The Gay Science was originally published in 1882 with a second edition published five years later expanded to include an additional “fifth book” as well as an appendix of songs. Although the title is perhaps not quite as familiar to those relatively unfamiliar with Friedrich Nietzsche as Thus Spake Zarathustra or Beyond Good and Evil, this is the volume introduces many of the most famous of the philosopher’s concepts.
While other concepts such as the Ubermensch and the widely misunderstood “will to power” appear elsewhere, The Gay Science introduces what Nietzsche himself valued over all other components of his writing as the very essence and most essential for understanding and comprehending his body of work. That component is “eternal recurrence” which boiled down to its prime elements suggests that everyone is deemed to live their lives over and over again a cyclical pattern destined to play out in exactly the same way each time. The form in which eternal recurrence is presented in The Gay Science is still relatively unclear and imprecise; Nietzsche would follow this volume with Thus Spake Zarathustra and reveal that he had been working quite specifically on developing more fully this ideas, thus demonstrating the extent to which he believed it fundamental to his developing worldview.
The Gay Science is also the philosophical work in which one will find the single most famous phrase associated with Nietzsche. It is here that where he makes the pronouncement that “God is dead.” Less well-known within the mainstream recognition of Nietzsche, but of far greater importance to understanding what he means when writing about the “will to power” is the analysis of the vital significance of lending style to one’s character as a means of willing oneself to power. Style in this sense meaning not clothing or fashion, but inhabiting a self which is comfortable according to one’s own designs of character than the imposition of the idea of character on him through the slavish replication of what others believe. Learning to give style to one's life does not mean jettisoning flaws or failures, but incorporating them alongside one's strengths so the whole is a fastidious collection of the parts that all seem to work in perfect harmonized expression of the self as art. A failure to correctly interpret the book's extensive historical analysis of style is destined to create a domino effect of misunderstanding how this concept is to be applied to the other philosophical assertions in this and other books.
In addition, this is also the book which proves closest to Nietzsche’s conception of himself as a writer. While he primarily identified as a philosopher, that term is actually problematic as there is not central identifiable philosophical “School of Nietzsche.” He was a critic, a historian, a psychologist, a destroyer of existing worlds and, perhaps most dear to him, a poet. As such, the content of The Gay Science depends more heavily upon the inclusion of poems and works of verse than any other single book ever published in his lifetime. When originally translated into English, this book bored the title The Joyful Wisdom, but subsequent translations focused on the significance of poetry in its construction and refers to a French expression which references the technical rather than the more abstract artistic ability involved in writing verse.