On Tranquility: The Essential Word of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra By Wang Shunning



Nietzsche views tranquility as the root of all cultures. In 1876, during the Bayreuth music festival, Nietzsche felt intensely that modern art had become all-too-noisy and over-excited, and he became enchanted by “tranquility on which all cultural existences depend.” He hoped to “give all of these back to all mankind, tranquility, purification, and nobility.” If, for Nietzsche, tranquility is the basis of all cultures, and at the same time, intoxication is the root of ancient Greek spirit, do these characterizations conflict with each other? This essay attempts to indicate that tranquility is the transfiguration of intoxication, and Zarathustra is the Spirit of Dionysus.

Since Nietzsche confesses that Zarathustra is Dionysus, certainly tranquility can mean intoxication in some senses. But, the former does not completely equal to the latter. They are the same in difference. If Nietzsche’s thinking could be regarded as a ternary form of musical structure, it is obviously impossible for a later section to repeat thoroughly the previous one. For, why would we produce three sections? Although the dominant motif is one, variations are many. Various tones, rhythms, harmonies create together to compose the musical movements of intoxication. Along this line, both music and plastic arts ‘may’ all be the movements of intoxication. The former is the temporal flux of life, while the latter is spatial blooming of life. Rachmaninov’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ strike our bodies with the same bolt of lightning that we feel a chill down the spine, fluttering in our stomach, and once we feel them, they will still send the same feelings surging through our bodies to the future during our lives.

In a word, in the transition from Dionysus’ musical frisson to Zarathustra’s tranquil beauty of life, there is not merely a transformation in the meaning of art, but also of Nietzsche’s perspectives, namely, art shifts from music as a specific category to tones of life. Therefore, the horizons of Nietzsche’s thinking become wider. If the essence or character of Dionysus is ecstasy, then the essence of Zarathustra is tranquility, light, and purification.

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