Editor’s note: I couldn’t find a non downloadable link to the Walter Kaufmann translation of Nietzsche’s “Why I Am So Wise” anywhere online, which is weird given that Nietzsche’s most well known quote belongs to this text. To my knowledge, this is the only digital reprint available online. I had to type it out myself. Enjoy.
“An all too long series of years signifies recovery for me; sadly, it also signifies relapse, breakdown, periods of decadence. After this, need I say that I am experienced in questions of decadence? I have spelled them forward and backward. Even that little art of apprehension and comprehension in general, those fingers for nuances, that psychology of “looking around the corner,” and whatever else is characteristic of me, was learned only then, and is the specific gift of that period during which everything in me became subtler–observation itself, as well as all organs of observation. Seeing from the standpoint of the sick toward healthier concepts and values and, conversely, looking again from the fullness and self assurance of a rich life down into the secret work of the instinct of decadence–in this I have had the longest training, my truest experience; if in anything, I became master in this.
I forced myself to absolute solitude, and to an alienation from my customary habits of life; the self-discipline that forbade me to be pampered, waited on, and doctored–all this betrays the absolute certainty of my instincts in regard to what at that time was most needful to me. . . . I took myself in my own hands, I made myself healthy again: the condition for this–every physiologist will admit–is that a man be healthy at the bottom. A typically morbid being cannot become healthy at all, much less by his own efforts. On the other hand, to a healthy person, illness can even become a powerful stimulus to life, for living more. This, in fact, is how that long period of sickness appears to me now: as it were, I discovered life anew, including myself; I tasted all good and even little things, as others cannot easily taste them–out of my Will to Health, and Life, I made my philosophy.
For I wish this to be understood; it was during the years of my lowest vitality that I ceased from being a pessimist: the instinct of self-recovery forbade me a philosophy of poverty and discouragement.
What is it, fundamentally, that allows us to recognize who has turned out well? That a well-turned-out man pleases our senses, that he is carved from wood that is hard, delicate, and at the same time smells good. He has a taste only for what is good for him; his pleasure, his delight cease where the measure of what is good for him is overstepped. He guesses what remedies avail against injuries; he knows how to turn serious accidents to his own advantage; what does not kill him makes him stronger. Instinctively, he gathers his material from all he sees, hears, lives through, his sum: he is a principle of selection, he discards much. He is always in his own company, whether he associates with books, human beings, or landscapes: he honors the things he chooses, the things he acknowledges, the things he trusts. He reacts slowly to all kinds of stimuli, and with that slowness which long caution and deliberate pride have bred in him; he tests the stimulus that approaches him. He would not think of going toward it. He believes in neither “misfortune” nor “guilt”; he can digest himself and others; he knows how to forget–he is strong enough to make- everything turn to his own advantage.
Well then, I am the very opposite of a decadent, for I have just described myself.”