Book Summaries Philosophy

Thus Spoke Zarathustra Summary (8/10)

The Superman

Nietzsche introduces Zarathustra, the prophet, who has come to preach the meaning of life: to strive towards becoming the Superman. Zarathustra was historically a Persian prophet, and Nietzsche’s style in this book, is to mimic religious text, in an ironical way, to show how the profound can be subjective, and perhaps is subjective.

The Superman is the highest state a human can reach, it consists of transcending the default state of man, which is to worship God. This first stage is when man recognizes his imperfections and flaws, and submits his will to a higher power. Moral truth can be recognized at this stage.

The second stage involves abandoning God (The Death of God) and is marked by nihilism. Here, the human being rebels against authority and convention, he destroys tradition and superstition. He is a lion.

The third and final stage is the Superman – for this evolution to be possible, man must transform himself from Lion to Child. Since “Child” is a malleable state, he can transcend his previous indoctrination, he is free to create his own values.

And this is a central part to Nietzsche’s philosophy. The rejection of God is an intermediate stage, and natural part of the process of metamorphoses that man goes through, and this not an intellectual process but a natural process. The final stage, the Superman stage, is when man recognizes that meaning can only be created by subjective values.

The danger man faces is to fall into the “Last man” state. This is when their nihilism leads them to adopt no values, or frivolous values. It is when man is most degraded, since he is only interest in self-preservation.

To be Superman, means to evade the fate of the Last man. It is a hybrid state, of having the mind of a king and the soul of a saint. It is to recognize moral truth, and to push yourself beyond your current limits, to shape your own values, to aim upwards, to reject herd thinking. But this climb towards the Superman requires pragmatism . One cannot have too many virtues, or too many subjective values, since these will conflict with each other.

The Superman is not a state you are born into, but a state you evolve into, through hard work. But focus is necessary, and a willingness to go through deaths and rebirths, it requires bold timing, and perfecting your knowledge, and self-mastery.

When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest of the towns lying against the forest, he found in that very place many people assembled in the market square: for it had been announced that a tight-rope walker would be appearing. And Zarathustra spoke thus to the people:

I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide, and return to the animals rather than overcome man?

What is the ape to men? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment.

The Greatest Thing You Can Experience

The last man is happy and content with himself, but he does not evolve, he is a hostage to his animal state. Zarathustra urges against the temptation to fall into this state “Man is something that should be overcome.”

The hour when you say: ‘What good is my happiness? It is poverty and dirt and a miserable ease. But my happiness should justify existence itself!’

The hour when you say: ‘What good is my reason? Does it long for knowledge as the lion for its food? It is poverty and dirt and a miserable ease!’

The hour when you say: ‘What good is my virtue? It has not yet driven me mad! How tired I am of my good and my evil! It is all poverty and dirt and a miserable ease!’

It is not your sin, but your moderation that cries to heaven, your very meanness in sinning cries to heaven!

Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the madness, with which you should be cleansed?

Behold, I teach you the Superman: he is this lightning, he is this madness!

The psychologist Alfred Adler spoke of the inferiority complex, the need to overcome, and this idea can be seen in Nietzsche’s words here. To overcome oneself, to make way for the superman, you must always be dissatisfied with yourself. And this can never be done by a moderate temperament, but by a restless madness.

Man is a Rope

To Nietzsche, man is a bridge between the animal and the Superman. He describes the features of man that he admires, and they include self-sacrifice, recklessness, fearlessness, and courage.

I love him who justifies the men of the future and redeems the men of the past: for he wants to perish by the men of the present.

I love him whose soul is deep even in its ability to be wounded, and whom even a little thing can destroy: thus he is glad to go over the bridge.

I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart: thus his head is only the bowels of his heart, but his heart drives him to his downfall.

Zarathustra felt that his message was not being received by the people he was addressing, since he was addressing them with contempt, so he spoke to their pride. Finally, he warns that the Last Man will be the inevitable state of man, after nihilism has subsided, and self-determination has not taken its place.

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.

His soil is still rich enough for it. But this soil will one day be poor and weak; no longer will a high tree be able to grow from it.

Alas! The time is coming when man will no more shoot the arrow of his longing out over mankind, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to twang!

I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in you.

Alas! The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars. Alas! The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.

Dissatisfaction is the precursor to the superman, and the precursor to the weak man, who is closer to their animal nature, is the one who does not feel dissatisfied, who has nothing to overcome.

Behold! I shall show you the Ultimate Man,

Good Sleep

Sleep, something we take for granted as being simple, is not easy to do. You must earn your sleep by working hard all day, by being obedient, even if to the wrong people. But good sleep is not the point, there is something more important, and more vital, that you should strive for.

To have a good conscience, to be satisfied that your are not making a difference, or standing in the way, is not a way to live, to cease to seek new knowledge – is death. To live is to accept the suffering that will accompany your ambition, and to carry this burden voluntarily.

Honor and obedience to the authorities, and even to the crooked authorities! Thus good sleep will have it. How can I help it that power likes to walk on crooked legs?

Now it is clear to me what people were once seeking above all when they sought the teachers of virtue. They sought good sleep and opium virtues to bring it about!

To all of these lauded wise men of the academic chairs, wisdom meant sleep without dreams: they knew no better meaning of life.

And today too there are some like this preacher of virtue, and not always so honorable: but their time is up. And they shall not stand for much longer: already they are lying down.

