3 – The Innocence of The Senses

There is no continuity between the innocence of the senses and the disembodied presentation of their contents. Poetry which redeems does not exaggerate. The will which affirms the earth offers no contradiction to the will to truth. Nietzsche states: “But this what the will to truth should mean to you: that everything be changed into what is thinkable in human terms.” 23 An other world is invented and given celestial trappings at the expense of the reality of this one. The herd instinct fills-in, “colors” the illusion, entertains or worships its idol. Through morality, it pursues revenge: powerful enemies will be punished and the “poor in spirit” will bask in celestial reward. Instead, Zarathustra maintains:

Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there
stands a mighty rule, an unknown sage — whose
name is self. In your body he dwells, he is your
body. 24

The creative body created the spirit as hand for its
will. Even your folly and contempt, you despisers
of the body, you serve your self. 25

The ressentiment which the Otherworldly feel for the body, and for the senses, invents a disembodied poetry which requires literal belief. This earth, the sense-given actuality of our dwelling, like our bodies, is devalued, thrust into lower forms of life, into depravity, into “Hell.” The creative self, however, is none other than the body. To despise the body and the sensual world is to despise the self. The spirit is an expression of the creative body as the “hand for its will.” Spirit, for Nietzsche, seems to be the applied creative will in-process of self-overcoming, a sublimation then artistic frenzy, an expression of the body.
Redemption requires the creation of new values. Reaching beyond our present experience poetry no longer serves the disinheritance of bodily sensuality. Poetry which restores dance and intoxication — does just that –celebrates this earth and our dwelling on it while aspiring to new heights — not a heavenly afterlife or paradise, not an alternate, an invention decked in imaginary splendor at the expense of this world but a future generated from human meaning and a human becoming which offers joy; restoring the body, and its rhythms with intoxicating dance. Poetry can replenish the world. The eros which ground itself into dust from shame, inadequacy, malice, now goes under, for the redemption of the earth, and reappears, a lovely singer.
Nietzsche summarizes this transformation in Zarathustra: “Once you had wild dogs in your cellar, but in the end they turned into birds and lovely singers. 26. which is to say the disinheritance of sexuality degrades passion and when forced to turn against “earthly” desires and in shackling them they developed a ferocious and fugitive intensity. Either one must annihilate them through ascetic (spiritual) suicide, a dance macabre, or turn one’s face aside when allowing these passions unqualified freedom, rendering ugly the first health of desire, and its corelative opposite (negation), herd religion
Contrast this with the celebration of the Greek athletic sensuality through Dionysiac dance as a mysterious source of joy. One immediately realizes as well how Nietzsche’s notion of sexuality differed from that of Freud’s here too. Nietzsche advocates a healthy, post-neurotic performance of self as “spirit” beyond ressentiment, and mediocrity. This is where the “victory” of self-overcoming and the innocence of the senses exceed and chart the possibilities of erotic energy through the creative making of the embodied will.


The redemption of the earth makes new the senses. The poet’s linguistic integrity, style and lightness express a laughing recognition that serves the meaning of this earth. The poet’s work is to esteem: “To esteem is to create: hear this, you creators! Esteeming itself is of all esteemed things the most inestimable treasure. Through esteeming alone is there value … 27 The work of the poet, whether it be an ode to friendship, “The friend should be the festival of the earth to you” 28 or an elegy, “That’s your dying be no blasphemy against man and earth, my friends, that I ask of the honey of your soul,” 29 — the poet’s estimating (valuation) becomes an esteeming, a fertile Dionysiac overflow. Our energy returned, enhanced, conscious, recast, we offer back to earth as poetry. To affirm this world — this is our second innocence.
Through light-hearted, childlike prankishness, the earth, poetically perceived, offers an experience of genuine novelty. Nietzsche writes:

Verily, I may have taken a hundred words from you and the
dearest toys of your virtue, and now you are angry with me
as children are angry. They played by the sea, and a wave
came and carried off their toys to the depths: now they are
crying. But the same wave shall bring them new toys and
shower new colorful shells before them. Thus they will be
comforted and like them, you too, my friends, shall have
your comfortings and new colorful shells. 30

