I and Me are still slowly chugging along in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” alone. Most of the time, I read a “speech” and think, “I have no idea what he’s trying to say!” Then there are a few that allow me a glimmer of hope…only to be dashed to the rocks again. I’ve shared a few quotes on my Instagram page, one-liners that made some kind of sense to me. I know that’s not what Nietzsche meant for his readers to do. They are parables, stories that are supposed to lead you in the direction of his thinking so that you can follow him and achieve your own ubermensch. They aren’t supposed to be dissected or quoted without context, the same way the parables of Jesus were.
But here I am…totally confused, trying to find the meaning. They remind me of riddles. I hate riddles. It is helping us to read them slowly, sometimes two or three times, then allowing them to make sense or not and moving on. It’s like those dot pictures they had in the mall in 80’s that you were supposed to be able to see pictures in. We’d all stand and stare and then someone would proclaim, “I see it! Do you? The boat with a kitten at the helm?!” And then we’d all agree, “Oh, yes! There it is!” Honestly, I doubt anyone ever saw what we were supposed to see. We just didn’t want to look stupid.
But that’s exactly how I feel reading Nietzsche, every single time. There’s meaning in there, I know it! I’ve heard some of it explained. Sometimes I see the edge of a picture, but then I shift my focus and it’s gone. Damn.
I found this little gem in “On the Friend” yesterday.
“I and Me are always too earnestly in conversation: how could it be endured, if there were not a friend?
For the hermit the friend is always the third person: the third person is the cork that prevents the conversation of the other two from sinking into the depths.
Ah, there are too many depths for all hermits. That is why they long so much for a friend and for his heights.”
A couple things. First off, I am not a hermit in any sense of the word. In my imagination, I long to attempt a short hermitage. Step away from all human contact for a prescribed amount of time, just to see if I can do it. I know I’ll be miserable, and the older I get, the more averse to being uncomfortable I become. The closest I get is turning my phone off for a few hours or lacking an internet connection while the power it out.
But I do get the “I and Me” being “always too earnestly in conversation.” We tend to have very deep conversations with myself and can spiral down into misery pretty quickly if we are left to our own devices. Where would we end up if we didn’t have a friend that called and invited us out for a lunch date or a hike? I shudder to think. I might complete a thought, finish a story, or learn something new.
Second, I’m not sure that Nietzsche was saying this was a good thing. I think he believed it a weakness, something we should overcome to come closer to ubermensch. Now that I’ve sat here writing out my thoughts, I can see why. We’re terrified of being alone.
Alone is where we get out biggest work done. It’s where we find our true selves, not reflected in someone else’s thoughts and ideas. If we had more time alone, what could we accomplish? What would we think?
Something to think about more, but I have a lunch date today, so I have to run off into the world.
Want to start from the beginning? Pop back to my first post, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read.”
From the front cover flap of my Barnes & Noble edition, “…Nietzsche, a despiser of mass movements both political and religious, did not ask his readers for blind faith and obedience, but rather for critical reflection, courage, and independence.”
Apparently, Nietzsche and I have more in common than I thought.
I only was able to spend thirty minutes in this book so far and, like my son, decided to read the introduction pages to get a feel for the significance of it. I’m about half-way through and the margins are filled with “yes” and “shit” and “well, crap” already.
Why? Because the book was published in 1883 and much of what he’s saying about the evolution of mankind…well, it just hits a little close to home. It probably always has and always will.
“…life is assumed to be valuable just as it is.”
Tragic or comic, suffering or happiness, this is all of life and is not only to be endured but lived to fullest extent. We aren’t here waiting at this moment for the next to be better. We aren’t suffering through one period of life to enjoy happiness in the next. We are, simply, here, right now, living.
Years ago, I read that Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead,” wasn’t a metaphysical thing. It’s not that the actual God died or that we killed him somehow. He was “referring instead to people’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God. His claim is that many people who think they believe in God really do not believe. That is, their “belief” makes no difference in their lives, a fact they betray through their actions and feelings.”
This struck right to the middle of my heart because it’s something I’ve brought up so many times over the years. I started watching “Messiah” on Netflix this past week. I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please! While watching, I’ve paused so many times to rail about their reaction to this man. It’s exactly my problem with religious people. You say one thing and then behave another. You say, “God’s will be done.” And then act to change it. You say, “Turn the other cheek.” And then fight. You say, “Thou shalt not kill.” And then contract to murder. And it’s not just Christians.
Those who have turned our government into a religion are doing the same. We say, “For the greater good.” And then get angry when we’re in the minority. We say, “The authority knows best.” And get angry when it’s used against us. We say, “This is what the voters want. Democracy decides best.” And then avoid following the laws the majority voted for.
I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. It’s the natural outcome of denying reality because it’s easier. I believe we should acknowledge that our society has changed. We don’t need “blind faith and obedience.” We need “critical reflection, courage, and independence.” But that involves personal responsibility, and most of us aren’t willing to take that on. It’s far easier to be told what we are supposed to do, make others do it, and blame others when things go badly. It’s easier to take the welfare or the tax break, send our kids to public schools, vote for someone else, or force the medical care, than to provide for ourselves and live with the consequences.
Any time I’ve heard Nietzsche discussed, it’s usually negative. I’ve heard him equated with Nazi’s, which now I’m reading was a misunderstanding based on his sisters editing after his death. I’ve heard that his philosophy leads to nihilism and that was his goal. Nihilism isn’t a goal, it’s a crisis, a turning point. At first, we think, “What’s the damn point if we have nothing to work towards, no afterlife or reward at the end?” We struggle through the change, cocoon ourselves and consider the options. Once we begin to think critically, we take courage and emerge independent. We accept this world right here as it is, the people around us as they are, and we live our lives to the fullest, suffering and peace in same space. Reality is far more exciting.
My thinking is that, just as we protect our children with myths about the wider world as they grow, just as we train our children how to take care of themselves in the comparative safety of our homes, only to allow them to grow up, move out into the world, and take on responsibility for their own lives, so humanity does the same. Humanity will move through this crisis, it will struggle and fight its way out of the protective cocoon of myth and belief, to finally emerge in a new and beautiful form. This is what is meant as “God’s Will.” We aren’t meant for blind faith and obedience forever. If it doesn’t, then so be it. Evolution is a relentless bitch.
Now I know what my son was so excited about. I can’t wait to read more, but I don’t want to rush through just so that I can add it to my “Autobibliography.” I need to slow down, read, write, and reflect more. This may take a while, but I think it will be worth it.
Want to start at the beginning? Pop back to my initial post “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read”