The smallest thing
There are quite a few Nietzche quotes at BrainyQuotes. Some of them you’ll recognize, perhaps, as being attributed to someone else. For example, I’ve always heard the following as being Arabic or Islamic in origin:
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
I’ve no idea of BrainyQuotes’ vetting process, nor is it relevant to the point at hand. Fact is, the quotes seem dark and light and always human, and it seems difficult to imagine that any could be twisted in a way to make them seem anti-Semitic. If his Wikipedia entry is to be believed, his putative anti-Semitism was engineered by others.
There is one quote, however, that I picked up from some Nietzche biography early in my life, and though I swear it was a Nietzche biography, I would not bet that fact against the life of a loved one or any dollar amount greater than, say, $250. It cannot be found at BrainyQuotes or anywhere else subject to the major Internet search engines. Here’s the passage, which I swore at the time to commit to memory for the remainder of my life:
A work of art should seem to involve at most three quarters of its author’s strength. All great things have something idle about them. They lie around like cows in a field.
The beauty of the observation is that, whether or not one accepts the substance of it, it affects the way one looks at art forever after. It was a simple thing, which in my case, at least, conveyed lasting effects.
In a recent essay in the New York Times, William Hood described a similar fleeting moment, sitting next to Martin Luther King on a couch. Dr. Hood wrote the following passage:
[Dr. King] asked what I thought art could accomplish that other forms of communication could not. I remember that he said that he’d rarely discussed art, or even thought much about it. As I stammered an answer I cannot recall, he listened with the concentration of someone who genuinely wanted to understand. Never before, and rarely since, had I witnessed such authentic humility. It was so simple, so powerful a form of energy that for a few moments it freed me from bondage to myself.
A conversation that cannot have lasted more than 10 minutes ended up changing the way I thought about my life.
There you have it. The smallest thing encountered at the right moment can make all the difference. I never got the chance to sit on a couch next to Nietzsche; but if someday some psychic channels him in my presence, my first question will be, “Did you say that?”
And to you I would ask: “If not, who did?”
Maybe that’s the vetting process at BrainyQuotes.