While it may be true that modern culture offers a more complete set of intellectual principles and disciplines for placing Nietzche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” in a meaningful context, it is also true that specific contexts such as though provided by Freudian or even Jungian psychology fail to account completely for the philosophical ideas expressed in Nietzche’s work.
While it is easy to speculate that Nietzche’s paradigm of the “overman” and the “last man” find fitting counterparts in Freud’s notions of the “unconscious” and “ego” or in Jung’s deeper notion of the “Self” and the “persona,” the correspondences break down as one delves further into “Zarathustra” and Nietzche’s specific notions of what has inhibited the actualization of the “overman” in human society.Though the nuances of Nietzche’s thought goes beyond simple correspondences with modern psychology, the idea of the ego and the unconscious are good ones to use when approaching “Zarathustra.” for example, in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the First Part,” Nietzche’s narrator, Zarathustra, says “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome” (Nietzche, 124) and later he remarks that, “The overman is the meaning of the earth” (Nietzche, 125); both statements refer to — or seem to refer to — a biological continuum which is beyond mankind’s conscious control.However, the biological connotations are, themselves, indicators of a responsibility on behalf of humanity, rather than an absolution from it. Zarathustra tells the people that “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves” and this could be taken to mean the mere continuation of biological evolution or it could and should be taken to indicate that Zarathustra wants the people to realize that they play an active role in their own evolution, that even biology is subject to some extent to the willing and joyful participation of those who make up the biological continuum.If even the “apes” and other animals have “created beyond themselves” but mankind has failed to do so despite the overwhelming concrete evidence of his construction of nations, societies and technologies, then Zarathustra must not be referring to ordinary modes of “creating” but to the creation of a state of joy, or of willing participation in the earthly sphere.
To this end, Zarathustra must help the people to begin to understand a new conception and definition of the human soul. For the people, the soul is something set above the body and the earth and because of its divine nature or eternal connection to a god or gods, the soul is superior to the body and the earth.By the reasoning of humanity, then, the earth and its natural processes are impediments to the soul rather than instruments and facilitators of its evolution.
In Zarathustra’s vision of the soul, the earth is not only included but is inseparable — the true soul of the world is found in the world itself just as true joy is found in the body and in human kind’s sensory relationship to the earth. When Zarathustra says, later in the section called “On Self-Overcoming,” that “Whatever lives; obeys,” (Nietzche, 226) the meaning of these words is not only that which has to do with the biological determination of life but also with this spiritual determination. In other words, to not obey is to not live, it is to “die” in spirit if not in body.
The key to the human spirit is thought to reside in the will to power. As Zarathustra remarks to the people “Where I found the living, I found the will to power” (Nietzche, 226) but his meaning here is a bit ambiguous. For Zarathustra certainly does not mean the kind of power which most people imagine when they think of power and he has, as his true goal, a concept which is beyond ordinary notions of power, and is, in fact, the very goal of life itself. Zarathustra insists that “life itself confided this secret to me: “Behold,” it said, “I am that which must always overcome itself” (Nietzche, 227) the “secret” of this statement lies in the fact that Zarathustra is implying that power is in fact, a means to an end, and not an end in itself.The connotations of that statement are vast, nearly unending. In its most basic form it means that the will to power within individuals is the will of life to “overcome itself” and that individuals, societies, and — indeed entire cultures and natures — function as a bridge to the eventual exaltation of “higher” forms of life and understanding. This very physical and biologically driven paradigm comprises the human soul. it is the willingness with which one pursues their own internal transformation which dictates the degree to which they will experience joy and exaltation in living.
In the section titled “Redemption,” Zarathustra tells an old hump-back who has come looking to be healed “When one takes away the hump from the hunchback, one takes away his spirit” (Nietzche, 249); while this, at first, appears to be an act of forfeiting compassion and encouraging some form of “natural selection,” Zarathustra’s statement is meant to assure humanity that each of us, although in some way “crippled” can learn through our individual wound and — in fact — find the source of our spirit there. This corresponds to the idea of life needing at all times to “overcome itself” with each individual life facing this ontological reality in microcosm.This inner “bridge” leads both backward and forward. In the section “On the Vision and the Riddle” Nietzche introduces one of his most challenging concepts, which is often called “eternal reoccurrence” — this idea is very complex and difficult to grasp, especially in regards to its linking of the past and future with the very biological and moral paradigms previously discussed. Zarathustra’s great revelation to the dwarf is that time, while perhaps linear, is — in fact circular in capacity and intent:From this gateway, Moment, a long, eternal lane leads backward: behind us lies an eternity.
Must not whatever can walk have walked upon this lane before? Must not whatever can happen have happened, have been done, have passed by before? And if everything has been there before–what do you think, dwarf, of this moment?Under life’s constant urge to “overcome itself” is a motivation of sorts to recreate itself eternally, joyously and as Zarathustra remarks to establish an ontological continuum where “must we not eternally return?” (Nietzche, 271) — such a revelation is not as mystical as it may first appear.Nietzche’s conception of eternal reoccurrence probably has more to do with his vision of the will to power being a transformative capacity which, while unending, brings individual “closure” and specific evolution to specific cultures and even specific people. For Nietzche, mankind faces and eternal struggle to embody the same capacity as life itself to constantly use the will to power to “overcome itself” and enact transformative measures which lay previously “unlocked” in the soul — which is nature, biology, and the joyful embrace of the sensory world.In conclusion, while Nietzche’s conceptions of self-transformation and cultural transformation offer many similarities with modern psychological theories and idea, his nuanced concepts regarding the human soul and the relative ‘sanctity” of nature establish a philosophy which seems to stand — to this day — just a bit outside of the formally academic, scientific, or even traditionally philosophical.Work CitedKaufmann, Walter. The Portable Nietzsche. Zarathustra.
New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1954.