What Kind of Text is Zarathustra? By Lawrence J. Hatab

Nietzsche’s many remarks about style in writing have a bearing on this discussion. He calls good style the communication of internal effects through the enactment of signs, tempo, rhythm, tone, and gesture (EH “Books” 4). An 1882 letter offers a “doctrine of style,” proclaiming that writing must have life and affect, approximate poetic rhythm, and perform “gestures” (Gebärde) through “length and brevity of sentences, punctuation, the choice of words, pauses, the sequence of arguments.”[26] Tempo plays a central role in texts (BGE 28), along with tone and rhythm, all of which harkens back to ancient modes of style that were grounded in oral speech and the practice of reading texts aloud, even reading aloud to oneself, something lost when we read only with our eyes (BGE 247). In WS 110, Nietzsche points to what is missing in written language, “the modes of expression available only to the speaker: that is to say, gestures, emphases, tones of voice, glances.” Yet one can still intimate the sonic dynamics of language if one reads with a “third ear” (BGE 246).

Nietzsche’s approach to style surely connects with his estimation of music as a primal force communicating life energies and passions, which was central to performances of Greek tragedy. It was Socratic dialectic that drove “music out of tragedy under the lash of its syllogisms” (BT 14). Ideas became lifeless because philosophers had “wax in their ears,” making them unable to listen to embodied life, since “life is music” (GS 372). Even Nietzsche’s critique of the tradition has a sonic, musical dimension. The subtitle of TI is “How One Philosophizes with a Hammer.” The Preface emphasizes “sounding out” idols, with a hammer that acts as a “tuning fork.”[27]

This last section of my essay can help flesh out what Nietzsche meant by identifying Zarathustra with music. In structure, style, and effects, the text can be seen as tapping into and eliciting life energies with sub-textual intimations. At the same time, all the elements covered in this essay aim to show that Zarathustra is an indissoluble blend of poetry, philosophy, music and language, such that none of the elements by themselves could suffice for the kind of thinking Nietzsche advances in the text. Yet I think a tilt toward philosophy is called for. We should not overestimate the importance of art in Zarathustra or underestimate its philosophical character. “Too much art” would diminish Nietzsche’s evident interest in stimulating comprehensive thought and its effect on real life.

[1] The notion of poets lying too much is first mentioned earlier in Z II: “Isles of the Blest.” In this article I employ the following translations: BGE, BT, and EH are by Walter Kaufmann in Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York: Random House, 1966). D is by R.J. Hollingdale in Daybreak (Cambridge University Press, 1982). GM is by Carole Diethe in On the Genealogy of Morality (Cambridge University Press, 2007). TL is from Writings From the Early Notebooks, eds. Raymond Geuss and Alexander Nehamas (Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 253-264. TI is by Walter Kaufmann in The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking Press, 1954). Z is by Graham Parkes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Oxford University Press, 2005). I have occasionally altered the translations.

[2] Some examples: Z I: “Gift-giving Virtue,” Z II: “Isles of the Blest,” Z II: “Grave Song,” and Z III: “Homecoming.”

[3] For an excellent overview and analysis of the question of truth in Nietzsche, see R. Lanier Anderson, “Nietzsche on Truth, Illusion, and Redemption,” European Journal of Philosophy 13:2 (2005), 185-225.

[4] See also BGE 211.

[5] See BT 21-22; TI “Reason” 2 and 6; KSA 13: 11 [72].

[6] See BGE 39; GM I: 1; GS 110. In this way, Nietzsche is exploring a negative truth that so far has been forbidden (EH P: 3).

[7] TL, GS 354-355, TI “Errors,” EH “Books: Z” 8, KSA 12: 2 [108] and 13: 11[72].

[8] Throughout his writings, Nietzsche employs different words that can be translated as “appearance” (e.g., Schein, Erscheinung, Scheinbarkeit). There does not seem to be a sustained technical distinction between these words in Nietzsche’s usage. Whether the meaning is appearance, mere appearance, illusion, deception, etc., can only be discerned in context.

[9] In his “Attempt at Self-Criticism” (1886), Nietzsche rejected the use of Kantian and Schopenhauerian terminology because he was all along attempting “new valuations” that were utterly at odds with the philosophies of Kant and Schopenhauer (BT ASC: 6). For an account of the difference between BT and Schopenhauerian metaphysics, see Béatrice Han-Pile, “Nietzsche’s Metaphysics in The Birth of Tragedy,” European Journal of Philosophy 14/3 (2006), 373-403. See also James I. Porter, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on The Birth of Tragedy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 57-77.

