Contemporary Approaches to Thus Spake Zarathustra
As evidenced by this excerpt describing the scholarly reception of Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche held no delusions concerning the inability of his contemporaries to contextualize his radical approach to metaphysics. "...It would be an utter contradiction of myself to expect to find any welcome for my truth today: the fact that today no one listens to me, that no one knows how to receive what I have to offer, is not only comprehensible but quite proper" (854). While it has been considered Nietzsche's most popular book, Thus Spake Zarathustra remained incomprehensible to scholars for much of the twentieth century.
Yet, in the context of examining Nietzsche's overall philosophy modernist scholars during the first half of the twentieth century used isolated aspects of Zarathustra, often just the idea of Übermensch, to assign to Nietzsche an absolutist and highly disturbing meaning. M.A. Mügge assigns Zarathustra to Nietzsche's last period of writing. Mügge described this period as a time when "the philosopher grows dumb, and the prophet rises and preaches that great something which is to be the aim of--Life" (294). For Mügge Zarathustra consists of a biblical prophecy rather than a metaphysical examination of existence. Mügge wrote, "We shall finally consider Nietzsche as a prophet, as a man who foretells the future, who gives an aim to mankind, who fixes a goal for humanity" (359). Such an approach resides in the context of the modernist perspective in which the world is seen as a progression toward a specific goal. Mügge and other early interpreters of Nietzsche such as H.L. Mencken and Will Durant view Nietzsche's basic philosophy purely in terms of the anticipated results of this philosophy.
In the words of Mencken, "Nietzsche found that all existing moral ideas might be divided into two broad classes, corresponding to the two broad varieties of human beings--the masters and the slaves" (82). Mügge narrowed Mencken's interpretation even further when he wrote his own version of what he regarded as Nietzsche's ultimate goal:
By examining Thus Spake Zarathustra with regard to isolated ideas rather than considering the work's total form and content, these scholars failed to realize the extent to which Nietzsche was reworking Western metaphysics. The resulting interpretations seem to ascribe to Nietzsche the role of soothsayer whose prophecy was the creation of a master race of aristocrats who would be bred and educated for the purpose of ruling (Durant 320). Such views of Nietzsche's philosophy are attributable to the approaches of Nietzsche's interpreters rather than to the intent of the philosopher.
More recently scholars such as Laurence Lampert and Kathleen Marie Higgins have examined Thus Spake Zarathustra as a work of literature. By approaching Zarathustra in its entirety rather than excerpting aspects of the work out of context as a part of Nietzsche's total philosophy, these scholars have shed considerable light on Nietzsche's masterwork. Their interpretations are especially important to the discussion at hand because their holistic approach is the manner in which it must be presumed O'Neill approached Zarathustra. Therefore the basic approaches of both Lampert and Higgins will be examined before more closely analyzing the subjects of perspectivism, nihilism, eternal recurrence and love and marriage.
As early as 1909 Thus Spake Zarathustra was considered "the most widely read of Nietzsche's works" (Mügge 71). Yet it was not until the latter half of the twentieth century that this work was examined as a fictional story rather than solely as a part of a larger philosophical canon. Laurence Lampert's Nietzsche's Teaching approaches Zarathustra as literature with philosophical content. In his introduction, he stated:
Robert Gooding-Williams later emphasized the importance of considering the style in which Nietzsche wrote Zarathustra when considering the possibility of Nietzsche as a postmodernist. He wrote, "If Nietzsche is in fact a postmodernist, then his postmodernism is a distinctively modernist postmodernism" (231). Lampert and Gooding-Williams each distinguish the style of Zarathustra as that of a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Through this traditional literary format, Nietzsche reveals his radical philosophical approach to life. This distinction is the point of departure for Lampert's analysis.
According to Lampert Thus Spake Zarathustra is the story of Zarathustra's evolution from being a herald of a new teacher to his becoming that teacher himself. "What Zarathustra merely heralds in part I, he comes to recognize as his own task in part II and sets out to accomplish in part III" (14). For Lampert this progression is what Nietzsche was describing in his subtitle for the book "A Book for All and None." As herald, Zarathustra announces the coming of the superman to all the people. He discovers that no one will listen to him and decides to train a small group of disciples to teach the coming of the superman. Gradually, Zarathustra's audience narrows until it is Zarathustra himself who is both teacher and pupil. Zarathustra discovers for himself the message which is to be taught by the superman, the message of eternal recurrence of all things. "By moving from all to none, Nietzsche's book shows that there exists as yet no audience for the teaching that Zarathustra gradually learns" (7). Lampert's approach to Zarathustra places the main character in the role of teacher who during the course of the book becomes his own student thus becoming the character whose coming was the subject of his own original teaching.
Lampert sees the major theme which runs through Thus Spake Zarathustra as the identification of error within Western metaphysics and Nietzsche's attempt to correct that error by exposing the assumptions on which it is based. The character of Zarathustra is based on the ancient Persian prophet known by the Greeks as Zoroaster (Lampert 2). According to Nietzsche, "Zarathustra was the first to see in the struggle between good and evil the essential wheel in the working of things. The translation of morality into metaphysics, as force, first cause, end-in-itself, is his work" (Ecce Homo 925). Nietzsche's Zarathustra retracts this "calamitous error, the error around which the world has turned" (Lampert 3). Zarathustra's initial metaphysical error is replaced with a new doctrine, which will not include morality as integral to the workings of the universe.
It is significant that Nietzsche chose Zarathustra to be the herald of the teacher of this new metaphysic. Western civilization has been living under the assumption first introduced by Zarathustra. But Zarathustra "has remained a practitioner of his highest virtue, will to truth, that is also his work, he has finally come to recognize his calamitous error, the error around which the world has turned" (Lampert 3). The suggestion here is, presumably, that if the man who developed the idea on which Western civilization is based is able recant his previous teaching then Western civilization should pay heed.
