘The sky like an empty pale-blue bowl of crystal.’ ‘The moon hung, comparable to a lamp, above the forest.’ How can an author who has any respect for himself employ comparisons which would make a journeyman tailor who dabbled in writing blush? Besides, what countless slovenlinesses! ‘Before his eyes floated pell-mell little yellow points like glow-worms.’ Glow-worms do not give out a yellow, but a bluish, light. ‘His glassy pupils moved incessantly.’ This is a phenomenon which no one has yet seen. ‘The trunks of the fir-trees stretched like pale decayed bones between the summits.’ Bones are that part of the body which does not decay. ‘The blood which flowed was the sign of combat.’ Truly a reliable sign! Even great faults in grammar are not[530] wanting, but I consent to take these as printer’s mistakes. If Gerhart Hauptmann has true friends, their imperative duty is to rouse his conscience. Having shown what excellent things he is capable of producing, he has not the right to scribble carelessly like the first paltry ‘Young-German’ writer. He must be strict with himself, and endeavour always to remain the artist he has shown himself in Die Weber.

Hauptmann’s successes have not let Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf rest, and both have joined to imitate his Vor Sonnenaufgang. Their united efforts produced the Familie Selicke, a drama in which nothing happens, of which alcohol is likewise the subject, and where the personages also speak in dialect. For ‘modernity’s’ sake they have introduced a theological candidate who has become a free-thinker, yet none the less wishes to obtain an incumbency. I mention this insignificant patchwork play only because the realists usually quote it as one of their magna opera.

Such are the Young-German realists, among whose number I will not include, as I said before, a sterling author like Gerhart Hauptmann. They do not know German, are incapable of even observing life, still more of understanding it; they know nothing, learn nothing, and experience nothing whatsoever; have nothing to say, have neither a true sentiment nor a personal thought to express, yet never cease writing; and their scribbling, in the eyes of a great number, passes as the sole German literature of the present and future. They plagiarize the stalest of foreign fashions, and call themselves innovators and original geniuses. They append on the signboard before their shops, ‘At the Sign of Modernity,’ and nothing is to be found in them but the discarded breeches of bygone poetasters. If the few lines in which they mutter about the obscure Socialistic ‘studies’ and ‘works’ of the hero be excluded from all they have published up to the present time, there will remain a miserable balderdash, without colour, taste, or connection with time and space, and which a tolerably conscientious editor of a newspaper even half a century ago would have thrown into the waste-paper basket as altogether too musty. They know that very well, and to be beforehand with those who would reproach them with their charlatanism, they audaciously attribute it to those respectable authors whom they cover with their slaver. Thus, Hans Merian dares to say: ‘Spielhagen makes it appear as though he had drawn the fundamental ideas and conflicts in his novels from the great questions which are stirring the present time. But closely examined, all this magnificence evaporates into a vain phantasmagoria.’ And: ‘To the fabricators of novels à la Paul Lindau, recently dealing with realism, we[531] address the reproach of false realism.’[469] And this same Hans Merian finds that the realism of Max Kretzer and of Karl Bleibtreu is genuine, and that their Parisian cocotte-stories, transported contraband into Berlin, and their adventures of mythical waitresses, are ‘drawn from the great questions of the day’! Is not this the practice of thieves who scamper away at full speed before a policeman, shouting as they run louder than anyone else, ‘Stop thief!’ The movement of the Young German is an incomparable example in literature of that tendency to form cliques which I described in the first volume of this work. It began by a foundation in due form. A man arrogated to himself the rank of captain, and enrolled armed companions in order to repair with them into the Bohemian forests. The purpose was the same as that of every other band of criminals—the ‘Maffia,’ the ‘Mala Vita,’ the ‘Mano negra,’ etc., viz., that of living well without working, by plundering the rich, by blackmailing the poor, by favouring acts of vengeance by the members on persons whom they envy, hate, or fear, by satisfying with impunity the leaning to license and crime, kept down by custom and law. Like the ‘Mala Vita’ and analogous associations, this band palliates its acts and deeds by stock phrases intended to secure the favour, or at least the indulgence, of the crowd, incapable of judgment and easy to move. Brigands always profess that they are guided by the desire to repair, to the utmost of their power, the injustice of fate, by relieving the rich of their superfluities, and by then alleviating the misery of the poor. Thus, this band asserts that it defends the cause of truth, liberty, and progress, with the indecent love adventures of tavern-maidservants and prostitutes! Membership is acquired by formal admission after predetermined tests have been undergone. He must first publicly bespatter a well-known and meritorious author with mud. With the predominance of low and bad emotions in members of the band, they experience more gratification in maligning a man they envy than in being praised themselves. Next, the candidate must worship as geniuses one or more members of the band, and finally give proof, in verse or prose, that he also is able to express, in the language of a souteneur, the ideas of a convict, and the sensations of a noisome beast. Having undergone these three ordeals with success, he is received into the band and declared a genius. Just as the bands of brigands have their haunts, their receivers of stolen goods, and their secret or affiliated allies among the tradespeople, so this band possesses its own newspaper, its appointed editors (who, at[532] first at least, accepted everything from it), and secret understandings with the critics of respectable papers. Its influence extends even to foreign countries—a phenomenon frequently observed in the formation of bands, and expressly confirmed by Lombroso. ‘The Mattoids,’ he says, ‘as opposed to geniuses and fools, are linked together by a sympathy of interests and hatred; they form a kind of freemasonry so much the more powerful that it is less regular. It is founded on the need of resistance to ridicule which is common to all, and inexorably pursues them everywhere on the necessity of uprooting, or at least combating, the natural antithesis, which, for them, is the man of genius; and, in spite of their hating each other, they stand firmly by one another.’[470]

He who from a height surveys a horizon of a certain extent can easily observe the labour of the apostles of this international freemasonry. M. Téodar de Wyzewa, already mentioned, who introduced to the French the insane Nietzsche as the most remarkable author that Germany has produced in the second half of this century, speaks in La Revue bleue and in Le Figaro of Conrad Alberti as the ‘poet’ who will dominate German literature in the twentieth century. The ‘new reviews’ of the Symbolists and Instrumentists, La Revue blanche, La Plume, etc., translate the ‘Erlebte Gedichte’ of O. J. Bierbaum. On the other hand, O. E. Hartleben offers the German public the so-called ‘poetry’ of the Belgian Symbolist, Albert Giraud, Pierrot lunaire, and H. Bahr mutters with transport over the Parisian mystics. Ola Hansson is enthusiastic before German readers over the realists of the North, and carries into Sweden the good news of Young-German realism, etc.

The actions of the band have not done much good to itself, but they have caused serious injuries to German literature. It has necessarily exerted a baneful attraction over the young who have come to the front in the last seven or eight years. If we consider the enormous difficulties to which a beginner is exposed, who without protection or influence, depending wholly on himself, enters into the Via Crucis leading to literary success, we shall find it quite comprehensible that the tyros should be eager to join themselves to a society possessing a powerful organization, its own periodicals and publishers, as well as a definite public, and always ready to take the part of its members with the unscrupulousness and pugnacity of cut-throats. As members of the band, they are freed from all the difficulties of beginners. The most vigorous talents alone—such, for example, as Hermann Sudermann—disdained to lighten their struggles with the help of such allies. The others[533] willingly allowed themselves to be affiliated. The result was, on the one hand, that wholly incompetent lads were drawn into the profession of authors, who would never have come before the public if they had not had special depôts to which they could cart all their rubbish; and, on the other hand, that of procuring for others, who were perhaps not wholly devoid of talent, periodicals and publishers for their childish effusions, the appearance of which in print would have been inconceivable before the formation of the band. Some threw themselves into the literary profession at an age when they should have been studying for a long time to come, and thereby remained ignorant, immature, and superficial; others acquired slipshod and slovenly habits into which they would never have fallen if, in the absence of the conveniences which the organization of the band offered them, they had been obliged to submit to some discipline, and develop their capacities with care. The existence of this literary ‘Maffia’ assisted the plagiarists against independent minds, the common herd against the solitary, the scribbler against the artist, and the obscene against the refined, so powerfully that competition was almost out of the question. The luxuriant growth of silly, boyish, and crude book-making is the result of this fostering of incapacity and immaturity, and this premium granted to vulgarity. I will demonstrate in one instance only the disastrous effect of the band. The case of the Darmstadt Gymnasium (public school) boy may be remembered, who wrote under the pseudonym of Hans G. Ludwigs, and committed suicide in 1892 at the age of seventeen. For two years he had offered incense to the realist ‘geniuses,’ and published idiotic novels in the official periodicals of Young Germany, and he committed suicide because, as he wrote, ‘this cursed boxed-in life,’ i.e., the obligation to learn and work regularly in class, ‘broke down his strength.’ A good many gymnasium boys write trumpery things and send them to the papers; but as these are not printed, they gradually recover their reason. Their heads do not get turned, and they do not come to imagine that they are much too good to do their lessons, and diligently prepare for their examinations. Ludwigs would perhaps have been cured of his folly; he might have lived till the present day, and become a useful man, if the criminal realist periodicals had not printed his twaddle, and thus diverted him from his studies, and intensified his unwholesome boyish vanity into megalomania.

That this invasion by main force, this revolt of slaves into literature, to use Nietzsche’s expression, was to a certain extent successful, can be accounted for by the state of Germany. Its literature after 1870 had, in fact, become stagnant. It[534] could not be otherwise. The German people had been obliged to exert their whole strength to conquer their unity in terrible wars. Now, it is not possible simultaneously to make history on a great scale and lead a nourishing artistic life; it must be one or the other. In the France of Napoleon I. the most celebrated authors were Delille, Esménard, Parseval de Grandmaison, and Fontanes. The Germany of William I., of Moltke and Bismarck, could not produce a Goethe or a Schiller. This can be explained without any mysticism. From the mighty events of which they are witnesses and collaborators the nation obtains a standard of comparison, by the side of which all works of art shrink together, and poets and artists, especially those most gifted and conscientious, feel depressed and discouraged, often even paralyzed, by the double perception that their compatriots only peruse their works distractedly and superficially, and that their creations absolutely cannot attain to the grandeur of the historical events passing before their eyes. In this critical period of transient mental collapse the Young-German band made its appearance, and profited greatly by what even honest and sensible people were obliged to acknowledge as well-founded attacks—even while they condemned the form of them—on many of the then reigning literary senators.

But another and weightier ground is the anarchy which reigns at present in German literature. Our republic of letters is neither governed nor defended. It has neither authorities nor police, and that is the reason a small but determined band of evildoers can make a great stir at their pleasure. Our masters do not concern themselves about their posterity as used to be the case. They have no sense of the duty which success and glory impose upon them. Let me not be misunderstood. Nothing is further from my thoughts than the wish to transform literature into a closed corporation, and to require the new arrivals to become apprentices and journeymen (although, in fact, every new generation unconsciously forms itself on the works of its intellectual ancestors). But they have not the right to be indifferent to what will come after them. They are the intellectual leaders of the people. They have their ear. On them is the task incumbent of facilitating the first steps of the beginner, and presenting them to the public. By this much would be obtained—continuity of development, formation of a literary tradition, respect and gratitude for predecessors, severe and early suppression of individuals of absolutely unjustifiable pretensions, economy of power, which in these days a young author must fritter away in order to come out of his shell. But our literary chiefs have no understanding for all this. Each one thinks only of himself,[535] and is furiously jealous of his colleagues and his followers. Not one of them says that in the intellectual concert of a great people there is room enough for dozens of different artists, each one of whom plays his own instrument. Not one takes into consideration that after him new talent will be born, that this is a fact he cannot prevent, and that he is preparing for himself a better old age by levelling the paths, instead of viciously trying to close them to those who, whatever he may do, will still be his successors in public favour. Who amongst us has ever received a word of encouragement from one of our literary grandees? To whom amongst us have they testified their interest and benevolence? Not one of us owes them anything whatsoever; not one feels obliged to be just towards them, nor to make himself their champion; and when the band fell upon them like a lot of brigands, to drive them off with blows, and put themselves in their place, not a hand was raised to defend them, and they were cruelly punished for having lived and acted in isolation and secret mutual hostility, sternly repulsing the young, and indifferent to the tastes of the people whenever their own works were not in question.

