I have this problem, one in which I’m trying very hard to overcome, but it almost seems impossible. What is my problem you ask? I can’t stop myself from continuing to start new avenues of creativity, you could call it, without finishing my current one.
What I mean by that is, although I haven’t finished Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, I so enthusiastically started reading Dostoevsky, Kafka, Frankl, Huxley, and again, another book by Storr, which is just a collection of Jung’s work.
And guess what? I started reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche. And, although I feel so enthusiastic about reading and writing about it (which I’m doing that here), I can’t help but feel a sense of “incompleteness” since I haven’t finished Huxley’s A Brave New World which I’m only about 60 pages to completion.
Nevertheless, I’m going to write about Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and I’m actually going to make this whole post solely about the very first page. You might ask, how can you write a post that’s actually longer than the first page of the book? To that, I’ll say, it’s because the first page of the book implicitly asks questions and reveals insights that are much deeper than the particular words Nietzsche chose.
Honestly, I’m half inclined to put the first page of the book within this post, as it’s very short, which I might do, so here it is:
When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and solitude and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, and rising one morning with the dawn, he stood before the sun and spoke to it thus:
“You great star! what would your happiness be if you had not those for whom you shine!
“for ten years you have climbed her to my cave: you would have wearied of your light and of this journey, without me, my eagle and my serpent.
“But we awaited you every morning, took from you your overflow and blessed you for it.
“Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey. I need hands outstretched to take it.
“I want to give away and distribute, until the wise have once more become happy in their folly, and the poor happy in their riches.
“Therefore I must descend into the depths: as you do in the evening, when you go behind the sea and bring light also to the underworld, you exuberant star!
“Like you, I go under, as men say, to whom I shall descend.
“Bless me then, you tranquil eye, that you can behold even an all-too-great happiness without envy!
“Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the waters may flow golden from him and carry everywhere the reflection of your joy!
“Behold, this cup wants to be empty again, and Zarathustra wants to be man again.”
Thus Zarathustra began to go under.
Sorry for the long excerpt, but I feel it is necessary. Now, what is he saying here? What is Zarathustra trying to say? Well, I think it’s important to understand who “Zarathustra” was.
For Nietzsche, Zarathustra was a fictional character (based on a real historical figure) who, similar in attributes, was like Jesus. What I mean by that is, Jesus, the Son of God, came down from Heaven to deliver a message: the message of God.
And what was the message of God? This is complicated, to say the least, but, essentially, the Message of God was that we, as humans, we’re all saved. We were able to have all our sins “washed away” and becomes gods ourselves, so to speak. We could become perfect through Christ.
And that’s what Zarathustra is alluding to here: that he is finally ready to deliver the message that redeems or transforms humanity into what Nietzsche called, the Ubermensch (the superman or the godman).
And that’s what the message of Christianity is trying to say, simply speaking, that we can become like Jesus if we follow his ways. So, Zarathustra is saying when he says “I must go under”. He’s saying he must leave his mountains, his cave of solitude, that like Jesus must leave heaven, in order to deliver his message. He must become man.
And that’s what Zarathustra says: “Behold, this cup wants to be empty again, and Zarathustra wants to be man again.”
But I ask you, if you read this in the same way you might read the Bible, you might say what Zarathustra is doing, and in the same way Jesus and/or God was doing, was their goal truly optimistic, or was it simply naive?
People say, to reject the message of God is blasphemous, and it is not that there’s not something wrong with God’s message, but with that of the people in which he’s speaking too. And I’d agree, but hold on.
I want to pose the opposite of that question, in that, was Jesus, and, in turn, God, was he naive to believe that people, after hearing this message of salvation, that people would just latch on to it without question? That, once they heard this message, it would be so easy for them to give up their old and foolish ways and pursue God himself?
And that’s what Nietzsche is describing, in a sense, with Zarathustra’s descent. He’s describing the, sort of, blind naivety, that God seems to implicitly have when he sends his son to deliver his message. That, at the moment they hear his almighty wisdom, they will suddenly change their ways.
