Cheerfulness, tightrope walking, and an amorous rendezvous

To draw the character of the cheerfully ready person more vividly, I return to Nietzsche’s description of the tightrope walker and the ‘worthy gentleman.’ In one aphorism, Nietzsche distinguishes between non-tightrope walking and tightrope walking situations: ‘To get into only those situations in which illusory virtues are of no use, but in which, like the tightrope-walker on his rope, one either falls or stands–or gets off…’

In his laudatory portrait of Emerson, Nietzsche likens the writer, in part, to a ‘worthy gentleman’:

His spirit is always finding reasons for being contented and even grateful; and now and then he verges on the cheerful transcendence of that worthy gentleman who, returning from an amorous rendezvous tamquam re bene gesta[as if things had gone well], said gratefully: ‘Ut desint vires, taken set laudanda voluptas’ [Though the power be lacking, the lust is praiseworthy].

What do these two portraits have to say about cheerful readiness? In both cases, the figure is courageous: there is no pussyfooting around, no bullshitting, no pretense, no heel-dragging. The character acts, come what may, and that ‘come what may’ is precisely the condition under which he acts.

Evidently, too, the cheerful man is neither eager beforehand nor disappointed afterward. Moreover, he is not resilient because he does not take events to be shocks and thus he is not ‘absorbing a blow.’ Indeed, it is not a shock to the worthy gentleman that the ‘power be lacking’ but instead a curious surprise, one about which he jokes later on.

Given that he is neither excited nor resilient-ready, the temptation is to equate cheerfulness readiness with composure. In other words, one thinks to be ready is to be so composed as to be sober, quite earnest, and serious. Furthermore, it is to be temperate, even-kneeled. But this is only partially true. Cheerfulness is comparable to composure and temperance both except insofar as it sounds a lighter note and has greater springiness. Calm, yes, not in flux, true, but always (as it were) on the verge of smiling or gently laughing. Always about to one or both. If we can rescue this sentence from its association with frivolity, then we could say in all sincerity: ‘He is most certainly having a good time.’

Advertisements