Nietzsche also speaks ambiguously of a 'prefatory men' - between men and overmen - who are bent on seeking in all things for that aspect which must be overcome. He exhorts prefatory men to live dangerously. Further, philosophers, artists and saints are true men (those who are no longer animals) and while the overman is a higher breed to them, since these true men are in the process of overcoming themselves, they are therefore to some extent overmen.
Nietzsche then speaks of self-overcoming by 'giving style to one's character'. He complains that most people's characters have no particular style and by giving style to one's character he means not accepting oneself as ready-made, as factory-made. The attitude needed is to treat one's life and character as raw materials, like a lump of clay, ready to be shaped like a work of art. Men should not be satisfied with who they are or their lot in life.
Nietzsche mentions the example of Goethe in connection with this idea of giving style to one's character. Nietzsche admired this notable German poet, dramatist, novelist, thinker, scientist and mystic. As a young man Goethe was a rake and quite wild, but he continually strove to make something of himself. He worked on himself just like he worked on a poem - striving to make himself better, clearer, balanced and a more perfect man. Napoleon said on meeting Goethe, 'Look, there's a man.'
Will to Power
Much has written on the Will to Power and a posthumous collection of Nietzsche's works bears the Will to Power as a title. One such edition was complied by his proto-Nazi sister and another by Alfred Baumler, a Nazi, in 1930. Given the misconceptions associated with this concept of Nietzsche, we will focus on references in Thus Spake Zarathustra, by quoting and reviewing the English translations directly.
In Discourse 34, Self-Overcoming:
- At the outset we note that the Will to Power occupies the discourse on Self-Overcoming which perhaps indicates that the will to power enables self-overcoming.
- The discourse reads:
- "Will to Truth do you call it, you wisest ones, that which impels you and makes you ardent (or filled with lust)?"
- Here we find Nietzsche's definition of 'will' - that which impels and makes a person ardent. In our words: Nietzsche's 'will' is that which motivates and creates enthusiasm and desires. This is somewhat different from another definition of 'will': determination and decisive decision-making.
- Our reading regarding the Will to Truth is that while the 'wisest ones' (philosophers, religious or political leaders?) claim that it is the search for the truth that motivates them, they are mistaken - the motivator is power. The philosopher's truth is their attempt to provide a systematic representation of reality.
- "Will for the thinkableness of all being: thus do I call your will!"
- Our reading: Nietzsche defines the philosopher's search for truth, as simply a desire to be rational - to construct a well thought out and reasoned rationale for their conclusions on the nature of being and life.
- Truth makes a being thinkable and the purpose of truth is the furtherance of life. Whether the truth furthers life is the ultimate test of thinkableness. Ultimately, the test is whether it furthers the will to power. By extension we read that there is no altruistic motivation for a search for the truth. Truth is not sought for truth's sake. It is sought for the furtherance of power.
- Or perhaps thinkableness means the ability to influence the thinking of other beings.
- "All being would you make thinkable: for you doubt with good reason whether it be already thinkable. But it shall accommodate and bend itself to you! So wills your will. Smooth shall it become and subject to the spirit, as its mirror and reflection.
- Here we read that philosophers, priests or political leaders are sceptical if all (human) beings are rational, thinking people and that they strive to educate the masses. But this act betrays a desire for the philosopher to impose their will on others. The reference to to spirit is enigmatic and bears further reflection. What spirit and whose spirit? What, if any, is the connection with the human soul?
- "That is your entire will, you wisest ones, as a Will to Power; and even when you speak of good and evil, and of estimates of value. You would still create a world before which you can bow the knee: such is your ultimate hope and ecstasy. The ignorant, to be sure, the people - they are like a river on which a boat floats along: and in the boat sit the estimates of value, solemn and disguised. Your will and your valuations have you put on the river of becoming; it betrays to me an old Will to Power, what is believed by the people as good and evil. It was you, you wisest ones, who put such guests in this boat, and gave them pomp and proud names - you and your ruling Will!"
- We wonder here if the reference to the "wisest ones" includes church elders and their pronouncements on morality and estimations of what is good and bad, right and wrong. Ultimately, it is the desire of these "wisest ones" to make the ignorant bend at the knee and kneel before them in an act of submission.
- "Onward the river now carries your boat: it must carry it. A small matter if the rough wave foams and angrily resists its keel! It is not the river that is your danger and the end of your good and evil, you wisest ones: but that Will itself, the Will to Power - the unexhausted, procreating life-will."
- Here we read that the obstacle the "wisest ones" face in the imposition of their will on "the ignorant" travelling the path (the river) to becoming is not the obstacle on the path itself, but the liberating desire of the human spirit and the very same will to power that the "wisest ones" have employed to dominate "the ignorant". The obstacle of the will sits in the boat itself - it is not an external threat.
