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Thus Spake Zarathustra

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airborne
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Well I'm half-way through Neitzsche's book and I don't get why people like it so much. Sure, there are some nice pieces...

"And amid the roaring and whistling and shrilling the coffin burst and spewed out a thousandfold laughter. And from a thousand grimaces of children, angels, owls, fools and butterflies as big as children, it laughed and mocked and roared at me. Then I was terribly frightened; it threw me to the ground. And I cried in horror as I have never cried. And my own cry awakened me - and I came to my senses"
(The soothsayer)

But most of the time I find myself asking: "wtf is he talking about?".

I will have people quote me shit like "to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself" then say how amazing he is. Umm, well I have chaos in myself all the time and no dancing stars are bursting out of me.

Am I missing something here? apart from the poetic language(which I cannot understand most of the time) what is so good about this book?

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Well I'm half-way through Neitzsche's book and I don't get why people like it so much. Sure, there are some nice pieces...

(The soothsayer)

But most of the time I find myself asking: "wtf is he talking about?".

I will have people quote me shit like "to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself" then say how amazing he is. Umm, well I have chaos in myself all the time and no dancing stars are bursting out of me.

Am I missing something here? apart from the poetic language(which I cannot understand most of the time) what is so good about this book?

Well, if you can't understand it, it must be good - clearly its very intellectual!

Excuse me a moment, I've mislaid my gallstone...

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The poetry is what's good about TSZ: Nietzsche often expresses his ideas in really beautiful ways and "says more in a sentence than many writers say in a book".

However the downside of this is that unless you already understand what hes trying to say, TSZ can be an extremely hard read and it is very easy to misinterpret. I wouldnt really recommend it to someone who wasnt already familiar with Nietzsche's main ideas: Beyond Good And Evil, the Genaeology of Morals, and Twilight of the Idols would all be better places to start imo since they are written in a much clearer style.

I will have people quote me shit like "to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself" then say how amazing he is. Umm, well I have chaos in myself all the time and no dancing stars are bursting out of me.
Its not a literal statement, its a metaphor. I assume it relates to how Nietzsche believed that some degree of hardship was necessary for truly great deeds, as opposed to the 'Christian'/last-man belief that a completely sanitised/'happy' life was something to strive for (this gets expanded on explicitly in Twilight but runs all through TSZ and pretty much everything else he wrote).

A lot of TSZ is based around the conflict between the 'last-man' described by Nietzsche at the start of the book (the sort of passive contented life that Huxley describes well in Brave New World where there is no longer any hardship, toil or struggle), and the 'overman'/ubermensch.

Edited by eriatarka
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The poetry is what's good about TSZ: Nietzsche often expresses his ideas in really beautiful ways and "says more in a sentence than many writers say in a book".

I read this book a few years ago and thought the poetry was horrible. It was a very annoying read. I still gave Nietzsche the benefit of the doubt though. Since I read an English translation I figured his "poetry" sounds much better in the German version. From what I've heard a lot of American-English speakers don't care for his style either.

btw, what is the correct pronunciation of Nietzsche? My parents always pronounced it "Neetchee" but I had a philosophy professor who said "Neetchuh." My professor was very "out there" so I was never quite sure if I should believe anything he said... :D

Edited by skap35
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  • 4 weeks later...
I read this book a few years ago and thought the poetry was horrible. It was a very annoying read. I still gave Nietzsche the benefit of the doubt though. Since I read an English translation I figured his "poetry" sounds much better in the German version. From what I've heard a lot of American-English speakers don't care for his style either.

btw, what is the correct pronunciation of Nietzsche? My parents always pronounced it "Neetchee" but I had a philosophy professor who said "Neetchuh." My professor was very "out there" so I was never quite sure if I should believe anything he said... :)

It is "Neetchuh".

Anyway, Nietzsche is quite a good poet in the German. It is always hard to translate poetry though.

I'd say though, unless a person reads poetry for pleasure to the point where they've learned how to actually read poetry as poetry (as opposed to reading it as prose, which is what most people do), then one shouldn't try to read TSZ.

Or to put it another way:

If you can read Shakespeare for pleasure then read TSZ, if you don't really enjoy the poetry in Shakespeare, don't try TSZ and read "Beyond Good and Evil" instead. To some degree "Beyond Good and Evil" is the prose explanation of TSZ.