For Lampert, "Zarathustra focuses on the Platonic Socrates and on Christianity as the sources of the teaching through which the moral interpretation of temporal phenomena gained sway in the West" (3). The idea that "mankind is ultimately responsible to something beyond itself" is grounded in Platonic philosophy (198). In the West this principle has been transformed into Christianity in which the object of human adoration is the figure of Christ to whom all people must swear fidelity and whose teachings must be adhered to because they are the essence of absolute good and evil. Zarathustra takes place in a time in which faith in the object of worship is no longer present in the lives of the people, but in which the historic assumptions on which that faith is based still hold sway. It is the modern age.
Lampert suggested that Nietzsche's thought as explicated in Zarathustra differs from modernists such as Descartes and Bacon whose scientific philosophies brought about the death of God because "Nietzsche's fable of Zarathustra makes clear that a new beginning is required" (268). Like Plato and his Christian descendants, modernists continue "the aim of complete technical management of nature, civil society, and the human body" (271). Nietzsche on the other hand is concerned with "the recovery of nature" (274). Thus, the modernists are seen by Lampert as an extension of previous metaphysics. Nietzsche on the other hand breaks from the past and calls for a humanity:
Thus, Lampert sees Thus Spake Zarathustra as the chronicle of one man's journey from the precondition of the death of God to the position of complete independence from the old moral and metaphysical order. It is this position of metaphysical independence which is the point of departure for postmodern philosophers.
While Lampert focused on a textual analysis of Thus Spake Zarathustra, Kathleen Marie Higgins concentrated on Nietzsche's form and structure in her analysis titled Nietzsche's Zarathustra. For Higgins "one of Zarathustra's great merits is that it is open-ended and extremely provocative" (xviii). Through her analysis Higgins attempted to clarify the ambiguity of Zarathustra's form in relation to the text.
Higgins grounded her perception of Zarathustra "in the context of thought experiments that Nietzsche had conducted previously" (xvii). Most important to Higgins' stance were The Birth of Tragedy and Daybreak. The Birth of Tragedy provided a framework for Nietzsche's view of human existence while Daybreak delineated Nietzsche's critique of Christian morality. The Birth of Tragedy offered an aesthetic, pre-Socratic approach to life and art which can be seen as the foundation of Nietzsche's approach to metaphysics. Daybreak attacked the absolutist metaphysic in its most prevalent incarnation, Christianity. Thus, Higgins approached Zarathustra as a synthesis of these two concerns. In other words, Zarathustra is the full articulation of Nietzsche's view of Zoroaster's initial metaphysical error, and his plan to correct this error.
A third concern of Zarathustra with which Higgins dealt is the problem of communication in which Nietzsche attempts to "address the paradox involved in human communication, the paradox that communication must bridge the chasm between individual experience and communal understanding" (98). In Higgins' view "the book's fictional format makes this kind of communication possible" (105). Within the context of a novel, Nietzsche is able to present not only the content of his doctrine but also the condition in which Zarathustra speaks. Thus, Zarathustra's approach and message change depending on the particular audience to whom he speaks, his own particular mood at the time and his own state of development.
Higgins identifies the conflict in Zarathustra as the conflict between "Zarathustra's teaching and his inner state" (142). Through a fictional approach Nietzsche is able to give voice to Zarathustra's speeches to others as well as his own internal dialogue. In this way the book serves to communicate to its reader on several levels. "Thus Spake Zarathustra is not only a series of speeches directed to us as an audience; it is also a narrative that has an internal integrity and is written for an audience only in an indirect way" (96). For Nietzsche the very act of speech involves a condition in which the speaker and listener are forever separated by the limitations of speech itself. For Higgins the structure of Zarathustra reflects the ambivalence between speaker and listener. As a teacher Zarathustra must attempt to voice his own deepest insights into the condition of life in a manner which can articulate these thoughts.
A final obstacle to developing and articulating Zarathustra's vision of life is his own internal inconsistency. Higgins wrote, "Zarathustra is frequently confused about his own perspective and that both he and his doctrine are continuously in the throes of growing pains" (133). The first indication of Zarathustra's self-doubt occurs at the conclusion of Part I. After delivering his message to a group of hand selected disciples, "Zarathustra repudiates his stance as an authority figure" (132). Higgins views Part II as "a pattern of increasingly pronounced dissonance between the confident tone of Zarathustra's teaching and his growing suspicion that they neither represent wisdom nor assure a sense of meaning in his life" (136). Part II ends with Zarathustra in dialogue with a voiceless voice (Zarathustra 159). The voice urges Zarathustra to speak what he knows, but he refuses. For Higgins, Zarathustra's condition is the condition of all humanity, "the truth about life can never be spoken" (Higgins 142). The voice chides Zarathustra, not for his inability to articulate his knowledge, but because Zarathustra is ashamed of his inadequacy. This self-doubt articulates Zarathustra's failure as a communicator. More importantly, the shame that Zarathustra feels keeps him from further pursuing his goals and developing into a superior, childlike state.
Seen in this light Higgins suggested that Thus Spake Zarathustra is modeled on Greek tragedy as defined by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy. Zarathustra struggles between his knowledge of the world as chaotic and irrational and his desire to structure it in an orderly manner. Zarathustra's entire doctrine calls into question "the value of human existence" (20). For Higgins Zarathustra's chief obstacle is to maintain the clarity of his vision without slipping "into the orientation of the Christian worldview he rejects" (238). That worldview is characterized by the desire to organize a characteristically chaotic universe. In this way Zarathustra must find a balance between the Dionysian and Apollonian stances which struggle within him. According to Higgins, this constitutes the plot and story of Zarathustra.
