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Sunday, 5 August 2007

Also Sparch Zarathustra

"Zarathustra and '2001: A space odyssey'"

'In search of Zarathustra' by Paul Kriwaczekia is aptly titled. The blurb of the book quotes Boston review:

"Vital… Remarkable…It is written with prescient elegance of a curious traveler and in the hope that ideas that once changed the world may do so again"

The review is true to each word. In this travelogue Kriwaczekia writes about places he went in search of Zarathustra. But the book is more a travelogue back in time than in physical space. Kriwaczekia picks up the a thread in present and spooling it traverses back in time finding Strauss, Kubrick, Nietzsche Bogomils , Catharses, The Sassanid , The Achemenids and finally at the other end the prophet Zarathustra.

In most recent times people who have made Zarathustra name familiar to common man are composer Richard Strauss and film director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick's cult movie '2001: A space odyssey' features prominently Richard Strauss's tone poem 'Also Sparch Zarathustra'. The movie depicts the evolution of apes into human and human into superhuman. The theme of movie is that human beings are the midway between the evolution of apes and superman. This concept was first propounded by Nietzsche in his book 'Thus Sparch Zarathustra'. Kubrick, it seems, had taken inspiration from this book. Kriwaczekia gets his second link and he moves on to Nietzsche to know why he has chosen Zarathustra.

"Also Sparch Zarathustra"

Karl Ludwig, the Lutheran pastor of a little country town of Rocken bei Lutzen near Leipzig in eastern Germany, in the baptism ceremony of his son asked "what will become of this child? Will it be good or will it be evil". He was not prescient but was just getting rhetorical.

But ever since the young boy's life would deal with the issue of good and evil trying to fathom the two opposite end of moral spectrum. The child became Fredrick William Nietzsche.

'Also Sparch Zarathustra' ('Thus spake Zarathustra') is a masterpiece by Nietzsche. In this book which is written in a first person account has Zarathustra as the main character. But before discussing about the book we need to know why Nietzsche chose Zarathustra, an obscure prophet of antiquity. For this we need to traverse further back in time to look at Nietzsche earlier days that shaped his thoughts.

Nietzsche was born on 15 Oct, 1844 in deeply religious family. From the very beginning his life was marked with distress. His father died when he was only five years old. One year later his younger brother, Joseph, died. These deaths left a deep impact on Nietzsche's mind. He became reserved and melancholic. His family, of which he was the only male member, moved to a small town of Naumberg. For next eight years Nietzsche remained in Naumberg living with his two aunts, grandmother, mother and younger sister Elisabeth. These women, who wanted that he never misses his father, loved him a lot. It is this extreme affection that might have given Nietzsche the idea about women which he has written in his book "Old and Young Women"

'Let man fear woman when she loves,

Then she makes all sacrifices,

Everything else she regards as worthless.'

Despite all the affection he cocooned himself in solitude. Older he grew loner he became. He was unable to reconcile with the fact that such good and innocent people like his father and brother met such a cruel fate. In search of peace he resorted to religion. He took a deep interest in Christianity and studied Bible thoroughly. For others this was a natural act on his part for he was following what his family had been doing for generations, but no one could sense the storm within him.

But those were the time when world was going through intellectual turbulence. The two opposite ideas were at loggerhead. The churning gave rise to many philosopher and theologians. 'Enlightenment' that developed during 17th and 18th centuries was one of the ideas. Though on decline it was a massive force for it stood for rationality, reason, order, norm, restrain and progressiveness. The other idea, 'German Romanticism', was at its peak. Romanticism symbolized irrationality, mysticism, dissonance and excessiveness. The 'Enlightened' thinkers had painstakingly developed the framework for how world works but romanticist casted a doubt on the validity of all factual knowledge. Enlightenment stood for victory of mind over body whereas Romanticism emphasized a preeminence of body over mind.

Those were the time when society was divided into two extremes. The Apollonian spirit (after Greek Sun God Apollo who symbolizes balance and rationality) of measured and restrain in confrontation with Dionysian spirit (After Dionysus, God of nature, drunkenness and sensuality). Romanticist felt that everything wrong with this world is because of overemphasis of Apollonian spirit in contrast to Dionysian spirit.