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I favor the Kauffman translation, he favors a more direct style. There are plenty of sections in Zarathustra that shouldn't be too hard to comprehend.

I second this recommendation. Kauffman is my first choice for any Nietzsche translation. If you're interested in Nietzsche's ideas, Beyond Good and Evil is a little more straightforward than Zarathustra (at least in style of presentation).

There are about as many good points in Nietzsche as there are terrible points, but I agree with the general sentiment that he was a much better writer than he was a philosopher.

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Well I'm half-way through Neitzsche's book and I don't get why people like it so much. Sure, there are some nice pieces...

(The soothsayer)

But most of the time I find myself asking: "wtf is he talking about?".

I will have people quote me shit like "to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself" then say how amazing he is. Umm, well I have chaos in myself all the time and no dancing stars are bursting out of me.

Am I missing something here? apart from the poetic language(which I cannot understand most of the time) what is so good about this book?

Firstly: As others have mentioned here, is it translated by Kaufmann? A lot of the other translators excel at awkwardifying and losing a lot of Nietzsche's wordplay. I know Kaufmann's has a little pre-part summary of every section with commentary and what-not -- very helpful.

It's not a book that should be read for the sake of saying you read it...that's for sure. Take your time with it and go for a reread or two -- while Nietzsche is not "gallstone" material by any means he loves (especially in Zarathustra) to use long poetical language that expounds artificial meanings totally contrary to the deeper intention of his writing. In other words, the kraut has some fun showing off his rhetorical skills by being intentionally difficult and (at least in the German) witty. 'Beyond Good and Evil' is often been said to be Zarathustra but in a different style, so go on to that and then return to it later.

Also: After becoming more familiar with his works pick up "On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo". Genealogy is very essayish and much more straightforward, and Ecce Homo is a very nice autobiographicaly work that gives a more unifying perspective between his later works. Make sure it's Kaufmann too!

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Firstly: As others have mentioned here, is it translated by Kaufmann? A lot of the other translators excel at awkwardifying and losing a lot of Nietzsche's wordplay. I know Kaufmann's has a little pre-part summary of every section with commentary and what-not -- very helpful.

Airborne's quote matches word for word my Kaufmann translated TSZ, if that helps any. It's on page 135 of my The Modern Library 1995 ed. It's also a hardcover copy that has said summaries, which definitely helped add to my understanding.

The Hollingdale translation of TSZ is fine in my opinion, and I vaguely remember finding it more poetic than Kaufmann's. Get both I guess.

I never read any of Nietzsche's works translated by Hollingdale, but I did by Thomas Mann and Kaufmann. I personally prefer Kaufmann myself. I compared the two copies of my The Antichrist page by page in the beginning and liked the Kaufmann translation better. I've been loyal to his translations ever since.

Edited by intellectualammo
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airborne, in my experience, to get Thus Spake Zarathustra you need to read the whole book, not a single quote. The style of this specific book is intentionally metaphorical. Nietzsche himself gave the reason in some part of the book (won't go into it now).

But this book can only be understood if you use your imagination and try to integrate everything he says.

In my understanding, Nietzsche referred to morality as an arbitrary social invention, that people use to create order in their lives, and order in other people by following a bunch of rules (like religion) and then deriving their self esteem not from independent thought, but from obeying those rules. He despised and mocked the "ordinary people" who do nothing but obey, and never think independently (couldn't sympathize more).

So now, when he talks about "order" and "chaos" in the example you gave, he is comparing ordinary people with their orderly little lives of going to church, following all the rules society has indoctrinated into them, vs. the rebel, who has a storm in his soul. Who does not follow conventional rules, who has what others would call "insanity".

He often treats concepts of morality as viewed from other people's eyes (because he did not see any option of Objective morality, he just saw morality as arbitrary. The great appeal of his writing though is that it shows the virtue of independence - here is a man willing to speak against the whole of society and their nice little codes of behavior - he needs no one by his side, and he will not give up his independence no matter how lonely he gets).

One example of his view of morality (as arbitrary) yet holding implicit, unrecognized morality is in the quote: "What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil". See, what he means here is that when doing something out of love a person does not do it to serve his concept of morality, rather a person does it because it is highly selfish for him to do so.