And as we have no Council of Ancients, so we lack also all critical police. The reviewer may praise the most wretched production, kill by silence or drag through the mire the highest masterpiece, state as the contents of a book things of which there is not the slightest mention, and no one calls him to account, no one stigmatizes his ineptitude, his effrontery, or his falsehood. Thus a public that is neither led nor counselled by its ancients, nor protected by its critical police, becomes the predestined prey of all charlatans and impostors.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:32 am



Our long and sorrowful wandering through the hospital—for as such we have recognised, if not all civilized humanity, at all events the upper stratum of the population of large towns to be—is ended. We have observed the various embodiments which degeneration and hysteria have assumed in the art, poetry, and philosophy of our times. We have seen the mental disorder affecting modern society manifesting itself chiefly in the following forms: Mysticism, which is the expression of the inaptitude for attention, for clear thought and control of the emotions, and has for its cause the weakness of the higher cerebral centres; Ego-mania, which is an effect of faulty transmission by the sensory nerves, of obtuseness in the centres of perception, of aberration of instincts from a craving for sufficiently strong impressions, and of the great predominance of organic sensations over representative consciousness; and false Realism, which proceeds from confused æsthetic theories, and characterizes itself by pessimism and the irresistible tendency to licentious ideas, and the most vulgar and unclean modes of expression. In all three tendencies we detect the same ultimate elements, viz., a brain incapable of normal working, thence feebleness of will, inattention, predominance of emotion, lack of knowledge, absence of sympathy or interest in the world and humanity, atrophy of the notion of duty and morality. From a clinical point of view somewhat unlike each other, these pathological pictures are nevertheless only different manifestations of a single and unique fundamental condition, to wit, exhaustion, and they must be ranked by the alienist in the genus melancholia, which is the psychiatrical symptom of an exhausted central nervous system.

Superficial or unfair critics have foisted on me the assertion[537] that degeneration and hysteria are the products of the present age. The attentive and candid reader will bear witness that I have never circulated such an absurdity. Hysteria and degeneration have always existed; but they formerly showed themselves sporadically, and had no importance in the life of the whole community. It was only the vast fatigue which was experienced by the generation on which the multitude of discoveries and innovations burst abruptly, imposing upon it organic exigencies greatly surpassing its strength, which created favourable conditions under which these maladies could gain ground enormously, and become a danger to civilization. Certain micro-organisms engendering mortal diseases have always been present also—for example, the bacillus of cholera; but they only cause epidemics when circumstances arise intensely favourable for their rapid increase. In the same way the body constantly harbours parasites which only injure it when another bacillus has invaded and devastated it. For example, we are always inhabited by staphylococcus and streptococcus, but the influenza bacillus must first appear for them to swarm and produce mortal suppurations. Thus, the vermin of plagiarists in art and literature becomes dangerous only when the insane, who follow their own original paths, have previously poisoned the Zeitgeist, weakened by fatigue, and rendered it incapable of resistance.

We stand now in the midst of a severe mental epidemic; of a sort of black death of degeneration and hysteria, and it is natural that we should ask anxiously on all sides: ‘What is to come next?’

This question of eventuality presents itself to the physician in every serious case, and however delicate and rash, above all, however little scientific any prediction may be, he cannot evade the necessity of establishing a prognosis. For that matter, this is not purely arbitrary, not a blind leap into the dark; the most attentive observation of all the symptoms, assisted by experience, permits a generally just conclusion on the ulterior evolution of the evil.

It is possible that the disease may not have yet attained its culminating point. If it should become more violent, gain yet more in breadth and depth, then certain phenomena which are perceived as exceptions or in an embryo condition would henceforth increase to a formidable extent and develop consistently; others, which at present are only observed among the inmates of lunatic asylums, would pass into the daily habitual condition of whole classes of the population. Life would then present somewhat the following picture:

Every city possesses its club of suicides. By the side of this exist clubs for mutual assassination by strangulation,[538] hanging, or stabbing. In the place of the present taverns houses would be found devoted to the service of consumers of ether, chloral, naphtha, and hashish. The number of persons suffering from aberrations of taste and smell has become so considerable that it is a lucrative trade to open shops for them where they can swallow in rich vessels all sorts of dirt, and breathe amidst surroundings which do not offend their sense of beauty nor their habits of comfort the odour of decay and filth. A number of new professions are being formed—that of injectors of morphia and cocaine; of commissioners who, posted at the corners of the streets, offer their arms to persons attacked by agoraphobia, in order to enable them to cross the roads and squares; of companies of men who by vigorous affirmations are charged to tranquillize persons afflicted with the mania of doubt when taken by a fit of nervousness, etc.

The increase of nervous irritability, far beyond the present standard, has made it necessary to institute certain measures of protection. After it has frequently come to pass that overexcited persons, being unable to resist a sudden impulsion, have killed from their windows with air-guns, or have even openly attacked, the street boys who have uttered shrill whistles or piercingly sharp screams without rhyme or reason; that they have forced their way into strange houses where beginners are practising the piano or singing, and there committed murder; that they have made attempts with dynamite against tramways where the conductor rings a bell (as in Berlin) or whistles—it has been forbidden by law to whistle and bawl in the street; special buildings, managed in such a way that no sound penetrates to the outside, have been established for the practice of the piano and singing exercises; public conveyances have no right to make a noise, and the severest penalty is at the same time attached to the possession of air-guns. The barking of dogs having driven many people in the neighbourhood to madness and suicide, these animals cannot be kept in a town until after they have been made mute by severing the ‘recurrent’ nerve. A new legislation on subjects connected with the press forbids journalists, under severe penalties, to give detailed accounts of violence, or suicides under peculiar circumstances. Editors are responsible for all punishable actions committed in imitation of their reports.

Sexual psychopathy of every nature has become so general and so imperious that manners and laws have adapted themselves accordingly. They appear already in the fashions. Masochists or passivists, who form the majority of men, clothe themselves in a costume which recalls, by colour and cut,[539] feminine apparel. Women who wish to please men of this kind wear men’s dress, an eye-glass, boots with spurs and riding-whip, and only show themselves in the street with a large cigar in their mouths. The demand of persons with the ‘contrary’ sexual sentiment that persons of the same sex can conclude a legal marriage has obtained satisfaction, seeing they have been numerous enough to elect a majority of deputies having the same tendency.[471] Sadists, ‘bestials,’ nosophiles, and necrophiles, etc., find legal opportunities to gratify their inclinations. Modesty and restraint are dead superstitions of the past, and appear only as atavism and among the inhabitants of remote villages. The lust of murder is confronted as a disease, and treated by surgical intervention, etc.

The capacity for attention and contemplation has diminished so greatly that instruction at school is at most but two hours a day, and no public amusements, such as theatres, concerts, lectures, etc., last more than half an hour. For that matter, in the curriculum of studies, mental education is almost wholly suppressed, and by far the greater part of the time is reserved for bodily exercises; on the stage only representations of unveiled eroticism and bloody homicides, and to this, flock voluntary victims from all the parts, who aspire to the voluptuousness of dying amid the plaudits of delirious spectators.

The old religions have not many adherents. On the other hand, there are a great number of spiritualist communities who, instead of priests, maintain soothsayers, evokers of the dead, sorcerers, astrologers, and chiromancers, etc.

Books such as those of the present day have not been in fashion for a very long time. Printing is now only on black, blue, or golden paper; on another colour are single incoherent words, often nothing but syllables, nay, even letters or numbers only, but which have a symbolical significance which is meant to be guessed by the colour and print of the paper and form of the book, the size and nature of the characters. Authors soliciting popularity make comprehension easy by adding to the text symbolical arabesques, and impregnating the paper with a definite perfume. But this is considered vulgar by the refined and connoisseurs, and is but little esteemed. Some poets who publish no more than isolated letters of the alphabet, or whose works are coloured pages on which is absolutely nothing, elicit the greatest admiration. There are societies whose object it is to interpret them, and their enthusiasm is so fanatical that they frequently have fights against each other ending in murder.


It would be easy to augment this picture still further, no feature of which is invented, every detail being borrowed from special literature on criminal law and psychiatria, and observations of the peculiarities of neurasthenics, hysterics, and mattoids. This will be, in the near future, the condition of civilized humanity, if fatigue, nervous exhaustion, and the diseases and degeneration conditioned by them, make much greater progress.

Will it come to this? Well, no; I think not. And this, for a reason which scarcely perhaps permits of an objection: because humanity has not yet reached the term of its evolution; because the over-exertion of two or three generations cannot yet have exhausted all its vital powers. Humanity is not senile. It is still young, and a moment of over-exertion is not fatal for youth; it can recover itself. Humanity resembles a vast torrent of lava, which rushes, broad and deep, from the crater of a volcano in constant activity. The outer crust cracks into cold, vitrified scoriæ, but under this dead shell the mass flows, rapidly and evenly, in living incandescence.

As long as the vital powers of an individual, as of a race, are not wholly consumed, the organism makes efforts actively or passively to adapt itself, by seeking to modify injurious conditions, or by adjusting itself in some way so that conditions impossible to modify should be as little noxious as possible. Degenerates, hysterics, and neurasthenics are not capable of adaptation. Therefore they are fated to disappear. That which inexorably destroys them is that they do not know how to come to terms with reality. They are lost, whether they are alone in the world, or whether there are people with them who are still sane, or more sane than they, or at least curable.

They are lost if they are alone: for anti-social, inattentive, without judgment or prevision, they are capable of no useful individual effort, and still less of a common labour which demands obedience, discipline, and the regular performance of duty. They fritter away their life in solitary, unprofitable, æsthetic debauch, and all that their organs, which are in full regression, are still good for is enervating enjoyment. Like bats in old towers, they are niched in the proud monument of civilization, which they have found ready-made, but they themselves can construct nothing more, nor prevent any deterioration. They live, like parasites, on labour which past generations have accumulated for them; and when the heritage is once consumed, they are condemned to die of hunger.

But they are still more surely and rapidly lost if, instead of being alone in the world, healthy beings yet live at their side. For in that case they have to fight in the struggle for existence, and there is no leisure for them to perish in a slow decay by[541] their own incapacity for work. The normal man, with his clear mind, logical thought, sound judgment, and strong will, sees, where the degenerate only gropes; he plans and acts where the latter dozes and dreams; he drives him without effort from all the places where the life-springs of Nature bubble up, and, in possession of all the good things of this earth, he leaves to the impotent degenerate at most the shelter of the hospital, lunatic asylum, and prison, in contemptuous pity. Let us imagine the drivelling Zoroaster of Nietzsche, with his cardboard lions, eagles, and serpents, from a toyshop, or the noctambulist Des Esseintes of the Decadents, sniffing and licking his lips, or Ibsen’s “solitary powerful” Stockmann, and his Rosmer lusting for suicide—let us imagine these beings in competition with men who rise early, and are not weary before sunset, who have clear heads, solid stomachs and hard muscles: the comparison will provoke our laughter.

Degenerates must succumb, therefore. They can neither adapt themselves to the conditions of Nature and civilization, nor maintain themselves in the struggle for existence against the healthy. But the latter—and the vast masses of the people still include unnumbered millions of them—will rapidly and easily adapt themselves to the conditions which new inventions have created in humanity. Those who, by marked deficiency of organization, are unable to do so, among the generation taken unawares by these inventions, fall out of the ranks; they become hysterical and neurasthenical, engender degenerates, and in these end their race;[472] but the more vigorous, although they at first also have become bewildered and fatigued, recover themselves little by little, their descendants accustom themselves to the rapid progress which humanity must make, and soon their slow respiration and their quieter pulsations of the heart will prove that it no longer costs them any effort to keep pace and keep up with the others. The end of the twentieth century, therefore, will probably see a generation to whom it will not be injurious to read a dozen square yards of newspapers daily, to be constantly called to the telephone, to be thinking simultaneously of the five continents of the world, to live half their time in a railway carriage or in a flying machine, and to satisfy the demands of a circle of ten thousand acquaintances, associates, and friends. It will know how to find its ease in the midst of a city inhabited by millions, and will be able, with nerves of gigantic vigour, to respond without haste or agitation to the almost innumerable claims of existence.

