In 1951 Albert Camus published his book, The Rebel, which included quite a catchy part:

Art is the activity that exalts and denies simultaneously. "No artist tolerates reality," says Nietzsche.

A couple of years ago the second part of this passage became quite popular, even repeated by multiple mainstream and minor artists, especially musicians.

My problem is: I can't find the original source of this quote and I can't even find it's German version (if it exists). I start to think if it's possible that Camus was quoting some rare, personal letter which was never publicly released, or maybe he tried to sum up some major idea in few words of his own or maybe, even, he completely made this part up?

I would appreciate pointing me to the right direction. Thank you!


2 Answers 2


According to Secret Languages: The Roots of Musical Modernism Critical Inquiry Vol. 10, No. 3 (Mar., 1984), pp. 442-461 (link to abstract with the citation as #3) the proper citation is:

Friedrich Nitzsche, Complete Works, ed. Oscar Levy, 18 vols. (London, 1909-15), vol. 15, The Will to Power, trans. Anthony M. Ludovici, p. 74.

And in fact volume 15 at page 74 says (italics in original text):

An artist cannot endure reality; he turns away or back from it: his earnest opinion is that the worth of a thing consists in that nebulous residue of it which one derives from colour, form, sound, and thought; he believes that the more subtle, attenuated, and volatile, a thing or a man becomes, the more valuable he becomes: the less real the greater the worth. This is Platonism: but Plato was guilty of yet further audacity in the matter of turning tables — he measured the degree of reality according to the degree of value, and said: The more there is of "idea" the more there is of Being. He twisted the concept "reality" round and said: "What ye regard as real is an error, and the nearer we get to the 'idea' the nearer we are to 'truth.' " — Is this understood? It was the greatest of all re- christenings: and because Christianity adopted it, we are blind to its astounding features.

The original German text is (quoting from page 54):

Ein Künstler hält keine Wirklichkeit aus, er blickt weg, zurück, seine ernsthafte Meinung ist, daß was ein Ding werth ist, jener schattengleiche Rest ist, den man aus Farben, Gestalt, Klang, Gedanken gewinnt, er glaubt daran, daß, je mehr subtilisirt verdünnt verflüchtigt ein Ding, ein Mensch wird, um so mehr sein Werth zunimmt: je weniger real, um so mehr Werth. Dies ist Platonismus: der aber noch eine Kühnheit mehr besaß, im Umdrehen: — er maß den Grad Realität nach dem Werthgrade ab und sagte: je mehr „Idee“, desto mehr Sein. Er drehte den Begriff „Wirklichkeit“ herum und sagte: „was ihr für wirklich haltet, ist ein Irrthum, und wir kommen, je näher wir der ‘Idee’ kommen, der ‘Wahrheit’ “. — Versteht man es? Das war die größte Umtaufung: und weil sie vom Christenthum aufgenommen ist, so sehen wir die erstaunliche Sache nicht.

  • Dear @DavePhD, thank you so much! I have no idea how have you found it, you were a great help for me. Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:36
  • @MaciejAureusGajzlerowicz I think I found it by searching in google scholar for the oldest journal articles with the quote. Glad I could help.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:38
  • Much. Better. +1
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 12:16
  • +1, as this is undoubtedly the correct source... but the translation of the German text is much more rich than the very simplified English, which makes me sad. :(
    – Ghotir
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 13:59

HERE is a question that leads to the Nietsche quote

Die Wahrheit ist hässlich: wir haben die Kunst, damit wir nicht an der Wahrheit zugrunde gehen.
--(Nachgelassene Fragmente 1887-1889, 16(49) -


Truth is ugly: We have art so that we do not perish from the truth.

Maybe that is what Camus refers to...

  • No idea why this was downvoted, it's definitely connected Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 20:23

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