“Was there ever a better hour for gaiety? Who will sing us a song, a morning song, so sunny, so light, so full-fledged that it does not chase away the crickets but instead invites them to join in the singing and dancing?” 
The style of writing adopted by Nietzsche – although it appealed to him for other reasons too - was dictated by his atrociously poor and declining health, which made it impossible for him to read or write at any length, thus forcing his early retirement from academic life. [The widespread assumption that he had syphilis is just not founded on evidence and does not fit with his lifestyle at all; it is more likely he shared a genetic condition which killed his father.] He was always, however, a highly individual and unconventional thinker, producing work that was disliked by his academic colleagues, and claimed that it was really a liberation to be spared the drudgery of reading other people’s work, with all the restrictions and unwelcome discipline that entailed, and released instead to simply work out and present his own ideas in his own terms. His preferred working method was to take long, solitary walks in beautiful settings, thinking deeply on his chosen topics, jotting brief notes at the time or on his return home, and later compiling these into collections of very short essays, which were often only aphorisms; even this task often depended on the secretarial help of some selfless supporters. From a situation of constant pain and huge limitations he wrote lyrically of dancing and music and poetry.
The Gay Science is a very accessible and entertaining collection of short pieces, rapidly switching from topic to topic, including some that are whimsical and disjointed, yet building up a number of substantial arguments or propositions in the course of the whole volume. He was not writing for passive readers, and insisted that his readers must be actively engaged (not necessarily with reading his works, but with thinking for themselves / ourselves, though presumably in the light of his insights). He is easily compared to essay writing predecessors, not least Montaigne, but given the choice, his ideal format would surely have been a blog on the internet, with facilities for below the line comment and debate beneath every single piece; nobody could be better equipped for sharp banter. I am certain that he is prepared to set out some major arguments bluntly and without elaboration, in the expectation that any serious reader will be drawn by deep reflection to reach the intended conclusions without further guidance. I can only imagine his outrage in the face of 21st Century students, spoon fed in our institutions of higher learning, imagining that their costly fees entitle them to a diet of the bleeding obvious. While Nietzsche introduced or hinted at topics in this volume that he expanded on in later books, I still suggest that it is possible to arrive at the main points of his philosophy from the material in the Gay Science.
Certainly, the Gay Science contains many of Nietzsche’s greatest hits, in a world that loves to display aphorisms and wise sayings out of context; it is in these pages that we learn why we must love our fate and about the concept of eternal recurrence, this is where the madman tells us that we have murdered God, and there is a sense of achievement - at least delighted recognition - as we notch up each of these and other famous lines. But these clever notions, sitting so insouciantly alongside many playful witticisms [there are passages to make me laugh out loud] and not a few spiteful barbs, have a place and a context within an entirely serious discussion about the nature of values, morality, knowledge, truth and science. There is, for example, a perfectly cogent reason why he introduces the concept of the death of God, and it is to say that if we are to understand our system of values, then we need to find an external location from which to examine it, and that is the role we assigned to God for a long time; we cannot stand outside of our own value system in order to attempt an objective assessment because the desire to understand, the will to be truthful or to find the truth, the determination not to be deceived or the wish not to be a deceiver, all of these motivations rest on values and metaphysical assumptions which cannot be made part of a positivist model of science or of knowledge and why would we trust someone claiming otherwise; why indeed would we trust God to be otherwise?
There is a lot of excellent psychology in this volume. In passages arguing for the role of the passions in our reasoning and our belief systems, Nietzsche anticipates very well the way experimental psychology came to view things a century later, notably in the work of Kahnemann (Thinking Fast and Slow) or the writing of António R. Damásio (such as Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain). Nietzsche argues that we are typically disconcerted by anything that is really new, and work hard until we can subsume it under a familiar category of what we believed previously; in effect, knowledge is our way of digesting and destroying anything new, and who is to say that this is not the safest way to live – secure as a member of the herd? Nietzsche simply does not accept that people arrive at their beliefs by reasoning and modern evidence confirms this.
Nietzsche was naturally impressed by the emerging theories of evolution which were new in his time, including Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Spencer’s rather different theories of social evolution. He derides Spencer, but picks up from Darwin the suggestion that natural selection may be based on the most surprising attributes, to the extent that nothing whatsoever is trivial anymore: we cannot assume that wisdom, honesty, truth, good judgement are indeed the qualities that will bring success in the struggle to survive; maybe the fools will survive and prosper, while the thoughtful ones perish; maybe evil will win and virtue will be defeated; wishing it to be otherwise is not especially productive; in a world without the comforting delusion of God, these have become urgent questions and our very survival is at stake in their answers.
That, in the end, is one of the key lessons from this volume: nothing is trivial, all depends on what we do next. It is rather similar to the idea in Chaos Theory, that the flight of a butterfly in Brazil can change the weather in China. He writes: “The most dangerous point of view – What I do now or omit is as important for everything that is to come as the greatest event of the past; seen from this tremendous perspective, from that of their effects, all actions appear equally great and small.”