If, however, the new civilization should decidedly outstrip[542] the powers of humanity, if even the most robust of the species should not in the long-run grow up to it, then ulterior generations will settle with it in another way. They will simply give it up. For humanity has a sure means of defence against innovations which impose a destructive effort on its nervous system, namely, ‘misoneism,’ that instinctive, invincible aversion to progress and its difficulties that Lombroso has studied so much, and to which he has given this name.[473] Misoneism protects man from changes of which the suddenness or the extent would be baneful to him. But it does not only appear as resistance to the acceptation of the new; it has another aspect, to wit, the abandonment and gradual elimination of inventions imposing claims too hard on man. We see savage races who die out when the power of the white man makes it impossible for them to shut out civilization; but we see also some who hasten with joy to tear off and throw away the stiff collar imposed by civilization, as soon as constraint is removed. I need only recall the anecdote, related in detail by Darwin, of the Fuegian Jemmy Button, who, taken as a child to England and brought up in that country, returned to his own land in the patent-leather shoes and gloves and what not of fashionable attire, but who, when scarcely landed, threw off the spell of all this foreign lumber for which he was not ripe, and became again a savage among savages.[474] During the period of the great migrations, the barbarians constructed block-houses in the shadow of the marble palaces of the Romans they had conquered, and preserved of Roman institutions, inventions, arts and sciences, only those which were easy and pleasant to bear. Humanity has, to-day as much as ever, the tendency to reject all that it cannot digest. If future generations come to find that the march of progress is too rapid for them, they will after a time composedly give it up. They will saunter along at their own pace or stop as they choose. They will suppress the distribution of letters, allow railways to disappear, banish telephones from dwelling-houses, preserving them only, perhaps, for the service of the State, will prefer weekly papers to daily journals, will quit cities to return to the country, will slacken the changes of fashion, will simplify the occupations of the day and year, and will grant the nerves some rest again. Thus, adaptation will be effected in any case, either by the increase of nervous power or by the renunciation of acquisitions which exact too much from the nervous system.

As to the future of art and literature, with which these[543] inquiries are chiefly concerned, that can be predicted with tolerable clearness. I resist the temptation of looking into too remote a future. Otherwise I should perhaps prove, or at least show as very probable, that in the mental life of centuries far ahead of us art and poetry will occupy but a very insignificant place. Psychology teaches us that the course of development is from instinct to knowledge, from emotion to judgment, from rambling to regulated association of ideas. Attention replaces fugitive ideation; will, guided by reason, replaces caprice. Observation, then, triumphs ever more and more over imagination and artistic symbolism—i.e., the introduction of erroneous personal interpretations of the universe is more and more driven back by an understanding of the laws of Nature. On the other hand, the march followed hitherto by civilization gives us an idea of the fate which may be reserved for art and poetry in a very distant future. That which originally was the most important occupation of men of full mental development, of the maturest, best, and wisest members of society, becomes little by little a subordinate pastime, and finally a child’s amusement. Dancing was formerly an extremely important affair. It was performed on certain grand occasions, as a State function of the first order, with solemn ceremonies, after sacrifices and invocations to the gods, by the leading warriors of the tribe. To-day it is no more than a fleeting pastime for women and youths, and later on its last atavistic survival will be the dancing of children. The fable and the fairy-tale were once the highest productions of the human mind. In them the most hidden wisdom of the tribe and its most precious traditions were expressed. To-day they represent a species of literature only cultivated for the nursery. The verse which by rhythm, figurative expression, and rhyme trebly betrays its origin in the stimulations of rhythmically functioning subordinate organs, in association of ideas working according to external similitudes, and in that working according to consonance, was originally the only form of literature. To-day it is only employed for purely emotional portrayal; for all other purposes it has been conquered by prose, and, indeed, has almost passed into the condition of an atavistic language. Under our very eyes the novel is being increasingly degraded, serious and highly cultivated men scarcely deeming it worthy of attention, and it appeals more and more exclusively to the young and to women. From all these examples, it is fair to conclude that after some centuries art and poetry will have become pure atavisms, and will no longer be cultivated except by the most emotional portion of humanity—by women, by the young, perhaps even by children.

But, as I have said, I merely venture on these passing hints[544] as to their yet remote destinies, and will confine myself to the immediate future, which is far more certain.

In all countries æsthetic theorists and critics repeat the phrase that the forms hitherto employed by art are henceforth effete and useless, and that it is preparing something perfectly new, absolutely different from all that is yet known. Richard Wagner first spoke of ‘the art-work of the future,’ and hundreds of incapable imitators lisp the term after him. Some among them go so far as to try to impose upon themselves and the world that some inexpressive banality, or some pretentious inanity which they have patched up, is this art-work of the future. But all these talks about sunrise, the dawn, new land, etc., are only the twaddle of degenerates incapable of thought. The idea that to-morrow morning at half-past seven o’clock a monstrous, unsuspected event will suddenly take place; that on Thursday next a complete revolution will be accomplished at a single blow, that a revelation, a redemption, the advent of a new age, is imminent—this is frequently observed among the insane; it is a mystic delirium. Reality knows not these sudden changes. Even the great revolution in France, although it was directly the work of a few ill-regulated minds like Marat and Robespierre, did not penetrate far into the depths, as has been shown by H. Taine and proved by the ulterior progress of history; it changed the outer more than the inner relations of the French social organism. All development is carried on slowly; the day after is the continuation of the day before; every new phenomenon is the outcome of a more ancient one, and preserves a family resemblance to it. ‘One would say,’ observes Renan with quiet irony, ‘that the young have neither read the history of philosophy nor Ecclesiastes: “the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be.”’[475] The art and poetry of to-morrow, in all essential points, will be the art and poetry of to-day and yesterday, and the spasmodic seeking for new forms is nothing more than hysterical vanity, the freaks of strolling players and charlatanism. Its sole result has hitherto been childish declamation, with coloured lights and changing perfumes as accompaniments, and atavistic games of shadows and pantomimes, nor will it produce anything more serious in the future.

New forms! Are not the ancient forms flexible and ductile enough to lend expression to every sentiment and every thought? Has a true poet ever found any difficulty in pouring into known and standard forms that which surged within him, and demanded an issue? Has form, for that matter, the dividing, predetermining, and delimitating importance which dreamers and simpletons attribute to it? The forms of lyric[545] poetry extend from the birthday-rhyming of the ‘popular poet of the occasion,’ who works to order and publishes his address in the paper, to Schiller’s Lay of the Bell; dramatic form includes at the same time the Geschundener Raub-ritter (The Highwayman Fleeced), acted some time ago at Berlin, and Goethe’s Faust; the epic form embraces Kortum’s Jobsiade and Dante’s Divina Commedia, Heinz Tovote’s Im Liebesrauche and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. And yet there are bleatings for ‘new forms’? If such there be, they will give no talent to the incapable, and those who have talent know how to create something even within the limits of old forms. The most important thing is the having something to say. Whether it be said under a lyric, dramatic, or epic form is of no essential consequence, and the author will not easily feel the necessity of leaving these forms in order to invent some dazzling novelty in which to clothe his ideas. The history of art and poetry teaches us, moreover, that new forms have not been found for three thousand years. The old ones have been given by the nature of human thought itself. They would only be able to change if the form of our thought itself became changed. There is, of course, evolution, but it only affects externals, not our inmost being. The painter, for example, discovers the picture on the easel after the picture on the wall; sculpture, after the free figure, discovers high relief, and still later low relief, which already intrenches in a way not free from objection on the domain of the painter; the drama renounces its supernatural character, and learns to unfold itself in a more compact and condensed exposition; the epos abandons rhythmic language, and makes use of prose, etc. In these questions of detail evolution will continue to operate, but there will be no modification in the fundamental lines of the different modes of expression for human emotion.

All amplifications of given artistic frames have hitherto consisted in the introduction of new subjects and figures, not in the invention of new forms. It was an advance when, instead of the gods and heroes which till that time alone had peopled the epic poem, Petronius introduced into narrative poetry (The Banquet of Trimalchio) the characters of contemporary Roman life, or when the Netherlanders of the seventeenth century discovered for painting—which knew of naught save religious and mythological events, or great proceedings of state—the world of fairs, popular festivals, and rustic taverns. Quevedo and Mendoza, who represent the beggars in the ‘Picaresque’ novel—the model of the German Grimmelshausen writings—Richardson, Fielding, J. J. Rousseau, who take as the subject of their novels, instead of extraordinary adventures, the reflections and emotions of ordinary average[546] beings; Diderot, who in Le Fils naturel and Le Père de Famille places his townspeople on the arrogant French stage, which till then had only known insignificant people as figuring in comedies and farces, but in serious drama, kings and great lords alone—all these authors invented, it is true, no new forms, but gave to old forms a different content from that of tradition. We observe also an advance of this kind in the poetry and art of our own day. They have given to the proletariat the rights of citizenship in art and literature. They show the labourer, not as a coarse or ridiculous figure, not with the object of producing a comic or coarse effect, but as a serious, frequently tragic being, worthy of our sympathy. Art is hereby enriched in the same way as it once was by the introduction of rascals and adventurers, of a Clarissa, a Tom Jones, a Julie (Nouvelle Héloïse), a Werther, a Constance (Le Fils naturel), etc., into the circle of its representations. Nevertheless, when many people in bewilderment exclaim hereupon, ‘The art of to-morrow will be socialistic!’ they utter unfathomable nonsense. Socialism is a conception of the laws which ought to determine the production and distribution of property. With this, art has nothing to do. Art cannot take any side in politics, nor is it its business to find and propose solutions to economic questions. Its task is to represent the eternally human causes of the socialist movement, the suffering of the poor, their yearning after happiness, their struggle against hostile forces in Nature and in the social mechanism, and their mighty elevation from the abyss into a higher mental and moral atmosphere. When art fulfils this task, when it shows the proletariat how it lives and suffers, how it feels and aspires, it awakens in us an emotion which becomes the mother of projects for alteration, transformation, and reform. It is in exciting such fruitful emotions, and by them the desire to heal the hurt, that art co-operates with progress, and not by socialist declamations, and perhaps still less by executing pictures of the state and the society of the future. Bellamy’s patchwork, Looking Backward, is outside art, and the twentieth century will surely not favour books of this quality. The glorification of the proletariat by a Karl Henckell, who practises with regard to the fourth estate a more shocking Byzantinism than was ever displayed by a tail-wagging courtier to a king, is entirely incapable of awakening interest and sympathy for the working man. Neither is true and useful emotion to be expected either by such false nonsense as, for example, Ludwig Fulda’s Verlorene Paradies,[476] or Ernst von Wildenbruch’s[547] Haubenlerche.[477] A brave woman like Minna Wettstein-Adelt,[478] who obtains employment as a daily workwoman in a factory, and simply relates what she experienced there; a plucky man of sound sense and a warm heart like Gœhre, who depicts the life of a factory-hand according to his own experience;[479] a Gerhart Hauptmann, too, with his closely-observed details in Die Weber, do more for the proletariat than all the Emile Zolas, with their empty theorizing in Germinal and L’Argent, than all the William Morrises, with their high-flown rhymings on the noble workman, who becomes under their pen a caricature of the ‘noble savage’ so much laughed at in the old novel-writers on the primeval forests, and yet more still than all the scribblers who strew their pottage with socialist phrases by way of ‘modern’ seasoning. Mrs. Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not preach against slavery, nor risk projects in favour of its suppression. But this book has drawn tears from millions of readers, and caused negro slavery to be felt as a disgrace to America, and thus contributed essentially to its abolition. Art and poetry can do for the proletariat what Mrs. Beecher-Stowe has done for the[548] negroes of the United States. They cannot and will not do more.

