[The following passage is from Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations, 1874.]
First of all he [Richard Wagner] recognized a state of distress, extending as far as civilization, now unites nations: everywhere language is sick, and the oppression of this tremendous sickness weighs on the whole of human development. Inasmuch as language has had continually to climb up to the highest rung of achievement possible to it so as to encompass the realm of thought, a realm diametrically opposed to that for the expression of which it was originally supremely adapted, namely the realm of strong feelings, it has during the brief period of contemporary civilization become exhausted through this excessive effort: so that now it is no longer capable of performing that function for the sake of which alone it exists: to enable suffering mankind to come to an understanding with one another over the simplest needs of life. Man can no longer express his needs and distress by means of language, thus he can no longer really communicate at all: and under these dimly perceived conditions language has everywhere become a power in its own right which now embraces mankind with ghostly arms and impels it to where it does not really want to go. As soon as men seek to come to an understanding with one another, and to unite for a common work, they are seized by the madness of universal concepts, indeed even by the mere sounds of words, and, as a consequence of this incapacity to communicate, everything they do together bears the mark of this lack of mutual understanding, inasmuch as it does not correspond to their real needs but only to the hollowness of those tyrannical words and concepts: thus to all its other sufferings mankind adds suffering from convention, that is to say from a mutual agreement as to words and actions without a mutual agreement as to feelings. Just as when every art goes into decline a point is reached at which its morbidly luxuriant forms and techniques gain a tyrannical domination over the souls of youthful artists and make them their slaves, so with the decline of language we are the slaves of words; under this constraint no one is any longer capable of revealing himself, of speaking naively, and few are capable of preserving their individuality at all in the face of an education which believes it demonstrates its success, not in going out to meet clear needs and feelings in an educative sense, but in entangling the individual in the net of “clear concepts” and teaching him to think correctly: as if there were any sense whatever in making of a man a being who thinks and concludes correctly if one has not first succeeded in making of him one who feels rightly.
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