Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Nietzsche's Dead God

I've been trying to read Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra as my current audiobook, and it's been pretty hard going. The book itself is not hard to read in the sense of being dense, but it seems hard to get much out of in that it's written as a sort of pseudo-sacred scripture and as such it's full of the Nietzsche's fictionalized Persian wise man Zarathustra laying down wise sayings. It's called a philosophical novel, but although there are a few events, it's mostly just Zarathustra's clever sayings, and as such it's very disjointed and hard to remember, particularly when listening to it as an audiobook.

This morning, however, I hit a section which actually read a little bit like a story, and also seemed like an interesting summary of Nietzsche's ideas about God being dead, and also as a summary of Nietzsche's understanding of and dislike for the Christian idea of God. Zarathustra finds an old black man sitting by the side of the road, and this man proves to have been a servant of God's (this translation calls him the pope -- I don't know if that's in the original German and if it's mean to be the Roman Catholic pope) up until God's death.
"WHAT doth all the world know at present?" asked Zarathustra. "Perhaps that the old God no longer liveth, in whom all the world once believed?"

"Thou sayest it," answered the old man sorrowfully. "And I served that old God until his last hour. Now, however, am I out of service, without master, and yet not free; likewise am I no longer merry even for an hour, except it be in recollections. Therefore did I ascend into these mountains, that I might finally have a festival for myself once more, as becometh an old pope and church-father: for know it, that I am the last pope!—a festival of pious recollections and divine services. Now, however, is he himself dead, the most pious of men, the saint in the forest, who praised his God constantly with singing and mumbling. He himself found I no longer when I found his cot—but two wolves found I therein, which howled on account of his death,—for all animals loved him. Then did I haste away. Had I thus come in vain into these forests and mountains? Then did my heart determine that I should seek another, the most pious of all those who believe not in God—, my heart determined that I should seek Zarathustra!"

Thus spake the hoary man, and gazed with keen eyes at him who stood before him. Zarathustra however seized the hand of the old pope and regarded it a long while with admiration.

"Lo! thou venerable one," said he then, "what a fine and long hand! That is the hand of one who hath ever dispensed blessings. Now, however, doth it hold fast him whom thou seekest, me, Zarathustra. It is I, the ungodly Zarathustra, who saith: 'Who is ungodlier than I, that I may enjoy his teaching?'"

Thus spake Zarathustra, and penetrated with his glances the thoughts and arrear-thoughts of the old pope. At last the latter began:

"He who most loved and possessed him hath now also lost him most. Lo, I myself am surely the most godless of us at present? But who could rejoice at that!"

"Thou servedst him to the last?" asked Zarathustra thoughtfully, after a deep silence, "thou knowest HOW he died? Is it true what they say, that sympathy choked him? That he saw how MAN hung on the cross, and could not endure it? That his love to man became his hell, and at last his death?"

The old pope however did not answer, but looked aside timidly, with a painful and gloomy expression.

"Let him go," said Zarathustra, after prolonged meditation, still looking the old man straight in the eye. "Let him go, he is gone. And though it honoureth thee that thou speakest only in praise of this dead one, yet thou knowest as well as I WHO he was, and that he went curious ways."

"To speak before three eyes," said the old pope cheerfully (he was blind of one eye), "in divine matters I am more enlightened than Zarathustra himself—and may well be so. My love served him long years, my will followed all his will. A good servant, however, knoweth everything, and many a thing even which a master hideth from himself. He was a hidden God, full of secrecy. Verily, he did not come by his son otherwise than by secret ways. At the door of his faith standeth adultery. Whoever extolleth him as a God of love, doth not think highly enough of love itself. Did not that God want also to be judge? But the loving one loveth irrespective of reward and requital. When he was young, that God out of the Orient, then was he harsh and revengeful, and built himself a hell for the delight of his favourites. At last, however, he became old and soft and mellow and pitiful, more like a grandfather than a father, but most like a tottering old grandmother. There did he sit shrivelled in his chimney-corner, fretting on account of his weak legs, world-weary, will-weary, and one day he suffocated of his all-too-great pity."

"Thou old pope," said here Zarathustra interposing, "hast thou seen THAT with thine eyes? It could well have happened in that way: in that way, AND also otherwise. When Gods die they always die many kinds of death. Well! At all events, one way or other—he is gone! He was counter to the taste of mine ears and eyes; worse than that I should not like to say against him. I love everything that looketh bright and speaketh honestly. But he—thou knowest it, forsooth, thou old priest, there was something of thy type in him, the priest-type—he was equivocal. He was also indistinct. How he raged at us, this wrath-snorter, because we understood him badly! But why did he not speak more clearly? And if the fault lay in our ears, why did he give us ears that heard him badly? If there was dirt in our ears, well! who put it in them? Too much miscarried with him, this potter who had not learned thoroughly! That he took revenge on his pots and creations, however, because they turned out badly—that was a sin against GOOD TASTE. There is also good taste in piety: THIS at last said: 'Away with SUCH a God! Better to have no God, better to set up destiny on one's own account, better to be a fool, better to be God oneself!'"

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I imagine following TSZ on audiobook would indeed be a little difficult.

One aspect of the book is that its structure is deliberately unique -- it isn't an ordinary literary structure at all, but Nietzsche's attempt to convey the effect of a major piece of music using images and philosophical themes. (Nietzsche was a big music buff, an excellent pianist, and in his early days a friend of Wagner.) In one of the first notes we have about his idea for the book, he says he intends to make the first book have something of the same style as the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth; and in letters while writing it he compared the book as a whole to Wagner's Ring Cycle and said that the best genre for it was probably 'symphony'. So Part I sets the scope of the work by being resounding and thundering and on human life itself; Part II is a slower, quieter movement on wisdom, Part III is quicker and more lyrical, tying up the rest and drawing out the themes more carefully; and then Part IV is a further, additional work reflecting on the rest, which was written a year later and only added to published versions later. So while it's episodic in form (like symphony or opera), getting the character of the work requires getting the whole thing.