It is not unusual at present to meet this sentence: ‘The art and poetry of the future will be scientific.’ Those who say this assume extraordinarily conceited attitudes, and consider themselves unmistakably as extremely progressive and ‘modern.’ I ask myself in vain what these words can mean. Do the good people who mean so well by science imagine that sculptors will in the future chisel microscopes in marble, that painters will depict the circulation of the blood, and that poets will display in rich rhymes the principles of Euclid? Even this would not be science, but merely a mechanical occupation with the external apparatus of science. But this will surely not occur. In the past a confusion between art and science was possible; in the future it is unimaginable. The mental activity of man is too highly developed for such an amalgamation. Art and poetry have emotion for their object, science has knowledge. The former are subjective, the latter objective. The former work with the imagination, i.e., with the association of ideas directed by emotion; the latter works with observation, i.e., with the association of ideas determined by sense-impressions, of which the acquisition and reinforcement are the work of attention. Province, object, and method in art and science are so different, and in part so opposed, that to confuse them would signify a retrogression of thousands of years. One thing only is correct: the images issuing from the old anthropomorphic conception, the allusions to obsolete states of things and ideas which Fritz Mauthner has called ‘dead symbols’—all this will disappear from art. I think that in the twentieth century it will no longer occur to any painter to compose pictures like Guido Reni’s Aurora in the Rospigliosi Palace, and that a poet would be laughed at who should represent the moon looking amorously into a pretty girl’s room. The artist is the child of his times, the conception dominant in the world is his also, and in spite of all his tendency to atavism his method of expression is that with which contemporary culture furnishes him. No doubt the art of the future will avoid more than hitherto the great errors in universally recognised doctrines of science, but it will never become science.

The feelings of pleasure which a man receives from art result from the gratification of three different organic inclinations or tendencies. He needs the incitement which the variety offers him; he takes pleasure in recognising the originals in the imitations; he represents to himself the feelings of his fellow-creatures, and shares in them. He finds variety in works transporting him into wholly different scenes[549] from those he knows, and which are familiar to him. The pleasurable feeling of recognition he obtains by the careful imitations of familiar realities. His sympathy makes him share with lively personal emotions every strongly and clearly expressed emotion of the artist. There will always be in the future, as heretofore, amateurs of works of imagination, which transport the reader or spectator into remote times and countries, or relate extraordinary adventures; others will prefer works in which the faithful observation of the known will prevail; the most refined and the most advanced will find pleasure only in those in which a soul, with its most secret feelings and thoughts, reveals itself. The art of the future will not be wholly romantic, wholly realistic, or wholly individualistic, but will appeal from first to last as much by its story to curiosity, as by imitation to the pleasure of recognition, and by the externalism of the artist’s personality to sympathy.

Two tendencies which have long been rivals will presumably contend still more violently in the future for supremacy, viz., observation and the free flight of imagination, or, to speak more briefly, though more inaccurately, realism and romanticism. Good artists, doubtless, in consequence of their higher mental development, will always be more prone and more apt accurately to perceive and accurately to interpret the phenomena of the world. But the crowd will no less certainly demand of artists in the future something different from the average reality of the world. Among creators, the desire for realism will exist, as among recipients, the need of romanticism. For—and this seems to be an important point—the task of art in the coming century, will be to exert over men that charm of variety which reality will no longer offer, and which the brain cannot relinquish. All that is called ‘picturesque’ will necessarily disappear more and more from the earth. Civilization ever becomes more uniform. The distinctive is felt as an inconvenience by those who are marked by it, and got rid of. Ruins delight a foreigner’s eye, but they inconvenience the native, and he sweeps them away. The traveller is disgusted at seeing the beauty of Venice profaned by steamers, but for the Venetian it is a benefit to cover long distances quickly for ten centesimi. Soon the last Redskin will wear a frock-coat and tall hat; the regulation railway buildings will display their prosaic outlines and hues along the great wall of China and under the palm-trees of Tuggurt in the Sahara; and Macaulay’s celebrated Maori will no longer contemplate the ruins of Westminster, but a trashy imitation of the palace at Westminster will serve as a Maori House of Parliament. The unique Yosemite Park, which the Americans in their very wise foresight wish to preserve intact in its prehistoric[550] wildness, will not satisfy the craving for something new, different, picturesque, romantic, which humanity demands, and the latter will claim from art what civilization—clean, curled, and smart—will no longer offer.

I can now sum up in a few words my prognosis. The hysteria of the present day will not last. People will recover from their present fatigue. The feeble, the degenerate, will perish; the strong will adapt themselves to the acquisitions of civilizations, or will subordinate them to their own organic capacity. The aberrations of art have no future. They will disappear when civilized humanity shall have triumphed over its exhausted condition. The art of the twentieth century will connect itself at every point with the past, but it will have a new task to accomplish—that of introducing a stimulating variety into the uniformity of civilized life, an influence which probably science alone will be in a position to exert, many centuries later, over the great majority of mankind.
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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:33 am


Is it possible to accelerate the recovery of the cultivated classes from the present derangement of their nervous system?

I seriously believe it to be so, and for that reason alone I undertook this work.

No one, I hope, will think me childish enough to imagine that I can bring degenerates to reason by incontrovertibly and convincingly demonstrating to them the derangement of their minds. He whose profession brings him into frequent contact with the insane knows the utter hopelessness of attempting by persuasion or argument to bring them to a recognition of the unreality and morbidness of their delusions. The only result attained is that they regard the physician either as an enemy and persecutor, and fiercely hate him, or as a blockhead devoid of reason on whom they vent their derision.

It is equally vain to preach to fanatics of the insane tendencies of fashions in art and literature, on their enthusiasm for error and foolishness. These fanatics, without being actually momentarily diseased, are yet on the border-line of insanity. They do not and cannot believe it. For the works, the madness of which is at the first glance apparent to every rational being, actually afford them feelings of pleasure. These works are an expression of their own mental derangement, and of the perversion[551] of their own instincts. In the perusal, or contemplation of these productions, the half-witted fall into a state of excitation which they hold to be æsthetic, but which is really sensual; and this sensation is so genuine and immediate, they are so sure of it, that they can feel only annoyance at or pity for him who would make it plain to them that these works evoke no pleasure, but only disgust and contempt. To an habitual drinker it is possible to prove that absinthe is pernicious, but it is absolutely impossible to convince him that it has a disagreeable taste. To him, indeed, it tastes seductively delicious. It is in vain that the psychiatrical critic assures the patient that this book, that picture, are horrible deliriums; the invalid will in good faith reply: ‘Deliriums? That may be. But abhorrent? That I can never believe. I know better. They move me deeply and delightfully, and nothing you can say can prevent their doing so!’ Those whose minds are more unhinged go still further, and say bluntly: ‘We feel in all our nerves the beauty of these works. You do not; so much the worse for you. Instead of perceiving that you are a barbarian, devoid of intelligence, and an obtuse Philistine, you wish to argue us out of our most positive sensations. The only delirious person here is yourself.’

The history of civilization teaches to satiety, that delusions awaken ardent enthusiasm, and during hundreds or thousands of years obtain an invincible mastery of the thought and feeling of millions, because they vouchsafe a satisfaction, unhealthy though it be, to an existing instinct. Against that which procures feelings of pleasure for man, the objections of reason are unavailing.

Those degenerates, whose mental derangement is too deep-seated, must be abandoned to their inexorable fate. They are past cure or amelioration. They will rave for a season, and then perish. This book is obviously not written for them. It is, however, possible to reduce the disease of the age ‘to its anatomical necessity’ (to use the excellent expression of German medical science), and to this end every effort must be directed. For in addition to those whose organic constitution irrevocably condemns them to such a fate, the present degenerate tendencies are pursued by many who are only victims to fashion and certain cunning impostures, and these misguided ones we may hope to lead back to right paths. If, on the other hand, they were to be passively abandoned to the influences of graphomaniacal fools and their imbecile or unscrupulous bodyguard of critics, the inevitable result of such a neglect of duty would be a much more rapid and violent outspread of the mental contagion, and civilized humanity would with much greater difficulty, and much more slowly,[552] recover from the disease of the age than it might under a strong and resolute combat with the evil.

Those persons, on whose minds it is above all necessary to impress the fact that the current tendencies are a result of mental degeneration and hysteria, are the slightly affected and the healthy, who allow themselves to be deluded by cunningly-devised catch-words, or who, through heedless curiosity, flock where they see a crowd. Certain critics have thought to intimidate me into speechlessness by saying: ‘If the indications cited are a proof of degeneration and mental disease, then is art and poetry in general the work of fools and degenerates, even such as has, without reservation, been hitherto admired, for in this likewise there are to be met the marks of degeneration.’ To which I reply: If scientific criticism, which tests works of art according to the principles of psychiatry and psychology, should result in showing that all artistic activity is diseased, that would still prove nothing against the correctness of my critical method. It would only be the acquisition of fresh knowledge. It would, doubtless, destroy a charming delusion, and prove painful to many; but science ought not to be checked by the consideration that its results annihilate agreeable errors, and frighten the easy-going out of comfortable habits of thought. Faith, again, is another sovereign besides art; it has rendered quite other services to humanity at a certain stage of evolution, has otherwise consoled and raised it, given it other ideals, and advanced it morally in a different way from even the greatest geniuses of art. Science, nevertheless, has not hesitated to pronounce faith a subjective error of man, and would, therefore, suffer far fewer scruples in characterizing art as something morbid if facts should convince it that such was the case. Moreover, not all that is morbid is necessarily ugly and pernicious. The expectoration of a sufferer from lung disease is quite as much a diseased secretion as the pearl. Is the pearl made more ugly or the expectoration more beautiful by the fact that they have the same origin? The toxine of sausage-meat is the excretion of a bacterium, that of ethyl-alcohol the secretion from a fungus. Is the similarity of genesis the condition of equal value for enjoyment in a poisoned sausage and a glass of old Rhine wine? It would prove nothing in regard to Tolstoi’s Kreutzer Sonata or Ibsen’s Rosmersholm if it were of necessity admitted that Goethe’s Werther suffers from irrational eroticism, and that the Divina Commedia and Faust are symbolic poems. The whole objection, indeed, proceeds from a non-recognition of the simplest biological facts. The difference between disease and health is not one of kind, but of quantity. There is only one kind of vital activity of the cells and of the cell-systems[553] or organs. It is the same in disease and in health. It is sometimes accelerated, and sometimes retarded; and when this deviation from the rule is detrimental to the ends of the whole organism, we call it disease. As it is here a question of more or less, it is impossible to define their limits sharply. Extreme cases are naturally easily recognised. But who shall determine with accuracy the exact point at which deviation from the normal, i.e., from health, begins? The insane brain performs its functions according to precisely the same laws as the rational brain, but it obeys these laws either imperfectly or excessively. In every human being there exists the tendency to interpret sense-impressions falsely. It is diseased only when exhibited in extraordinary strength. The traveller in a railway carriage has an illusory perception of the landscape flying by him while he is sitting still. The sufferer from the delusion of persecutions imagines that someone is wafting him evil odours, or hurling currents of electricity at him. Both of these ideas rest on sense-illusions. Are both for that reason marks of insanity? The traveller and the paranoist commit the same error of thought, and, nevertheless, the former is perfectly sane, and the latter deranged in mind. It may therefore with perfect security be affirmed that certain peculiarities—such as intense emotionalism, the tendency to symbolism, the predominance of imagination—are to be met with in all true artists. That all should be degenerates is very far from being a necessary consequence of this. It is only the exaggeration of these peculiarities which constitutes a disease. The sole conclusion justified by their regular appearance in artists would be that art, without being properly a disease of the human mind, is yet an incipient, slight deviation from perfect health; and I should raise no objection to this conclusion, the less so because it in no way helps the case of real degenerates and their distinctly diseased works. But it is not enough to prove that mysticism, ego-mania, and the pessimism of realism are forms of mental derangement. All the seductive masks must be torn from these tendencies, and their real aspect be shown in its grinning nakedness.

