Engadin (Switzerland) with La Margna (3158 m)

picture: La Margna seen from Sils-Baselgia

Something Like Truth in the Air?

Sils-Maria, 5900 ft (1800 m) above sea-level, is a small and very beautiful village in Switzerland. Surrounded  by high mountains it is situated between two lakes. What makes this place so appealing to poets, musicians, painters and philosophers - think of Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust, Rilke, Hermann Hesse, Adorno, Dürrenmatt, Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Segantini, Chagall?

In his "Zarathustra" one finds a lot of hints about how Nietzsche was inspired by this enchanting place. The high mountains, the light and crystal-clear air, the gleaming sun, the overwhelming nature made him feel to have special experiences and to come closer to real life and deep truth than ever before: "And who could divine what thoughts then passed through Zarathustra's soul? Apparently, however, his spirit retreated and fled in advance and was in remote distances, and as it were wandering on high mountain-ridges as it standeth written, 'twixt two seas, - wandering 'twixt the past and the future as a heavy cloud."( i) Then Zarathustra reveals his thoughts in a famous poem. You now can find it on a rock at the end of the peninsula Chasté. Nietzsche used it twice in "Zarathustra":

Nietzsche Rock on Chasté
O man! Take heed!

What saith deep midnight's voice indeed?

"I slept my sleep-

"From deepest dream I've woke and plead:

"The world is deep,

"And deeper than the day could read.

"Deep is its woe -

"Joy- deeper still than grief can be:

"Woe saith: Hence! Go!

"But joys all want eternity -

"Want deep profound eternity!"


Down to Earth


Nietzsche on the rocks. Cheers. Eleven lines, and the words 'deep' and 'profound' are used eight times. Midnight and dream, world and woe, joy and eternity, all this is deep. This is really something one adores to learn, especially if one is German. However, 

O man, take heed! 

What saith deep feeling's voice indeed? 

You feel all thoughts are great and true? 

Whatever holds the world together, 

You have found the glue?

Take heed, truth is in no way a matter of feeling. I fancy this deep feeling of a philosopher is a bit like flying for the first time. Some people might get hold of similar experiences by taking drugs. Others told me they feel deep truth when they are listening to music, especially the operas of Richard Wagner. I am afraid we have to learn that we can feel truth whenever we want to. A waste of feelings! Don't we have better methods to gain knowledge? Don't we have better use of inspiring feelings? What Nietzsche found in Sils was not truth but something equally precious, something fleeting, rare and threatened with extinction: ideas and visions. Not in the least true they are indispensible on the path which takes us nearer to truth. Speculative ideas are not incompatible with rationality, they are even the most important part of it. For being rational one has to be literally full of ideas. There are  many ideas produced by poets like Nietzsche; so now it's up to us to choose the best (and to forget the bad ones!). As Arnold Schönberg put it: 


Where we have a choice we are obliged to make a good choice.(ii)

-hjn 1996-

I cited from (i) Nietzsche "Thus spake Zarathustra", translated by Thomas Common, "The Drunken Song" No. 2 and 12. (ii) Schönberg, "Harmonielehre" (Universal Edition 1906).
H. J. Niemann, 10.3.1996, revised 2000. Back to the main menu.