On the Flies of the Marketplace
The strength of the State is in its cities, but the one who would bring about the Overman should go into the wood; “flee, my friend into your solitude”, says Zarathustra in his next speech. The people in the cities “have a sense for all performers and actors of great things”; unfortunately, they miss the truly important personages, the creators. It seems to me today that we have come no further than in Nietzsche’s day in this regard. I can’t go a day without seeing a headline or a Facebook note about a certain low-brow celebrity whose name is familiar to me by simple repetition, even though I have never actually read a single article about him. I agree with Nietzsche: it’s better to flee into one’s solitude. When one is out of the region of solitude (which is just as real as a metaphor), one is in the marketplace, with its “great men” (politicians, kingmakers, and the like) and its jealous spirits who sting like inconvenient flies. The rest of the chapter reads like a relatively simple rant of a grumpy person.
This is certainly a strange way to bring about the Overman, for it is difficult for either hermits in a physical countryside or deeply reflective people who keep themselves “unspotted” from the world to exert significant impact on the lives around them. Certainly, it seems to me, the idea of the Overman as a mere Superman or anarchist is ridiculous. Such images fail to capture the nuances, the patience, the compassion, and the reflective spirit that are inherent in the Overman, an idea dreamed up by a person who seems to have hated people as much as he loved them.
I remember reading in C.S. Lewis’s essay “On the Reading of Old Books” that one ought to read old books because they will not make the same kinds of intellectual mistakes that we make nowadays. Lewis imagined that in the future, one would be able to look at diametrically-opposed enemies and see in them a common allegiance to the underlying spirit of the age. Similarly, in choosing to make “chastity” a category of discussion, Nietzsche shows himself very much a participant in the Zeitgeist he so railed against in “On the Despisers of the Body”. In On Chastity, Zarathustra begins by saying that too many people in cities live “in heat”, asking “Is it not better to fall into the hands of a murderer than into the dreams of a woman in heat?” He then goes on to say that men who “know nothing better on earth than to lie with a woman” are dirty and muddy. Zarathustra opposes himself to “that bitch, Sensuality”, and condemns the “lust” of the people around him. And this is supposed to be a section that sets people free! So much time and energy are spent expressing abhorrence at sex that Zarathustra’s apparent message, the proposition that chastity is not for everyone, gets lost. But it gets worse.
On the Friend
There are jewels in this speech, but they are embedded in misogynist crap. My favourite example of the former is this quotation: “Many cannot loosen their own chains and yet they are a redeemer for a friend”; frankly, I admire the sentiment and assert its correctness. In fact, I think many of the most compassionate people show love and friendship to others out of their own inner and profound suffering. That’s as good as this speech gets, though. Zarathustra says that friendship should be about privacy, and a good friend “should be a master at guessing and keeping silent”. So far so good, but that only goes so far. The prophet advises people to have compassion for their friends, but to keep their passions under a shell. Obviously, Zarathustra himself didn’t get all that he should have from his friendships, for he makes the astonishing claim that a woman can’t know friendship. A footnote in my volume explains that Nietzsche was working through his feelings of rejection and betrayal following his relationship with Lou Salomé while he worked on the first two parts of his book. Indeed, Nietzsche’s prophet in this speech characterizes women as cows at best, and tyrant and slave at worst, and I have no doubt that Zarathustra is speaking for Nietzsche himself.
Frankly, I simply don’t have patience for anyone who generalizes about the opposite sex based on bad romantic experiences they have had. It’s ridiculous. And Nietzsche does it here, and he won’t be finished yet. If he had been born today, there would have been no excuse for him, but born in the era he was, he had, I suppose, some small, tiny excuse. But if he had had the ability to have good friends to talk to about this aspect of the human condition, I assert, he would have been much more psychologically healthy. Well anyway, this part of Thus Spake Zarathustra shows the author’s feet of clay. It makes for disagreeable reading. Certainly, a good deal of bad philosophy and equally repugnant theology can be traced to some males’ relational immaturity and consequent misogyny. I hope we’ve all grown out of that by now.