In opposition to healthy art, which they deride as musty and antiquated, they pretend to represent youth. An ill-advised criticism has actually been caught by their lime, and emphasizes their youth with constant irony. What clumsiness! As if any effort in the world could deprive of its charm the word ‘young,’ this essential notion of all that is blooming and fresh, this note of the dawn and the spring, and transform it into a term of reproach and insult! The truth is, however, that degenerates are not only not young, but that they are weirdly senile. Senile is their splenetic calumniation of the[554] world and life; senile are their babblings, drivellings, ravings and divagations; senile their impotent appetites, and their cravings for all the stimulants of exhaustion. To be young is to hope; to be young is to love simply and naturally; to be young is to rejoice in one’s own health and strength, and in that of all human beings, and of the birds of the air and the beetles in the grass; and of these qualities there is not one to be met with among the youth-simulating, decayed degenerates.

They have the name of liberty on their lips when they proclaim as their god their corrupt self, and call it progress when they extol crime, deny morality, raise altars to instinct, scoff at science, and hold up loafing æstheticism as the sole aim of life. But their invocation of liberty is shameless blasphemy. How can there be a question of liberty when instinct is to be almighty? Let us remember Count Muffat in Zola’s Nana (p. 491): ‘At other times he was a dog. She threw her scented handkerchief to the end of the room for him, and he had to run on all fours to pick it up with his teeth. “Fetch it, Cæsar!... Look out; I’ll give it to you if you’re lazy!... Very good, Cæsar! mind! nicely!... Sit up!” And as for him, he loved his abasement, revelled in the joy of being a brute. He wanted to sink still lower; he cried: “Hit harder.... Bow wow! I am mad; hit me then!”’ That is the liberty of one who is ‘emancipated’ in the sense of the degenerates! He may be a dog, if his crazed instinct commands him to be a dog! And if the ‘emancipated’ one is named Ravachol, and his instinct commands him to perpetrate the crime of blowing up a house with dynamite, the peaceable citizen sleeping in this house is free to fly into the air, and fall again to the ground in a bloody rain of shreds of flesh and splinters of bone. Progress is possible only by the growth of knowledge; but this is the task of consciousness and judgment, not of instinct. The march of progress is characterized by the expansion of consciousness and the contraction of the unconscious; the strengthening of will and the weakening of impulsions; the increase of self-responsibility and the repression of reckless egoism. He who makes instinct man’s master does not wish for liberty, but for the most infamous and abject slavery, viz., enslavement of the judgment of the individual by his most insensate and self-destructive appetites; enslavement of the inflamed man by the craziest whims of a prostitute; enslavement of the people by a few stronger and more violent personalities. And he who places pleasure above discipline, and impulse above self-restraint, wishes not for progress, but for retrogression to the most primitive animality.


Retrogression, relapse—this is in general the ideal of this band who dare to speak of liberty and progress. They wish to be the future. That is one of their chief pretensions. That is one of the means by which they catch the largest number of simpletons. We have, however, seen in all individual cases that it is not the future but the most forgotten, far-away past. Degenerates lisp and stammer, instead of speaking. They utter monosyllabic cries, instead of constructing grammatically and syntactically articulated sentences. They draw and paint like children, who dirty tables and walls with mischievous hands. They compose music like that of the yellow natives of East Asia. They confound all the arts, and lead them back to the primitive forms they had before evolution differentiated them. Every one of their qualities is atavistic, and we know, moreover, that atavism is one of the most constant marks of degeneracy. Lombroso has convincingly demonstrated that many peculiarities of the born criminals described by him are also atavisms. Over-hasty critics believed that they had discovered a very subtle objection when, with a smile of self-satisfaction, they objected: ‘You assert that criminal instinct is at once degeneracy and atavism. These two dicta are mutually exclusive. Degeneracy is a pathological state; the most convincing proof of this is, that the degenerate type does not propagate itself, but becomes extinct. Atavism is a return to an earlier state, which cannot have been diseased, because the men who existed under those conditions have developed themselves and progressed. Return to a healthy, albeit remote, state cannot possibly be disease.’ All this verbiage has its source in the stubborn superstition which sees in disease a state differing essentially from that of health. This is a good example of the confusion which a word is capable of producing in muddled or ignorant brains. As a matter of fact there exists no activity and no state of the living organism which can in itself be designated as ‘health’ or ‘disease.’ But they become these in respect of the circumstances and purposes of the organism. According to the time of its appearance, one and the same state may very well be at one time disease and at another health. In the human fœtus, at the sixth week, hare-lip is a regular and healthy phenomenon. In the newly-born child it is a malformation. In the first year of its life the child cannot walk. Why? Because its legs are too weak to support it? Decidedly not. The well-known experiments of Dr. L. Robinson on sixty new born infants have proved that they are able to hang by their hands from a stick for thirty seconds, a performance implying muscular strength quite as considerable, relatively to their respective ages, as is possessed by the adult. It is not from weakness that they are[556] unable to walk, but because their nervous system has not yet learned so to regulate and combine the activity of the different groups of muscles, as to produce a purposive movement. Infants cannot yet ‘co-ordinate.’ Incapacity of co-ordination of muscular activity is called by medical science ataxy. Hence in infants this is the natural and healthy condition. But ataxy precisely is a serious disease when it appears in adults, as the chief symptom of inflammation of the spinal cord. The identity of the ataxy of spinal disease with healthy infantine ataxy is so complete, that Dr. S. Frenkel[480] was able to found upon it a treatment of spinal ataxy, which consisted, essentially, in teaching the patients anew, like children, to walk and stand. It is seen, then, that a state may be at the same time diseased and yet the mere return to what was primitively a perfectly healthy state of things; and it was with culpable frivolity that Lombroso was reproached with contradiction because he saw in criminal instincts at once degeneracy and atavism. The disease of degeneracy consists precisely in the fact that the degenerate organism has not the power to mount to the height of evolution already attained by the species, but stops on the way at an earlier or later point. The relapse of the degenerate may reach to the most stupendous depth. As, in reverting to the cleavage of the superior maxillary peculiar to insects with sextuple lips, he sinks somatically to the level of fishes, nay to that of the arthropoda, or, even further, to that of rhizopods not yet sexually differentiated; as by fistulæ of the neck he reverts to the branchiæ of the lowest fishes, the selacious; or by excess in the number of fingers (polydactylia) to the multiple-rayed fins of fishes, perhaps even to the bristles of worms; or, by hermaphrodism, to the asexuality of rhizopods—so in the most favourable case, as a higher degenerate, he renews intellectually the type of the primitive man of the most remote Stone Age; or, in the worst case, as an idiot, that of an animal far anterior to man.

This is the subject in regard to which it is our duty untiringly and by every means to enlighten the weak in judgment, and the inexperienced. The fine names appropriated to themselves by degenerates, their imitators, and their critical hirelings, are lies and deceit. They are not the future, but an immeasurably remote past. They are not progress, but the most appalling reaction. They are not liberty, but the most disgraceful slavery. They are not youth and the dawn, but the most exhausted senility, the starless winter night, the grave and corruption.

It is the sacred duty of all healthy and moral men to take[557] part in the work of protecting and saving those who are not already too deeply diseased. Only by each individual doing his duty will it be possible to dam up the invading mental malady. It is not seemly simply to shrug the shoulders and smile contemptuously. While the easy-going console themselves by saying, ‘No rational being takes this idiocy seriously,’ madness and crime are doing their work and poisoning a whole generation.

Mystics, but especially ego-maniacs and filthy pseudo-realists, are enemies to society of the direst kind. Society must unconditionally defend itself against them. Whoever believes with me that society is the natural organic form of humanity, in which alone it can exist, prosper, and continue to develop itself to higher destinies; whoever looks upon civilization as a good, having value and deserving to be defended, must mercilessly crush under his thumb the anti-social vermin. To him who, with Nietzsche, is enthusiastic over the ‘freely-roving, lusting beast of prey,’ we cry, ‘Get you gone from civilization! Rove far from us! Be a lusting beast of prey in the desert! Satisfy yourself! Level your roads, build your huts, clothe and feed yourself as you can! Our streets and our houses are not built for you; our looms have no stuffs for you; our fields are not tilled for you. All our labour is performed by men who esteem each other, have consideration for each other, mutually aid each other, and know how to curb their selfishness for the general good. There is no place among us for the lusting beast of prey; and if you dare return to us, we will pitilessly beat you to death with clubs.’

And still more determined must the resistance be to the filth-loving herd of swine, the professional pornographists. These have no claim to the measure of pity which may still be extended to degenerates properly so called, as invalids; for they have freely chosen their vile trade, and prosecute it from cupidity, vanity, and hatred of labour. The systematic incitation to lasciviousness causes the gravest injury to the bodily and mental health of individuals, and a society composed of individuals sexually over-stimulated, knowing no longer any self-control, any discipline, any shame, marches to its certain ruin, because it is too worn out and flaccid to perform great tasks. The pornographist poisons the springs whence flows the life of future generations. No task of civilization has been so painfully laborious as the subjugation of lasciviousness. The pornographist would take from us the fruit of this, the hardest struggle of humanity. To him we must show no mercy.

The police cannot aid us. The public prosecutor and criminal judge are not the proper protectors of society against[558] crime committed with pen and crayon. They infuse into their mode of proceeding too much consideration for interests not always, not necessarily, those of cultivated and moral men. The policeman is so often compelled to intervene in the service of a privileged class, of the insupportable arrogance of administrations, of the assumption of infallibility of ministers and other government officials of the most unworthy byzantism and of the most stupid superstition, that he does not dishonour the man on whose shoulder he lays his heavy hand. Hence it comes to this, that the pornographist must be branded with infamy. But the punitive sentence of a judge does not with certainty have this effect.

The condemnation of works trading on unchastity must emanate from men of whose freedom from prejudice and freedom of mind, intelligence and independence, no one entertains a doubt. The word of such men would be of great weight among the people. There already exists an ‘Association of Men for the Suppression of Immorality.’ Unfortunately it allows itself to be guided not only by solicitude for the moral health and purity of the multitude, and especially of the young but by considerations which to the majority of the people seem to be prejudices. The association pursues disbelief almost more than immorality. An outspoken word against revelation or the Church inspires this association with as much horror as an act of obscenity. To this narrow-minded confessionalism is it due that its work is less rich in blessing than it might be. But in spite of this, we can take this ‘Association of Men’ as a pattern. Let us do what it does, but without mummeries. Here is a great and grateful task, e.g., for the new ‘Society for Ethical Culture’ of Berlin: Let it constitute itself the voluntary guardian of the people’s morality. Doubtless the pornographists will attempt to turn it into ridicule. But the scorn will soon enough stick in their own throats. An association composed of the people’s leaders and instructors, professors, authors, members of Parliament, judges, high functionaries, has the power to exercise an irresistible boycott. Let the ‘Society for Ethical Culture’ undertake to examine into the morality of artistic and literary productions. Its composition would be a guarantee that the examination would not be narrow-minded, not prudish, and not canting. Its members have sufficient culture and taste to distinguish the thoughtlessness of a morally healthy artist from the vile speculation of a scribbling ruffian. When such a society, which would be joined by those men from the people who are the best fitted for this task, should, after serious investigation and in the consciousness of a heavy responsibility, say of a man, ‘He is a criminal!’ and of a work, ‘It is a[559] disgrace to our nation!’ work and man would be annihilated. No respectable bookseller would keep the condemned book; no respectable paper would mention it, or give the author access to its columns; no respectable family would permit the branded work to be in their house; and the wholesome dread of this fate would very soon prevent the appearance of such books as Bahr’s Gute Schule, and would dishabituate the ‘realists’ from parading a condemnation based on a crime against morality as a mark of distinction.

