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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tale of an Ubermensch, September 30, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Thus Spake Zarathustra (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra is probably his most famous work as well as being the work least popular among readers. This is probably partially because it is written in fictional form. Zarathustra is well designed to frustrate twentieth century philosophy of the analytic tradition, which seeks conceptual clarity at the expense of rhetorical form, indeed often insisting on the separation between a concept and the vehicle of its expression. Moreover, the utilization of the work by the Nazi war effort did little to improve the books reception in the Anglo-American world.
The book is philosophically interesting, in part because it does employ literary tropes and genres to philosophical effect. Zarathustra makes frequent use of parody, particularly of the Platonic dialogues and the New Testament. This strategy immediately places Zarathustra on a par with Socrates and Christ--and as a clear alternative to them. The erudite allusions to works spanning the Western philosophical and literary traditions also play a philosophical role, for they both reveal Nietzsche's construct of the tradition he inherited and flag points at which he views it as problematic.
Much of the book consists of Zarathustra's speeches on philosophical themes. These often obscure the plotline of the book. The book does involve a plot, however, which includes sections in which Zarathustra is "off-stage," in private reflection, and some in which he seems extremely distressed about the way his teaching and his life are going. Zarathustra attempts to instruct the crowds and the occasional higher man that he encounters in the book; but his most important teaching is his education of the reader, accomplished through demonstrative means. Zarathustra teaches by showing.
Zarathustra stands in he tradition of the German Bildungsroman, in which a character's development toward spiritual maturity is chronicled. Zarathustra can be seen as a paradigm for the modern, spiritually sensitive individual, one who grapples with nihilism, the contemporary crisis in values in the wake of the collapse of the Christian worldview that assigned humanity a clear place in the world.
In the popular imagination, Nietzsche's idea of the Ubermensch is one of his most memorable and significant ideals. However, the concept of the Ubermensch is actually discussed little in the book. The topic is the theme of the first speech in "Zarathustra's Prologue," which he presents to a crowd gathered for a circus. The audience interprets Zarathustra as a circus barker and the speech as an introduction to a performance by a tightrope walker. The concept is mentioned recurrently in Part I as something of a refrain to Zarathustra's speeches. But the word Ubermensch rarely occurs after that.
Additionally, the notion of the Ubermensch is presented in more imagistic than explanatory terms. The Ubermensch, according to Zarathustra, is continually experimental, willing to risk all for the enhancement of humanity. The Ubermensch aspires to greatness, but Zarathustra does not formulate any more specific characterization of what constitutes the enhancement of humanity or greatness. He does, however, contrast the Ubermensch to the last man, the human type whose sole desire is personal comfort and happiness. Such a person is the "last man" quite literally, incapable of the desire that is required to create beyond oneself in any form, including that of having children.
Zarathustra's opening speech, besides proposing the Ubermensch as the ideal for humanity also places emphasis on this world as opposed to any future world. In particular, Zarathustra urges that human beings reassess the value of their own bodies, indeed their embodiment. For too long, dreaming of the afterlife, Western humanity has treated the body as a source of sin and error. Zarathustra, in contrast, insists that the body is the ground of all meaning and knowledge, and that health and strength should be recognized and sought as virtues.
Another prominent theme in Zarathustra is its emphasis on the relative importance of will. In part, this emphasis follows Schopenhauer in claiming that will is more fundamental to human beings than knowledge. However, Nietzsche stresses the will's attempt to enhance its power, whereas he views Schopenhauer as placing greater stress on the will's efforts at self preservation. Nietzsche's famous conception of will to power makes one of its few published appearances in Zarathustra.
Much of the plot of Zarathustra concerns his efforts to formulate his idea of eternal recurrence. At times, the idea possesses him in the form of visions and dreams. At others, he seems reluctant to state it categorically or to accept its implications. During a particularly despairing moment, he shudders at the implication of his doctrine that "the rabble," the petty people who comprise most of the human race, will also recur. The fact that Zarathustra objects to the recurrence of the rabble is indicative of Nietzsche's elitism. Consistently, Nietzsche and Zarathustra contend that human beings are not equal. Nietzsche objects to the democratic movements of his era in favor of more aristocratic forms of social organization that would place control in the hands of the talented, of necessity, not the majority.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 12, 2011 2:05:23 PM PDT
Uriel says:
I loved your review! Nietzsche is so amazing in this book. I was introduced to Nietzsche's work before any other philosopher, and I've been disappointed ever since. "Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue?! Where is the frenzy with which you should be inoculated?!"

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2013 6:14:51 PM PST
Agreed, this was a clear and thoughtful review. Thank you.
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