What Is Noble?

Oli Steadman
3 min readJan 2, 2022

In pt9 “What Is Noble?” of Beyond Good And Evil (free full text readable & searchable here), Neitzsche’s aphorism 296 is, atypically, addressed not to the reader but to an abstract inspiring presence, and in the first person:

(bolding mine)

Oh, what are you anyway, my written and painted thoughts! It was not long ago that you were still so colourful, young and malicious, so full of thorns and secret spices that you made me sneeze and laugh — and now? You have already lost your novelty, and I am afraid that some of you are ready to turn into truths: they already look so immortal, so pathetically decent and upright, so boring! And was it ever any different? So, what subjects do we copy out and paint, we mandarins with Chinese brushes, we immortalizers of things that let themselves be written — what are the only things we can paint? Oh, only ever things that are about to wilt and lose their smell! Only ever storms that are yellowed and late! Only ever birds that have flown and flown astray until they are tired and can be caught by hand— by our hand! We only immortalize things that cannot live and fly for much longer, only tired and worn-out things! And I only have colours for your afternoon, my written and painted thoughts, perhaps many colours, many colourful affections and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: — but nobody will guess from this how you looked in your mornings, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you, my old, beloved — wicked thoughts!

Almost invariably the creative spark we use to jumpstart an episode of writing, composing, performing, conversation; seems old before we begin, and hardly worth following up (in comparison to how vividly it felt critical and urgent that we engage it for the sake of humanity. Something like catching a butterfly or rare beast before it evades capture.

Part of that failing feeling comes from having an underdeveloped ability to perform the accurate capture of those shocking storms & birds of inspiration:

The height and width of the tower of science have grown to be so monstrously vast that the philosopher is that much more likely to become exhausted before he has even finished his education, or to let himself grab hold of something and “specialize.” […] Or he gets there too late, when he is already past his prime and his strength has started to fade; […] Per- haps the very refinement of his intellectual conscience lets him hesitate and be slowed down while underway; he is afraid of being seduced into becoming a dilettante, a millipede […]

— 205

Another fundamental inability stems from having waited too long to seize opportunities:

The problem of those who wait. Strokes of luck and many unpredictable factors are needed for a higher person, who contains the dormant solution to a problem, to go into action at the right time, “into explosion” you might say. This does not usually happen, and in every corner of the earth people sit waiting, hardly knowing how much they are waiting, much less that they are waiting in vain. And every once in a while, the alarm call will come too late, the chance event that gives them “permission” to act, — just when the prime of youth and strength for action has already been depleted by sitting still. And how many people have realized in horror, just as they “jump up,” that their limbs have gone to sleep and their spirit is already too heavy! “It’s too late” — they say, having lost faith in themselves and being useless from this point on. — What if in the realm of genius, the “Raphael without hands ” 12 (taking that phrase in the broadest sense) is not the exception but, perhaps, the rule? Perhaps genius is not rare at all: what is rare is the five hundred hands that it needs to tyrannize the KaiQog, “the right time,” in order to seize hold of chance!

— 274

A New Years resolution of mine is to more mindfully seize creative opportunities and ensure I capture those flights of “wicked thoughts” as a matter of urgency when they strike. But first, building a Google Apps Script dashboard to help monitor this in metrical fashion.