It is for us to take pleasure in these toys of novelty, the “colorful shells” of natural beauty. With beauty and sensuous novelty, life, inestimable, passes gently through our senses like the sound of waves or a febrile sea-zephyr or staccato cry of gulls. Just as waves spring forward incessantly obeying an irresistible rhythm and gravity so the will both goes under yet offers new objects of great natural beauty in its self-overcoming. The creative process of human will powerfully reveals to our senses the novelties of pleasure, so why should we not rejoice? Laughing, dancing, singing, joking, the senses can again offer transparent colors and nuance to our experience and to a world wherein beauty is rare and poetic perception nearly extinct.
The innocence of the senses reveals what poetry truly is. Nietzsche opted to combine this lyric sensation with his Dionysiac philosophy in the unique style of Zarathustra. Consider, for example, the following passage:

Night has come; now all fountains speak more loudly.
And my soul too is a fountain.
Night has come; only now all the songs of lovers awaken
And my soul is the song of a lover.
Something unstilled, unstillable within me;
it wants to be voiced. A craving for love is within me;
it speaks the language of love.
Light am I; ah, that I were night! But this is my loneliness
that I am girt with light. Ah that I were dark and nocturnal!
How I would suck at the breasts of light. 31

Nietzsche’s purpose is to open philosophy to a metaphoric language pregnant with imagery, designed to lure us to the challenge of embodying its vision.
As in Plato, Eros drives the philosopher, the lover of truth, to a performance beyond the expressible bounds of given propositions to create rather than simply to critique, or to translate into conceptual analysis. This is the essential relation between philosophy and poetry: open-ended metaphor invention reveals the richness of the yet-unexpressed by stretching and journeying past the limits of the effable, to present the next context for conceptual understanding. It is fitting, then, that Nietzsche writes in the language of love, that he write poetry, for this seeking to exceed the limits of the expressible is a desire to embrace, to make new and finally embody what remains up to now “mere image.”
The “unstillable” must be “voiced”. It “longs” for, and yet consummates, the gifts proffered by earthly intoxication. Herein lies the justification and the irony of the “prophetic” Zarathustra. Nietzsche’s is a Promethean notion of prophecy, earth-bound, embodied, yet rebellious and sacrificial; and yet it can laugh, delight, it can celebrate. We must imagine the Prometheus of the lost celebrative play Prometheus,The Firebearer, as Nietzsche imagines a humanity beyond the nihilistic impasse after God’s death, enjoying the creative process of the will, affirming the full draft of being in its experimental becoming. The innocence of the senses, then, is a sexual metaphor for the celebrative creativity that desires to embody ineffable joy. It is a Dionysiac joy: confident, free, playful. Zarathustra cries, in Book Three, to a group of dancing girls whom he has surprised:

Do not cease dancing, you lovely girls! No killjoy
has come to you with evil eyes, no enemy of girls …
How could I, you lightfooted ones, be an enemy of godlike dances? Or of a girl’s feet with pretty ankles?
Indeed, I am a forest and a night of dark trees: but he who
is afraid of my darkness will also find rose slopes under my
cypresses. 32

While the girls dance and Cupid joins them, the spirit of gravity, the devil, who himself expertly rope-danced, is eclipsed, and the sensations of near-flight, of a light-footed grace belong — to the girls. Zarathustra’s discovery of the protean nature of sensation suggests not an illusion but a reality, which, if not depreciated by moralizing, embraces the enigma at the heart of existence. Disclosed by dance, the sensual novelty of invention allows the play of our senses to embody imagery into action, to resurrect the world as a human experiment. Its poetry requires movement (a dithyramb?) and the virtue of adaptation and improvisation. To interfere self-consciously is to act not only in bad faith but it is also to be an enemy of innocence, of the gifted spontaneity of the body, and so, of the redemption of the earth.
It is instructive to follow Zarathustra’s full journey carefully, however, for it suggests something more about the innocence of the senses and our torch-race to adulthood. When Zarathustra visits the Isle of Tombs, he recalls the visions and hopes of youth, as he would his friends:

Alas, we were fashioned to remain close to each other, you fair and strange wonders: and you came to me and my craving, not like shy birds but like trusting ones to him who trusts. 33
* * *

To kill me, they strangled you, songbirds of my hopes., Indeed, after you, my dearest friends malice has ever shot its arrows — to hit my heart. And it hit! 34

After the poetry of youth, the sensation of wholeness, and hope, the adult’s sense of loss offers instead the bitter tomb of malice. After the magical circle of early egoism is broken by disappointment and tragic insight, the “songbirds” of one’s first hopes seem strangled. The arrows of malice then corrupt the young listener once enchanted by inspiration of naive idealism. Zarathustra cries out:

