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Authors: Friedrich Nietzsche,R. J. Hollingdale

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All gods are dead: now we want the Superman to live
– let this be our last will one day at the great noontide!


A table of values hangs over every people. Behold, it is the table of its overcomings; behold, it is the voice of its will to power.

And (in the second part, written in a similar state of excitement in the following June and July):

Of Self-Overcoming
…Where I found a living creature, there I found will to power…And life itself told me this secret: ‘Behold,’ it said, ‘I am that
which must overcome itself again and again
…. Where there is perishing and the falling of leaves, behold, there life sacrifices itself – for the sake of power!…And you too, enlightened man, are only a path and footstep of my will: truly, my will to power walks with the feet of your will to truth!…The living creature values many things higher than life itself; yet out of this evaluation itself speaks – the will to power!’…

And (in the third part, written in a state of even greater excitement in January 1884):

O my Will!…Preserve me from all petty victories!…That I may one day be ready and ripe in the great noontide…a bow eager for its arrow, an arrow eager for its star – a star, ready and ripe in its noontide, glowing, transpierced…Spare me for one great victory!


Sing and bubble over, O Zarathustra, heal your soul with new songs, so that you may bear your great destiny…behold,
you are the teacher of the eternal recurrence
…And if you should die now, O Zarathustra: behold, we know too what you would then say to yourself…‘Now I die and decay…and in an instant I shall be nothingness…But the complex of causes in which I am entangled will recur – it will create me again!…I shall return…
to a new life or a better life or a similar life: I shall return eternally to this identical and self-same life…to teach once more the eternal recurrence of all things, to speak once more the teaching of the great noontide of earth and man, to tell man of the Superman once more…


O Man! Attend!
What does deep midnight’s voice contend?
‘I slept my sleep,
And now awake at dreaming’s end:
The world is deep,
Deeper than day can comprehend.
Deep is its woe,
Joy – deeper than heart’s agony:
Woe says: Fade! Go!
But all joy wants eternity,
–wants deep, deep, deep eternity!’

And, in an immense expansion of this poem, written a year later:

Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to
woe as well. All things are chained and entwined together, all things are in love; if you ever wanted one moment twice, if
you ever said: ‘You please me, happiness, instant, moment!’ then you wanted
to return! you wanted everything anew, everything eternal, everything chained, entwined together, everything in love, O that is how you
the world, you everlasting men, loved it eternally, and for all time: and you say even to woe: ‘Go, but return!’
For all joy wants – eternity

The Superman, the will to the Superman, the will to power and self-overcoming. Live dangerously!
Amor fati
, eternal recurrence, total affirmation of life. The great noontide. These are the slogans, the ‘signs’, by which Nietzsche surmounted his nihilism and resolved his crisis.


Let’s now try to get to the heart of this book and discover the real meaning of its central concepts.

What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer. If he had stayed, what answer would he have received? There cannot be any doubt: Jesus would have said:
am the truth. This too is Zarathustra’s answer to the question ‘what is truth?’ For what, at this level,
truth, ‘the truth’? Isn’t it the discovery that no truth is discoverable except the truth which
you yourself are?
that there is no truth (sense, meaning) in the world except the truth (sense, meaning)
you yourself give it
? that ‘truth’ is a concept belonging to the human mind and will and that apart from the human mind and will there is no such thing as ‘truth’? finally, that the resolute determination that your own truth shall be
truth is the sole origin
of ‘the
truth’ on earth? To give life a meaning: that has been the grand endeavour of all who have preached ‘truth’; for unless life is
a meaning it has none. At this level, truth is not something that can be proved or disproved: it is something which you
determine upon
, which, in the language of the old psychology, you
. It is not something waiting to be discovered, something to which you submit or at which you halt: it is something you
, it is the expression of a particular kind of life and being which has, in you, ventured to assert itself. Thus Zarathustra declares: ‘The Superman is the meaning
of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman
shall be
the meaning of the earth.’ He is a prophet, not of the truth that
, but of the truth that
shall be
. What determines the nature of ‘truth’? The nature of the I which asserts ‘
am the truth’.
truth, and not rather untruth or indifference to truth? Because each particular life and being needs a fortress within which to preserve and protect itself and from which to reach out in search of aggrandizement and more power, and truth is this fortress. Or, as life says to thinking mankind: ‘my will to power walks with the feet of your will to truth.’ What then ultimately is the answer to Pilate’s question? It is: truth is will to power. Thus – by my reading at any rate – spoke Zarathustra.

The great need, the ‘one thing needful’, was to overcome the nihilistic devaluation of life and man which had followed the destruction of the metaphysical world (the ‘death of God’). This devaluation had been effected chiefly by a psychological theory, namely the theory that primitive drives can be
, so that distinctively human qualities, ‘humane’ qualities, can be understood as sublimated forms of drives which mankind has in common with the animals. The motive for formulating such a theory was the need to account for what is distinctively human without recourse to the metaphysical or supernatural. From a very large number of experiments, two primitive drives emerged as dominant: the desire for power and the emotion of fear. And when Nietzsche came to understand fear as
the feeling of the absence of power
, he was left with a single motivating principle for all human actions: the will to power.