Laurence Lampert and Kathleen Marie Higgins offer two very different approaches to Thus Spake Zarathustra. Lampert's approach examines Zarathustra as a story. Taken as such Lampert concludes that Zarathustra begins with a quest to teach the lesson of the superman to humanity. The story ends with Zarathustra's development into the superman. Higgins takes a more ambiguous route by looking at Nietzsche's style. For Higgins there is no such definitive conclusion to the story of Zarathustra. In her view the success of Zarathustra as teacher is dubious. He has failed to teach his doctrine to anyone with the exception of the tightrope walker who is comforted by Zarathustra as he dies (14). As a speaker and as a teacher Zarathustra has failed. Yet despite such failure, the end of the book finds Zarathustra preparing to descend the mountain again to teach mankind once more. "He has made peace with his failures and feels ready to return to his work as a teacher" (233). Moreover, "folly and nonsense have been Zarathustra's constant companions throughout the book" (233). For Higgins Zarathustra's success is his pursuit of his goal despite his past failures and probable future failure and in his willingness to pursue this goal alone.
Higgins believes that the lesson of Zarathustra is the "recognition that the value of his [Zarathustra's] present activity does not derive from the eventual 'happiness' it may produce, but instead is a quality of the activity itself" (234). Zarathustra's success is not in achieving a goal, but in the process of learning and growing each moment. It is "to be fully engaged in one's present" (239). Higgins summed up Nietzsche's world view by stating, "Our lives are meaningful when we love our lives" (240). This love can only occur through the struggle to maintain balance and through self awareness and will to truth.
While Lampert and Higgins each approach Thus Spake Zarathustra in differently, each acknowledges the open-endedness of this work. Eugene O'Neill also seemed to appreciate the possibilities of meaning in Zarathustra when he reported that "every year or so I reread it and am never disappointed" (Letters 246). In examining the selected Nietzschean concepts which constitutes the remainder of the chapter attention must be given both to the story and style of Zarathustra as both contain meaning. This examination therefore will not attempt to exhaust possible meanings, but will attempt to explore different approaches which might prove useful in application to O'Neill's work.
In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche describes three spiritual levels, which he calls "the three metamorphoses" (22). The first level is the camel, whose spirit is marked by the willingness to use its strength to bear weight for others. The camel represents the individual who is content to consign the spirit to an absolutist god and dedicate life to service. Nietzsche describes the master of the camel as a golden dragon, a mythical beast, whose values are of the past, but who continues to rule the camel with the command, "thou shalt!" (24). The camel responds, I shall. The camel spirit represents the few who are willing to suffer in the service of their absolutist belief system.
The second level is symbolized by the lion, who denies the dragon's power with the words, "I will" (24). The lion is a selfish beast who cannot create new values for itself, but can and does reject the values of the dragon. By rejecting the dragon's values, the Lion takes an important step toward spiritual freedom. But, because the lion's values are formed through the opposition to those of the dragon, it is still ruled by the dragon. The lion is evil because the lion is aware of the moral structure but takes pleasure in rejecting it. The lion preys on the camel because it knows that the camel's spirit is bound by the values of the dragon. Yet, because the lion only rejects values, it does not even accept the values which it might agree with. Rather "now is it forced to find illusion and arbitrariness even in the holiest things" (24). Thus, it is this spiritual state in which the nihilism associated with both Nietzsche and O'Neill come into play. The lion is often found in O'Neill's plays, rejecting the accepted order of the universe and trying to replace that order with an alternative construct.
The third and highest level of Nietzsche's metamorphoses is the child. The child's spirit is moved by, "Innocence..., and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea" (25). The child plays the game of creating its own spiritual life. The child has no knowledge of the dragon or the dragon's values. The child creates "its own will" (25). Disassociated from all structure, the child involves itself in free-play. It is able to experiment with life and to accept, reject or create beliefs as it sees fit. There is no past nor a future; all is present. The child says, "I can," and does so because no structure offers guidance as to right and wrong (25). The child is beyond good or evil. Such a spiritually free soul is, according to Nietzsche, an attribute of the superman.
Such personal freedom of thought and action is for Nietzsche the highest spiritual goal. The spirit of the child represents complete personal autonomy in which the subject itself becomes the golden dragon to which all moral authority is given. For the child spirit the structure of existence is no longer viewed in opposition to any other absolutist ideal, but is developed through experiencing existence. Thus, the goals of the child spirit are rooted in present experience rather than the sins of the past or hope of salvation for the future.
Through the parable of "The Three Metamorphoses," Nietzsche presented a history of Western metaphysics. The camel spirit can be seen as an absolutist metaphysic in which meaning and morality is derived from service to a perceived godhead. The lion spirit seeks to break from the absolutist structure but cannot create any new values to replace the old, which corresponds to the modernist world view. The child spirit seeks to create values for itself without regard to established structures, an approach to life that can be seen as a postmodern attitude toward life. This parable demonstrates in simple terms the radical shift in Western metaphysics which Nietzsche was heralding in Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Such an approach to the parable of "The Three Metamorphoses" contradicts traditional Nietzschean interpretations by focusing on individual spiritual growth. In Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Lampert emphasized that approaches such as Durant's or Mügge's which envision a race of elite supermen bred for world dominance is erroneous. "Zarathustra's sensational teaching on the superman...makes it clear that he does not herald the coming of supermen: nowhere does he picture such a plurality" (20). The superman is not a living being, but a process of spiritual growth which results in spiritual autonomy. The first step toward this goal is the time Nietzsche calls "the hour of great contempt" referring to the nay-saying associated with the second spiritual level of the lion (Zarathustra 7). It is a time when the individual ends the struggle for happiness and begins the struggle for moral truth through the rejection of existing value systems (8). The road toward creating one's personal truth is long and difficult as demonstrated by Zarathustra's own struggle and failure.
Both Lampert and Higgins see Zarathustra's story in terms of his personal growth rather than his success as a teacher. In the final moments of Zarathustra there is not an end but a beginning as Zarathustra once more descends his mountain (368). It is significant that Zarathustra's growth during the course of the book is spiritual rather than material. Zarathustra's success lies in what he has learned, not what he does.
Zarathustra's teaching of the superman first occurs in the prologue part four (8). It is here that Zarathustra describes man as a "rope stretched between the animal and the superman--a rope over an abyss" (8). The image suggests human spiritual evolution beyond the present stage. The superman is a being toward which all should strive.
