What Nietzsche Taught

Page 29 of 74

Everything that is thought, versified, painted and composed, yea, even built and moulded, belongs either to monologic art, or to art before witnesses. Under the latter there is also to be included the apparently monologic art which involves the belief in God, the whole lyric of prayer; because for a pious man there is no solitude,—we, the godless, have been the first to devise this invention. 328

A "scientific" interpretation of the world as you understand it might consequently still be one of the stupidest,[Pg 132] that is to say, the most destitute of significance, of all possible world-interpretations.... An essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless World! 339-340

We, the new, the nameless, the hard-to-understand, we firstlings of a yet untried future—we require for a new end also a new means, namely, a new healthiness, stronger, sharper, tougher, bolder and merrier than any healthiness hitherto. 351

Another ideal runs on before us, a strange, tempting ideal, full of danger, to which we should not like to persuade any one, because we do not so readily acknowledge any one's right thereto: the ideal of a spirit who plays naively (that is to say involuntarily and from overflowing abundance and power) with everything that has hitherto been called holy, good, inviolable, divine; to whom the loftiest conception which the people have reasonably made their measure of value, would already imply danger, ruin, abasement, or at least relaxation, blindness, or temporary self-forgetfulness; the ideal of a humanly superhuman welfare and benevolence, which may often enough appear inhuman. ... 352-353

[Pg 133]


"Thus Spake Zarathustra"

He student of Nietzsche can well afford to leave the reading of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" ("Also Sprach Zarathustra") until he has prepared himself for the task by studying Nietzsche's other and less obscure books. In both its conception and execution it differs markedly from all the works which preceded and followed it. It is written in an archaic and poetical style, and in many places is purposely obscure. Nietzsche did not intend it for the general public, and the fourth part was not published until seven years after its completion. It would have been better had "Zarathustra" been withheld from the presses until Nietzsche's other works had gained a wider recognition, for it unfortunately lays itself open to all manner of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In fact, it is impossible to read "Thus Spake Zarathustra" comprehendingly until several of the other books of this philosopher, such as "The Dawn of Day," "The Genealogy of Morals" and "Beyond Good and Evil," have been consumed and assimilated.

Unfortunately this book, because of the attractive medium of its style, was one of the first to fall into the hands of English speaking people. For many years it was the principal source of the many false accusations against Nietzsche which gained wide circulation. The figures of speech contained in it and the numerous parables which are used to set forth its ideas lend themselves[Pg 134] all too easily to falsities of judgment and erroneous evaluations. Reading the book unpreparedly one may find what appear to be unexplainable contradictions and ethical sophistries. Above all, one may wrongly sense the absence of that higher ethical virtue which is denied Nietzsche in quarters where he is least understood, but which every close student of his works knows to form the basis of his thought.

Nietzsche began the writing of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" early in the year 1883, and he did not finish it until the middle of February, 1885. The actual conception of the book came much before this time even, as far back as the summer of 1881. This is when the idea of eternal recurrence first took possession of him. At once he began making notes, using this idea as the basis of Zarathustra's teachings. At this time Nietzsche was just recovering from a siege of ill health which had extended over many years, and no doubt the buoyant and rhapsodic form in which he conceived this work was due to his sudden acquisition of bodily health. The first part was written in ten days, the second part a few months later, and the third part in the autumn of the same year. But it was not until after a lapse of eighteen months that the fourth and last section was completed. Because of this long interval we see a radical difference between the first three parts of the book and the last part. The language remains very much the same throughout—spectacular, poetic and symbolic—but the form is changed. The epigrammatic and non-sequacious mandates give way to a long connected parable. The psalmodie brevity of the utterances of the first three sections is supplanted by description and narrative. A story runs through the entire fourth part; and it is in[Pg 135] the obscurities of this fable, rather than in any specific statements, that we must seek the gist of Nietzsche's doctrines. This would be an impossible task were we not more or less familiar with his other books. Yet, once we understand the general trend of his thought, we can penetrate at once to the meanings hidden in the fantastic divagations of his story and can understand the dithyrambic utterances of both Zarathustra and the "higher men" in the cave.

"Thus Spake Zarathustra" is unique for the reason that there are few points in Nietzsche's system of ethic -and for the most part they are the unimportant ones—which we cannot find somewhere in its pages. But do not think that one can grasp an idea of the sweep of his entire thought merely by reading this book. Even in the most simply worded and most lucidly phrased passages one would find difficulty in following the steps in his philosophy, unless there had been considerable preparatory study. To be sure, there are numerous isolated epigrams and bits of observation which are easily understood, but their mere isolation very often robs them of the true meaning they hold when related to the other precepts. The very literalness with which these passages have been taken by those who have read "Zarathustra" before studying any of the other works of Nietzsche, accounts in a large measure for the ignorance in which he is held even by those who profess to have read him and understood him. A philosophy such as his, the outposts of which are so far removed from the routine of our present social life, is naturally hampered by the restricted connotation of current words—even those technical words used to express abstract and infinite things. For this reason it is inevitable that false meanings should[Pg 136] attach to many of his statements, and that misunderstandings should arise in quarters where there does not exist a previous general knowledge of the co-ordinated structure of his teachings. This general knowledge cannot be gained from "Thus Spake Zarathustra." Many of its pages are entirely without significance to the reader not already acquainted with Nietzsche's thought. And much of its nomenclature is meaningless without the explanations to be found in the main body of his work.

For the reader, however, who picks up this book after having equipped himself for an understanding of it, there is much of fascination and stimulation. Nietzsche regarded it as his most intimate and personal, and therefore his most important, work. He even had plans for two more parts which were to be included in it. But these were never finished. The indifference with which the book was received, even by those on whose sympathy and understanding he had most counted, reacted unfavourably upon him. It is nevertheless, just as it stands, one of the most remarkable pieces of philosophic literature of modern times. Its form alone makes it unique. Instead of stating his beliefs directly and without circumlocution, as was always his method both before and after the writing of this book, Nietzsche chose for his mouthpiece a poet and philosopher borrowed from the Persians, namely: Zoroaster. This sage of the ancients was used as a symbol of the higher man. Into his mouth were put Nietzsche's own ideas in the form of parables, admonitions, exhortations and discourses. The wanderings and experiences of this Zoroaster are chronicled, and each event in his life embodies a meaning in direct accord with the Nietzschean system of conduct.

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