Monday, October 02, 2023

Learning to Love

Nietzsche is very uneven, but one of his very best passages is section 334 of The Gay Science, on learning to love, using music as an example:

One must learn to love -- This is what happens to us in music: First one has to learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate and delimit it as a separate life. Then it requires some exertion and good will to tolerate it in spite of its strangeness, to be patient with its appearance and expression, and kindhearted about its oddity. Finally there comes a moment when we are used to it, when we wait for it, when we sense that we should miss it if it were missing; and now it continues to compel and enchant us relentlessly until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers who desire nothing better from the world than it and only it.

So the basic steps here are:

(1) learning to hear, in a way that detects and distinguishes it;
(2) toleration and patience with its strangeness;
(3) loving it.

Nietzsche continues:

But that is what happens to us not only in music. That is how we have learned to love all things that we now love. In the end we are always rewarded for our good will, our patience, fairmindedness, and gentleness with what is strange; gradually, it sheds its veil and turns out to be a new and indescribable beauty. That is its thanks for our hospitality. Even those who love themselves will have learned it in this way; for there is no other way. Love, too, has to be learned.

Allowing for Nietzsche's tendency to hyperbole, I think this is quite insightful. These steps are generally how love develops for all forms of art, including many things that we don't always think of as arts, like those concerned with argument or social interaction. It's a bit less clear, contrary to Nietzsche's confident claim in the second paragraph, that this is true of all kinds of love; I think there is a good reason, particularly when the love concerns people, to think that some love precedes the learning for it.

[Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Walter Kaufman, tr., Vintage Books (New York: 1974) p. 262.]