In the midst of Zarathustra's initial teaching, a rope dancer interrupts with a dangerous performance. The crowd heckles him and a jester causes him to fall. He is mortally hurt. The dying dancer tells Zarathustra that he is afraid of hell. Zarathustra comforts him, telling him that such a place does not exist and "fear, therefore, nothing any more" (14). Zarathustra honors the rope dancer who "hast made danger thy calling" and vows to bury him with his own hands (14). This close proximity between Zarathustra's image of man as a rope stretched above an abyss and the rope dancer plunging to his death, seems to indicate the danger involved in striving to gain spiritual independence.
What seems to be indicated by Nietzsche is that the superman represents an idealistic journey that is the goal of the individual. It is a personal and dangerous struggle similar to the vocation of the rope dancer. Since Nietzsche never defines the exact attributes of the superman and since the arrival of the superman is always deferred to the future, it might be inferred that the goal of superman is one which will never be reached.
Yet Nietzsche insists that "The Superman shall be the meaning of the earth!" (Zarathustra 6). Since this goal cannot be reached, meaning must come from the struggle toward it. By developing to the spiritual level of the child, Zarathustra is finally able to strive toward becoming the superman without fear of failure, because reaching the goal itself has ceased to be the purpose of his journey. Zarathustra's teaching, like that of Nietzsche, will never be understood by his pupils. All Zarathustra can do is to attempt to steer his disciples toward independent thought.
Nietzsche illustrates this in the final chapter of part one of Thus Spake Zarathustra titled "The Bestowing Virtue" (78). At this point in the story Zarathustra has attempted to teach to the common person and failed. He has decided to develop a group of disciples who are capable of learning his lessons. He has taught these disciples and they have learned. Zarathustra then takes leave of his disciples who give him a golden staff. According to Daniel Conway in "Nietzsche Contra Nietzsche: The Deconstruction of Zarathustra," the staff indicated Zarathustra's failure to teach the lesson of perspectivism because it symbolized the feeling on the part of the disciples that "they view themselves as a flock and him [Zarathustra] as a shepherd" (92). Like Higgins, Conway views such dogmatic loyalty to Zarathustra's teaching as a failure to achieve Zarathustra's goal: the teaching of perspectivism.
Zarathustra cautions his disciples, "depart from me, and guard yourselves against Zarathustra...Now do I bid you lose me and find yourselves" (82-83). Indeed, the beginning of the second part of Zarathustra tells of Zarathustra's disciples left on their own turning from the teachings of their mentor and accepting absolutist beliefs from others. "Mine enemies have grown powerful and have disfigured the likeness of my doctrine, so that my dearest ones have to blush for the gifts that I gave them" (87-88). Such a passage suggests that one cannot teach perspectivism because the nature of this particular metaphysic demands a personal struggle for personal meaning.
Zarathustra's failure to successfully teach his hand-picked disciples leads one to question how such a doctrine can be successfully taught. The answer for Nietzsche is found in the style and presentation of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Conway suggests that Nietzsche's approach to such teaching is to provide an open ended text which demands reader interpretation while steering the reader toward the discovery of his doctrine. He wrote, "Rather than deny or ignore the contingency of his own textual authority, Nietzsche anticipates the deconstruction of Zarathustra, thus forging a deconstructive relation between himself and his readers" (91). Conway like Higgins believes that Nietzsche's style offers the reader the opportunity to discover meaning and interpret text. By promoting the freedom and empowerment of his readers Nietzsche encourages subtextual understanding of perspectivism while also delineating his ideas in a more concrete manner through the text itself.
Nietzsche's perspectivism takes away the concrete goals of life. It suggests that no value system can be developed for all people, but that each individual must develop a unique set of values which reflects the uniqueness of the individual. The development of the individual is never complete nor is it ever easy as demonstrated by Zarathustra's own development. Within a perspectivist world view a multiplicity of meanings is a constant companion of the individual who must recognize that each choice and perception is one interpretation among many. It is the responsibility of the individual to organize and moralize in this arbitrary environment.
According to Debra Bergoffen, "Nietzsche transforms the project of Western philosophy from the pursuit of truth to the exploration of meanings" (69). "Truth" implies that an absolute system of moral and physical laws can be discovered which bring metaphysical unity to the universe. "For Nietzsche there is no single physical reality beyond our interpretations. There are only perspectives" (Sarup 45). Thus, Nietzsche's vision of the world is one of incongruity and disharmony. Attempts to order that which is chaotic are unavoidably false.
Today, Nietzsche's approach to meaning can be seen as a cornerstone of contemporary thought. Madan Sarup in his book Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism suggests that the concept of Nietzschean perspectivism is the point of departure for such contemporary thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard. Derrida's concept of a decentered Universe as described in "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" can be seen as a restatement of Nietzschean perspectivism. Derrida's famous paradox that, "The center is not the center," refers to the final referent within a structure of thought in which the organizing agent is not part of the overall structure (84). This is Derrida's way of describing an absolutist system. In the same lecture, Derrida refers to the rupturing of this structure by discovering inconsistencies which deny the integrity of the structure as a whole. These inconsistencies call into question the assumptions upon which the total structure is based and eventually topple these assumptions. Derrida's deconstructive practices are similar to those of Nietzsche almost one hundred years earlier.
Christopher Norris in Deconstruction: Theory and Practice believes that "Nietzsche's thought has left its mark on the theory and practice of deconstruction" (57). Moreover, Norris sees a close affinity between Nietzsche and Derrida. "[Nietzsche] anticipates the style and strategy of Derrida's writing to a point where the two seem often engaged in a kind of uncanny reciprocal exchange" (57). The similarity of style between Derrida and Nietzsche in the critique of absolutism suggests that the "future Philosophers" which Nietzsche foresaw in Beyond Good and Evil have arrived (70-71). Sarup clearly indicated the affinity between Nietzsche and Derrida when he wrote that "post-structuralists such as Derrida have not so much followed in Nietzsche's footsteps as rediscovered his philosophical stance, a stance that owes its character to an all pervasive reflexivity" (45). This reflexivity results in a world in which unity is destroyed in favor of a greater understanding and acceptance of the free play and limitless possibilities of meaning within an ungrounded and decentered universe.
