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The Human Evasion by Celia Green

Chapter 13 : Nietzsche

It is interesting to consider the case of Nietzsche in relation to that of Christ. In both cases, the human race has supposed that the central feature of their thought was an injunction to human interaction. In the case of Christ, they thought they were being enjoined to get on nicely with their friends and relations. In the case of Nietzsche they thought they were being enjoined to wear jackboots and torture the slaves before breakfast.

In actual fact, it is tolerably clear that both of them were extremely interested in something quite other than human beings. (Nietzsche, for example, observed: 'I love thee, O Eternity.')

Both of them glimpsed the possibility of some kind of psychological development which was distinctly not-sane. Nietzsche called this possibility 'the Superman'.

It does not pay to read the works of Nietzsche in their entirety, unless you wish to confuse yourself. The most distinctive expression of Nietzsche's thought is contained in Thus Spake Zarathustra, and in the first few pages of it at that. Nietzsche sometimes confused his psychological ideas with social or political ones, particularly in books other than Zarathustra.

(This kind of mistake is easily made by a person who has been brought up in a sane world.)

The idea of the Superman has nothing to do with politics. Nietzsche may have thought it had, at least on occasion, but if so he was mistaken. However, Nietzsche did not always make this mistake.

Where the State ceaseth, there beginneth that man which is not superfluous: there beginneth the song of the necessary man, the single, irreplaceable melody.
  Where the State ceaseth -- I pray you look there, my brethren! Do you not see it, the rainbow, the bridge to the Superman?[1]

Nietzsche may sometimes have thought he was liking the German aristocracy of his time and disliking the German bourgeoisie. In fact it is much simpler to suppose that he was disliking sanity. The 'Last Man' is recognizable as a sane person in a good state of mental health.

Alas! the day cometh when man shall no longer shoot the arrow of his desire beyond man, when his bowstring shall have forgotten its use! I say unto you: a man must have chaos yet within him to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: ye have chaos yet within you. Alas! the day cometh when man shall give birth to no more stars. Alas! the day cometh of that most contemptible man which can no longer contemn himself.

Behold! I show you the Last Man.

What is love? What is creation? What is desire? What is a star? asketh the Last Man, and he blinketh! ...

Man still loveth his neighbour and rubbeth himself against him; for one must have warmth ...

A little poison now and then: for that causeth pleasant dreams. And much poison at the last for an easy death.

They still work, for work is a pastime.... But they take heed, lest the pastime harm them ..

They have little lust for the day and little lusts for the night: but they have regard for the health.

We have discovered happiness, say the Last Men, and they blink.[2]

There are a few things in the thought of Nietzsche which appeal to sane people. Perhaps he over-reacted against the orthodox religion of his time and this may have made him sound more like an ordinary hedonist than he was. 'Do not be misled by otherworldliness!' says Nietzsche, and the modern reader, who is not in the slightest danger of being, says approvingly, 'Ah, yes. There is no Outside. I do understand that.' 'Man must create his own values!' says Nietzsche. 'But of course', says the reader, 'What other values could there be?'

Nietzsche, like Christ, used symbols freely. The human race is not good at psychology, and does not understand symbols. When, Nietzsche, for example, refers to 'dancing' one must realize that to him it probably meant primarily a quality of intellectual activity. Similarly 'wine' is most likely to refer to the intoxication of inspiration.

Nietzsche was certainly opposed to half-heartedness and repression; but exhortations to full-bloodedness do not necessarily imply an approval of physical pleasure. (Perhaps, sometimes, he thought they did, but if so he was mistaken.) It is much simpler to suppose that what he was primarily intending to convey was a total integration of the personality. There is nothing in the first few pages of Zarathustra to suggest that the Superman would be a hedonist (or a sadist).

What is the greatest thing ye can experience? It is the hour of great contempt. The hour in which even your happiness is loathsome to you, and your reason and your virtue likewise.

The hour in which ye say: What is my happiness worth! It is poverty and uncleanness and despicable ease. Yet my happiness should justify Being itself!

The hour in which ye say: What is my reason worth! Desireth it knowledge as the lion his prey? It is poverty and uncleanness, and despicable ease.

The hour in which ye say: What is my virtue worth! Not yet hath it roused me to fury. How I weary of my good and mine evil! It is all naught but poverty and uncleanness and despicable ease! ...

Man is a rope stretched betwixt beast and Superman -- a rope over an abyss.

Perilous is the crossing, perilous the way, perilous the backward look, perilous all trembling and halting by the way.