- "But that you may understand my gospel of good and evil, for that purpose will I tell you my gospel of life, and of the nature of all living things. "
- Here we see that the answer that Nietzsche proposes as the fundamental motivator of life, the life force, is to be found in all living things (and not just humans).
- "The living thing did I follow; I walked in the broadest and narrowest paths to learn its nature. With a hundred-faced mirror did I catch its glance when its mouth was shut, so that its eye might speak to me. And its eye spoke to me."
- Here we see Nietzsche seeking to understanding the "nature of all living things" by a careful examination (of their behaviour and non-verbal messages).
- "But wherever I found living things, there heard I also the language of obedience. All living things are obeying things."
- Does this mean that his first observation on the nature of living beings is obedience, or
- Does this mean that if everyone is obedient, thereby subject at all times to the will of power, that in the absence of submission to an external will to power, there is nevertheless submission to an internal will to power, that primordial instinct present in every living being, the obeying itself mentioned in the line that follows below?
- "And this heard I secondly: Whatever cannot obey itself, is commanded. Such is the nature of living things."
- With his second observation, Nietzsche seems to be saying that beings that are not sovereign in the assertion of their will, find the will of others being imposed upon them (by the church amongst others with their notions of good and evil).
- People will find others becoming dominant towards them if the potential dominators sense weakness.
- The will to power includes the desire to influence the thinking of others. The method applied could be an initial attempt at persuasion, which if unsuccessful is followed by aggression that includes demeaning, disparaging and humiliating others. The use of violence is also an option. There is therefore a latent aggression that accompanies the Will to Power. However, that is not necessarily so. Submission can be wilful and consensual.
- "This, however, is the third thing which I heard, namely, that commanding is more difficult than obeying. And not only because the commander bears the burden of all obeyers, and because this burden readily crushes him. An attempt and a risk seemed all commanding to me; and whenever it commands, the living thing risks itself thereby."
- By this we understanding that despite all the risks and burdens of asserting one's will over others, individuals still seek to command. At this point we not not entirely clear where by 'command' Nietzsche means to lead or to dominate others - by the respective assertion or by imposition of one's will over others - both of which are two different processes altogether.
- "Yes, even when it commands itself, then also must it atone for its commanding. Of its own law must it become the judge and avenger and victim."
- Here we read that those who assert self-control and who can overcome their own limitations also bear the burden of responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. But that despite these burdens, it is still in the nature of beings to assert their will on themselves and on others.
- "How does this happen? What persuades the living thing to obey, and command, and even be obedient in commanding?"
- Could "and even be obedient in commanding" mean that even the commander is subject to rules either from without or self-imposed.
- "Hearken now to my word, you wisest ones! Test it seriously, whether I have crept into the heart of life itself, and into the roots of its heart! Wherever I found a living thing, there found I Will to Power; and even in the will of the servant found I the will to be master."
- This appears to us as a liberating statement with several connotations. Amongst the various connotations is the notion that within the meek and those whose lot in life is to serve, lies the latent power to be a leader or a dominator.
- "That to the stronger the weaker shall serve - thereto persuades he his will who would be master over a still weaker one. That delight alone he is unwilling to forego. And as the lesser surrenders himself to the greater that he may have delight and power over the least of all, so do even the greatest surrender himself, and stakes - life, for the sake of power. It is the surrender of the greatest to run risk and danger, and play dice for death."
- Here Nietzsche seems to say that in addition to a bilateral power relationship, power relationships form a chain - a 'pecking order' that is intrinsic to the nature of all living things. In such a linear order or hierarchy of power, the one who is dominated in turn dominates others and receives some 'delight' in being a 'master' over others, a 'delight' that overrides the attendant burdens of domination (cf. "uneasy is the head that wears the crown"). The exercise of domination, the will to power, produces an over-riding delight perhaps not just in the dominator but in the dominated as well - in obedience.
- The surrender - the submission - of the one at the very top of the 'pecking order' to that person's will of power and the attendant 'delights' - the thrills of risk and danger - the stakes being that person's life itself. The conclusion this statement leads us to is that the Will to Power trumps the Will to Live - is is the ultimate motivator. The following lines reiterate this statement.
- "And where there is sacrifice and service and love-glances, there also is the will to be master. By by-ways do the weaker then slink into the fortress, and into the heart of the mightier one- and there steals power."
- "And this secret spoke Life herself to me. 'Behold,' said she, 'I am that which must ever overcome itself.'"
- "Life continues, 'To be sure, you call it will to procreation, or impulse towards a goal, towards the higher, remoter, more manifold: but all that is one and the same secret. To be sure, you call it will to procreation, or impulse towards a goal, towards the higher, remoter, more manifold: but all that is one and the same secret.'"