In such a universe, the individual loses the security of knowing that life has been given meaning by some omnipotent being. In such a universe, the individual is set free from moral imperatives such as those provided by systems of religious dogma. Instead, the individual has the opportunity to create an individualized moral code and to change this code at will. Thus, good and evil cease to have any meaning whatsoever outside the perspective of the subject. Living becomes an act of creation as the individual forms a personal order from the chaos which is the universe. This creation of meaning for one's own life is what Nietzsche calls "the will to power."
The implications of perspectivism and the difficulty for the absolutist to conceptualize such an idea seem to have forced Nietzsche to place his hope for his philosophy in the hands of unknown future philosophers who might understand the interdependence of style and text in Thus Spake Zarathustra and who would value its ambiguity. In the meantime, Nietzsche believed that the emptiness of the Christian moral doctrine and the need for the absolutist to feel secure within an absolute set of ideals had, for a time, led to a period of great nihilism. The nature of this condition is the subject of the next section.
Nihilism is a central issue in Nietzsche's fundamental thought as it relates to perspectivism. Using Nietzsche's three spiritual metamorphoses as a model, nihilism occurs when an individual moves from the camel spirit, in which metaphysical meaning is defined through servitude to an absolute ideal, to the lion spirit which is a rejection of this ideal. By definition this transition into the lion spirit places the individual in a state of spiritual flux as the lion spirit does not have the ability to provide an adequate replacement for the rejected metaphysic. The lion spirit is therefore defined by its rejection of the absolute ideal. From an absolutist stance this absence of universal order means that life ceases to have meaning. Therefore from an absolutist stance, Nietzsche's teachings are essentially nihilistic as they deny absolute order in favor of a plurality of meaning. Yet from a Nietzschean stance the death of God opens the world to new meanings rather than depriving the world of one false meaning.
The lion spirit is, therefore, a denier of traditional metaphysical meaning. Because the desire to understand and organize life is strong, the lion spirit will attempt to replace the lost metaphysic with a more satisfying alternative metaphysic. Unable to create new values, the lion spirit remains an absolutist defining meaning in terms of absolute structures which oppose the rejected metaphysic. Until the lion spirit is able to reject all universal structures, one must either constantly grope in spiritual darkness for a sense of self or return to the camel spirit by enslaving oneself to an alternative metaphysical structure.
While acknowledging that nihilism will result for a time following the rejection of the absolute ideal, Nietzsche believed that the individual would emerge spiritually stronger and better able to face the world as it is through this search for truth. In an unpublished note written in 1884, Nietzsche attempted to describe the effect of the widespread acceptance of perspectivism. He wrote:
Thus while Nietzsche understood that the general adoption of perspectivism was a difficult proposition, he believed that such a radical transformation of metaphysics was ultimately necessary and beneficial.
For Nietzsche the death of God stood as a precondition of his own writing. The condition of Western civilization according to Nietzsche was a society whose moral system was based on the authority of a symbol which had lost all authority. In this manner nihilism was for Nietzsche also a precondition of his own writing. His first words in Book One of The Will to Power read, "Nihilism stands at the door" (7). Nietzsche saw this nihilism as a result of the false assumptions grounded in Platonic philosophy and Christianity which provided meaning as a means of self-justification. Eventual nihilism for the faithful of any absolutist system is inevitable as the faith in a particular perceived truth wanes. Since Christian absolutism has been influential for many centuries, "the untenability of one interpretation of the world, upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished, awakens the suspicion that all interpretations of the world are false" (Will To Power 7). In order to reconcile the need for meaning with the lack of faith, humanity continues to acknowledge the moral structure of Christianity ignoring the emptiness of the doctrine.
Thus Spake Zarathustra is an attempt to demonstrate how humans can find existence in a world which has lost its source of meaning. Joan Stambaugh suggested in The Other Nietzsche that nihilism can be overcome by regarding one's life as art. When Nietzsche speaks of art as a "deification of existence," he is pointing to the artist as a person who can "deify" existence itself instead of looking beyond it for a meaning" (10). By accepting metaphysical disorder as a human condition and embracing this condition one can begin to formulate a personal metaphysic which will allow one to create personal meaning within a fluid and chaotic universe.
Developing a world view which will foster such a creative state is the defining action of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Returning to Nietzsche's metaphor of the three metamorphoses, Stambaugh wrote, "The spirit changes from the load-bearing camel whose motto is 'You shall,' to the lion whose motto is 'I will,' to the child who alone is able to say 'I can' (11). In the camel stage of spirituality a sense of meaning and purpose are achieved through servitude to the mythical golden dragon. This can be seen as a form of nihilism because meaning is focused outside the self. The lion stage "would correspond to Nietzsche's statements that there is no true world" (Stambaugh 122). It is the realization outlined in the metamorphoses which leads to an active nihilism. The motto "I will" suggests an unstated condition that the subject has been instructed "you will not." It is the oppositional nature of the lion figure which acts against the authoritarian figure without regard to the consequences which results in loss of metaphysical meaning. "The stage of the child would correspond to the question of what is now to be done in this world unmasked and liberated from the false preconceptions we have insinuated on it" (122-123). Thus it is only when past values are re-examined and replaced with new, more meaningful values that nihilism is overcome and affirmation of the world as it is begins.
It is with the intention of reconstructing metaphysical meaning that Zarathustra exclaims to the masses assembled in the market-place "I teach you Superman" (Zarathustra 6). With the concept of the superman, Nietzsche replaced other worldly goals with ones which "remain true to the earth" (6). In addition to this replacement of goals, Nietzsche also had to develop an overall metaphysic which would on the one hand provide meaning and on the other remain true to his perspectivist stance. By developing this kind of flexible structure Nietzsche could offer an alternative to the limited choices of absolutism or nihilism. Nietzsche labeled this metaphysical structure eternal recurrence, the subject of the next section.
