2 – The Redemption of The Earth

“…one must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star”

When we meet Zarathustra descending his mountain after years of solitude we encounter with him another hermit who chants only to animals or to God. The holy man, the saint, declares he too preaches redemption but from the earth and disparages Man as a dead-end. He suggests it better to sing to passive beasts or to the echoing emptiness of forests than to the reactive herd of mankind and insists that Zarathustra return to living above man. Zarathustra jests that he cannot offer the saint any alms but to beware lest Zarathustra take something from him. Despite their shared mountain solitude their paths divide at this epochal irony: the devaluation of the earth is over. So is the nihilism — the chasm of values ringing with echoes of tyranny. Heaven is emptier than the depths of the forest or snowy Alpine crags or the heads of the sheep favored by the saint — for God is dead.

Zarathustra proclaims:

Let your will say: the overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you brothers, remain faithful to the earth! And do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!
Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners die with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth. 15

Zarathustra reinvests the sexual or Dionysiac frenzy back into the earth. He sins only when he esteems “the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth”. 1 That is his psychology. This world, disclosed directly by the senses and consummated by the creative will is to be reinvested with value — redeemed — and the rope (Man) stretching over the abyss (of nihilism) will have to be crossed to create new values, a future and a goal. The overman, whom Zarathustra prophesizes, overcomes the “last man” who stubbornly clings to a dying idol of his “wretched contentment”. Yet the overman’s redemption is this-worldly: he makes new values from the faded heaven of now pale constellations, and phoenix-like, with this earth, our future, rises as a “dancing star” over chaos, light years above past animal savagery, brutal repression, atavisims, half-civilized hypocrisy or small town morality.
The philistines he finds gauking, “putting their heads together, clicking their tongues”, entering the The Motley Cow, fascinated by its popular its popular “stars”, its actors, mock Zarathustra with savage incomprehension, demanding the (misconstrued) rope dancer perform above their heads. Unruffled, Zarathustra presses on:

Man is a rope tied between beast and overman, a rope over the abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping.
What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end. What can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going-under. 16

The rope dancer, the pop (kitsch) entertainer, appears above their heads but he is soon startled by the presence of a “devil” on his wire, the repressed projection and negation of popular herd mimicry, who challenges and taunts the hapless rope dancer. Suddenly, the devil leaps over his head and the rope dancer wavers, loses balance, and falls “a whirl of legs and arms” to his death. Zarathustra consoles him as he dies not with promises of an afterlife but with praise for how he made danger his vocation and realistically promises to bury him with his own hands. As evening falls Zarathustra sinks into deep sleep after hauling the corpse past a threatening devil and grave-diggers but awakes resolving to seek neither crowds nor saints nor dead rope dancers, but earthlings who could understand his teaching. The cycle of his first day complete, Zarathustra begins the next by departing from this waste land,” after burying the dead. Recall Eliot:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
a heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, and the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. 14

Thus Spake Zarathustra is dedicated to the earth; to reinvest meaning as man goes-under, sacrificing all atavism while affirming the limitations and freedom this world offers directly to our senses, to overcome him or her self by exceeding one’s past. With desire, eros, sublimated by a creative will, resown by a poetry which revalues the “heap of broken images” we rise from earth to return, metamorphosed, enhanced, beautiful. The herd may behavioristically escape from the earth mistaking “stars” for actors or worship (nihilistically) another world but when considering the world beyond mere spectacle or a “veil of tears”, life can be more than “suffering”. All illusions disembody us from our creative ground of being, reach into, uproot our wills, to expose to let whither the mirage of vicarious fame, or an afterlife, or Nirvana. Rather than bury the living, sacrifice what esteems this existence for its reverse, the great negation (in the name of justice?) rather than blind and condemn ourselves — the seasons, the generations of birth, fruition, even death, we yea-say beyond the retrograde of nihilism. The rope-over, the crossing or bridge beyond this fantasy requires the reinvention of values — not one more appeal to the past or Eliot’s Son of Man, but the poeisis of free affirmation, a redemption of the mortal, specific and embodied – the earth.
Beyond crowds which dwell in atavistic fear and vicarious fame, or the saint who prefers animals to men — beyond time as measured by the dancer’s ropes — there waits (or creates) the overman, envisioning the future of the earth, creating new values. Strapped to the Caucasus’ rocky slopes, Prometheus gave humankind fire, craft and hope. So Zarathustra offers another life on earth, the overcoming of slave morality, resentiment, nihilism, afterworldliness, for a new beginning. The torch passes on to another runner. The human spirit, linked by its past and future to a series of sacrificial acts, is redeemed not by its past nor by fear but by freedom. We are niether fixed nor finalized — we are a contigent, “dangerous on-the-way”. We push beyond the domestic complacency of the Last Man’s “wretched contentment” (under the illusion of being finalized), and make a future out of our “fallen” dwelling on earth, to leap the abyss which negates the present and reifies the distance between our past and our future “crossing over.”

