Zarathustra and Going Under

I am interested in the ways in which TSZ’s fictional form, in which most narration is spoken through the voice of the titular character, Zarathustra, is perhaps designed to escape the trappings of the heady moralism which Nietzsche railed so vigorously against. I contend that TSZ is an experiment undertaken by Nietzsche in which important parts of his philosophy are demonstrated actively, and not merely described or suggested normally. In particular, the character of Zarathustra is produced as a ‘friend’ or an ‘other’ which displaces the notions of personal identity and Platonic spirit that Nietzsche wishes to criticize.

For Zarathustra, the self and the ego are distinct entities, the latter being an invention of the former (and the former being a representation of ‘the body’).[i] The body is a container for drives (referred to at one point by Zarathustra as a “ball of snakes”) for whom ‘reason’ is merely one of many instruments, rather than an overarching, guiding power or principle. The Platonic notion of the ‘soul’ is an error, assuming some concept of selfhood separate from (and usually above, metaphysically speaking) the immanence of the body. This soul is constructed alongside and for the same reason as an ‘afterworld’ is: to escape bodily “suffering and incapacity.”[ii] Consequently, the body is separated from the soul, the former being rendered contemptible and inferior. This separation engenders a kind of arrogance, demonstrated in German idealism’s adoption of a transcendent capacity for reason above and beyond the material world. It also begets a resentful moralism which judges “doers,” not “deeds,” which Zarathustra calls “madness.”[iii]

Zarathustra sees this ego-self opposition as getting crowded and tense sometimes, and so one needs a friend to relax. This friend, ideally, should be quite different from our self, such that they could “be capable of being an enemy.”[iv] To love someone who is figuratively proximate to you is really just to love yourself; instead, Zarathustra proposes a “love of the farthest,” becoming a “sponge” capable of soaking up difference instead of being content with similarity and proximity.[v] In a sense, friendship becomes self-reflective, because how you see your friend, for Zarathustra, becomes a good reflection of how you see yourself. Friendship is important, then, because it lets you see yourself in a directness and “nakedness” that you couldn’t get without them. Our self-perceptions are crooked, because they are positioned within a reason that is an instrument of the body; but the friend is a mirror whose image is not necessarily so mediated by our bodies.

An essential concept for our inquiry is that of creation. Zarathustra repeatedly speaks of creation as holding the utmost importance, referring to it as “the great redemption from suffering,” and the driving force of life itself.[vi] Zarathustra sees creativity everywhere, as the foundation of God as well as of the Overman. However, not all creation is equal; in particular, creations like the soul, have tended to quell creativity, because they are cut off from “suffering” and “change,” two essential foundations for spirited creation. Giving birth to something new requires experiencing “the pangs of the birth-giver.” Creation, then, must be undertaken through an attitude capable of affirming difficulty, hardship, and pain, although these must not be its sole objects of affirmation.

I understand the fiction of TSZ as a work of creative[vii], violent sacrifice. Zarathustra speaks in the prologue of his love for those who “sacrifice themselves for the earth,” who seek to let themselves go so something greater may arise in their place. Nietzsche, from this perspective, places Zarathustra in his stead as narrator as a way of personally ‘going-under,’ or giving up the arrogant position of being the author and speaker of the text. Nietzsche, the thinking, conscious subject, cannot and should not be taken to stand in for his body, which is the true author of his texts; instead, to truly get his point across, Nietzsche must create a friend worthy of being an enemy through whom Nietzsche can speak. We might understand the sacrificial nature of this process through the lens of the passage “On Reading and Writing,” which provides a relatively direct account of the role of text in Zarathustra’s thought. Here, it is said that the only writing worthy of Zarathustra’s love is that which is written with a person’s own blood. When a conscious ego sits down at a typewriter and simply copies down its thoughts onto paper, this may be readable, but it is not authentic writing for Zarathustra. True writing uses blood for ink (figuratively) because blood represents the corporeal “spirit” which undergirds and supports the ego. Such blood-written texts are for learning, not merely for reading, which suggests that they are often written indirectly or circularly, so that worthy students have to work and prove themselves to uncover the text’s secrets. The distinction, then, is not just what a text says, but how it is written; a worthy text must ‘take something’ out of the author, as if blood is spilled onto the page. Writing as Zarathustra instead of Nietzsche is a performance of going-under, in which Nietzsche sacrifices his own authorship and autonomy of will, and gives the stage to his ‘friend,’ Zarathustra, who may better herald the coming of the Overman.

[i] “On the Despisers of the Body”

[ii] “On the Afterworldly”

[iii] “On the Pale Criminal”

[iv] “On the Friend”

[v] “On Love of the Neighbor”

[vi] “Upon the Blessed Isles”

[vii] “Zarathustra’s Prologue”

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