Monday, April 14, 2008

Thus Spoke Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900. He was a nineteenth-century German philologist and philosopher. He wrote critiques of religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, using a distinctive German language style and displaying a fondness for aphorism. Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. His style, and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth, raise considerable problems of interpretation, generating an extensive secondary literature in both continental and analytic philosophy. Nonetheless, his key ideas include interpreting tragedy as an affirmation of life, an eternal recurrence that has become subject to numerous interpretations, a reversal of Platonism, and a repudiation of (especially 19th-century) Christianity.

Nietzsche began his career as a philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he became the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, the youngest ever holder of this post, but resigned in 1879 due to health problems, which would plague him for most of his life. In 1889 he exhibited symptoms of a serious mental illness, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (German: Also sprach Zarathustra, sometimes translated Thus Spake Zarathustra), subtitled A Book for All and None (Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen), is a work by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885. It famously declares that "God is dead", elaborates Nietzsche's conception of the will to power, and serves as an introduction to his doctrine of eternal return.

Described by Nietzsche himself as "the deepest ever written", the book is a dense and esoteric treatise on philosophy and morality, featuring as protagonist a fictionalized Zarathustra. The text encompasses passages of poetry and song, often mocking Judaeo-Christian morality and tradition.

Nietzsche injects myriad ideas into the book, but there are a few recurring themes. The overman (Übermensch), a self-mastered individual who has achieved his full power, is an almost omnipresent idea in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Man as a race is merely a bridge between animals and the overman. Nietzsche also makes a point that the overman is not an end result for a person, but more the journey toward self-mastery.

The eternal recurrence, found elsewhere in Nietzsche's writing, is also mentioned. The eternal recurrence is the idea that all events that have happened will happen again, infinitely many times. Such a reality can serve as the litmus test for an overman. Faced with the knowledge that he would repeat every action that he has taken, an overman would be elated as he has no regrets and loves life.

The will to power is the fundamental component of human nature. Everything we do is an expression of the will to power. The will to power is a psychological analysis of all human action and is accentuated by self-overcoming and self-enhancement. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man's struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it.

Copious criticisms of Christianity can be found in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in particular Christian values of good and evil and its purported lie of an afterlife. Nietzsche sees the complacency of Christian values as fetters to the achievement of overman as well as on the human spirit. Contrasting sharply with Christianity, Nietzsche praises lust, selfishness, while reproaching the rewarded concepts of pity and love for neighbors.

Nietzsche is considered unique among philosophers by some scholars for what is widely regarded as the power and effectiveness of his rhetorical style — particularly as manifested in Zarathustra. The indigestible "heaviness" long associated with German-language philosophy is eschewed, with puns and paradoxes abounding, and aphoristic brevity characteristic of parable and even poetry. The end result is a manner of writing which, being "pitched half-way between metaphor and literal statement", is "something quite extraordinary".

A vulnerability of Nietzsche's style is that his nuances and shades of meaning are very easily lost — and all too easily gained — in translation. The Übermensch is particularly problematic: the equivalent "Superman" found in dictionaries and in the translations by Thomas Common and R.J. Hollingdale may create an unfortunate association with the heroic comic-character "Superman", while simultaneously detracting from Nietzsche's repeated play on "über".

The "Übermensch" is the being that overcomes the "great nausea" associated with nihilism; that overcomes that most "abysmal" realization of the eternal return. He is the being that "sails over morality", and that dances over gravity (the "spirit of gravity" is Zarathustra's devil and archenemy). He is a "harvester" and a "celebrant" who endlessly affirms his existence, thereby becoming the transfigurer of his consciousness and life, aesthetically. He is initially a destructive force, excising and annihilating the insidious "truths" of the herd, and consequently reclaiming the chaos from which pure creativity is born. It is this creative force exemplified by the Übermensch that justifies suffering without displacing it in some "afterworld".