Updated: Apr 15
1995 - 2011 Penguin Books Ltd
Firstly, I have to say, I just love the Penguin Books Great Ideas series. Their books are always a treat and this one is no exception. Like most of the books in the series Why am I so Wise? is a short book and this paperback feels sleek and compact, but also quite pretty to look at.
Ecce Homo (1908) was only completed shortly before Friedrich Nietzsche’s death. He never lived to see its publication. The Polish-German author suffered a mental breakdown and died in 1900. His mother and sister, who had cared for him in his last days withheld Ecce Homo because of its ‘distressing’ content.
As a novice to the complete works, I am still wary of his self-proclaimed genius. In Why am I so Wise? (1908), he writes, “I am not a man, I am dynamite” and unremittingly repeats this contention throughout. At first, before he gets to the point, one does become a little bored with the great man. But if one is patient, the tantalizing disclosures squash the obnoxious preamble.
How fortunate one feels to witness, as if first hand, his aversion to the human condition contrasted with his own convolution! What a thrill to get some insights into his tumultuous relations including that much-publicized friendship with the German composer Richard Wagner. It seems Wagner’s Christian approach drove them apart. He wrote: "I have need of washing my hands after contact with religious people".
His miniature references to Zarathustra, thoughts on morality, and philosophy are transfixing as always. All the while, he talks of his ailing health, making one tremble scandalously at the thought of his supposed syphilis.
Why am I so Wise? is just an introduction to his collection, but already one is lured into the gallows of nihilism. Nietzsche is the sort of emblem that is either loved or hated. His sinister and dreadfully poignant persona grips only those who have a stomach for gore. But let there be no mistake, his philosophy and its consequent, benevolent donation have helped form reality as we know it.