If morality is a bunch of arbitrary rules men use to feel secure and valuable (when they follow them), then love is an exception - a moment when a man does something not to please those rules, but out of pure delight.

So if we keep his idea of morality, order and chaos in mind, and look at the quote you gave "to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself" - In my opinion he means that in order to find true joy in life (like he, Nietzsche has)

you need to rebel against society.

In other parts of the book he gives a metaphor of a dancer as the highest form of human existence. He basically mean by that that dancing expresses a passion, and joy, as oppose to just walking straight, which is a symbol of a life of boredom.

So "a dancing star" is highest form of existence, and "chaos" means disobedience to conventional rules of morality.

Put together it means "To live with joy and passion, like you ought to, you need to have deep emotions, which would be storming, not quiet." To complete the meaning here, "deep emotions" would come from living a life of independence, not yielding to society and to blind following of rules.

Here are some other nice quotes by him:

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

In heaven all the interesting people are missing. (haha)

In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.

Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. (lol)

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. (the winning Ace)

Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.

To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence. (haha - great!)

Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology.

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I never read any of Nietzsche's works translated by Hollingdale, but I did by Thomas Mann and Kaufmann.

Not Thomas Mann, but H.L. Mencken. Just correcting myself, now that I am home.

And while I am here, can anyone answer me this question:

Does anyone know who said anything similar to this quote that I found in a commentary on TF:

But Nietzsche does, at times, project an exalted view of the human potential, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms.

I have been trying to find out an Objectivist who had said this somewhere I think, I just don't remember who or where or in what they did and it has been bothering me for years now. I'm thinkin' Andrew Bernstein did and also I think that quote I just found is actually from TF CliffsNotes according to my Google-ing, and I think those CliffsNotes were written by him, if I remember - let me check authorship...IT WAS! So that was him and him in my quote! SHIT! FINALLY! (answered my own question...)

Edited by intellectualammo
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Does anyone know who said anything similar to this quote that I found in a commentary on TF:

"But Nietzsche does, at times, project an exalted view of the human potential, expressed in emotional, not intellectual terms."

I have been trying to find out an Objectivist who had said this somewhere I think, I just don't remember who or where or in what they did and it has been bothering me for years now.

Ayn Rand Lexicon - Friedrich Nietzsche

Doesn't say who said it, but by the style it appears to be Ayn Rand, IMO.

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Ayn Rand Lexicon - Friedrich Nietzsche

Doesn't say who said it, but by the style it appears to be Ayn Rand, IMO.

Thanks ifat! The “Introduction to The Fountainhead,” The Objectivist March 1968, 6. article definitely was written by her too.

But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man’s greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms.

This is great! Finally after years I get two sources!

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"to give birth to a dancing star one should have chaos within oneself"

There is no place for vagueness in philosophy. Ifat offered her take on this passage but there could be many other equally plausible interpretations. Nietzsche was more concerned with the style of his writing than the clarity of ideas.

I also find Nietzche appealing when it comes to some of his short passages/thoughts when considered in isolation. However, he becomes much less so when you include the whole context of his philosophy. For example, according to him virtues are only possible to a small minority (and such "nobility" is mostly achieved through good birth). Also his vision of human greatness necessarily included cruelty and ruthlessness (to him it was a part of being strong). His noble man was completely devoid of sympathy, ruthless, cruel and cunning, consumed with power (not signs of self esteem, or strength, at all). And those are just a few examples of many.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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Ifatart: I had never thought about it like that. Thanks for sharing!

I put TSZ aside because it proved to be too difficult for me, but I did pickup Beyond Good and Evil (Hollingdale translation) which I'm finding more comprehensible.

I have a question about a certain section and its wording however. "On the prejudices of philosophers", "section 18".

"it is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable: it is precisely with this mind that it entices subtler minds. It seems that the hundred-times refuted theory of free will owes its continued existence to this charm alone."

I can't integrate "not the least charm". A theory is not charming when it is refutable? but that wouldn't make sense because otherwise it wouldn't "entice subtler minds". What charm is Nietzsche talking about here?

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» It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book. -Friedrich Nietzsche

One should bear in mind that Nietzsche is compact and that he expects the reader to put the work into understanding him. He isn't going to spoonfeed the reader and has only contempt for readers that would expect to be spoonfed.