THREE METAMORPHOSES

Zarathustra’s teaching, his “gift”, is an overflow collected from years of mountain solitude, an excess, “like the bee that has gathered too much honey,” 17 which he returns to humanity in the form of human creativity, a human self-overcoming. What is creative redeems from abundance, from an embodied fertility which sacrifices all to favor life with the will to exceed it. Thus, the notion of redemption is reversed: the invention of another world is a “sin” against this one.
When Zarathustra proclaims that, “the overman is the meaning of the earth,” and that once that the “next world” fades we can understand existence-in-process, both a new and very ancient temporality. In this way tragic or Dionysiac insight is sublimated into a prophetic eros, an Amor Fati which confirms a Promethean vision of human existence or, further, an Heraclitean flux — fire. Life in process, is pure becoming, like the movement of water in a river in which we cannot step once: “Your will and your valuation you have placed on the river of becoming; and that what the people believe to be good and evil, that betrays to me an ancient will to power.” 18 Human creativity is committed to the embodiment of what we formerly envisioned, and the creation of a future. Thus all Zarathustra’s prophecies are this-worldly:

This time has come for men to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated, and no tall tree will be able to grow in it. Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond man, and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to whir!
I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. 19

The chaos is Dionysiac. The transformative process of turning chaos into a star means a sublimation and a focussing, as the giving of style condenses the lightning of a novel thought to a point, to a signature of the will, with an undeniable individuality (grand style). Without the plenum of energy, a will, one decadently refuses to “lose oneself” in becoming and self-overcoming, in affirming existence. But the star lends light, or values, to the void, and burns eternally as the will within mortal consciousness.
After the themes of burial and rebirth Zarathustra introduces “The Three Metamorphoses” which correspond to the self-overcoming of the will: The metaphors of the camel, the lion, and the child each represent a stage of the self-overcoming will, placed on the “river of becoming,” each traces the flux of the will-in-process as it assumes the burden of self-overcoming. The camel takes on the burden of the task, the lion wills to master — to conquer the task. And the culmination of the cycle which is, in essence, its beginning, transforms into the innocence of the child. The spirit which can invent new values after overcoming the old, which can assume the camel’s burden, the lion’s strength and finally the child’s innocence, is able to achieve the process of self-overcoming, which alone plants or seeds the meaning of the earth.
After the camel takes on the burden, the lion slays the dragon of “Thou shalt”: “Values, thousands of years old, shine on these scales, and thus speaks the mightiest of dragons … I am created value. Verily there shall be no more ‘I will’” 20 However, even the lion cannot create new values. For this, one must become a child: “The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes’. For this game of creation, my brothers, a sacred ‘Yes’ is needed.”21
Just as Nietzsche describes overwhelming the inertia, the dragon of morality which disavows as it destroys meaning for the earth and earthly values, he attacks “The Teachers of Virtue” who offer valetudinary “virtues” as a recompense, an obligatory passivity before the challenge of self-overcoming. And the “Afterworldly,” the retiring pedagogues who conflate opiated humility and lack of will, and who advance farther into the “next world”, Nietzsche characterizes as reactive “poeticizers and god-cravers”. He contrasts the inventors of another world to ” … the creating, willing, valuing ego which is the measure and value of things. And this most honest human being, the ego, speaks of the body and still wants the body even when it poeticizes and raves and flutters with broken wings.” 22
The histrionic or reactive quality of any writing, then, its pretense or its reality, can be explained directly in human terms as either a part of the redemption of this world or the invention of another. If it be the latter, disassociated from the origins and creative process of the embodied ego it must exaggerate and promulgate a holy lie or romantic transcendence. Such writing has not the strength or the will to risk what Nietzsche calls the “innocence of the senses”, or the last incarnation of the self-overcoming: the child.