The Self and the Ego

Your Self laughs at your Ego and its proud leapings. ‘What are these leapings and flights of thought to me?’ it says to itself. ‘A by-way to my goal. I am the Ego’s leading-string and I prompt its conceptions.’

I want to say a word to the despisers of the body. It is their esteem that produces this disesteem. What is it that created esteem and disesteem and value and will?

The creative Self created for itself esteem and disesteem, it created for itself joy and sorrow. The creative body created spirit for itself, as a hand of its will.

Even in your folly and contempt, you despisers of the body, you serve your Self. I tell you: your Self itself wants to die and turn away from life.

This is similar to what Freud later would call the death instinct, Thanatos. The Self that is described by Nietzsche is the unconscious, and it is the same as what Freud and Jung recognize. But the key difference is that Nietzsche says that this unconscious is unknowable. It is like science, no matter how much further you advance your knowledge, you will never reach an upper limit.

A part of this unconscious is still stuck int he first stage, of obeying God, and of rejecting the pleasures of the flesh. But this extreme aversion to the body is a fatal error, since man cannot free himself of his nature, but should embrace it.

Your Self can no longer perform that act which it most desires to perform: to create beyond itself. That is what it most wishes to do, that is its whole ardor.

But now it has grown too late for that: so your Self wants to perish, you despisers of the body.

Your Self wants to perish, and that is why you have become despisers of the body! For no longer are you able to create beyond yourselves.

And therefore you are now angry with life and with the earth. An unconscious envy lies in the sidelong glance of your contempt.

I do not go your way, you despisers of the body! You are not bridges to the Superman!

Of Joys and Passions

MY brother, if you have a virtue and it is your own virtue, you have it in common with no one.

To be sure, you want to call it by a name and caress it; you want to pull its ears and amuse yourself with it.

You would do better to say: ‘Unutterable and nameless is that which torments and delights my soul and is also the hunger of my belly.’

Let your virtue be too exalted for the familiarity of names: and if you have to speak of it, do not be ashamed to stammer.

Thus say and stammer: ‘This is my good, this I love, just thus do I like it, only thus do I wish the good.

‘I do not want it as a law of God, I do not want it as a human statute: let it be no sign-post to superearths and paradises.

Here, Nietzsche is saying that you should embrace what your passions are, even if their origins are from things that make you feel guilty. The only evil is the conflict between your virtues, and not when you affirm your passion and your virtues.

So be careful to not have too many virtues. In other words, do not try to be too perfect, it is an unrealistic undertaking, since they will contradict each other, and stand in your way. It is better to have narrower goals, and be more focused, and shamelessly so. It is again a call to acknowledge your shadow, another idea Jung has discussed at length en route to individuation.

My brother, if you are lucky you will have one virtue and no more: thus you will go more easily over the bridge.

To have many virtues is to be distinguished, but it is a hard fate; and many a man has gone into the desert and killed himself because he was tired of being a battle and battleground of virtues.

My brother, are war and battle evil? But this evil is necessary, envy and mistrust and calumny among your virtues is necessary.

Behold how each of your virtues desires the highest place: it wants your entire spirit, that your spirit may be its herald, it wants your entire strength in anger, hate, and love.

Every virtue is jealous of the others, and jealousy is a terrible thing. Even virtues can be destroyed through jealousy.

Of Writing

There is no meaning without suffering. Do not underestimate what you are, and what you are capable of.

Life is hard to bear: but do not pretend to be so tender! We are all of us pretty fine asses and assesses of burden!

What have we in common with the rosebud, which trembles because a drop of dew is lying upon it?

It is true: we love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving.

There is always a certain madness in love. But also there is always a certain method in madness.

The only way to end suffering, is to end life.

The Creator

MY brother, do you want to go apart and be alone? Do you want to seek the way to yourself? Pause just a moment and listen to me.

‘He who seeks may easily get lost himself. It is a crime to go apart and be alone’ – thus speaks the herd.

The voice of the herd will still ring within you. And when you say: ‘We have no longer the same conscience, you and I’, it will be a lament and a grief.

Solitary man, you are going the way to yourself! And your way leads past yourself and your seven devils!

You will be a heretic to yourself and a witch and a prophet and an evil-doer and a villain.

You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?

An archetypal motif in ancient myths, is the need to burn oneself, to be reborn. And to do this, you must look inwards, and move away from the crowd. Jung was highly influenced by Nietzsche, who’s words come close to what is required in Jung’s individuation process.

Solitary man, you are going the way of the creator: you want to create yourself a god from your seven devils!

Solitary man, you are going the way of the lover: you love yourself and for that reason you despise yourself as only lovers can despise.

The Wanderer

‘He who has always been very indulgent with himself sickens at last through his own indulgence. All praise to what makes hard! I do not praise the land where butter and honey – flow!

‘In order to see much one must learn to look away from oneself – every mountain-climber needs this hardness.

‘But he who, seeking enlightenment, is over-eager with his eyes, how could he see more of a thing than its foreground!

‘You, however, O Zarathustra, have wanted to behold the ground of things and their background: so you must climb above yourself – up and beyond, until you have even your stars under you!’

The Superman, what Nietzsche proposes as the solution to the human condition, is to constantly strive upwards, to set goals, and to surpass them, to make what seemed impossible before, normal. To never settle into comfort for this destroys the bridge to the Superman.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (Penguin Classics)Thus Spoke Zarathustra Summary (8/10) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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