Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Friday, October 29, 2010

NIETZSCHE: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When Zarathustra was thirty years old he left his home and went into the mountains. Here he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, for ten years. This is the way Nietzsche’s story begins. Or it could be his own philosophy, take your pick. Zarathustra, now forty years old, comes back down from the mountains and proclaims: I am weary of my wisdom…I must descend to the depths…I must go under. Whatever that means. Zarathustra speaks as if he’s the first one who’s ever felt that way. But the Preacher in Ecclesiastes was weary of his wisdom three thousand years ago: As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. Sometimes I get tired of my wisdom too. It’s hard being wise. But Zarathustra was not one to suffer in silence. He wanted to tell the whole world about it. His years of solitude had given him a new vision of life. But Aristotle’s Politics says he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he isn’t a part of society. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature… After ten years alone in the mountains has Zarathustra become a beast or has he become a god? The answer probably depends on the reader. Some folks will think Zarathustra has become a sociopath (Definition: one who is affected with a personality disorder marked by antisocial behavior). Other readers will think Zarathustra has transcended human boundaries and become almost god-like. In this selection the term god-like has been translated as “overman.” Zarathustra says Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! … Other translations may use the word “superman” but superman evokes an image of a guy in a cape wearing tights. Nietzsche would be highly offended by that popular image. Nietzsche’s superman is a super-human tough guy who says What matters my happiness? My reason? My virtue? My justice? My pity? What matters most to this superman is to break the bonds that are holding us back from achieving our full human potential. A big part of our redemption as fully conscious human beings is to free ourselves from the bondage of religion. Zarathustra preaches that it is Not your sin but your dullness that cries to heaven… God isn’t worried that we’re sinning too much but that we’re too timid to break even minor rules, much less sin. Besides, there’s no such thing as sin because God is dead! There’s also no need to be afraid of what happens after we die: Behold, I teach you the overman. …there is no devil and no hell. Your soul will be dead even before your body: fear nothing further. To walk through life bravely and calmly, without fear, creating new values without regret, this is the goal of the new superman. This is what Zarathustra preaches. It’s a powerful message; especially when we consider what Zarathustra sees as the alternative: Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse. We can either remain “normal” and dull or we can follow the path of Neitzsche: companions I need, living ones, not dead companions and corpses whom I carry with myself wherever I want to. Living companions I need, who follow me because they want to follow themselves, wherever I want. Nietzsche calls out to those who feel alienated from this world: there’s a reason why you feel that way. You despise the herd. The reason Zarathustra has come is To lure many away from the herd, that’s why I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me: Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the shepherds. Aristotle is apparently one of those shepherds. Aristotle says man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all… Nietzsche wants us to go beyond law and justice and become Superhuman. For Aristotle just being a normal human being is hard enough. Living in “a herd” makes is more human, not less. As for the herd Zarathustra has this to say: They do not understand me: I am not the mouth for their ears. He’s right on both counts.


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