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Behnegar PO94001 1500 Word Essay 4/3/13
1500 Word Essay on “The Convalescent”
“The Convalescent” is both a critical chapter in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the critical moment for Zarathustra himself because it ends his going-under. This end of his going-under implies an overcoming, which is expressed by his convalescence, i.e. his recovery from a profound sickness. In this context, the sickness is his personal struggle to embrace the doctrine of eternal recurrence-a three-stage process that moves from understanding, through accepting, to willing. It has plagued him since chapter 18 of part II, “On the Great Events,” and has been the chronic, underlying issue influencing his actions and interactions. It is therefore a useful pursuit and the aim of my paper to trace the evolution of this struggle from “On the Great Events” to “The Convalescent,” with a particular emphasis on Zarathustra‟s willingness, because I believe that it is only his ultimate willingness to understand, to accept, and to will eternal recurrence that enables him to embrace the doctrine and thus begin his recovery. To fix ideas it is necessary to distinguish between willingness, and to will/willing. Willingness is the intersection of what Nietzsche called “the bodily feelings and the commandeering thought.”1 It is the disposition or appetite to make choices and decisions of determinate kinds. It is the internal desire for action unique to each individual that is radically personal. Willing is “essentially the meta-feeling, i.e. the affect, of commanding.”2 It is the agency to affect action by appetite, ability, and deliberate choice. It is the “will” in will to power, and the “will” in the aforementioned third stage of embracing the doctrine of eternal
Leiter, “Nietzsche‟s Theory of the Will,” 3. Ibid.
recurrence. There is a clear order of primacy because willingness is a precondition for willing, as well as any and every other action. Indeed, willing presupposes a willingness to will, which is to say there cannot be a command without an order-where the order is a desired action. Hence, and this is the important point, there must always be willingness before willing, accepting, or understanding. This is central to our discussion of Zarathustra and his lengthy struggle to embrace eternal recurrence because embracing the doctrine necessarily requires a desire to understand it, accept it, and will it, which Zarathustra lacked, as well as the choice to understand it, accept it, and will it, which Zarathustra did not make until “The Convalescent” when he willingly confronts his abyss-deep thought. On the surface, Zarathustra‟s struggle to embrace the doctrine seems to stem from an inability to know it, as first evinced in “On Great Events” when his spectre foreshadows eternal recurrence by crying “It is time! It is high time!”3 to a crew of sailors hunting on the island of the fire-mountain. This early interpretation is attractive for two reasons. 1. It is Zarathustra‟s shadow, and not himself that announces the coming of the doctrine, which suggests that consciously Zarathustra is neither aware nor creator of it. 2. His immediate reaction is one of genuine ignorance, puzzlement, and concern: “What am I to think of that! Am I then a spectre?...Why did the spectre cry: „It is time! It is high time!‟ For what is it then-high time?,”4 which reinforces a lack of knowledge regarding it. This is a superficial interpretation of the problem, however, because a deeper reading reveals that Zarathustra‟s actual issue is one of unwillingness. The implications of ability vs. willingness are great in that they underlie the significance of the doctrine of eternal recurrence itself, i.e. the ultimate affirmation of life with all its inherent consequences. To argue that it is merely a lack of knowledge that prohibits his
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 113. Ibid., 115-116.
embracing it is to deny the powerful internal struggle that characterizes the subsequent chapters and culminates in his overcoming. Beginning in the next chapter, “The Soothsayer,” Zarathustra gains revelation about the doctrine and his role as the advocate of life: “behold, then all at once his eye was transformed; he understood all that had happened.”5 This revelation marks the point in his journey from which his struggle to embrace eternal recurrence has moved forward from unwillingness to understand, to unwillingness to accept. We see that Zarathustra has indeed gained understanding of it because he obliquely hints at it in the following chapter: “Something higher than any reconciliation the will that is will to power must will-yet how shall this happen? Who has yet taught it to will backwards and want back as well?”6 Throughout this chapter (On Redemption) he speaks fluidly about the past, present, and future as they relate to the will, revenge, and redemption, which suggests that he is influenced by knowledge of the doctrine. His full understanding of eternal recurrence is further demonstrated by his realization of its inherent consequences: “But at this point in his speech it happened that Zarathustra suddenly fell silent and looked like one who is terrified in the extreme.”7 This is the critical moment of the origin of his abyss-deep thought, which will define the second stage of his struggle and lead to both his sickness and his overcoming in “The Convalescent.” The second stage is the longest stage and it drives him back to his mountain, his solitude, and himself. We know that Zarathustra has progressed to this second stage of his struggle because his problem is now one of unwillingness to accept eternal recurrence and its consequences, i.e. his abyss-deep thought. This is the answer to the hunchback‟s reproachful
Ibid., 119. Ibid., 123. 7 Ibid.