Nietzsche describes the concept of eternal recurrence as "[Zarathustra's] fundamental conception...the highest formula of affirmation that can ever be attained" (Ecco Homo 892). Eternal recurrence is described best by Nietzsche himself in book four of The Gay Science:
As a cosmological formulation eternal recurrence has historically been rejected by philosophy scholars. As early as 1909 Mügge wrote, "His eternal recurrence may cosmologically be possible; but how does it concern us, since we have no recollection of our former existences?" (362). Moreover, if eternal recurrence is to be accepted or rejected as cosmological "truth" then Nietzsche has seemingly rejected his own perspectivist stance in favor of an absolutist imperative which has even less substantiation than the Christian doctrine which his metaphysics is intended to replace.
Contemporary scholars such as Higgins, Maudemarie Clark, and Robin Small also reject eternal recurrence as a cosmological scheme. Rather, eternal recurrence can best be approached as an attitude, "a directive concerning how to live, rather than a theory concerning the nature of the universe" (Clark 247). Such an approach can be justified through the style with which Nietzsche first outlined this theory in The Gay Science. The section previously quoted which describes eternal recurrence is prefaced as a rhetorical question rather than presented as fact. This section, titled "The greatest weight," queries, "What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you..." (273). By presenting his theory in such a manner, Nietzsche refrains from declaring eternal recurrence as a definitive cosmology. Furthermore, the imaginary demon poses his question not to the self who interacts in the real world but to the most vulnerable and self-critical self which lives in the "loneliest loneliness." Following his description of eternal recurrence, Nietzsche offers possible reactions:
Clark argued that "this practical doctrine is an ideal for human beings: to become the kind of person who, in the situation described, would consider the demon's message divine" (248). Thus, Nietzsche's intent with regard to eternal recurrence seemed to be to further specify a method by which the goal of Übermensch might be pursued.
In Thus Spake Zarathustra Zarathustra reveals the idea of eternal recurrence to a group of sailors on a ship. The revelation comes in the form of a vision in which Zarathustra is attacked by "the spirit of gravity, my devil and arch enemy" in the form of a "half-dwarf, half-mole" (172). Zarathustra overcomes the creature through courage, seemingly the same kind of courage displayed by the sailors whose lives are dedicated to dangerous pursuit exploring unknown waters. Zarathustra shows the creature a gateway the name of which is "This Moment" (174). From the gate runs the path of the past and of the future in opposite directions. This passage and its metaphorical gateway establish the focal point of eternal recurrence on the present moment. Thus, unlike Christian doctrine which minimizes the present in favor of past sins which must be atoned for and future salvation, eternal recurrence focuses on the present.
In part three of Zarathustra, Nietzsche suggests that eternal recurrence presents a metaphysic which is fully integrated with nature. After returning to his cave for the second time, Zarathustra is assailed by a thought from his soul. Attempting to bring this thought to light, Zarathustra collapses "as one dead" and lays for seven days attended by his animals (242). Zarathustra's awakening brings to him a feeling of peaceful joy. The animals articulate Zarathustra's feeling:
While the formulation of eternal recurrence was for Zarathustra a long and painful experience, for the animals it is a basic and natural metaphysic. After explicating eternal recurrence, the animals declare that Zarathustra has been fated to become the teacher of this metaphysic. By presenting eternal recurrence in this manner, Nietzsche offers it as a metaphysic which is not new, but which has been repressed by humankind as a rejection of its place in the natural order of the world.
Lampert saw eternal recurrence as a triumph "over the religion of last men, who take themselves to be the fully corrected versions of mankind inhabiting the fully corrected earth" (256). The manner in which Nietzsche presented eternal recurrence "confers gravity on things themselves, not by importing a pale reflection of something that is good in itself, external to things, but by willing the thing itself simply as it is" (256). Through eternal recurrence Nietzsche focuses meaning and importance on the present without regard for past and future. At the same time his theory does not avoid the paths which lead from the past or to the future. These also are aspects of the recurring present. Higgins described Nietzsche's present moment as "the point at which the causal streams of past and present converge" (177). This sense of causality and relationship between the individual's temporal life maintains a continuity while at the same time suggesting a circular rather than linear temporal order.
Higgins defined eternal recurrence in opposition to the Christian Doctrine of Sin. According to Higgins the moral imperatives which guide the lives of Christian believers are intended to atone for the past in hopes of future salvation. The significance of one's life in total can only be determined through the final judgment following one's death (173). Through the attitude of eternal recurrence, however, "Zarathustra experiences the whole of time from the standpoint of the moment" (176). Higgins compared the concept of eternal recurrence to music.
When listening to music, one is involved in the note which is in the present, delighting in the sound and the emotion of that moment. Yet at the same time, one is aware of how the music developed in the totality of the piece to the present and of how it will continue into the future (183). This knowledge enhances rather than diminishes the present. To expand on Higgins' metaphor, one develops expectations of future moments or notes based on the experience thus far. Regardless of whether the melody meets or contradicts these expectations, the individual experiences each note as it occurs and fully reacts to that particular note. This emphasis on the present and on one's reaction to the present empowers the individual to make the most of each moment of life.
Furthermore, this approach to life "emphasizes our power to make ourselves what we are in the present" (Higgins 187). While we cannot control each event in our lives, we can control the manner in which we react to each moment. Eternal recurrence grants the individual the power to accept and deal with each occurrence as it happens. It empowers the individual to live each moment and to react to the present condition fully as if it would be replayed eternally. In this way, Nietzsche's doctrine provides meaning by encouraging the individual to create a full personal meaning for each moment which is experienced. It is this meaning which overcomes nihilism by the personal empowerment of each individual.