Amid this dichotomy something happened that changed the course of cognition world over. Charles Darwin had published his 'Origin of Species'. This book not only took head on with book of Genesis but seemed to be over powering it. In a stroke, human being became descendent of apes and was no more the favorite creation of God. God didn't create Adam in a day. Over the centuries he evolved from apes. This book raised many questions.

Nietzsche tried to find these answers in theological text but got engulfed in more questions. He got confused. Disappointed, he took diametrically opposite stance. From an ardent Christian he became its most vociferous critic. He started opposing what he revered once. His quest for knowledge continued but his path had changed. In his quest, he got impressed by two philosophers, Schopenhauer and Wagner. According to Schopenhauer life does not have any meaning. He argued that it is better not to be born or at least die quickly. Mesmerized by these two philosophers, Nietzsche wrote 'Birth of tragedy'. This book brought him public attention.

After few years, Nietzsche became acutely ill. He was in the second stage of Syphilis. His proposal for marriage was turned down. His illness and solitude increased. His friend circle became narrower and narrower. Stateless, caustic and peripatetic he hopped between Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Naumberg.

This was also the time when west was discovering Oriental charms. Sir William Jones, the famous Indologist, had found out that most of the Europe's, Iran's and half of Indian languages have a common origin. This new found relation helped in deciphering many Iranian scriptures which were similar to Sanskrit and were undeciphered till then. Central to this was Zoroastrian text brought to Europe by Frenchman named 'Du Peron'. Zoroaster and his teaching became the talk of time and it was during this period that Nietzsche met 'Zoroaster'.

Zoroaster text shows a struggle between good and evil. 'Ahura Mazda', the God, stands for goodness and 'Ahirman', the evil spirit, stands for everything bad. Unlike other religions where God is supreme power, in Zoroastarism evil is equally powerful. According to Zoroaster this world is a battle ground for good and evil. Anything good done by human being is victory of God and anything bad is victory of evil. So it is the duty of every human being to act with propriety and to transcend himself of the worldly things and evolve himself into super being. And this is the central philosophy of Nietzsche. According to Nietzsche Zoroaster has been the first to see in the struggle between good and evil as the essential wheel in the working of things. He believed that Zarathustra was the first prophet who brought concept of morality. Nietzsche believed that Zoroaster was the source of profoundest error in the history of mankind by inventing morality and it is upto Zoroaster to undo his mistake.

In the summers of 1881 two thousand meters above good and evil in the mountain village of Sils-Maria amid the idyllic environment surrounded by snow covered alpine peaks Nietzsche had a revelation. Zarathustra passed him by. Hence begot the first few lines of 'Thus sparch zarthushtra'

'I sat there waiting – not for anything.

Beyond good and evil, enjoying now the light

now the shades, now only play, now

the lake, now the noon, wholly time without end.

Then suddenly, friend, one became two –

And Zarathustra passed me by.'

The spirit of Zarathustra had engulfed him. It was not that Nietzsche chose Zarathustra to convey his philosophy but as if it was Zarathustra who had manifested Nietzsche and was speaking through his words. Nietzsche wrote:

"one hears-one does not seek; one takes-one does not ask who gives; a thought suddenly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, unhesitatingly – I have never had any choice in that matter."

Kriwaczekia succinctly summarizes Nietzsche new teaching in two paragraphs:

"God is dead.. Religious belief is a comforting but a debilitating self delusion. A Christian God can no longer express the highest ideals of western civilization. Belief in God is now a burden on the individual and on society. A system of ethics and morality founded on faith is no longer valid; the time has come for new set of values to take its place, beyond good and evil as religion has until now defended them.

Values are the creation of human being. One person's good is another's evil. None the less, we all are responsible for creating values of ourselves and for the living up to them. And the highest of all values is the duty to transcend ourselves, to struggle for the next step in our personal evolution: to leave behind the animal natured "blond beast: and strive for the "super human". Though most will never achieve it, this self overcoming, this "will to power", is the proper task of all human beings. Anything that supports this goal is good and anything that undermines it is evil:

What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness"

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