Medical specialists of insanity have likewise failed to understand their duty. It is time for them to come to the front. ‘It is a prejudice,’ Bianchi most justly says,[481] ‘to believe that psychiatry must be enclosed within a sanctuary like that at Mecca.’ It is no doubt meritorious to indurate sections of the spinal cord in chromic acid, and tint them in a neutrophyllic solution, but this should not exhaust the activity of a professor of psychiatry. Neither is it sufficient that he should in addition give a few lectures to jurists, and publish observations in technical journals. Let him speak to the mass of cultivated persons who are neither physicians nor learned in law. Let him enlighten them in general publications and in accessible conferences concerning the leading facts in mental therapeutics. Let him show them the mental derangement of degenerate artists and authors, and teach them that the works in fashion are written and painted delirium. In all other branches of medical science it is discerned that hygiene is of more importance than therapeutics, and that the public health has much more to expect from prophylactics than from treatment. With us in Germany the psychiatrist alone fails as yet to concern himself with the hygiene of the mind. It is time that he should practise his profession in this direction also. A Maudsley in England, a Charcot, a Magnan in France, a Lombroso, a Tonnini in Italy, have brought to vast circles of the people an understanding of the obscure phenomena in the life of the mind, and disseminated knowledge which would make it impossible in those countries for pronounced lunatics with the mania for persecution to gain an influence over hundreds of thousands of electoral citizens,[482] even if it could not prevent the coming into fashion of the degenerate art. In Germany alone no psychiatrist has as yet followed this example. It is time to atone for this negligence. Popularized expositions from the pens of experts whose[560] prominent official status would recommend them to the reader would restrain many healthy spirits from affiliating themselves with degenerate tendencies.

Such is the treatment of the disease of the age which I hold to be efficacious: Characterization of the leading degenerates as mentally diseased; unmasking and stigmatizing of their imitators as enemies to society; cautioning the public against the lies of these parasites.

We in particular, who have made it our life’s task to combat antiquated superstition, to spread enlightenment, to demolish historical ruins and remove their rubbish, to defend the freedom of the individual against State oppression and the mechanical routine of the Philistine; we must resolutely set ourselves in opposition to the miserable mongers who seize upon our dearest watchwords, with which to entrap the innocent. The ‘freedom’ and ‘modernity,’ the ‘progress’ and ‘truth,’ of these fellows are not ours. We have nothing in common with them. They wish for self-indulgence; we wish for work. They wish to drown consciousness in the unconscious; we wish to strengthen and enrich consciousness. They wish for evasive ideation and babble; we wish for attention, observation, and knowledge. The criterion by which true moderns may be recognised and distinguished from impostors calling themselves moderns may be this: Whoever preaches absence of discipline is an enemy of progress; and whoever worships his ‘I’ is an enemy to society. Society has for its first premise, neighbourly love and capacity for self-sacrifice; and progress is the effect of an ever more rigorous subjugation of the beast in man, of an ever tenser self-restraint, an ever keener sense of duty and responsibility. The emancipation for which we are striving is of the judgment, not of the appetites. In the profoundly penetrating words of Scripture (Matt. v. 17), ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.’

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Re: Degeneration, by Max Nordau

Postby admin » Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:34 am

Part 1 of 3


[1] This passage has been misunderstood. It has been taken to mean that all the French nation had degenerated, and their race was approaching its end. However, from the concluding paragraph of this chapter, it may be clearly seen that I had in my eye only the upper ten thousand. The peasant population, and a part of the working classes and the bourgeoisie, are sound. I assert only the decay of the rich inhabitants of great cities and the leading classes. It is they who have discovered fin-de-siècle, and it is to them also that fin-de-race applies.

[2] ‘My thought I hasten to fulfil.’

[3] A four-act comedy, by H. Micard and F. de Jouvenot, named Fin-de-Siècle, which was played in Paris in 1890, hardly avails to determine the sense of the word as the French use it. The authors were concerned, not to depict a phase of the age or a psychological state, but only to give an attractive title to their piece.

[4]Traité des Dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’Espèce humaine et des Causes qui produisent ces Variétés maladives. Par le Dr. B. A. Morel. Paris, 1857, p. 5.

[5] At the instigation of his mistress Ebergenyi, Count Chorinsky had poisoned his wife, previously an actress. The murderer was an epileptic, and a ‘degenerate,’ in the Morelian sense. His family summoned Morel from Normandy to Munich, for the purpose of proving to the jury, before whom the case (1868) was tried, that the accused was irresponsible. The latter was singularly indignant at this; and the Attorney-General also contradicted, in the most emphatic manner, the evidence of the French alienist, and supported himself by the approbation of the most prominent alienists in Munich. Chorinsky was pronounced guilty. Nevertheless, only a short time after his conviction, insanity developed itself in him, and a few months later he died, in the deepest mental darkness, thus justifying all the previous assertions of the French physician, who had, in the German tongue, demonstrated to a German jury the incompetence of his professional confrères in Munich.

[6] Morel, op. cit., p. 683.

[7]L’Uomo delinquente in rapporto all’ Antropologia, Giurisprudenza e alle Discipline carcerarie. 3ª edizione. Torino, 1884, p. 147 et seq. See also Dr. Ch. Féré, ‘La Famille nevropathique.’ Paris, 1894, pp. 176-212.

[8] ‘La Famille nevropathique,’ Archives de Nevrologie, 1884, Nos. 19 et 20.

[9] See, on this subject, in particular, Krafft Ebing, Die Lehre vom moralischen Wahnsinn, 1871; H. Maudsley, Responsibility in Mental Disease, International Scientific Series; and Ch. Féré, Dégénérescence et Criminalité, Paris, 1888.

[10] J. Roubinovitch, Hystérie mâle et Dégénérescence; Paris, 1890, p. 62: ‘The society which surrounds him (the degenerate) always remains strange to him. He knows nothing, and takes interest in nothing but himself.’

Legrain, Du Délire chez les Dégénérés; Paris, 1886, p. 10: ‘The patient is ... the plaything of his passions; he is carried away by his impulses, and has only one care—to satisfy his appetites.’ P. 27: ‘They are egoistical, arrogant, conceited, self-infatuated,’ etc.

[11] Henry Colin, Essai sur l’État mental des Hystériques; Paris, 1890, p. 59: ‘Two great facts control the being of the hereditary degenerate: obsession [the tyrannical domination of one thought from which a man cannot free himself; Westphal has created for this the good term ‘Zwangs-Vorstellung,’ i.e., coercive idea] and impulsion—both irresistible.’

[12] Morel, ‘Du Délire émotif,’ Archives générales, 6 série, vol. vii., pp. 385 and 530. See also Roubinovitch, op. cit., p. 53.

[13] Morel, ‘Du Délire panophobique des Aliénés gémisseurs,’ Annales médico-psychologiques, 1871.

[14] Roubinovitch, op. cit., p. 28.

[15]Ibid., p. 37.

[16]Ibid., p. 66.

[17] Charcot, ‘Leçons du Mardi à la Salpétrière,’ Policlinique, Paris, 1890, 2e partie, p. 392: ‘This person [the invalid mentioned] is a performer at fairs; he calls himself “artist.” The truth is that his art consists in personating a “wild man” in fair-booths.’

[18] Legrain, op. cit., p. 73: ‘The patients are perpetually tormented by a multitude of questions which invade their minds, and to which they can give no answer; inexpressible moral sufferings result from this incapacity. Doubt envelops every possible subject:—metaphysics, theology, etc.’

[19] Magnan, ‘Considérations sur la Folie des Héréditaires ou Dégénerés,’ Progrès médical, 1886, p. 1110 (in the report of a medical case): ‘He also thought of seeking for the philosopher’s stone, and of making gold.’

[20] Lombroso, ‘La Physionomie des Anarchistes,’ Nouvelle Revue, May 15, 1891, p. 227: ‘They [the anarchists] frequently have those characteristics of degeneracy which are common to criminals and lunatics, for they are anomalies, and bear hereditary taints.’ See also the same author’s Pazzi ed Anomali. Turin, 1884.

[21] Colin, op. cit., p. 154.

[22] Legrain, op. cit., p. 11.

[23] Roubinovitch, op. cit., p. 33.

[24] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn; German translation by A. Courth. Reclam’s Universal Bibliothek, Bde. 2313-16. See also in particular, J. F. Nisbet, The Insanity of Genius. London, 1891.

[25] Falret, Annales médico-psychologiques, 1867, p. 76: ‘From their childhood they usually display a very unequal development of their mental faculties, which, weak in their entirety, are remarkable for certain special aptitudes; they have shown an extraordinary gift for drawing, arithmetic, music, sculpture, or mechanics ... and, together with those specially developed aptitudes, obtaining for them the fame of “infant phenomena,” they for the most part give evidence of very great deficiencies in their intelligence, and of a radical debility in the remaining faculties.’

[26]Nouvelle Revue, July 15, 1891.

[27] Tarabaud, Des Rapports de la Dégénérescence mentale et de l’Hystérie. Paris, 1888, p. 12.

[28] Legrain, op. cit., pp. 24 and 26.

[29] Lombroso, Nouvelles recherches de Psychiatrie et d’Anthropologie criminelle. Paris, 1892, p. 74.

[30] Axenfeld, Des Névroses. 2 vols., 2e édition, revue et complétée par le Dr. Huchard. Paris, 1879.

[31] Paul Richer, Études cliniques sur l’Hystéro-épilepsie ou Grande Hystérie. Paris, 1891.

[32] Gilles de la Tourette, Traité clinique et thérapeutique de l’Hystérie. Paris, 1891.

[33] Paul Michaut, Contribution à l’Étude des Manifestations de l’Hystérie chez l’Homme. Paris, 1890.

[34] Colin, op. cit., p. 14.

[35] Gilles de la Tourette, op. cit., p. 548 et passim.

[36] Colin, op. cit., pp. 15 and 16.

[37] Gilles de la Tourette, op. cit., p. 493.

[38]Ibid., p. 303.

[39] Legrain, op. cit., p. 39.

[40] Dr. Emile Berger, Les Maladies des Yeux dans leurs rapports avec la Pathologie général. Paris, 1892, p. 129 et seq.

[41]Traité clinique et thérapeutique de l’Hystérie, p. 339. See also Drs. A. Marie et J. Bonnet, La Vision chez les Idiots et les Imbéciles. Paris, 1892.

[42] Alfred Binet, ‘Recherches sur les Altérations de la Conscience chez les Hystériques,’ Revue philosophique, 1889, vol. xxvii.

[43]Op. cit., p. 150.

[44] Ch. Féré, ‘Sensation et Mouvement,’ Revue philosophique, 1886. See also the same author’s Sensation et Mouvement, Paris, 1887; Dégénérescence et criminalité, Paris, 1888; and ‘L’Énergie et la Vitesse des Mouvements volontaires,’ Revue philosophique, 1889.

[45] Lombroso, L’Uomo délinquente, p. 524.

[46] ‘Les Nerveux se recherchent,’ Charcot, Leçons du Mardi, passim.

[47] Legrain, op. cit., p. 173: ‘The true explanation of the occurrence of folie à deux must be sought for, on the one hand, in the predisposition to insanity, and, on the other hand, in the accompanying weakness of mind.’ See also Régis, La Folie à Deux. Paris, 1880.

[48]Journal des Goncourt. Dernière série, premier volume, 1870-71. Paris, 1890, p. 17.

[49] Viennese for ‘fop.’—Translator.

[50]Traité des Dégénérescences, passim.

[51] Personally communicated by the distinguished statistician, Herr Josef Körösi, Head of the Bureau of Statistics at Budapest.

[52] Speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Goschen, in the House of Commons, April 11, 1892.

[53] J. Vavasseur in the Economiste français of 1890. See also Bulletin de Statistique for 1891. The figures are uncertain, for they have been given differently by every statistician whom I have consulted. The fact of the increase in the consumption of alcohol alone stands out with certainty in all the publications consulted. Besides spirits, fermented drinks are consumed per head of the population, according to J. Körösi:

Great Britain.
Gall. Beer and Cider
1830-1850 0.2 26
1880-1888 0.4 27
1840-1842 23 3
1870-1872 25 6
1839 13.48
1871 17.92
German Empire.
1872 81.7
1889-1890 90.3
[54] In France the general mortality was, from 1886 to 1890, 22.21 per 1,000. But in Paris it rose to 23.4; in Marseilles to 34.8; in all towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants to a mean of 28.31; in all places with less than 5,000 inhabitants to 21.74. (La Médecine moderne, year 1891.)

