Nietzsche: Not the Cynic, But the Severely Disappointed

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The Table of Contents of Ecce Homo. Filed under “why I’m so helpful for providing visual aids”

For most people who have read any of Nietzsche’s work, it seems that they interpret him as a quintessential cynic or misanthrope. And this is a completely understandable interpretation, especially if one reads anything regarding the “Will to Power” or his thoughts on politics. Nietzsche seems to think that people are only concerned with themselves and the weak are meant to be trampled on. Or we can just look at the chapter titles of Ecce Homo for quite a profound example of his own engagement with cynicism.

In all honesty, I’m not confident in my understanding of parts of Nietzsche’s (non-)philosophy, so I won’t speak at length on them, but I think there is something to be said about the intersection between his and bell hooks’ thoughts. The notable connection is in the following two quotes:

To talk much about oneself may also be a means of concealing oneself. [1]

and

Ultimately, cynicism is the great mask of the disappointed and betrayed heart. [2]

In both quotes there is the element of hiding something. I’m not sure if Nietzsche would identify with the label “cynic” but even if not, the specter of cynicism maybe still be there for a reason. If we are following bell hooks, Nietzsche’s cynical attitude is really an attempt to distract the reader (and probably himself) from his own pain and disappointment in life.

Might there be a part of Nietzsche which he tries to suppress? Which is a simmering hope and faith in humanity that is crushed by utter indifference? Indeed, he writes:

You desire to live ‘according to Nature?’ Oh , you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves indifference as a power– how could you live in accordance with such indifference? To live–is not that just endeavoring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavoring to be different? [3]

At this, one might say we don’t and can’t know the real Nietzsche (probably because there is none). Regardless, I think it is reasonable to contend, whether loosely or confidently, that Nietzsche’s cynicism serves to mask his own insecurities and pains.


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 169.

[2] bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, xviii

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 9.

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Posted on June 18, 2014, in Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I don’t know any of his work but I am familiar to his name. I’m going with what I read here. I think he developed an eye for describing peoples behavior and their faults which he repeatedly acknowledged. I can completely relate to
    ” Ultimately, cynicism is the great makes of the disappointed and betrayed heart ”
    Those are words that profoundly reflect me. In my personal translation I would describe it as tolerance for people gradually fading strictly through those words, disappointed and betrayed heart. There is no possibility of thinking that way without being pained otherwise it is an unexperienced and unknown conscious.
    There is no shame in cynicism, I believe it is deserved. In regards to insecurity, I’m not sure how that fits.

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