- Nietzsche appears to have built the case and all the different 'wills' - even the will to procreate that some ascribe as being the primary motivator what what we do - all ultimately emerge from the will to power.
- "Life continues, 'That I have to be struggle, and becoming, and purpose, and cross-purpose - ah, he who divines my will, divines well also on what crooked paths it has to tread! Whatever I create, and however much I love it,- soon must I be adverse to it, and to my love: so wills my will. And even you, discerning one, are only a path and footstep of my will: verily, my Will to Power walks even on the feet of your Will to Truth!'"
- "Life continues, 'He certainly did not hit the truth who shot at it the formula: 'Will to existence': that will - does not exist! For what is not, cannot will; that, however, which is in existence - how could it still strive for existence? Only where there is life, is there also will: not, however, Will to Life, but- so teach I you - Will to Power!'"
- We see in the concluding statement a reiteration that the Will to Power is the supreme will.
- For Nietzsche, the Will to Power is the raison d'Ítre for living beings.
- Nietzsche's negation of the will to existence in what appears to be inanimate objects is arguable. While the target of this statement could be an assertion to the contrary in philosophy or religion, Zoroastrianism sees the fravashi present in all of nature.
- To this point what we read is pure Nietzsche. There is very little of Zoroastrianism in the pronouncements above. However, in the conclusion to this discourse on overcoming, Nietzsche introduces concepts that are Zoroastrian and that harkens to Zarathustra's own struggle with the moral order that prevailed before his time - an order masquerading under the guise of morality, and which that deluded the 'ignorant' into a self-imprisoning bondage of servitude and submission to the prevailing religious order.
- Life concludes, "'Much is reckoned higher than life itself by the living one; but out of the very reckoning speaks - the Will to Power!' Thus did Life once teach me: and thereby, you wisest ones, do I solve you the riddle of your hearts."
- "I say to you: good and evil which would be everlasting - it does not exist! Of its own accord must it ever overcome itself anew. With your values and formulae of good and evil, you exercise power, you valuing ones: and that is your secret love, and the sparkling, trembling, and overflowing of your souls. But a stronger power grows out of your values, and a new overcoming: by it breaks egg and egg-shell. And he who has to be a creator in good and evil- verily, he has first to be a destroyer, and break values in pieces."
- The imposition of the values and morality of good and evil and within them the seeds of their own destruction - the Will to Power - that human beings will exercise in a revolutionary overcoming.
- "Thus does the greatest evil pertain to the greatest good: that, however, is the creating good. Let us speak thereof, you wisest ones, even though it be bad. To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous. And let everything break up which - can break up by our truths! Many a house is still to be built! Thus spoke Zarathustra."
- Here Nietzsche is announcing a call to action - to speak up even if voicing opposition is prohibited by being labelled as "bad" or perhaps even against a law - for in silence and apathy there is consent and submission to the oppressive power of others be they individuals, a group, a church or the state.
- Nietzsche concludes with sentiments that are very Zoroastrian.
Having read each of Nietzsche's statements on the Will to Power in Thus Spake Zarathustra, hopefully in their proper context, while refraining from prejudgments, assumptions or the reading in of extraneous conclusions, we cannot find here the offensive ideas associated with the Will to Power many commentaries accuse him of promoting. There is a book by this name published after his death by his sister and others who claim the editions contain notes Nietzsche had not published while alive.
Eternal Recurrence & Amor Fati
Based on different interpretations, this concept has produced much debate and dissention. If on the one hand, the concept is interpreted as the state of the universe being eternally circular, the same state repeating itself with no end state, then we can say that the concept of Eternal Recurrence is not Zoroastrian. If on the other hand, as expounded by Gilles Deleuze (see below), eternal recurrence is interpreted as not meaning the return of the same, then...
In Gaya Scienza Nietzsche states: "What if a demon were to creep after you one day or night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say: 'This life which you live and have lived, must be lived again by you, and innumerable times more.' And mere will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh - everything unspeakably small and great in your life - must come again to you, and in the same sequence and series, would you not throw yourself down and curse the demon who spoke to you thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment, in which you would answer him: 'Thou art a god, and never have I heard anything more divine!'"
Nietzsche also outlines his vision of the eternal recurrence in Part III of Thus Spake Zarathustra. One interpretation of the concept of Eternal Recurrence is that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times. The concept is based on the premise is that the universe is limited in extent and contains a finite amount of matter, but that time is infinite. The universe has no starting or ending state, while the matter comprising it is constantly changing its state. Since the number of possible changes is finite, sooner or later the same state will recur. Phrased differently, since the past stretches back infinitely, then anything that could have happened must have happened already at some time in the past. Therefore, this very instant must have occurred at some time in the past. Similarly, if the future is infinite, everything - including this moment - must recur again sometime in the future. The concept cannot be supported mathematically.