He says, “Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey. I need hands outstretched to take it.”
In a way, he’s saying, it’s too selfish to keep what I’ve learned, the wisdom I’ve gathered. I must give it to others and let them know the “light”, the way.
He goes on to say this as he’s talking to the sun (which alludes to God): “Therefore I must descend into the depths: as you do in the evening, when you go behind the sea and bring light also to the underworld, you exuberant star!”
But what’s he saying really? He’s saying, as easy as it’s for you to descend and then ascend back into the sky every night and every day, I must do the same. He’s saying that what you do (the sun) is so easy, in that, I (Zarathustra) must do the same.
That’s when I pose the question, is he naive to say this, to think it’s so easy that he can do it too? And, I think, yes, he is! Because what is he really asking? What’s Jesus asking when he comes down to Earth?
He’s asking all of us to take responsibility for EVERYTHING. That means you must take on the sins of the world even if they are not your own sins. That means that every single thing you do, you must be held responsible. You are not to blame anyone but yourself.
In theory, it sounds noble, and maybe even noble enough to pursue. But in practice, it is much, much more difficult.
It means that, if your wife cheats on you, maybe even because of no fault of your own, you’re still to blame. It means that, if someone breaks into your house while you’re away, you’re still to blame. It means that all the actions, and thus the consequences as a result of those actions, are, in part, your responsibility. It means that your suffering, as consciously as it’s there, is a result of something you did and/or are doing.
The victim card is no longer a valid card.
To ask people, maybe even those who are facing tragedy or worse, malevolence, to take on their suffering, and with dignity, it’s a big task.
When a loved one dies, say, your father, or when your child dies of cancer, or when some catastrophic event happens that can leave you traumatized (for life even!), you’re to embrace your suffering and don’t you dare ask God why this happened.
You take on full responsibility: for everything.
And it’s clear why people wouldn’t’ want to do that. That’s because it’s hard. It’s tragic. It’s cruel. It’s unforgiving. And at the end of the day, at the end of your life, you wonder, was it worth it? Was trading in your “happiness” worth bearing the suffering of the world, the full awareness of your own inadequacies?
Would it be better to live every day rich and “happy”, or, to live every day poor, yet fulfilled?
That’s not such an obviously answered question. Yes, most would probably say the latter is better, but again, most people don’t live that way. Most people don’t act as if the latter is true. We do pursue happiness and comfort. We pursue contentment. We compare ourselves to other when we’re not as “successful” as them.
We think life is ultimately unfair. That is, we believe, just because we might suffer more than others, the world owes us something.
And I ask once again, is it naive to ask people to believe that the world isn’t unfair? That life is completely fair? That, there are people who are rewarded for their deception and by taking advantage of others, while others are penalized for speaking the truth? Isn’t that unfair?
Take the story of Jesus who was crucified for merely speaking the truth. We see that as unfair and unjust. But I ask you, what if it wasn’t? What if, the crucifixion of Christ, what if that was entirely fair?
I’m not saying it is, but what I am saying is that’s the message that Zarathustra is bringing and what Jesus brought, as well: that the crucifixion of Christ was justified, that’s because Christ himself took on the suffering voluntarily.
Is it naive to take on your own suffering, and not only that, but continue to be optimistic in the face of it? To stay positive when those around you refuse to so? When people say you’ve been treated unfairly?
I heard a quote once, and it’s quite possibly the best quote I’ve ever heard, and it was by Jordan Peterson, though, I’m not sure if he was the first to say it, but here it is, and this is not verbatim.
True optimism is not naive. Because when you’re truly optimistic and you truly do believe it all the way to the deepest parts of your soul, then what you’re doing is, you’re extending the best part of yourself, in trust, that the other person, in turn, the world, extends the best part of their selves, as well. And that’s not naive, not in the least bit.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
thanks for reading,