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Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
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Oct 07, 08


Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra remains one of the most powerful and cryptic tomes in the history western thought. Is this a work of philosophy or poetry? Due to the immense power of Nietzsche's writing, it remains highly readable, even for those who are not usually comfortable reading philosophy. In the prologue, Nietzsche describes Zarathustra's isolation in the mountains and his intention to descend so that he can teach mankind. Zarathustra proclaims that God is dead and the overman, the sort of man who has overcome his own nature. Zarathustra proclaims: "The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope" (17). Nietzsche is passing his philosophical project onto Zarathustra as an author might pass his personal impressions onto a fictional character. Zarathustra is a new symbol of wisdom in the modern era; he teaches that man is now burdened with the task of creating a meaning for himself. In Zarathustra's speeches, he speaks of the "three metamorphoses of the spirit" (25), which include how the spirit becomes a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion a child. For Nietzsche, even the lion of freedom is not sufficient; the child who can create represents the possibility of an overman. Zarathustra says: "The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred `Yes.' For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred `Yes' is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world" (27). Zarathustra teaches man that God is the result of an act of creation, that man is capable of willing new gods and goals. He says: "this god whom I created was man-made and madness, like all Gods!" (33). Zarathustra might be called the God of the Body as he claims that it was originally the sick and decaying who hated the body and nature and subsequently created heaven. Zarathustra provides and alternative: "Listen rather, my brothers, to the voice of the healthy body: that is a more honest and purer voice. More honestly and purely speaks the healthy body that is perfect and perpendicular: and it speaks of the meaning of the earth" (33). Zarathustra warns man of the power of `Good and Evil,' of preachers of virtues and the soul. However, for all of man's creative efforts in conjuring systems of value, man still is left without a clear goal. Zarathustra concludes the first book by insisting that he will only return when his listeners have denied him, for he desires to cultivate an independence of thought.
In the second book, Zarathustra returns and begins to speak about creation and pitying. In the second section (Upon the Blessed Isles), he argues that "God is a conjecture; but I desire that your conjectures should not reach beyond your creative will. Could you create a god? Then do not speak to me of any gods. But you could well create the overman [...] of the overman you could recreate yourselves: and let this be your best creation" (86). For Zarathustra, creation is the solution to redeem man from his suffering. Additionally, man's will to power is a potentially liberating capacity. In the fifth section, Zarathustra critically examines different conceptions of traditional virtue. He says: "you are too pure for the filth of the words: revenge, punishment, reward, retribution" (94). After much vivisection and refutation, Zarathustra moves into a discussion of the possible meaning of existence for man in the section On the Tarantulas. Here, he makes a proposal: "For that man be delivered from revenge, that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms" (99). Zarathustra warns man to mistrust all who have a powerful inclination to seek revenge and enact punishment.In book three, Zarathustra continues his prophetic teachings to mankind, though he insists that he is "Godless" (170). He reflects about the absence of having a true audience; one gets the impression that Zarathustra is echoing Nietzsche's loneliness as a largely unrecognized philosopher and writer. He continues with a transvaluation of all values wherein Zarathustra declares the `three best cursed things,' which are: "sex, the lust to rule, [and] selfishness" (188). He condemns Christianity's disapproval of these things, arguing that sex represents a happiness of the body, the lust to rule is a variant of the will to power, and selfishness is a mode of self enjoyment. Zarathustra is concerned that the dominant institutions of our time have conditioned human beings to hate and fear themselves. Additionally, he teaches man about man's ultimate purpose, which he describes in the third section of `The Old and New Tablets,' where he writes: "There it was too that I picked up the word `overman' by the way, and that man is something that must be overcome-that man is a bridge and no end" (198). For Zarathustra, a going under is a crossing over, a transition. In this way, mankind is taught to confront his own mortality.
In `The Convalescent,' Zarathustra rests for seven days after a collapse in his cave. He is upset with the animals for watching him in pain, for pain and cruelty (whether it is directed inward or outward) is the greatest flaw of man. It is here that Zarathustra gives his most profound teaching: "Alas, man recurs eternally! The small man recurs eternally!' Zarathustra has established his reason for being: to teach the eternal recurrence of the same. All events and beings of the universe have existed an infinite number of times and will continue to repeat eternally. Zarathustra claims: "I myself belong to the causes of the eternal recurrence. I come again, with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, with this serpent-not to a new life or a better life or a similar life: I come back eternally to this same, selfsame life, in what is greatest as in what is smallest, to teach again the eternal recurrence of all the things" (221). It is because of the eternal recurrence of the same that mankind should affirm life and will subsequently overcome nihilism. Zarathustra expresses a desire that mankind embrace himself as such, and to be willing to act as a bridge for something greater. He declares: "You are mere bridges: may men higher than you stride over you. You signify steps: therefore do not be angry with him who climbs over you to his height" (283). According to Zarathustra, it is only since God has died that mankind can be resurrected. In `On the Higher Man,' Zarathustra announces the life of the overman, an indication of a higher being able to climb over man. Zarathustra announces: "O my brothers, what I can love in man is that he is an overture and a going under [...] Overcome these masters of today, O my brothers-these small people, they are the overman's greatest danger" (287). Human beings must, in accordance with their nature, be willing to go down in order to go across. They are the bridge to something higher. The thought of eternal return contains many facets and implications. One the one hand, the notion of eternity without the trajectory of a goal and without a definitive close could be viewed as the essence of nihilism or pessimism. However, this is not a complete thought of eternal recurrence. Yet if the thinker understands the relation between nihilism and the eternal recurrence of the same, he can fully affirm life.
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