I’ve ruminated on this fragment (Gay Science 285) for a few days now, because I haven’t been able to crack it. On the surface, it seems like something out of Zarathustra. I’ve thought about whether the translation is off and whether it might be more lyrical in German. I’ve even considered skipping it, because it’s yet another Christian denunciation fragment and a relatively weak one at that.
Nietzsche advised his readers to take in his aphorisms slowly and I can see why after reading this one over several times. The key phrases do not immediately jump out, but here, after several lines from an interlocutor warning what’s lost when Christianity is renounced, Nietzsche lays it down:
Man of renunciation, all this you wish to renounce? Who will give you the strength for that? Nobody yet has had this strength!
This reminds me of the most frequent criticism of Sartre‘s existentialism, that no one has the strength to carry its heavy burden where every choice in life becomes a test of good faith and authenticity. It also reminds me of the Nirvana song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” specifically the line “I miss the comfort in being sad.” Self overcoming takes courage. Sometimes what seems like misery can appear, in retrospect, to be an evasion — loneliness and melancholy can be like security blankets that permit you to stay safe and comforted. When in that state, no one feels strong enough to break free.
Nietzsche answers this challenge with the most Christ-like form of discourse, a parable:
There is a lake that one day ceased to permit itself to flow off; it formed a dam where it had hitherto off; and ever since this lake is rising higher and higher. Perhaps this very renunciation will also lend us the strength needed to bear this renunciation; perhaps man will rise ever higher as soon as he ceases to flow out into a god.
It’s only by giving up comforts, not just Christianity, but also material comfort, psychic comfort, anything that promises continuing inner peace, ultimate wisdom and power, that humans can ultimately bear the burden of lives inevitably filled with perpetual conflict. Nietzsche believes that this conflict is the nature of existence. The will to power is a desire for endless conflict and (unsatisfactory, regardless of outcome) resolution, leading to more conflict. It’s in this act of striving where people are most happy.
Amor fati is an acceptance of this conflict and an understanding that you’ll make mistakes and will suffer defeat and embarrassment along the way. Accept these defeats and continue struggling. This will make you stronger and will push you to greater struggles, which increases your joy and your desire for the eternal return of everything in life, especially the moments of greatest striving.