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Nietzsche’s The Gay Science

Lecturer: Valery Vinogradovs

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 1 2022

Does a serious work in philosophy have to be written in a scholarly way, formally and solemnly?

Equally, to become a serious philosopher, is it necessary to think and write exclusively as a scholar (for scholars)?

Perhaps not! Perhaps these are mere prejudices!!

Can a gay or light-hearted philosophical activity unmask profound meanings and errors, otherwise beyond reach?

Our course engages with Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (Die Frohliche Wissenschaft), his first masterwork hammered by way of an aphoristic, playful, and often comical style. Here, Nietzsche emerges as a philosopher-troubadour, one who induces abysmal thoughts, feelings, and laughter devoid of a doctrine, and who at the same time kindles a radical spirit – a free spirit – averse to grave and oppressive realities: “gay science, philosophy that sings and sizzles”, as Walter Kaufmann puts it. Thus, gaiety becomes serious.

It is The Gay Science, Nietzsche’s “most personal” book, in which the author posits that there’s no overarching, unifying purpose in being, thereby exploding a fantasy embraced by the vast majority, “the blinking rabble” projecting the crisis of humanness into the future. Hence, a person seeking their values and perspectives on earth must be distrustful, audacious, militant, and cruelly creative. Otherwise, one is prone to surrender to mediocre, repetitive existence, however privileged and egalitarian, or to fall in love with an abstract, disembodied utopia, as a consolation.

In a way, then, The Gay Science is a handbook to the possibility of your own self and might, a necessity some readers may feel deep inside. It’s possible indeed, for Nietzsche, insofar as the philosopher's intellectual conscience is wedded with an artist’s feeling for life, in one person. The fact that this possibility appears impossible/impractical in our collapsing world can be attributed to our career-oriented educational system-prison, the rule of corporations, merchants and messiahs, and the pull back toward comfort, politeness and security. In return, we shall engage with Nietzsche’s work as a diet, maintained to fervently resist superfluous ways of life, even if this undertaking is bound to end tragically.

Week 1
  • Gay Science in Rabelais
  • Gay Science in Emerson
Week 2
  • Preface: Do not Mistake Me for Someone Else
Week 3
  • “Joke, Cunning, and Revenge” in Rhyme
  • Book I: Laughing Out the Whole Truth
Week 4
  • Book I: Dignity and Commonality
  • Book I: The Virtuous at Work, The Selfish Suffering
Week 5
  • Book II: Art, Nature, and Gratitude
  • Book II: Creators as Destructors, or the Homeless
Week 6
  • Book II: Love and Hatred, or Life is a Woman
  • Book II: Schopenhauer Against Courtly Taste
Week 7
  • Book III: Grey Science as Description
  • Book III: Cosmos is a Body-Organism
Week 8
  • Book III: Shadows of Gods and Men on Earth
  • Book III: Heroic and Herd Instincts
Week 9
  • Book IV: Character in Style and Self-Contradiction
  • Book IV: Love of Fate, Life, and Death
Week 10
  • Book IV: Overcoming Socrates, or Eternal Recurrence
  • Book IV: Loathing, Tears and Laughter, or Zarathustra
Week 11
  • Book V: Vengeance of the Tarantulas
  • Book V: Cheerfulness as the Event
Week 12
  • Book V: Knowledge, the Familiar and the Distant
  • Book V: Made of Glass, a Concluding Conversation

Textbook: your copy of The Gay Science.

Secondary texts (provided):

  • Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Science, by Babette Babich (SUNY: 1994)
  • Nietzsche’s Gay Science: Dancing Coherence, by Monika M. Langer (Palgrave Macmillan: 2010)
  • Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, by Michael Ure (CUP: 2019)