Thus the theory of eternal recurrence provides an overall organizing paradigm through which one can live one's life. Unlike Christian doctrines, eternal recurrence provides no specific guidelines concerning morality nor does it provide a secure mythology which protects one from the fear of eternal nothingness. What eternal recurrence provides is a framework from which the individual can make life as meaningful as possible from the perspective of that particular individual. Because eternal recurrence offers such a differing perspective from the norm of the Judeo-Christian metaphysic, it necessitates very different behavior and sensibility from those who adopt its attitude. This differing attitude is especially significant where it affects interpersonal relationships. The nature of Nietzsche's approach to love and marriage is therefore the subject of the following section.
When examining Nietzsche's attitude toward love and marriage as revealed in Thus Spake Zarathustra it is important to specify the limits of inquiry. For the purposes of this study love will be defined as a strong emotional relationship creating an attachment or devotion to another person. Marriage is a social institution which is created to define and regulate the terms of this commitment within a particular culture. Even this limited inquiry can be problematic due to "the undecidability of the figure of woman in Nietzsche" (Shapiro 119). Shapiro pointed out that "each of the four parts of Zarathustra contains a distinctive attitude toward woman" (119). The figure of woman in Thus Spake Zarathustra is used in several different metaphorical contexts including depictions of wisdom and life. This study will not focus on the metaphorical uses of the figure of woman, and will limit the examination of Nietzsche's depiction of women to instances which describe the relationship between man and woman.
The most direct statement made in Zarathustra concerning women occurs in the first part in chapter 18 entitled "Old and Young Women" (68-70). Here Zarathustra tells of meeting an old woman who asks him to speak to her "concerning woman." Curiously Zarathustra seems reluctant to engage on this topic telling the old woman, "Concerning woman, one should only talk unto men" (68). Such reticence to speak to this woman regarding women seems to indicate that Nietzsche realized his own gender bias on this particular topic. Zarathustra's first statement concerning women reinforces this hypothesis. He says, "Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution--it is called pregnancy"(68). In description of the relations between man and woman which follows, Zarathustra characterizes woman as one whose only desire is to bear a child and uses men for this end. Man on the other hand uses woman for "the most dangerous plaything" (69). Zarathustra then states, "The happiness of man is, "I will." The happiness of woman is, "He will." (69). Finally, Zarathustra characterizes the woman's soul as shallow and man's as deep. Concerning woman's understanding of the soul of man he asserts, "woman surmiseth its force, but comprehendeth it not" (70). The Old Woman replies:
The Old Woman thanks Zarathustra and offers him this advice, "Thou goest to women? Do not forget thy whip!" (70). This passage seems to depict women as baby making machines and toys for men to play with. Yet a closer look at the style in which Nietzsche presented this passage indicates that one must look deeper to find Nietzsche's meaning.
Lampert wrote of Nietzsche's apparent misogyny, "Nietzsche's judgments on woman and man, among the most subtle in his writings though accompanied by unsubtle and provocative phrases, demonstrate the contrary, and they are judgements now being recognized as worthy of the most serious consideration" (Modern 373). Therefore this passage must be examined in terms of style following Higgins' example of her analysis of the book as a whole.
Zarathustra's initial reluctance to answer the Old Woman cues the reader that his attitude toward women is one which makes even Zarathustra uncomfortable. The internal inconsistency of his answer suggests that this is an area of knowledge with which Zarathustra is unfamiliar. Zarathustra begins by admitting that women are a riddle. Yet in his final analysis he characterizes woman's soul as surface, "a mobile, stormy film on shallow water" (70). The Old Woman immediately shoots his depiction full of holes. She points out that Zarathustra's characterization of women is only appropriate for those who are still young enough to bear children. His depiction is not based on women as people, but as a function. She recognizes Zarathustra's attitude which confuses a woman as an individual and women's ability to bear children which is generally true but not always the case. Next, she points out Zarathustra's lack of knowledge about woman, yet she comments that he is right about them. In the first instance the Old Woman uses the singular woman; in the second she uses the plural "them." This indicates that Zarathustra is generalizing about women as a group but is demonstrating a lack of knowledge about women as individuals. Finally, the Old Woman advises Zarathustra that when he goes to a woman he should bring a whip, suggesting, given Zarathustra's attitude toward women, he is apt to have problems when attempting to communicate with them. Thus, it is Zarathustra in particular rather than men in general who needs the whip.
Both Lampert and Higgins see the character of Zarathustra as maturing and developing through the course of the book. The context of this passage seems to indicate that Zarathustra's encounter with the Old Woman is a lesson which he has learned and is now passing on to others in the form of a parable. The opening sentence of this passage reads, "Why stealest thou along so furtively in the twilight, Zarathustra?" (68). Zarathustra ashamed of his ignorance is hiding the lesson he learned that day from the Old Woman. His furtiveness seems to indicate embarrassment at the lesson he has learned and the manner in which he learned it. Thus this passage seems to depict Zarathustra relating how he came to discover that his own attitude toward women was mistaken. It is an important aspect of Zarathustra's overall view of marriage which places the woman on equal footing with her spouse.
Zarathustra's view of marriage is bound with his views of sexual desire and of isolation. Neither of these is a basis for what Zarathustra calls a true marriage. Lampert pointed out that while Zarathustra is chaste "he is not a teacher of chastity" (57). Zarathustra advised a young man, "chastity is a virtue with some, but with many almost a vice" (56). Zarathustra does not condemn the practice of sex either in or out of wedlock. Zarathustra is concerned with the individual's ability to rise above his own sexual desire to higher concerns. He condemns those who "know nothing better on earth than to lie with a woman" (56). This kind of lust is not one of honest passion but is "filth at the bottom of their souls" (56). In the same passage Zarathustra condemns those who are chaste of body but are still driven by lust. "And how nicely can doggish lust beg for a piece of spirit when a piece of flesh is denied it!" (56). Zarathustra compares human sexuality unfavorably with that of animals. "Would that ye were perfect--at least as animals! But to animals belongeth innocence" (56). Thus the sex drive is not something which should be suppressed, neither should it be allowed to control.