Nietzsche encountered the idea of the eternal recurrence in the works of Heinrich Heine and Schopenhauer. The latter stated that a person unconditionally affirms life if they accept that everything that has happened to that person were to happen again and again in all eternity. This proposition of Schopenhauer is very different from stating that everything that has happened to that person will happen again. According to Nietzsche, in order for a person to comprehend and embrace eternal recurrence in her or his thought and not merely come to peace with it, requires amor fati meaning love of fate: "My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it - all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary - but to love it." The overman can look at his past and himself as something willed by himself, and would welcome the thought of future eternal recurrence.
For Nietzsche, what is significant about eternal recurrence is how a person confronts the concept, that person's willingness to abandon the notion that there is some reason or purpose driving the universe, and that person's willingness to accept the fact that chance governs these changes as much as anything else. That person would also have to accept that everything she or he had done and everything that she or he will do, will be repeated an infinite number of times. Accepting that one's happiest moments will be repeated infinitely might be possible. However, accepting all the pain one has experienced might be a different matter altogether. Initially, Zarathustra could not accept the thought of eternal recurrence, largely because the mediocrity of humanity that he so despises will would be repeated and never fully overcome.
Initially Nietzsche referred to eternal recurrence as the "most scientific of hypotheses". He gradually retreated from this stand (perhaps as he realized the concept cannot be supported mathematically or scientifically), and in later works referred to eternal recurrence as a thought-experiment. Heidegger would later remind us that Nietzsche did not embrace the reality of eternal recurrence, but rather the "thought of eternal recurrence". While, the possibility of one's life recurring with every nuance, joy and pain finds no support in science, the concept becomes even more implausible - if that were possible - when it mingles with the concepts of reincarnation, resurrection and consciousness.
In his Difference and Repetition (1968, translated 1994), Gilles Deleuze suggests that the eternal recurrence goes deeper than a simple mathematical assertion. Deleuze describes Nietzsche's philosophy as affirming the nature of pure difference since one of Nietzsche's propositions is that the universe is in a state of flux and that there are no absolutes or constants. The only constant in the universe is becoming, or change.
Deleuze continues to say that Nietzsche's concept of the eternal recurrence of every event in the universe affirms that reality is in a continual state of becoming. Nietzsche's philosophy affirms difference and repetition as expressing the nature of being - the being of becoming. Nothing is permanent. If everything is governed by the will to power, and the will to power drives everything to change itself and to overcome itself, nothing will remain fixed. Everything, in Deleuze's reading, is in a state of becoming, and it always has been.
If there were a final state of being that things were moving toward, they would have reached it long ago, and if there were an initial state of being that things were moving from, they would never have left it.
In Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche, eternal recurrence does not imply the recurrence of fixed states of being. It is precisely the being of such states that Deleuze wants to deny. In a universe of constant becoming, the notion of being is replaced by the notion of returning, or recurrence: "Returning is the being of that which becomes," Deleuze writes. Thus, in Nietzsche's conception of the universe, there are no fixed things, like a one true God or one fixed morality or the like. All things change, but these changes recur eternally.
Deleuze compares Nietzsche's concept of the Eternal Return to a circle in which difference is in the center and sameness is at the periphery. Difference is thus a divergence and decentering, and the Eternal Return leads to a plurality of centers which give depth to the world of difference.
Mrs. Forster-Nietzsche informs us about the history of the development of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence in her Introduction:
"Thus Spake Zarathustra did not actually come into being until the month of August 1881 in Sils Maria; and it was the idea of the Eternal Recurrence of all things which finally induced my brother to set forth his new views in poetic language. In regard to his first conception of this idea, his autobiographical sketch, Ecce Homo, written in the autumn of 1888, contains the following passage:
" 'The fundamental idea of my work - namely, the Eternal Recurrence of all things - this highest of all possible formulae of a Yea-saying philosophy, first occurred to me in August 1881. I made a note of the thought on a sheet of paper, with the postscript: 6,000 feet beyond men and time! That day I happened to be wandering through the woods alongside of the lake of Silvaplana, and I halted beside a huge, pyramidal and towering rock not far from Surlei. It was then that the thought struck me. Looking back now, I find that exactly two months previous to this inspiration, I had had an omen of its coming in the form of a sudden and decisive alteration in my tastes - more particularly in music. It would even be possible to consider all 'Zarathustra' as a musical composition. At all events, a very necessary condition in its production was a renaissance in myself of the art of hearing. In a small mountain resort (Recoaro) near Vicenza, where I spent the spring of 1881, I and my friend and Maestro, Peter Gast - also one who had been born again - discovered that the phoenix music that hovered over us, wore lighter and brighter plumes than it had done theretofore.' "
During that walk by Silvaplana and other walks Nietzsche says he was 'waylaid' by Zarathustra.