Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For All and None was Nietzsche’s favourite of his creations. It is indeed one of the most fascinating and creative pieces of work in western philosophy. Which he wrote in 10 days in sporadic bursts of inspiration.

The book has four parts, beginning with Part I: Zarathustra’s Prologue.

Part I. Zarathustra’s Prologue

It presents the journey of Persian prophet Zarathustra, who spends his time in solitude in the mountains for ten years and grows weary of his wisdom, beginning his down-going to humanity to teach them what he has learned.

Nietzsche considered Zarathustra as being the first one to establish the moral system of Good and Evil which would evolve into Judaeo-Christian morals, and which he set out to demolish with his “new” Zarathustra. He saw it as a fitting end that his fictional Zarathustra, should be the one who brings down the moral system that the real Zarathustra had started.

On his way down, he encounters an old saint in the forest who once loved mankind but grew sick of their imperfections and now loves only God. After they parted ways – he announces his famous statement:

“Could it be possible! This old saint has not heard in his forest that God is dead!”

Upon arriving to the nearest town, he goes to the market square where he preaches God’s successor: the overman, which is the “meaning of the earth”:

“Man is something to be overcome. Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman – a rope over an abyss […] What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.”

The original text in German contains a great deal of wordplay. For instance, Zarathustra’s downfall or down-going “untergang” is contrasted with his over-going “ubergang”. In other words, that one’s self-overcoming involves a down-going. Nietzsche’s ubermensch or overman evokes this “over-going”.

However, the people fail to understand him and burst out in laughter, Zarathustra suggests that humanity is becoming increasingly tame and domesticated, and will soon be able to breed only the “most contemptible” Last Man. Those who are all alike, like herd animals, enjoying simple pleasures and mediocrity, afraid of anything too dangerous or extreme. The last men think they have invented happiness and ask Zarathustra to turn them not into the overman, but into the last man.

In the meanwhile, the crowd is fixated on a tightrope walker who begins walking (this represents mankind balanced over an abyss making the slow and dangerous progress between animal and overman). Suddenly, a jester comes out behind him making the tightrope walker fall to the ground to his death.

The jester symbolising Zarathustra, an unannounced attraction.

The overman and the death of god are among his most important teachings. Nietzsche first wrote “God is dead” in section 108 of The Gay Science, the book he wrote before coming up with Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is commonly misinterpreted. It refers to a historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. It represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism.

The overman is meant to be the solution to nihilism, by conquering it, he is the meaning we should give to our lives. He puts all his faith in himself and relies on nothing else.

Part I. Zarathustra’s discourses

The rest of part 1 is followed by twenty-two “discourses” addressed by Zarathustra to his band of disciples. Some notable ideas include to “live dangerously”, to create one’s own meaning, and the introduction of the will to power.

The will to power is the fundamental component of human identity. Everything we do is an expression of self-realisation (becoming who you truly are) that can sometimes take a form of a will to power.

It is a psychological analysis of all human action. Contrasted with living for procreation, pleasure, or happiness, the will to power is the summary of all man’s struggle against his surrounding environment as well as his reason for living in it. In essence, it is the main drive force in humans.

Over all these discourses hovers Zarathustra’s dictum “man is something that must be overcome.”

A particularly important discourse is: “On the Three Metamorphoses”

There are three stages of progress toward the overman: the camel, the lion, and the child.

The spirit first becomes a camel, but not everybody can become a camel. There are many heavy things for the spirit, things that weigh upon us.  A camel requires us to be greater than ourselves, and that requires some sacrifice – the strength longs for the heavy. Thus we must exercise self-discipline and renounce to our comforts. One can then become the lion, one who wants to take on freedom, but is confronted by the mightiest of dragons, on every scale of which is a rule, every “Thou shalt” compiled since the beginning of time – the lion must fight back and oppose the dragon, saying I Will and uttering the “sacred No”. However, the lion lives in rebellion – it has yet to undergo a final and last transformation – becoming the child.

“The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.”

The child is the act of new creation. He can thus create his own values, giving way to the overman.

The final discourse reverts to the death of God and the need for the overman to give significance to the earth; Zarathustra extols the man so full of strength and well-being he bestows gifts on others because he has to and exhorts his disciples to independence. Then he leaves them.