Higgins juxtaposes Zarathustra's attitude toward sexuality with that of "the Christian law of love" which "proposes a goal of absolute self-denial and unselfishness, a goal that is incompatible with even the minimal degree of self-interest" (62). Such an attitude promotes an individual's sense of failure because one must deny feelings which are natural. Such denial of feelings subjects the individual to guilt which perpetuates the doctrine of sin created by Christianity. "Zarathustra praises sensual pleasure, the passion that moves human beings forward into his future" (Lampert 193). Rather than suppress one's instincts, Zarathustra counsels "innocence in your instincts" (56). This attitude toward sexual desire dictates that fulfillment of sexual desire is not sufficient reason to wed. A marriage which is based on sexual gratification is described by Zarathustra as "the filth in soul of the twain" (73)
Neither should one marry to escape loneliness. One should learn to embrace isolation as a natural condition of existence. "Always once one--that maketh two in the long run!" (57). Zarathustra insists that one must enter into marriage as a fully self-sufficient being rather than a needful, unfulfilled slave (59). The idea the "all isolation is wrong" is perpetuated by the herd and curtails the individuals ability to create one's "will as law" (65, 66). Before entering marriage Zarathustra advises a young man to "build thyself, rectangular in body and soul" (73). It is only when individuals are each self-sufficient that a true marriage can be built.
Through Zarathustra's description of traditional marriage, Nietzsche seems to indicate that marriage in Western culture has traditionally been an escape from the conditions of unfulfilled sexual desire, loneliness or one's discontent with one's self. Zarathustra sees marriage as "a torch to light you to loftier paths" (74). Thus marriage is a possible step toward "a higher body" (73). Lampert designates the goal of marriage to "raise children to prepare for the superman"(73). Yet the creation of a child does not seem to be the sole reason for marriage. Nietzsche only mentions the creation of offspring in the context of asking the young man if he believes he is "a man entitled to desire a child" (72). The requirement for raising a child seems to be self-sufficiency rather than marriage. Marriage on the other hand is described as "the will of the twain to create the one that is more than those who created it" (73). While this definitely can refer to offspring, it also refers to the union of two people which creates a partnership that makes each individual stronger.
The ideal marriage described in Thus Spake Zarathustra is marked by "the reverence for one another" of each of the two participants (73). Nietzsche recognizes that bad marriages are the result of marrying for the wrong reasons. He also recognizes that the possibility of dissolving a bad marriage is paramount to maintaining a good one. "Better marriage-breaking than marriage-bending, marriage-lying" (236). Since a true marriage is defined by the relationship between the partners, it is important to maintain the love upon which the marriage is built. Nietzsche suggests a "set term and a small marriage, that we may see if we are fit for the great marriage" (236). Thus, Nietzsche's marriage is defined by the desire of each partner toward personal growth of both partners and the honest to recognize when this ceases to be the case.
Nietzsche's vision of true marriage as defined in Thus Spake Zarathustra removes moral imperatives from the union of two people. First, sexual desire as the basis for marriage is removed by demystifying sexuality and placing it in the natural order of existence rather than codifying sexual behavior. Second, loneliness as a basis for marriage is removed by encouraging the individual to embrace isolation as a positive condition and to develop self-sufficiency regardless of marital status. Marriage thus becomes a positive force in one's life rather than a method of removing negative conditions. The goal of Nietzsche's "true marriage" is to aid each partner in individual growth and maturation toward greater self-sufficiency as the partners continue their own personal struggle toward the perspectivism of the child spirit.
This chapter examined contemporary approaches to Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. First it examined the general approaches of two scholarly texts: Laurence Lampert's Nietzsche's Teaching which offered a textual approach to Zarathustra and Kathleen Marie Higgins' Nietzsche's Zarathustra which approached it stylistically. These analyses suggest that previous examinations of Thus Spake Zarathustra were erroneous as they attempted to explicate Nietzsche's philosophy in modernist terms which assume some kind of absolute metaphysic as the goal of Nietzsche's philosophy. Contemporary scholars approach Thus Spake Zarathustra from a perspectivist metaphysic which denies the existence of any universal organizing structure.
Perspectivism as the major theme of Thus Spake Zarathustra was then analyzed within a contemporary context to explicate Nietzsche's influence on postmodern thought. Finally, nihilism, eternal recurrence and love and marriage were examined with regard to their effect on perspectivism.In subsequent chapters three plays by Eugene O'Neill will be examined with regard to these Nietzschean themes and their influence on postmodern thought.
Italics from original
 While it is known that O'Neill was familiar with other works of Nietzsche, Zarathustra seems to be the first work he read and, therefore, Zarathustra would have influenced his reading of Nietzsche's other work rather than vice-verse.
 This subject is dealt with at length in Jacques Derrida's Spurs which specifically addresses Nietzsche's concern with style as meaning.
 The childlike state is the third of three spiritual states described in the prologue of Thus Spake Zarathustra. The significance of this state and its relation to other spiritual states will be described in the next section.
The nature of this nihilism will be more fully discussed in the next section.
 Italics Conway's.
 A similar description of Eternal Recurrence is found in book three of Thus Spake Zarathustra in the chapter titled "The Convalescent" (244). The purpose of presenting Nietzsche's theory as written in The Gay Science is purely due to the clarity and brevity with which this theory is presented.
 Lambert asserted that "eternal return replaces the superman teaching" and "the clearly provisional teaching on the superman is rendered obsolete by the clearly definitive teaching on eternal return" (258). These statements seems superfluous if the superman goal can be achieved through the acceptance of eternal return.
The Last Men refers to those who assume that their theology represents absolute truth and cannot change or develop.
 While a feminist inquiry with regard to Nietzsche's philosophy is beyond the scope of this dissertation, Kelly Oliver's Womanizing Nietzsche provides an in depth feminist approach to Nietzsche.
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