Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Zarathustra "On Those Who Are Sublime"

In “On Those Who are Sublime” Zarathustra notes that, although his own depths are still, they contain “sportive monsters” - which is to say riddles and laughter.  He then laughs at the ugliness of those ascetic, solemn types who are sublime.  (The chapter is a meditation on two aesthetic concepts:  the beautiful and the sublime, but with a Nietzschean twist).  The sublime person he observes has not learned either laughter or beauty.  Although he claims to fight savagery, his own seriousness shows that he himself is a savage beast.  He has not been “overcome” or “gone under” in the way Zarathustra has.  He is not, then, to Zarathustra’s taste. (Joke, joke:  the sublime is not tasteful.)  He then says:  “And you tell me, friends, there is no disputing of taste and tasting?”  Aestheticians tend to see taste as just a matter of art, or perhaps art and nature.  But, for Nietzsche, it concerns all of life.  Like most aestheticians he denies the so-called common sense view that there is no disputing about taste, but he also believes that “all of life is a dispute over taste and tasting” a point that seems right to me, although this would reduce morality and even science to aesthetics.  Nietzsche also has a broader view of taste in another way.  Taste is not just the thing tasted but the scales that weigh it and  the person who uses the scale.  We can say that the thing (e.g. the living room) has taste, that there are rules of taste, and that the person has taste (in a different sense).  Disputes about taste are about all three, and Zarathustra says “woe unto all the living that would live without” such disputes.  Back to the sublime person, we find that he will only begin to be beautiful if he can become tired of sublimity.  Kant treated the sublime as the higher of the two aesthetic qualities since it involved a kind of contact with the supersensible,  But Nietzsche does not believe in such a realm.  Zarathustra, then, will only taste the sublime person and find him tasteful when he or she has grown tired of sublimity.  The sublime person will have to jump over “his own shadow” i.e. the myth of the supersensible, and into his own sun, i.e. his own will to power.  This shadow is the shadow in which the ascetic has sat, out of the sun, growing pale as he expects God and the afterlife.  Zarathustra urges him to reject his contempt for the earth and his nausea and to gain a happiness that comes from saying yes to the earth, in essence being bullish about the earth.  (It is interesting that Zarathustra has some confidence in the ability of the sublime person to transcend himself).   Various things about him are dark and in the shadow:  his face, his sense of sight, and most important his very deeds:  he needs to overcome his deeds.  He has the neck of a bull, which Zarathustra admires, but not “the eyes of the angel.”  He will go beyond the mere sublime when he gets rid of his heroic will and becomes will-less (an interesting line coming from a teacher of will to power!)   Even though the sublime one subdued some monsters and solved some riddles he has not yet subdued and solved his own.  When he does, he will change them “into heavenly children.”  Only then will his knowledge smile and his passion become “still in beauty.”  Even in resting, the hero (Nietzsche’s new term for the sublime one) should have his arm over his head.  For him, the “beautiful is the most difficult thing”…something that cannot be attained by efforts of a “violent will.”  Rather, the effort should be subtle:  “a little more, a little less.”  In sum “To stand with relaxed muscles and unharnessed will:  that is most difficult for all of you who are sublime.”  (The injunction seems a call to Buddhism!  I wonder how far Nietzsche really is from Buddha:  sometimes very far, sometimes not far at all.) Zarathustra wants beauty most from the powerful (another word for the sublime hero).  They, in conquering themselves will become, paradoxically, kind.  Although capable of every evil, he wants good from them.  They are unlike the weak who think themselves good because they have no power.  Like a column, they will grow more beautiful and gentle but also harder as they ascend.  They will become beautiful someday and in seeing their own beauty they will have “godlike desires.”  Only when the hero has abandoned the soul will he be approached “in a dream by the overhero” i.e. the superman.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree with your mention of Buddhist connections to Zarathustra; specifically, the Buddhist idea of holding oneself in stillness - obtained through meditation. That thought crossed my mind as I was reading the Sublime passage. In fact, the little I've learned of Buddhism in my years of meditation has returned to me several times while reading Zarathustra. As I continue to read it, I'm looking (checking, maybe) for true humility within the Übermensch.