The 23rd Psalm and Nietzsche clash in today’s exploration. The 23rd Psalm adorns the cover of this diary. Essentially serves as a request for God to be a provider and protector. It is often heard at funerals because of the line about “walking through the shadow of the valley of death.” The Psalm is meant to be comfort. Even in the darkest times, we are not alone. Although I never like the image of God as a shepherd herding sheep, I do like the idea that we are never alone. The Psalm can still comfort you even if you believe that God is inside you—in all of us. When we die it is only our body that does so—our souls pass onward.
I once saw a shirt that read “Nietzsche says God is dead—God Says Nietzsche is dead.” I smiled because the shirt had a point. However, I think it was meant to be an attack on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian stance. Despite his many faults, Nietzsche still remains influential, if not ever-popular.
This week I picked up Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Basic Writings of Nietzsche. At times I found his writing interesting and beautifully poetic, at other times I wanted to through the book across the room! Nietzsche says something brilliant and insightful on one page and then goes off on a hateful rant the next. He is blatantly sexist and often resentful of not only Christians, but Jews as well. The editor explains in his introduction that Nietzsche is a difficult writer to peg. He can be interpreted in many different ways and has been seen in many different lights. Dining on a feast of Nietzsche’s scraps are: Existentialists, Chauvinists, Cosmopolitans, Anti-Semites, Philo-Semites, Francophiles, Wagnerites, Brahmsians, Nature Worshipers, Freud’s Followers and Freud’s Critics! Whatever category you impose on Nietzsche, it is undeniable he has influenced modern literature. Among those who name him as influential are; Sartre, Camus, Thomas Mann, Rainer Marie Rilke, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce and Eugene O’Neill.
I’ve read about Nietzsche for years, but had never actually read much of his work. I was introduced to the name in Steven Joyce’s Film Class. We were required to read The Birth of Tragedy. Although helpful in understanding the themes we studied, Nietzsche wasn’t an easy read.
It surprised me that Marina Ferrer in The L Word mentioned Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Although the text has certain aesthetic beauty to it, it is a dense text with sexist undertones. As an intellectual woman she should not have found the text so stimulating. I suppose one can be a lesbian and not a feminist, but it seems contradictory. Perhaps once can be a feminist and appreciate Nietzsche anyway.
There were things I liked about Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He believes we shouldn’t focus on guilt. He is an advocate for appreciating the body and sexual desire. Of course, he goes on to mock love and compassion, which is disturbing. He believes that we should rise up and above our beast-like selves. We should evolve into a sort of over-man or superman. I like the idea of becoming a better human being, and in turn, a better human race. I just think he is wrong about needing to be hardened intellectuals to do so.
The death of God is about the lack of tough love. He claims that God died of pity because he felt sorry for his creations. Humans are a despicable lot who are nothing but a disappointment to their heavenly father.
I am not sure one can write Nietzsche off as an atheist. He mentions the soul a number of times, pointing toward some sort of spirituality. He has an affinity toward Greek Mythology, but I am not sure he is exactly pagan either. He doesn’t believe in Jesus as our savior, that much is clear. Although Nietzsche advocates the same sort of mind set that Buddhism does, he rejects the cornerstone of Buddhist faith—compassion. I agree that in order to grow one must have a spiritual death and rebirth. Nietzsche says, “You must wish to consume yourself in your own flame; how could you wish to become new unless you had first become ashes.” (64)
Interestingly, Zarathustra addresses his disciples or followers as sheep. He addresses his audience as his herd. This is an insult, I believe. He believes that Christians are nothing but a bunch of mindless sheep. His tone is bitter, negative and mocking. There are many moments of biting sarcasm that read as very serious. It would be easy to believe that he is supporting something that he actually despises.
While I agree that people need to learn to think for themselves and not just follow the leader, I disagree with the rejection of love, comfort and an afterlife. Nietzsche is only half right. Courage to rise above your former self and a strong work ethic is important, however, without love and happiness life is still meaningless. To not give our meaning suffering and to not give ourselves hope is a path to depression and self-destruction.
You know what I think? I think Fredrich Nietzsche was a sensitive soul, beaten down by religion and society. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was abused. Perhaps even from a member of the church. Sexism is the norm in society during his day, but his prejudice seems to stem from some sort of personal experience as well. He could have witnessed his father abuse of his mother or even been abused by his mother. He may also have felt that any show of emotion, especially love, meant showing weakness. That sort of thinking is not uncommon for someone whose been abused. Nietzsche was intelligent, but suffered from depression or manic-depression. Certainly, he succumbed to insanity at the end of his life. Syphilis is thought to be the cause. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t catch it from a prostitute that he mistreated as some sort of karma. One can only wonder how his views would have changed if he’d lived today instead of over 100 years ago! Would medication or therapy dulled his senses and silenced his soul? Or maybe made his head clearer? Could Nietzsche have been better without being so bitter? We may never know. At least he did provide some food for thought and a call to action!