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Kant doesn't spoon-feed his readers either. It is only just that he have contempt for unintelligent readers who want to be spoonfed (comprehend what is being written).

I'm well into Beyond Good and Evil and I'm still thinking its junk and not understanding half of it ... maybe I'm just not smart enough to comprehend such deep thoughts.

At what point do you blame yourself for not understanding and what point do you attribute the bad writing to the author? I've read Rand and while personally I find many of the concepts difficult to integrate her writing makes perfect sense and is very clear to follow.

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Kant doesn't spoon-feed his readers either. It is only just that he have contempt for unintelligent readers who want to be spoonfed (comprehend what is being written).

I'm well into Beyond Good and Evil and I'm still thinking its junk and not understanding half of it ... maybe I'm just not smart enough to comprehend such deep thoughts.

At what point do you blame yourself for not understanding and what point do you attribute the bad writing to the author? I've read Rand and while personally I find many of the concepts difficult to integrate her writing makes perfect sense and is very clear to follow.

Why would you continue to read a book you aren't enjoying?

If you don't like it, toss it aside and move on.

It is what Nietzsche would want...and that wouldn't be an expression of contempt on his part. His attitude would be "look I wrote what I wanted to write and that is good enough for me...if you like it great, if you don't...pass on by and find what resonates with you".

To some degree his whole corpus of writings can be summed up by the secondary title to "Ecce Homo"

-> Become who you are

We are who we are and we all spend too much of our lives trying to be someone else (part of the herd), and as a result we are unhappy.

The problem is we are all hemmed in by social pressures and try to become this and that for all sorts of reason that have nothing to do with whether that is the person we really are. The superman is simply the person that has overcome all of this and lives for him or herself and ignores all those outside pressures.

Nietzsche would basically say "look if you are reading me simply for the sake of being able to say you have read me, well, that is simply herd animal behavior" (although he'd say it better than that).

Edited by punk
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....

Nietzsche would basically say "look if you are reading me simply for the sake of being able to say you have read me, well, that is simply herd animal behavior" (although he'd say it better than that).

Nie zgadzam sie z toba. Jesli inni nie moga cie zrozumiec poniewaz piszesz codem, zwlaszcza jesli jestes filozofem, to jest twoj problem.

Oh you don't understand what I wrote above? Well... it is your problem not mine. What I wrote is actually revolutionary - if you don't get it - just accept who you are that you are not smart enough to comprehend it.

/sarcasm off

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Nie zgadzam sie z toba. Jesli inni nie moga cie zrozumiec poniewaz piszesz codem, zwlaszcza jesli jestes filozofem, to jest twoj problem.

Oh you don't understand what I wrote above? Well... it is your problem not mine. What I wrote is actually revolutionary - if you don't get it - just accept who you are that you are not smart enough to comprehend it.

/sarcasm off

All I said was that if one doesn't like a book one shouldn't read it.

If one persists in reading a book they don't like, they should ask themselves why they are bothering to plod through. Is it simply to say they read it? Is it to impress people at cocktail parties?

I mean why waste one's time doing something unpleasant?

There is nothing in that about the intelligence of the reader, or the clarity of the writer.

All that is going on here is Nietzsche wrote what he wanted to write, some people enjoy it and some people don't, and the people that don't enjoy it are making out like the people that enjoy Nietzsche (and Nietzsche) are engaged in some elaborate insult against them and their intelligence.

Why?

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All I said was that if one doesn't like a book one shouldn't read it.

Is that what you meant when you said: He isn't going to spoonfeed the reader and has only contempt for readers that would expect to be spoonfed.

What is the job of a philosopher? What is the purpose of his writing? Is writing unclearly - introducing differing interpretions of one's ideas serving that purpose?

and the people that don't enjoy it are making out like the people that enjoy Nietzsche (and Nietzsche) are engaged in some elaborate insult against them and their intelligence.

Nobody here has done that (and it is not necessarily about enjoyment - someone may want to pick up Nietzsche because they may want to know what his philosophy was - maybe they need to know it for a class they are taking).

And when something is written in a way which is difficult to understand for others - it does not mean that it is "deep" in content. We are talking about the form of communication and not difficulty of ideas presented.

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