And once I wanted to dance as I had never danced before over all the heavens I wanted to dance. Then you persuaded my dearest singer. And he struck up a horrible, dismal tune; alas, he tooted in my ears like a gloomy horn. Murderous singer, tool of malice, most innocent yourself! I stood ready for the best dance, when you murdered my ecstasy with your sounds. Only in the dance do I know how to tell the parable of the highest things: and now my youth died! How did I endure it? How did I get over and overcome such wounds? How did my soul rise again out of such tombs? 35

The difference between childhood and the childlike innocence of the senses achieved through a this-worldly redemption, is that the latter requires that once must first undergo estrangement, alienation and the defeat of the hopes honored until early adulthood. These hopes die hard. As in Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, childhood is a time of enchantment. Yet an inevitable sacrifice of this innocence follows when the complexity of self-conscious experience, of betrayal, envy and adult disappointment destroys this fresh, youthful fondness for life. To retreat into convention, into the hypocrisy of what Heidegger called the “they-self” and nostalgically remember times of past poetic perception as “bygone days” presages an on-going spiritual suicide.
Nietzsche’s concept of redemption is a creative refutation of conventional defeat. The will to power and the need for redemption are only evident to a few, after the fall, the death, of one’s first innocence.

Invulnerable am I only in the heel. You are still alive and your old self, most patient one. You have still broken out of every tomb. What in my youth was unredeemed lives on in you; and as life and youth you sit there, full of hopes, on yellow ruins of tombs.
Indeed, for me, you are still the shatterer of all tombs. Hail to thee, my will! And only where there are tombs are there resurrections. 36

The discovery of one’s will, one’s style, one’s novelty, begins in the end, in the death and burial after the elegiac apotheosis of our first innocence. These songs of innocence (of childhood and adolescence) are impotent against the world, buried amid dirges and laments — in the melancholy of what becomes a disembodied memory of a defeated ideal. The second innocence after Experience defies, then, the work of rancor and alienation which first jolts from childhood (from our individual and collective history). It is only through a process of self-overcoming symbolized in the succession of the camel, lion and the child that the second song and singer can celebrate a redeemed (sensual) spirituality.
Reification of sexuality accompanies the onset of this death, this entombment of childhood, this alienation and loss of playful lighheartedness. This, in part, explains Nietzsche’s battle against the hypocritical sentimentalists who are actually lechers, who have destroyed the natural ability to transform those “dogs in the cellar” into “lovely singers”:

O you sentimental hypocrites, you lechers! You lack innocence in your desire and there you slander all desire. Verily, it is not as creators, procreators, and those who are have joy in becoming that you love the earth. Where is innocence? Where there is a will to procreate. And he who wants to create beyond himself has the purest will.
Where is beauty? Where I must will with all my will: where I want to love and perish that an image not remain a mere image. 37

Herein lies the key to the poetry of maturity, to poetry that redeems the earth and finally overcomes the loss of innocence and its entailing malignant decadence. This higher intoxication takes the “colorful toys” of the imagination and sacrifices them so that not all perception ends in the melancholy tomb of dashed hopes and despair. Or hypocrisy, herd morality, or in predictable hedonism. This is the foundation of a new creator capable of dancing among cypresses, of enjoying a lucid (second) innocence when the image perceived is essential to fresh activity, to the making of a new, embodied world.
Again, “I want to love and perish that an image may not remain a mere image” — so that the “killjoy” birds of malice cannot finalize the irreality and impotence of novelty as a childish fantasy.
The death of all innocence through the corruption of the senses, then, can be passed by the sublimation of sexual instincts into a poetry that magnifies the health of the embodied image. This is the exacting subtlety of art: to control, without doing violence to that passion which excites the senses with desire and opens them to innocence, like a flower, like the hero, to novelty:

Verily, it’s not in satiety that his desire shall grow silent and be submerged, but in beauty. Gracefulness is part of the graciousness of the great-souled.
His arm placed over his head: thus should the hero rest; thus should he overcome even his rest. But just for the hero the beautiful is the most difficult thing. No violent will can attain the beautiful by exertion. A little more, a little less, precisely this counts for much here, this matters most here.
To stand with relaxed muscles and unharnassed will: that is most difficult for all of you who are sublime.
When power becomes gracious and descends into the visible — such descent I call beauty.
And there is nobody from whom I want beauty as much as form you who are powerful: let your kindness be your final self-conquest. 38