‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None’ is a famous and somewhat controversial novel finalized by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in 1885. Nietzsche has considered this book his most important work. It greatly expands on the main ideas that he has presented in his previous works, and remains a hot topic for debates in scholarly circles up to this day.
The book was written in German, and made heavy use of various forms of wordplay. The translations were thus sometimes impeded1 by a lack of corresponding wordplays or terms in other languages. Even taken at face value, the book was made explicitly2 in a way that defies3 any attempts to read it straightforwardly. Nietzsche himself, rather tongue-in-cheek4, has written thus in a preface to his next book, Ecce Homo: ‘With Thus Spoke Zarathustra I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far. This book, with a voice bridging centuries, is not only the highest book there is, the book that is truly characterized by the air of the heights — the whole fact of man lies beneath it at a tremendous distance — it is also the deepest, born out of the innermost wealth of truth, an inexhaustible well to which no pail descends without coming up again filled with gold and goodness’, perhaps hinting at the fact that none of his contemporaries5 had even begun to move in the right direction regarding that book.
The plot of the book is fairly simple. Zarathustra, a wandering philosopher, travels around the world and comments on various people and places he sees. Zarathustra is an evaluator (or rather, transvaluator) of all ideas, and strives to question a broad variety of topics regarding human culture and daily lives.
Three major themes can be followed through the book: the eternal recurrence of everything that is; the possible appearance of ‘super-humanity’; the concept of ‘will to power’ as the cornerstone of human psyche and behaviour.
The idea of ‘eternal return’ (or recurrence) is the idea that each event and occurrence that happens, repeats itself eternally in cycles. Rather than postulating this, Nietzsche actually ponders if it’s true. Although it’s a very popular idea that seemingly stems logically from the laws of infinite Universe as we know it, it still hasn’t been proven nor disproven, so Nietzsche marks it as ‘the most burdensome’ of his thoughts.
The concept of a ‘super-human’ (or, rather, of a ‘beyond-human’, Übermensch) is one of the goals that Nietzsche suggests to humanity through teachings of Zarathustra. The Übermensch is an objectively better type of a human that is destined to transcend6 the regular humans. This idea was interpreted in wildly different ways, sometimes outright xenophobic. But at its core it suggests only transcendence of some stale norms of morality and building a better future on Earth instead of turning to all things spiritual. An antithesis of an Übermensch is called a ‘last man’, a nihilistic, egalitarian and decadent human being, ‘too apathetic to dream’. Nietzsche also suggests that this is another of the possible outcomes of humanity development.
The third idea, which is a ‘will to power’ is never precisely defined in any of Nietzche’s work. This also has brought many speculations and controversy into his works, as well as into the works of his researchers. He did mention though that it’s a driving characteristic of all life, and it’s related to overcoming perils7 and obstacles, including the obstacles within oneself. He also made a notion that human cruelty (in whatever form) may be related to this driving force.
Initially Nietzsche has planned this book to have six parts. During his life he’s managed to write only four, and the fourth was largely written as a rough draft. Debates around the book are still going strong today, and while Nietzsche himself has argued that the book is finished, and opposed vehemently to any attempts to add or remove something from it, the key to the ultimate understanding of his ideas is yet to be found.
- 1 Impeded – Затруднено;
- 2 Explicitly – Конкретно;
- 3 Defies – отвергает;
- 4 Tongue-in-cheek – лукавый, насмешливый;
- 5 Contemporaries – современники;
- 6 Transcend – качественно превзойти и оставить позади что-либо;
- 7 Perils – невзгоды, опасности.