Sublimated will to power
was now the Ariadne’s thread tracing the way out of the labyrinth of nihilism. ‘A table of values’ – i.e. a
– ‘hangs over every people’: it is the table of the self-imposed commands which have turned a herd and rabble into a nation: primitive aggression has been directed back upon itself, sublimated into
-control. When the same thing happens in an individual, when he imposes commands upon himself, and obeys them, so that he too as it were changes from a rabble into a nation, the result is ‘the Superman’, the
man who is master of
. But to master
oneself is
the hardest of all tasks, that which requires the greatest amount of power: he who can do it has experienced the greatest increase in power, and if (as Nietzsche later says explicitly but here implies) happiness (in
‘joy’) is the feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome, then the Superman will be the happiest man and, as such, the meaning and justification of existence. Through continual increase of power to transmute the chaos of life into a continual self-overcoming of life and thus to experience in an ever greater degree the joy which is synonymous with this self-overcoming: that would now be the meaning of life – for joy is to Nietzsche, as it is to commonsense, the one thing that requires no justification, that is its own justification. He who had attained that joy would affirm life and love it however much pain it contained, because he would know that ‘all things are chained and entwined together’ and that everything is therefore part of a whole which he must accept
as a whole
. To express this feeling of life-affirmation Nietzsche formulated a theorem of ‘the eternal recurrence of the same events’ to which he gave rhapsodic expression in
. To be sure, only the Superman could be so well-disposed towards his life as to want it again and again for ever: but that precisely is the reason for willing his creation. The joy of the Superman in being as he is, now and ever, is the ultimate sublimation of the will to power and the final overcoming of an otherwise inexorable and inevitable nihilism.


These conceptions constitute the heart of
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
; these, and the extended hymn to solitude and individuality to which the book owes its peculiar tone and pathos. I have described the process of their formation as an eruption; what I mean is an eruption from the subconscious of ideas belonging to Nietzsche’s earliest years, an eruption brought about by the very fact that at this time he had arrived at the
of the path which led away from them. He could go no
further forward, so he had to go back. But since he likewise could not retract what he had been asserting for the previous five years, these earliest ideas which now came up again came up transformed and distorted almost beyond recognition. What is involved is the operation of something like the psychic censor of psychoanalysis: so that I doubt whether Nietzsche himself was altogether aware of the provenance of the grand and grandiose positive conceptions to the elaboration of which he began to apply his exceptional rhetorical gifts.

These ‘earliest ideas’ are of course Christian, and specifically Lutheran. The teaching of Lutheran Pietism is before all that the events of life are divinely willed and that it is thus impiety to desire that things should be different from what they are:
but the other tenets of Christian belief are naturally also firmly adhered to by Lutherans. Here, without more ado, are what I take to be the Christian parallels to the conceptions which dominated Nietzsche’s mind during the period from the summer of 1881 to the year January 1883–January 1884, when they found full expression in

Amor fati
: Lutheran acceptance of the events of life as divinely willed, with the consequent affirmation of life as such as
, as a product of the divine will, and the implication that to hate life is blasphemous.

Eternal recurrence
: as a consequence of
amor fati
the extremest formula of life-affirmation, strongly influenced by the Christian concepts of eternal life and the unalterable nature of God: what is, ‘is now and ever shall be, world without end.’

Will to power
: divine grace. The clue to the connexion is the concept of ‘self-overcoming’, which is one of Nietzsche’s terms for sublimation and the hinge upon which the theory of the will to power turns from being a nihilist to a positive
and joyful conception. The corresponding Christian conception is that of unregenerate nature redeemed by the force of God’s grace. In both conceptions the central idea is that a certain inner quality (grace/sublimated will to power) elevates man (or some men) above the rest of nature. The pathos with which ‘will to power’ is invested derives to some extent from ‘Thy will be done’ and the juxtaposition of ‘power’ and ‘glory’, together with the Christian doctrine that to God’s
all things are possible.

Live dangerously!
: ‘Take up thy Cross, and follow me’ -Christian deprecation of the easy life.

Great noontide
: the Second Coming, the Last Judgement, the division of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff.

: God as creator and ‘highest being’, the ‘Son of Man’ as God, man as the receptacle of divine grace who rejoices at the idea of eternity: the embodiment and actualization of everything regarded as desirable. What the Christian says of God, Nietzsche says in very nearly the same words of the Superman, namely: ‘Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.’


Zarathustra’s posture as inspired prophet and reader of riddles would itself suggest an atavism in Nietzsche’s mind even if we were unable clearly to identify the earlier stage to which it had reverted. But it was an atavism whose effect was curative, like an electrical storm that breaks up the cloud and bad weather which has caused it. The theme of joy in existence, of the self-sufficiency-in-joy of the sovereign individual, of this joyful self-sufficiency as the aim and meaning of life is what finally reigns as the paramount theme of the book: and this theme derives, not from the grand but ultimately overpowering and stifling conceptions of Christianity, but from someone Nietzsche was later to celebrate as an actualization of the Superman: Goethe.

When the sound and wholesome nature of man acts as an entirety, when he feels himself in the world as in a grand, beautiful, worthy and worthwhile whole, when this harmonious comfort affords him a pure, untrammeled delight: then the universe, if it could be sensible of itself, would shout for joy at having attained its goal and wonder at the pinnacle of its own essence and evolution. For what end is served by all the expenditure of suns and planets and moons, of stars and Milky Ways, of comets and nebula, of worlds evolving and passing away, if at last a happy man does not involuntarily rejoice in his existence?

This passage, from Goethe’s essay on Winckelmann (1805), which Nietzsche certainly knew, could stand as the motto of
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
. It is the distillation of the great benevolent spirit of Goethe, a spirit Nietzsche called ‘dionysian’ and with which, for all its tremendous difference in emphasis,
is in accordance.

BOOK: Thus Spoke Zarathustra
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