* * *

Imagery aside, it is this making, the creating of new values which concerns us. And at its center remains Nietzsche’s greatest philosophic riddle: The Eternal Return. Yet to understand why Nietzsche anchored his concept of the will to power, the revaluation of all values and the overman in the Eternal Return it is necessary to reread to his penultimate work, Zarathustra, and to agily step into the poetry which does not merely link us to these conceptions but returns us to just how values are made, to the ontology of the will, and to the center of how Nietzsche understood philosophy.
Let us turn back briefly to the short-lived narrative which opens Zarathustra: Zarathustra next encounters the rope-dancer who is soon startled by the “devil” on his wire. The devil taunts then leaps over the rope-dancer’s head who then stumbles to his death. Zarathustra’s consoles him not with an afterlife but with praise for making danger his vocation, and promises to bury him with his own hands. Evening
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
a heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, and the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

The becoming of the will is a self-overcoming: over moral intertia which disavows as it destroys the meaning of the earth, over the “Teachers of Virtue” who oblige passivity before the challenge of self- descends and Zarathustra slides into a deep sleep after hauling the corpse past a threatening devil and grave-diggers but awakes resolving to seek neither crowds nor saints nor the dead, but earthlings who could understand his teaching. When the cycle of this first day is complete Zarathustra departs from this Wasteland,* after properly burying the dead.
Beyond crowds which dwell in atavistic fear or the saint who prefers animals to men — beyond time as measured by the dancer’s rope — there waits the creation of values. Just as Prometheus gave man fire and hope Zarathustra offers a gift beyond the folly ending in nihilism. The torch passes on to another runner. And Zarathustra’s lightning is brought down to the point of the will, to its incept-flame, or origin, from which it may spread. We push beyond the domestic complacency of the Last Man and make the future, our dwelling on earth, and so overcome the abyss which would pull us back and permanently reify the distance between our present and our “crossing over”.
The overman is “the meaning of the earth” yet human creativity is committed to the embodiment of what we formerly envisioned. Our time attenuates itself with decadent values. Zarathustra, however, urges to place “…. your will and your valuation …. on the river of becoming”3. We are to follow, then, the metaphor of the camel, and assume the burden of making, and the lion who masters it, and if we are to reach our origin, to begin again, our final metamorphosis will be that of a child: “The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes’”4 .
* cf. T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland:
“The Burial of the Dead”
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man
overcoming, and over “The Afterworldly” — retiring pedagogues who conflate opiated humility with willessness. But it also the process of “… the creating, willing, the valuing ego which is the measure and value of things. And this most honest human being, the ego, speaks of the body and still wants the body even when it poeticizes and raves and flutters with broken wings”5.
This marks the essential difference between poetry and verse. Between the poeisis , which for the Greeks meant making, and, for Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, there is a distinction between making and metrification. Nietzsche refers to the latter in an epigram entitled “Thoughts in a poem” in Human-All-Too Human: “The poet presents his thoughts festively, on a carriage of rhythm: usually because they could not walk”6. The histrionic or reactive quality of any writing, then, its pretense or reality, can be explained in human terms as either a part of the redemption of this world or the invention of another. If it be the latter, disassociated from the origins and creative process of the embodied ego it must exaggerate and promulgate a holy lie or romantic transcendence. Such writing has the strength or the will to risk what Nietzsche calls the “innocence of the senses”, or the last incarnation of self-overcoming: the child.