• Vincent Sell

The Untimely One

I was introduced to the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, indirectly, through a friend of mine in high school. One day my friend showed up to the first period science class we shared with a paperback anthology of Existentialist writings. I was intrigued and asked him what it was about. Before he could answer, I offered my own uneducated guess: "Survival of the fittest?"

"Not really," my friend said, and then the subject was dropped.

My friend was a year ahead of me in school. He was an interesting guy who was very well read. He had the habit of rereading every book he read two weeks after he first read it, saying that he gleaned so much on that second go-round. He was like a throwback from the 1960's. He wore his hair long. He dressed super casual (he never dressed in the preppy style of the day), and he had a rebellious streak a mile wide. He had already introduced me to two writers I enjoyed very much: Kurt Vonnegut and Abbie Hoffman, so I valued his recommendations. The incident in science class, however, escaped my mind and I didn't think about it again, that is, until the beginning of the next school year after my friend had graduated and I found myself sitting alone in the school library. I glanced up at a turnstile of paperback books next to my chair. On top of the rack was a sign that read, "Take one/Leave one," and on this rack was that same anthology of Existentialist writings my friend had brought to class the year prior. I didn't have a book to leave, but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to take this one. Later that day, while I was serving detention, I paged through the book, reading excerpts from various authors. And then I came to the section of writings by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I don't really know how to describe what it was like to read him for the first time. He was unlike anyone else I had ever read. Here was an author who communicated something. Furthermore, he was confirming my suspicions, that prevailing wisdom had its basis in nonsense. I was hooked. I immediately went out and bought his book, "Beyond Good and Evil," and a biography of his life. He opened the door to wonder, and reading him during that time was one of the most transporting experiences of my life.

The next year, while attending college, I wrote a term paper on Nietzsche. For research, I read portions of a few of his books, and I also read sections of a study on Nietzsche written by Walter Kaufman. I disagreed with Kaufman's appraisal of Nietzsche. I came to the conclusion that Nietzsche was dangerous and directly responsible for the rise of Naziism. With these judgments in mind, I bid Nietzsche, and philosophy in general, farewell. It wasn't until a few years later, after I had suffered a series of crises in my life, one of which was the falling out I had with a mentor, that I returned to Nietzsche. Due to these crises, and my indulgence in romantic notions about death, I found myself a defeated, vulnerable, frazzled mess. It was in this state of surrender that I remembered something Nietzsche had said. He advised that we read all his books, from first to last, and spare no time doing so. Just the act of starting this process created a change in my demeanor. I began developing discipline in my life. In those works I discovered a path of recovery laid down by someone who had been through something very similar as I. He achieved his convalescence, seemingly on his own, and he documented it for others to follow.

It took me two years to finish reading all his works. At the end of that time I felt, in essence, as if I had returned to life, and for that I am eternally grateful.