[55]Traité des Dégénérescences, pp. 614, 615.

[56] Brouardel, La Semaine médicale. Paris, 1887, p. 254. In this very remarkable study by the Parisian Professor, the following passage appears: ‘What will these [those remaining stationary in their development] young Parisians become by-and-by? Incapable of accomplishing a long and conscientious work, they excel, as a rule, in artistic activities. If they are painters they are stronger in colour than in drawing. If they are poets, the flow of their verses assures their success rather than the vigour of the thought.’

[57] The 26 German towns which to-day have more than 100,000 inhabitants, numbered altogether, in 1891, 6,000,000, and in 1835, 1,400,000. The 31 English towns of this category, in 1891, 10,870,000; in 1841, 4,590,000; the 11 French towns, in 1891, 4,180,000; in 1836, 1,710,000. It should be remarked that about a third of these 68 towns had not in 1840 as many generally as 100,000 inhabitants. To-day, in the large towns in Germany, France, and England, there reside 21,050,000 individuals, while in 1840 only 4,800,000 were living under these conditions. (Communicated by Herr Josef Körösi.)

[58] Féré, La Semaine médicale. Paris, 1890, p. 192.

[59] See, besides the lecture by Hofmann, the excellent book: Eine deutsche Stadt vor 60 Jahren, Kulturgeschichtliche Skizze, von Dr. Otto Bähr, 2 Auflage. Leipzig, 1891.

[60] In order not to make the footnotes too unwieldy, I state here that the following figures are borrowed in part from communications made by Herr Josef Körösi, in part from a remarkable study by M. Charles Richet: ‘Dans Cent Ans,’ Revue scientifique, 1891-92; and in a small degree from private publications (such as Annuaire de la Presse, Press Directory, etc.). For some of the figures I have also used, with profit, Mulhall, and the speech of Herr von Stephan to the Reichstag, February 4, 1892.

[61] See G. André, Les nouvelles maladies nerveuses. Paris, 1892.

[62] Legrain, op. cit., p. 251: ‘Drinkers are “degenerates”;’ and p. 258 (after four reports of invalids which serve as a basis to the following summary): ‘Hence, at the base of all forms of alcoholism we find mental degeneracy.’

[63]Revue scientifique, year 1892; vol. xlix., p. 168 et seq.

[64] Legrain, op. cit., p. 266.

[65] Quoted by J. Roubinovitch, Hystérie mâle et Dégénérescence, p. 18.

[66] Legrain, op. cit., p. 200.

[67] The scientific psychologist will perhaps read with impatience expositions with which he is so familiar; but they are, unfortunately, not superfluous for a very numerous class of even highly educated persons, who have never had instruction in the laws of the operations of the brain.

[68] Mosso’s experiments on, and observations of, the exposed surface of the brain during trepanning have quite established this fact.

[69] The experiments of Ferrier, it is true, have led him to deny that a stimulus which touches the cortex of the frontal lobes can result in movement. The case, nevertheless, is not so simple as Ferrier sees it to be. A portion of the energy which is set free by the peripheral stimulus in the cells of the cortex of the frontal lobes certainly transmutes itself into a motor impulse, even if the immediate stimulation of the anterior brain releases no muscular contractions. But this is not the place to defend this point against Ferrier.

[70] A. Herzen is the author of the hypothesis that consciousness is connected with the destruction of organic connections in the brain-cells, and the restoration of this connection with rest, sleep, and unconsciousness. All we know of the chemical composition of the secretions in sleeping and waking points to the correctness of this hypothesis.


‘One tread moves a thousand threads,
The shuttles dart to and fro,
The threads flow on invisible,
One stroke sets up a thousand ties.’

[72] Karl Abel, Ueber den Gegensinn der Urworte. Leipzig, 1884.

[73] James Sully, Illusions. London, 1881.

[74] Th. Ribot, Psychologie de l’Attention. Paris, 1889.

[75] It is possible that an active expansion of the bloodvessels does not take place, but only a contraction. It has been lately denied that there are any nerves of vascular dilatation (inter alia by Dr. Morat, La Semaine médicale, 1892, p. 112). But the effect may be the same in both cases. For through the contraction of the vessels in a single brain-circuit, the dislodged blood would be driven to other portions of the brain, and these would experience a greater access of blood, just as if their vessels were actively dilated.

[76] When I wrote these words I was under the impression that I was the sole originator of the physiological theory of attention therein set forth. Since the appearance of this book, however, I have read Alfred Lehmann’s work, Die Hypnose und die damit verwandten normalen Zustände, Leipzig, 1890, and have there (pp. 27 et seq.) found my theory in almost identical words. Lehmann, then, published it two years before I did, which fact I here duly acknowledge. That we arrived at this conclusion independently of each other would testify that the hypothesis of vaso-motor reflex action is really explanatory. Wundt (Hypnotismus und Suggestion, Leipzig, 1892, pp. 27-30), it is true, criticises Lehmann’s work, but he seems to agree with this hypothesis—which is also mine—or, at least, raises no objection to it.

[77]Brain, January, 1886, quoted by Ribot, Psychologie de l’Attention, p. 68.

[78] Ribot, op. cit., pp. 106 and 119.

[79] Legrain, op. cit., p. 177.

[80]Ibid., p. 156.

[81] In the chapter which treats of French Neomystics, I shall give a cluster of such disconnected and mutually exclusive expressions, which are quite parallel with the instances cited by Legrain, of the manner of speech among those acknowledged to be of weak mind. In this place only one passage may be repeated from the Vte E. M. de Vogué, Le Roman Russe, Paris, 1888, in which this mystical author, unconsciously and involuntarily, characterizes admirably the shadowiness and emptiness of mystic diction, while praising it as something superior. ‘One trait,’ he says (p. 215), ‘they’ (certain Russian authors) ‘have in common, viz., the art of awakening series of feelings and thoughts by a line, a word, by endless re-echoings [résonnances].... The words you read on this paper appear to be written, not in length, but in depth. They leave behind them a train of faint reverberations, which are gradually lost, no one knows where.’ And p. 227: ‘They see men and things in the gray light of earliest dawn. The weakly indicated outlines end in a confused and clouded “perhaps.” ...’

[82] ‘It is certain that the Beautiful never has such charms for us as when we read it attentively in a language which we only half understand. It is the ambiguity, the uncertainty, i.e.. the pliability of words, which is one of their greatest advantages, and renders it possible to make an exact [!] use of them.’—Joubert, quoted by Charles Morice, La Littérature de tout-à-l’heure. Paris, 1889, p. 171.

[83] Gérard de Nerval, Le Rêve et la Vie, Paris, 1868, p. 53: ‘Everything in Nature assumed a different aspect. Mysterious voices issued from plants, trees, animals, the smallest insects, to warn and to encourage me. I discerned mysterious turns in the utterances of my companions, and understood their purport. Even formless and inanimate things ministered to the workings of my mind.’ Here is a perfect instance of that ‘comprehension of the mysterious’ which is one of the most common fancies of the insane.

[84] An imbecile degenerate, the history of whose illness is related by Dr. G. Ballet, said: ‘Il y a mille ans que le monde est monde. Milan, la cathédrale de Milan’ (La Semaine médicale, 1892, p. 133). ‘Mille ans’ (a thousand years) calls up in his consciousness the like-sounding word ‘Milan,’ although there is absolutely no rational connection between the two ideas. A graphomaniac named Jasno, whose case is cited by Lombroso, says ‘la main se mène’ (the hand guides itself). He then begins to speak of ‘semaine’ (week), and continues to play upon the like-sounding words ‘se mène,’ ‘semaine,’ and ‘main’ (Genie und Irsinn, p. 264). In the book of a German graphomaniac entitled Rembrandt als Erzieher, Leipzig, 1890 (a book which I shall have to refer to more than once, as an example of the lucubrations of a weak mind), I find, on the very first pages, the following juxtaposition of words according to their resemblance in sound: ‘Sie verkünden eine Rückkehr ... zur Einheit und Feinheit’ (p. 3). ‘Je ungeschliffener Jemand ist, desto mehr ist an ihm zu schleifen’ (p. 4). ‘Jede rechte Bildung ist bildend, formend, schöpferisch, und also künstlerisch’ (p. 8). ‘Rembrandt war nicht nur ein protestantischer Künstler, sondern auch ein künstlerischer Protestant’ (p. 14). ‘Sein Hundert guldenblatt allein könnte schon als ein Tausendgüldenkraut gegen so mancherlei Schäden ... dienen’ (p. 23). ‘Christus und Rembrandt haben ... darin etwas Gemeinsames, dass Jener die religiöse, dieser die künstlerische Armseligkeit—die Seligkeit der Armen—zu ... Ehren bringt’ (p. 25.), etc.

[85] Dr. Paul Sollier, Psychologie de l’Idiot et de l’Imbécile. Paris, 1891, p. 153.

[86]Poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. With a memoir of the author by Franz Hüffer. Leipzig, 1873, p. viii.

[87] Gustave Freytag, Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit, Bd. I.: ‘Aus dem Mittelalter.’ Leipzig, 1872, § 266. H. Taine, Histoire de la Littérature anglaise. Paris, 1866, 2e édition, vol. i., p. 46.

[88] This is not an arbitrary assertion. One of D. G. Rossetti’s most famous poems, of which further mention will be made, Eden Bowers, treats of the pre-Adamite Lilith.

[89] J. Ruskin, Modern Painters, American edition, vol. i., pp. xxi. et seq.

[90] Ruskin, op. cit., p. 24.

[91]Ibid., p. 26.

[92] ‘Ballade que Villon feit à la requeste de sa mère pour prier Nostre Dame.

‘Femme je suis povrette et ancienne.
Que riens ne scay, oncques lettres ne leuz,
Au Monstier voy (dont suis parroissienne)
Paradis painct, ou sont harpes et luz,
Et ung enfer, où damnez sont boulluz,
L’ung me faict paour, l’autre joye et liesse,
La joye avoir faictz moy (haulte deesse)
A qui pecheurs doivent tous recourir
Combley de foy, sans faincte ne paresse,
En ceste foy je vueil vivre et mourir.’

It is significant that the pre-Raphaelite Rossetti has translated this very poem of Villon, His Mother’s Service to Our Lady. Poems, p. 180.

[93] Edward Rod, Études sur le XIX. Siècle. Paris et Lausanne, 1888, p. 89.

[94] Rossetti, Poems, p. 277.


‘The springing green, the violet’s scent,
The trill of lark, the blackbird’s note,
Sunshowers soft, and balmy breeze:
If I sing such words as these,
Needs there any grander thing
To praise thee with, O day of spring?’

[96] Rod, op. cit., p. 67.

[97]Poems, p. 16.

[98] Sollier, Psychologie de l’Idiot et de l’Imbécile, p. 184. See also Lombroso, The Man of Genius (Contemporary Science Series), London, 1891, p. 216. A special characteristic found in literary mattoids, and also, as we have already seen, in the insane, is that of repeating some words or phrases hundreds of times in the same page. Thus, in one of Passanante’s chapters the word riprovate (blame) occurs about 143 times.

[99]Poems, p. 31.

[100]Poems, p. 247.

[101] Algernon Charles Swinburne, Poems and Ballads. London: Chatto and Windus, 1889, p. 247.


‘The Runic stone stands out in the sea,
There sit I with my dreams,
‘Mid whistling winds and wailing gulls,
And wandering, foaming waves.
I have loved many a lovely child,
And many a good comrade—
Where are they gone? The wind whistles,
The waves wander foaming on.’

[103] William Morris, Poems (Tauchnitz edition), p. 169:

‘And if it hap that ...

