Friday, March 18, 2011

First MA Presentation on Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The first section of Upon the Blessed Isles could be referring to Nietzsche’s task of cleansing the world of monotheistic dogmatism, for he is a wind from the North, which could be referring to him being Nordic, and the figs could be referring to the desert religions, because of the popularity of figs and dried figs in Middle-Eastern culture. Then Nietzsche makes much of the beautiful surroundings of the earth, the sky, the sea and the seasons in order to introduce through all of this the overman, who is a person that is grounded and centred within the earth and worldliness. And because the overman brings so much promise with him, Lampert explains that, despite how beautiful and fruitful the present may be, and no matter how ripe life and Zarathustra’s new philosophy are for the taking, his disciples “are to gaze into a distant future, to the still more abundant time of the superman.” In fact, Zarathustra says that “into fathers and forefathers of the overman” can his disciples re-create themselves, and he demands that it be the best of all their creations.
God is something merely presupposed, according to Zarathustra, which, even if false, isn’t necessarily, at least not here, what he condemns in it. The problem is that a god would be something beyond one’s creative will, and since no one can actually create a god, Zarathustra says, “do not speak to me of any gods.” However, the overman can be created and striven for, and he is something (perhaps merely a construct) which is the dominating theme of this section of the book. In fact, according to Lampert, the goal of the overman “is incompatible with any teaching of God or gods,” and theism is a “temptation to which his disciples” have fallen prey to. The problem is that God stifles creativity, whereas the overman livens and inspires it. He is an invigorating source of one’s creative will to power. Lampert seems to be reaching, however, when he states that the overman is the inevitable outcome of the will to truth, whereas gods cannot be. For Nietzsche, the will to truth is the human need for metaphysics, and it often shows itself in human-all-too-human beliefs and ventures that are quite untrue and frivolous. He spawned much critique of the will to truth, which in The Gay Science he associates with a curious will to death. Zarathustra gives a normative claim as to what the will to truth ought to be: “that everything be changed into what is thinkable for man, visible for man, feelable by man. You should think through your own senses to their consequences.” This is the demand that the desire for the truth not be for the extra-worldly and unattainable, which can only be achieved through pure contemplation, as with the permanence of Parmenides and the forms of Plato, but rather be directed towards the possible, the real and the achievable. He tells his followers, “And what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your reason, your image, your will, your love shall thus be realized. And verily, for your own bliss, you lovers of knowledge.” This means that not only are they to be courageous in the face of reality, unlike Plato, who, as Nietzsche says in Twilight of the Idols, was a coward in the face of reality and so hid in the ideal, but also that they are to affirm and shape reality and life through their creativity and, hence, self-cultivation. They are to use knowledge as a tool and key to unlock joy and the exuberance of an ever-expanding horizon. All this, will, then, in turn, give them mastery over themselves and the earth, and the happiness of a fulfilled, consummated life and perspective. Meaning, what Zarathustra is offering them here is self-empowerment and honest, prolific fulfillment through the embrace of realism, nature and earthliness. For Nietzsche, a true lover of knowledge would not want things to be any other way, for life would otherwise be unbearable for him. A true lover of knowledge cannot tolerate the incomprehensible or irrational.
As for the existence of the gods, the very fact that Zarathustra could not be one has him negate the possibility of their existence altogether, for he could not tolerate not being able to reach the highest of heights. This, says Lampert, exemplifies Zarathustra’s yearning, which “points to” his heart’s “ruling love of victory.” It is “a rivalry that would be unbearable if such rivals existed.” For Lampert, there is a direct link between Nietzsche’s attack on the gods and his exaltation of man; for “having once drawn the conclusion that no gods exist, a victory-loving man governed by the will to truth is drawn by the conclusion that man is the highest being and the creative thinker the highest man,” and for a person such as this, “the highest thinkable victory must be seen as possible, the whole world must be seen as potentially at his disposal.” This, of course, brings us back to Nietzsche’s realism, his earth-centred will-to-power, and his vision of ascending towards the greatest of all achievements, the overman.
Nietzsche then explicitly attacks Platonic and theistic notions of permanence. He says that “God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn whatever stands.” His Zarathustra asks, “Should time be gone, and all that is impermanent a mere lie?” That is, to think of this world as being a mere appearance of something far more profound and transcendent is the inversion of reality, and the centering of a person’s gravity towards the unreal, the idealistic and the anti-naturalistic. He calls such thinking evil and misanthropic, for it poisons people by convincing them that this world and this life are not to be affirmed but denied for another one, and implies at the end that this metaphysical, ethereal way of thinking is to be blamed on the poets who couldn’t handle reality as it is, and so had to make up a great beyond to negate it. Zarathustra protests this and demands that all parables praise and justify all impermanence. Lampert puts emphasis on the fear of death as being the sole reason that this otherworldliness had to be invented by the poets and sustained by their fabricated gods in the first place. “The creativity of the poets who attribute the world to the creativity of gods,” says Lampert, “is to be replaced by the creativity of men who know themselves to be creating a human world.” Zarathustra praises our fleeting, mortal lives, and calls for a poetry that would “celebrate and reflect the creative life that is itself a series of deaths and transformations,” hence why he states, “that the creator may be, suffering is needed and much change. Indeed, there must be much bitter dying in your life, you creators.” The creating and shaping of the beautiful “in the celebration of mortal things seems to be” Zarathustra’s preferred response to the oppressive, looming fear of death, according to Lampert. Zarathustra explains that creation is the great redeemer of suffering and nihilistic feelings of life’s meaninglessness. This is what justifies all impermanence. He likens the creator, or artist, to a woman in labour, and speaks of “the pangs of the birth-giver,” which is Nietzsche’s metaphorical and poetic likening of labour pains to the suffering of, and eventual pangs within, the artist in creating, or being led to create, something new and life-enhancing, hence why he likens the artistic creation to a “child who is newly born.”
What is unique about Zarathustra is that his fervent will of creating is impelled towards men as the sculpture’s hammer is impelled toward stone. In shaping men with a hammer he aims to bring the overman out of them - for the overman is a mere shadow now - and this, to him, is the greatest creation and gift he could ever give to mankind, as both an artist and philosopher. This kind of willing, Nietzsche feels, is his ultimate liberation, as willing itself, we are told, is something liberating, and this is, as far as I can see, a praise of art as a catalyst towards self-emancipation. “Whatever in me has feeling,” says Zarathustra, “suffers and is in prison; but my will always comes to me as my liberator and joy-bringer.” That is, he is set free through his philosophical, artistic endeavours. They are his passion, and he is compelled from within himself to fulfill this ardour of his. In this way, it is released into the world of people, and for him, this is truly a beautiful, life-affirming expression of his will to power. To will no more and esteem no longer, however, are things that Nietzsche sincerely wants to stay far away from him, for such a way of being is a nihilistic expression of bodily and world-weariness and the embrace of nothingness – it is the will to nothingness, and it is something that a free spirit wants no part of. For his disciples to become bridges to the overman, they must free the will imprisoned inside them. And now that he has discovered the very notion of the overman – a being so great, prolific and profound – he asks, “O my brothers, what are the gods to me now?”

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