Man is great in that he is a bridge and not a goal: man can be loved in that he is a transition and a perishing.

I love them which live not save as under-goers, for they are the over-goers.

I love them which greatly scorn for they also greatly adore; they are arrows of longing for the farther shore.

I love them which seek no reason beyond the stars wherefore they should perish, wherefore they should be sacrificed, but which sacrifice themselves to the earth that the earth hereafter may be the Superman's.

I love him which liveth that he may know, and which seeketh knowledge that hereafter the Superman may live: for thus he willeth his own down-going.

I love him which worketh and deviseth to build an house for the Superman, to prepare for him earth, beast and plant; for thus he willeth his own down-going.

I love him which loveth his virtue: for virtue is the will to down-going, and an arrow of longing.

I love him which reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but willeth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus in spirit he crosseth the bridge.

I love him which maketh of his virtue his inclination and his destiny: for thus for his virtue's sake he willeth either to live on or to cease to live.

I love him which desireth not too many virtues. One virtue is more virtue than two, because it is so much the more a knot on which destiny hangs.

I love him whose soul lavisheth himself, that neither requireth nor returneth thanks: for he giveth ever and keepeth naught for himself ...I love all them which are as heavy rain-drops falling one by one from the dark cloud that lowereth over mankind: they herald the coming of the lightning, and they perish as heralds.

Behold, I am an herald of the lightning and an heavy rain-drop from the clouds: but that lightning is named Superman.[3]

Nietzsche himself did not claim to be the Superman, so there is no point in objecting that the idea is invalid because Nietzsche had headaches, nor indeed because he went mad.

Never yet has there been a Superman. I have seen both naked -- the greatest man and the least.

They are still far too like one another. Verily, even the greatest found I -- all too human![4]

It is sometimes claimed that Nietzsche went mad (a) because he had syphilis, and (b) because he thought too much. It should be pointed out that you cannot hold both of these views simultaneously -- or at least, if you like the humorous implications of the syphilis idea, you cannot at the same time say, 'It only proves the human mind can't stand the strain of such extraordinary ideas.'

There is another argument about Nietzsche's madness (and I repeat, you cannot very well hold all of these attractive ideas at once). It is that a precipitating factor was the lack of recognition from which he suffered. 'If only,' the argument runs,'he had realized that his books were just on the verge of being appreciated -- it would have made all the difference. He would have liked this social compensation very much and become quite well-adjusted.' One thing wrong with this argument is that he already had quite a high degree of social recognition.

It seems to be doubtful whether appreciation was exactly what he wanted, anyway. It seems to me probable that he wanted people to be interested in not-sanity, and perhaps underestimated the universal hold which sanity has on the human mind.

A light hath dawned on me. I need companions -- living ones, not dead companions and corpses which I may carry with me where I will.

But I need living companions which follow me because they desire to follow themselves -- and to go to that place whither I wish to go. [5]

A thousand goals have there been heretofore, for there have been a thousand peoples. But the yoke upon the thousand necks is lacking, the one goal is lacking. Mankind hath as yet no goal.

But tell me, I pray, my brethren: if a goal be lacking to mankind, is not mankind itself lacking?[6]

There is one final stumbling-block in the thought of Nietzsche. This is 'eternal recurrence'. This is no doubt very difficult if you insist on taking it as a metaphysical dogma. But if one is permitted to ask,'What was the psychological significance of this idea? What gave it its emotional impact to Nietzsche?' one may see an answer in Joyful Wisdom.

What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: 'This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence -- and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!' -- Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and gnash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him:

'Thou art a God, and never did I hear anything so divine!' If that thought acquired power over thee as thou art, it would transform thee, and perhaps crush thee; the question with regard to all and everything: 'Dost thou want this once more, and also for innumerable times?' would lie as the heaviest burden upon thy activity! Or, how wouldst thou have to become favourably inclined to thyself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing?[7]

Here it is plain that the idea is connected with the existential perception that the events of your life really exist. To normal psychology, this is a rather dull statement. But it may not have appeared dull to Nietzsche, and he may have used the idea of eternal recurrence to express the emotional force which it had to him.

[1] F. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by A. Tille, J.M. Dent and Sons, 1960, p.43. [2] Ibid., p.9. [3] Ibid., pp.6-8. [4] Ibid., p.83. [5] Ibid., p.13. [6] Ibid., p.51. [7] F. Nietzsche, Joyful Wisdom, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1964, pp.270-1.
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