Zarathustra not only refers to the death of God but states at the end:

“Dead are all gods, now we want the overman to live – let this be our last will one day at the great noontide!”

Nietzsche’s task was monumental, he called it a “Revaluation of All Values”, in which he seeks to offer an alternative to traditional values in the absence of a divine order and avert nihilism, so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge the value of this world.

Nietzsche uses the metaphor of an open sea, which can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The people who eventually learn to create their lives anew will represent a new stage in human existence, the overman.

Part II

In Part II, Zarathustra is more of a dramatic character and many of the chapters involve action. There is a much-expanded recapitulation of the “God is dead” theme, and the reintroduction of the overman as God’s successor. He expresses pity and nausea for mankind and the need to overcome it, attacking organised religion.

There are also several critiques on contemporary culture, contemplative life  and the search for “pure knowledge”.

Chapter 18 titled “Of Great Events” is a dramatic turning point in the book. A discourse on revolution and anarchism is allied to an uncommon amount of action and a fantastical story told by sailors. Zarathustra’s disciples “hardly listened” to his discourse, we are told, because of their anxiety to repeat the sailors’ story, the point of which is that Zarathustra’s alter ego has been seen flying through the air crying “It is time! It is high time!” “For what is high time?” Zarathustra asks himself when he learns this: the answer (supressed for the moment but henceforward never absent from his mind) is: “Time to declare the eternal recurrence”.

This concept appeared earlier in The Gay Science under the title “the greatest weight” and might be described as the event for the sake of which the whole book exists.

The afterlife being the same as this life.

But if everything eternally recurs, this includes that which is small in man. Confronted with this thought, Zarathustra is so sickened that he is unable to get up, eat or drink for seven days. After this period he abandons his disciples in a mood of profound misery, and this time for good.

Part III

In Part III, for the most part Zarathustra is alone and addressing himself.

The four last chapters of this part contain the climax of the book. Zarathustra stands up and accepts the eternal recurrence: he becomes a Yes-sayer, loving life as it is. This shows an acceptance of fate, or amor fati – a defining characteristic of the overman.

 As a solitary man, he speaks to his own soul, to the life he feels within him, and to himself in his future reincarnation, the child he wants to have by “eternity” is himself.

Part IV

In Part IV, Zarathustra is visited by a number of “higher men” who, as a consequence of Zarathustra’s instruction, become conscious of their inadequacy.

Zarathustra goes out into the world again and accumulates a large following, to whom he preaches his teachings of the overman, the eternal recurrence, and the will to power.

These are the main concepts of the book. However, there is still much to learn – it is a book which has so much wisdom and life advise that it should be regarded as a life book, which ought to be revised ever so often. It talks about virtue, how to live life,  how to be a creator of values, to dance and to sing, how to live dangerously, to rise high and use your own legs, to become a life-affirming individual and much more.


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Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 10 Minutes | Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For All and None was Nietzsche’s favourite of his creations. It is indeed one of the most fascinating and creative pieces of work in western philosophy.


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22 thoughts on “Book Review: Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche

  1. A really interesting review of Nietzsche’s TSZ. It’s one of my personal favorites. The three metamorphoses are particularly important and interesting. I always really enjoyed the section on redemption.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read the book and I think this is an excellent review. Nietzsche is often misunderstood as nihilistic, but in fact he was offering an alternative to nihilism, which amounted to a sort of self-creation.

    In this he was anticipated by Kierkegaard, who categorized self-creation as a form of despair ending in self-exhaustion. Kierkegaard felt that for the source of our being we had to rely on something external to us. His psychological study of “despair” (in The Sickness Unto Death) can be read as a commentary on the modern world and its strangely nihilistic project of self-creation, so perfectly expressed by Nietzsche’s aphorism, “God is dead.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks AJOwens! That’s an interesting point. Kierkegaard is another of my favorites! He is after all the father of existentialism but doesn’t get as much attention as he should. His famous leap of faith may seem to be the ultimate irrational experience, but for him it is the most reasonable thing you can do, you choose the person you are going to be rather than the world choosing for you. This stress on subjectivity and the individual, to make one’s life our own subjective answer to it, is one of his main contributions.

      His concept of angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology, kind of an early psychologist as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky can be considered.

      Like

  3. Great blog you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

    Like

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