My master, Geoffrey Chaucer, thou do meet,
Then speak ... the words:
“O master! O thou great of heart and tongue!”’...

[104] A history of the commencement of this society has been written by one of the members, Mathias Morhardt. See ‘Les Symboliques,’ Nouvelle Revue du 15 Février, 1892, p. 765.

[105] Charles Morice, La Littérature de tout-à-l’heure. Paris, 1889, p. 274.

[106] Jules Huret, Enquête sur l’Évolution littéraire. Paris, 1891, p. 65.

[107] Charles Morice, op. cit., p. 271.

[108] Huret, op. cit., p. 14.

[109] Vte E. M. de Vogüé, op. cit., p. xix et seq.

[110] Morice, op. cit., pp. 5, 103, 177.

[111]Rembrandt als Erzieher. Leipzig, 1890, p. 2.

[112] Edouard Rod, Les Idées morales du Temps présent. Paris, 1892, p. 66.

[113] Paul Desjardins, Le Devoir présent. Paris, 1892, pp. 5, 8, 39.

[114] F. Paulhan, Le nouveau Mysticisme. Paris, 1891, p. 120.

[115] Pierre Janet, ‘Les Actes inconscients et le Dédoublement de la Personalité,’ Revue philosophique, December, 1886. Paul Janet, ‘L’Hystérie et l’Hypnotisme d’après la Théorie de la double Personnalité,’ Revue scientifique, 1888, 1er vol., p. 616

[116] Morhardt, op. cit., p. 769.

[117] See the Catalogue of Scientific Papers compiled and published by the Royal Society. The first series of this catalogue, covering the time from 1800 to 1863, comprises six volumes; the second, dealing with the decade from 1864 to 1873, comprises two volumes, equivalent to at least three of the first series (1047 and 1310 pages); of the third series (1874 to 1883) only one volume has been issued as yet, but it promises to outrun the second by at least one half.

[118] Jules Huret, Enquête sur l’Évolution littéraire. Paris, 1891.

[119] Huret, op. cit., p. 65.

[120] Paul Verlaine, Choix de Poësies. Paris, 1891.

[121] Lombroso, L’Uomo delinquente, p. 184.

[122] Lombroso, op. cit., p. 276.

[123] Verlaine, op. cit., p. 272.

[124] Verlaine, op. cit., pp. 72, 315, 317.

[125] Shortly, but not immediately after, the immediate result being a sense of great relief and satisfaction.

[126] Verlaine, op. cit., pp. 175, 178.

[127] Legrain, Du délire chez les dégénéres, pp. 135, 140, 164.

[128] Huret, op. cit., p. 8.

[129] E. Marandon de Montyel, ‘De la Criminalité et de la Dégénérescence,’ Archives de l’Anthropologie criminelle, Mai, 1892, p. 287.


Ah! if these are dream hands,
So much the better, or so much the worse, or so much the better.

[131] Virgil’s ‘lentus,’ when applied to aspects of nature conveys a very different meaning.

[132] Charles Morice, La Littérature de tout-à-l’heure, p. 238.

[133] Huret, op. cit., p. 33.

[134] Since these words were written, M. Mallarmé has decided to publish his poems in one volume. This, far from invalidating what has been said, is its best justification.

[135] Huret, op. cit., p. 55.

[136] Hartmann, Der Gorilla. Leipzig, 1881, p. 34.

[137] Dr. L. Frigerio, L’Oreille externe: Étude d’Anthropologie criminelle. Lyon, 1889, pp. 32 and 40.

[138] Lombroso, L’Uomo delinquente, p. 255.

[139] Huret, op. cit., p. 102.

[140]Ibid., p. 106.

[141]Ibid., p. 401.

[142] Jean Moréas, Le Pélerin passionné. Paris, 1891, p. 3.

[143] Moréas, op. cit., pp. 21 and 2.

[144]Ibid., p. 43.

[145] Moréas, op. cit., p. 311.


‘O Syrinx! do you see and understand the Earth, and the wonder of this morning, and the circulation of life!
O thou, there! and I, here! O thou! O me! All is in All!’

[147] Morice, op. cit., p. 30.

[148] Morice, op. cit., p. 321.

[149] Dr. F. Suarez de Mendoza, L’Audition colorée: Étude sur les fausses Sensations secondaires physiologiques. Paris, 1892.

[150] Alfred Binet, ‘Recherche sur les altérations de la conscience chez les hystériques,’ Revue philosophique, 1889, 27e vol., p. 165.

[151] Legrain, op. cit., p. 162.

[152] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn. German edition, p. 233.

[153] I may here be allowed to remind my readers that in the year 1885, and, accordingly, before the promulgation of the professed symbolistic programme, I laid down in my Paradoxe (popular edition, part ii., p. 253) the principle that the poet must ‘to the majority of his readers utter the deep saying, “Tat twam asi!”—“That art thou!” of the Indian sage,’ and ‘must be able, with the ancient Romans, to repeat to the sound and normally developed man, “Of thee is the fable related.” In other words, the poem must be “symbolical” in the sense that it brings into view characters, destinies, feelings and laws of life which are universal.’

[154] Hugues Le Roux, Portraits de Cire. Paris, 1891, p. 129.

[155] Vte E. M. de Vogüé, Le Roman russe. Paris, 1888, p. 293 et seq.

[156] See, in War and Peace (Leo. N. Tolstoi’s collected works, published, with the author’s sanction, by Raphael Löwenfeld, Berlin, 1892, vols. v.-viii.), the soldiers’ talk, part i., p. 252; the scene at the outposts, p. 314 et seq., the description of the troops on the march, p. 332; the death of Count Besuchoi, pp. 142-145; the coursing, part ii., pp. 383-407, etc.

[157] See, in War and Peace, the thoughts of the wounded Prince Andrej, part i., p. 516; Count Peter’s conversation with the freemason and Martinief Basdjejeff, part ii., pp. 106-114, etc.

[158]War and Peace, the episode of Princess Maria and her suitor, part i., pp. 420-423; the confinement of the little Princess, part ii., pp. 58-65; and all the passages where Count Rostoff sees the Emperor Alexander, or where the author speaks of the Emperor Napoleon I., etc.

[159] Vogüé, op. cit., p. 282.

[160] Count Leo Tolstoi, A Short Exposition of the Gospel. From the Russian, by Paul Lauterbach. Leipzig: Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek, p. 13.

[161] L. Tolstoi, Short Exposition of the Gospel, p. 13.

[162] Tolstoi, Short Exposition, etc., p. 172.

[163] More accurately, in Vedântism.—Translator.

[164] Tolstoi, Short Exposition, etc., p. 128.

[165]Short Exposition, p. 60.

[166] De Vogüé, op. cit., p. 333.

[167] L. Tolstoi, Gesammelte Werke, Berlin, 1891, Band II.: Novels and Short Tales, part i.

[168] Léon Tolstoi, La Sonate à Kreutzer. Traduit du Russe par E. Halpérine-Kaminsky. Paris: Collection des auteurs célèbres, p. 72.

[169] P. 119.

[170]Short Exposition of the Gospel, p. 140.

[171]Le Roman du Mariage. Traduit du Russe par Michel Delines. Paris. Auteurs célèbres.

[172] Ed. Rod, Les Idées morales du Temps présent. Paris, 1892, p. 241.

[173] Raphael Löwenfeld, Leo N. Tolstoi, sein Leben, seine Werke, seine Weltanschauung. Erster Theil. Berlin, 1892, Introd., p. 1.

[174] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 256, foot-note.

[175] Löwenfeld, op. cit., p. 39.

[176]Ibid., p. 276.

[177] Professor Kowalewski, in The Journal of Mental Science, January, 1888.

[178] Griesinger, ‘Ueber einen wenig bekannten psychopathischen Zustand,’ Archiv für Psychiatrie, Band I.

[179] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 324.

[180] Sollier, Psychologie de l’Idiot et de l’Imbécile.

[181] Löwenfeld, op. cit., p. 100.

[182] Löwenfeld, op. cit., p. 47.

[183] Legrain, Du Délire chez les Dégénérés, pp. 28, 195.

[184] It is not my object, in a book intended primarily for the general educated reader, to dwell on this delicate subject. Anyone wishing to be instructed more closely in the morbid eroticism of the degenerate may read the books of Paul Moreau (of Tours) Des Aberrations du Sens génésique, 2e édition, Paris, 1883; and Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia sexualis, Stuttgart, 1886. Papers on this subject by Westphal (Archiv für Psychiatrie, 1870 and 1876), by Charcot and Magnan (Archives de Neurologie, 1882), etc., are scarcely accessible to the general public.

[185] V. Magnan, Leçons cliniques sur la Dipsomanie, faites à l’asile Sainte-Anne. Recueillies et publiées par M. le Dr. Marcel Briand. Paris, 1884.

[186] Richard Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft. Leipzig, 1850. The numbering of the pages given in quotations from this work refers to the edition here indicated.

[187] Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, Kurze Phil. Schriften. Leipzig, 1888, Band II., p. 465.

[188] Charles Féré, Sensation et Mouvement. Paris, 1887.

[189]Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, p. 169: ‘It is only when the desire of the artistic sculptor has passed into the soul of the dancer, of the mimic interpreter, of him who sings and speaks, that this desire can be conceived as satisfied. It is only when the art of sculpture no longer exists, or has followed another tendency than that of representing human bodies—when it has passed, as sculpture, into architecture—when the rigid solitude of this one man carved in stone will have been resolved into the infinitely flowing plurality of veritable, living men ... it is only then, too, that real plastic will exist.’ And on p. 182: ‘That which it [painting] honestly exerts itself to attain, it attains in ... greatest perfection ... when it descends from canvas and chalk to ascend to the tragic stage.... But landscape-painting will become, as the last and most finished conclusion of all the fine arts, the life-giving soul, properly speaking, of architecture; it will teach us thus to organize the stage for works of the dramatic art of the future, in which, itself living, it will represent the warm background of nature for the use of the living, and not for the imitated man.’

[190] Richard Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen. Leipzig, 1883, Band X., p. 68.

[191] Compare also, in Das Bühnenweihfestspiel in Bayreuth, 1882 (Gesammelte Schriften, Band X., p. 384): ‘This [the ‘sure rendering of all events on, above, under, behind, and before the stage’] anarchy accomplishes, because each individual does what he wishes to do, namely (?), what is right.’

[192] Edward Hanslick, Musikalische Stationen. Berlin, 1880, pp. 220, 243.

[193] Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, Band VI., p. 3 ff.

[194] In a book on degeneration it is not possible wholly to avoid the subject of eroticism, which includes precisely the most characteristic and conspicuous phenomena of degeneration. I dwell, however, on principle as little as possible on this subject, and will, therefore, in reference to the characterization of Wagner’s erotic madness, quote only one clinical work: Dr. Paul Aubry, ‘Observation d’Uxoricide et de Libéricide suivis du Suicide du Meurtrier,’ Archives de l’Anthropologie criminelle, vol. vii., p. 326: ‘This derangement [erotic madness] is characterized by an inconceivable fury of concupiscence at the moment of approach.’ And in a remark on the report of a murder perpetrated on his wife and children by an erotic maniac—a professor of mathematics in a public school—whom Aubrey had under his observation, he says, ‘Sa femme qui parlait facilement et à tous des choses que l’on tient ordinairement le plus secrètes, disait que son mari était comme un furieux pendant l’acte sexuel.’ See also Ball, La Folie érotique. Paris, 1891, p. 127.

[195] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 229: ‘When the expression of their ideas eludes their grasp ... they resort ... to the continual italicizing of words and sentences,’ etc.

[196] Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Fall Wagner. Leipzig, 1889.

[197]Der Fall Wagner. Ein Musikanten-Problem. 2te Auflage. Leipzig, 1889.

[198] Sollier, op. cit., p. 101.

[199] Lombroso, Genie und Irrsinn, p. 214 et seq.

[200] Wagner, Ges. Schriften, Band X., p. 222.
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