question: “But why does Zarathustra speak otherwise to his students-than to himself?”8 Zarathustra understands the doctrine personally, but he does not yet share it explicitly with others because to teach it is to will it, and to will it first requires that he accept it. Man validates his thoughts by vocalizing them, and thus Zarathustra refuses to speak honestly with either his disciples or himself. In “The Stillest Hour” we perceive both Zarathustra‟s external and internal unwillingness. He holds back in his conversations with his disciples: “Ah, my friends! I might still have something more to say to you; I might still have something more to give to you! Why do I not give it?”9 And he holds back in his conversations with himself: “And at last I answered like one defiant: „Yes, I know it, but I will not say it!‟”10 The deliberate effort to distance himself from the truth is furthered by the recurring motif of secondary and subconscious self-communication. In “The Stillest Hour” he only acknowledges his struggle through a dream, and in “On the Vision and Riddle” he separates himself from both the doctrine of eternal recurrence and his abyss-deep thought through a riddle within a vision. This twofold disconnect underscores the central theme that he is unwilling, rather than unable to accept the doctrine and its consequences. In “On the Vision and Riddle” Zarathustra articulates eternal recurrence for the first time viz. a vision of presenting a riddle to a dwarf, who represents the Spirit of Heaviness : “Behold this gateway, dwarf! It has two faces. Two ways come together here: nobody has ever taken them to the end. This long lane back here: it goes on for an eternity. And that long lane out there-that is another eternity…But whoever should walk farther on one of them-on and on, farther and farther: do you believe, dwarf, that these ways contradict themselves eternally?”11 The dwarf answers that “All that is straight lies,
Ibid. Ibid., 128. 10 Ibid., 126. 11 Ibid., 136.
all truth is crooked; time itself is a circle.”12 It is clear that Zarathustra‟s struggle is to willingly accept this doctrine because it is presented ably to us, but obliquely to himself, which indicates that he fully understands it. The second riddle in his vision reinforces this interpretation because he addresses his abyss-deep thought, i.e. the inherent consequences of eternal recurrence. In this second symbolic encounter he comes across a young shepherd being choked by a heavy black sake hanging out of his mouth. “You who are glad for riddles! Now guess for me the riddle that I saw then; now interpret for me the vision of the loneliest! For it was a vision and a premonition-what did I see then in the parable? And who is it that must yet come some day? Who is the shepherd into whose throat the snake thus crawled?”13 Zarathustra is envisioning the culmination of his struggle to embrace the doctrine of eternal recurrence, which includes the final conflict with his abyss-deep thought, and the ultimate overcoming when he willingly wills. His premonition is of the critical chapter and moment-“The Convalescent.” In it Zarathustra finally confronts his abyss-deep thought, which is the necessary requirement for advancing to the third and final stage in the process of embracing. “Get up, abyss -deep thought, out of my depths! I am your cock and morning-dawning, you sleepy worm: up! Up! My voice shall surely crow you awake!”14 This challenge is the expression of his willingness to accept the doctrine and face its consequences, which has three significant effects. 1. He is initially stricken with a profound sickness: “But hardly had Zarathustra spoken these words when he collapsed like a dead man and lay for a long time like one dead. But when he came to himself again, he was pale and trembling.”15 Although he is first knocked out by this confrontation, he is able to overcome it, and able to overcome precisely because of the suffering and struggling he endures:
Ibid. Ibid., 138. 14 Ibid., 188. 15 Ibid., 189.
“and how that monster crawled into my throat and choked me! But I bit its head of and spat it forth from me.”16 2. He is finally able to reach the third stage of willingly willing eternal recurrence, as evinced by the direct conversation and discussion he has about it with his animals, without any dreams, visions, or riddles: “Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of Being. Everything dies, everything blooms again, eternally runs the year of Being.”17 3. Zarathustra completely embraces the doctrine of eternal recurrence, Life, and Eternity because he willingly wills himself to be its teacher and creator, thus ceasing his struggle and beginning his ultimate recovery: “I come eternally again to this self-same life, in the greatest and smallest respects, so that again I teach the eternal recurrence of all things-so that again I speak the word of the Great Earth-and Humans-Midday, and again bring to human beings the tiding of the Overhuman.”18
Works Cited: Leiter, Brian. “Nietzsche‟s Theory of the Will.” Philosopher’s Imprint 7 (2007): 1-15. Accessed April 2, 2013. <www.philosophersimprint.org/007007/> Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by Graham Parkes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Ibid., 190. Ibid. 18 Ibid., 193.
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