[10] KSA 13: 11 [415] and 17 [3].

[11] See also BGE 34 and TI “Reason” 5.

[12] This note was written in 1888. References such as this from the later period and the overall discussion I am advancing challenge the assumption of Maudemarie Clark (and others) that Nietzsche abandoned his early anti-truth talk in favor of a more scientific orientation.

[13] See also GS, 1886 Preface: 4. There Nietzsche praises the Greeks for their love of appearances: they were “superficial—out of profundity.” The last phrase is aus Tiefe, and so this remark clashes with the charge that poets are superficial in lacking depth or profundity.

[14] In an episode of the Seinfeld program, George is trying to teach Jerry how to beat a lie detector. He says: “If you believe it, it’s not a lie.” We now have a President who seems to be a serial liar.

[15] See Justin Remhof, “Scientific Fictionalism and the Problem of Inconsistency in Nietzsche,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies 47/2 (Summer 2016), 238-246.

[16] What follows is drawn from my Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2008), 184-86.

[17] The following remarks are drawn from Louise H. Pratt, Lying and Poetry from Homer to Pindar (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1993), Ch. 1.

[18] See Bruce A. Heiden, “The Muses’ Uncanny Lies, Theogony 27 and Its Translators,” American Journal of Philology 128/2 (Summer 2007), 153-175.

[19] Nietzsche cites Heraclitus as a possible exception to his claim of originality.

[20] See my Nietzsche’s Life Sentence: Coming to Terms With Eternal Recurrence (New York: Routledge, 2005), 85-89.

[21] Nietzsche’s early text on Greek music drama emphasized our misunderstanding of tragic poetry because of the modern separation of poetry from music. See The Greek Music Drama, trans. Paul Bishop (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013).

[22] For research that confirms Nietzsche’s account, see David McNeill, Gesture and Thought (The University of Chicago Press, 2005), especially Ch. 8.

[23] The Greek Music Drama, 32.

[24] See the 1871 fragment “On Music and Words,” found translated (by Walter Kaufmann) in Carl Dahlhaus, Between Romanticism and Modernism, trans. Mary Whittall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980). In “The Dionysiac World View,” gesture and tone are originally instinctive, without consciousness, but not without purpose. See The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, eds. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Spiers (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 134. An 1871 note offers tone as the universal foundation of language, with differences in gesture generating different forms of language (KSA 7: 12 [1]).

[25] See Kathleen Higgens, “Nietzsche on Music,” Journal of the History of Ideas 47/4 (Winter 1986), 663-672.

[26] Letter to Lou Salomé, cited and discussed by Tracy Strong, “In Defense of Rhetoric: Or How Hard It Is to Take a Writer Seriously: The Case of Nietzsche.” Political Theory 41/4 (August 2013), 507-532.

[27] Nietzsche’s writings have been examined in the light of music and musical structure. See for example: Michael Gillepsie, “Nietzsche’s Musical Politics,” in Nietzsche’s New Seas, eds. Michael Gillepsie and Tracy Strong (University of Chicago Press, 1988), 117-149; Bruce Ellis Benson, “Nietzsche’s Musical Askesis for Resisting Decadence,” Journal of Nietzsche Studies 34 (Autumn 2007), 28-46; and Babette Babich, “Mousikē Technē: The Philosophical Practice of Music in Plato, Nietzsche, and Heidegger,” in Between Philosophy and Poetry: Writing, Rhythm, History, eds. Massimo Verdiccio and Robert Burch (New York: Continuum, 2002), 171-180. The musical character of Nietzsche’s texts goes beyond structural matters because reading his work can be like listening to music. See Tracy Strong, Introduction to Twilight of the Idols, trans. Richard Polt (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett. 1997), vii-xxviii. Yet here structural questions can still obtain, in that a text can be read in a manner that is not restricted to linear, logical structure, so that the text as a whole can gather and unify dissonant themes and conflicting elements, which can be read as contrapuntal rather than contradictory. See Babette Babich, “On Nietzsche’s Concinnity: An Analysis of Style,” Nietzsche Studien 19 (1990), 59-90.



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