NIETZSCHE’S OVERMAN

Anthony Read

A resilient creative nihilist who welcomes obstacles as opportunities to sublimate suffering into a creative Dionysian art and holistic love of fate as an eternally recurring cycle of will-to-power and innocent becoming.

In simpler terms, a combination of ‘amor fati’ and the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence. Nietzsche’s formula for the superman would come to include the majority of his philosophical outlooks and conclusions. When broken down, each point has positive and negative aspects. When combined into a unified whole, it can be too confusing for the everyday person to wilfully accept and utilise. To successfully understand this superman, we must dissect each point alone and then combine them to come to a greater understanding of what Nietzsche truly meant. To be a nihilist is to question and void everything in life. To many, this idea of breaking down and sweeping away all knowledge seems like a highly negative idea. However, Nietzsche had major qualms about the highly pessimistic views of other philosophers of his time, including Schopenhauer and Hartmann (Dienstag 2001, pp. 928). He decided to counter this negative nihilism by including the words resilient and creative in his definition. This now becomes a positive nihilism, a tool to creative prowess. One can say that the barren nihilist is akin to a camel/lion: burdened with past beliefs, but trying to break free. The creative nihilist is more like a lion/child: breaking free of past restraints and ready to create their own philosophy. Another problem one may encounter with this nihilism is the ’wall’. It is the point where one voids so much in their life that there is literally nothing left to void. This wall is what has stopped so many from achieving the ‘child’ status: a refusal to see past the wall, to see past their own complete voiding of life. What Nietzsche is saying in his philosophy is to turn that wall into a blank canvas. By doing so, one can use whatever tools they wish to turn that canvas into a work of art, a new way of thinking. Their own personal life philosophy. Nietzsche is the perfect example: he arrived at his wall through personal pain and nihilism, but he used that to create his own outlook: one of the superman. ‘Amor Fati’: love of fate. This concept is one that is essentially alien to most people. We like to think we are in control of our lives, but in Nietzsche’s eyes we are indebted to fate. Everything we do is a reflection of a greater scheme; we must come to love this fate of ours, and to accept it. What Nietzsche also says is that fate is not kind to us. It is cold and impartial, and more often than not will place obstacles in our path. Pain and suffering are part of our lives, he notes. Grottanelli reiterates in his essay, ‘Nietzsche and Myth’, that the tragedy of Oedipus demonstrates this by “justifying human suffering” (1997, pp. 4). We need to suffer and to have obstacles in our path so we can sublimate them into what Nietzsche terms Dionysian art. The word ‘Dionysian’ is thrown around a lot in Nietzsche’s work, in particular to describe the creation of art. Dionysus is a Greek mythological god of the fertility of nature, and in later traditions, associated with loosened inhibitions and inspired creativity (the fact he was also the god of wine should not come as a surprise). The use of this god in Nietzsche’s overall philosophy leans more towards wild, uninhibited creativity in the face of

suffering. If we follow nihilism, and eventually void everything in our lives, we need a spur to carry on and give us strength. Taking his cue from Dionysus, Nietzsche says to run free with one’s creative side, and create new and exciting art and philosophy. ‘Groundhog Day’ was a film where one man was forced to live the same day over and over. Nietzsche undoubtedly inspired this film, as his Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence follows in a similar step. Referred to in his superman theory as ‘an eternally recurring natural cycle’, the Doctrine states that everything that happens in life will repeat eternally, before and after this moment in time. It acts as a real stimulator to get us into gear and stop making mistakes, because if they are made now, they will reoccur forever. The issue here lies not with the underlying idea, which is quite a positive theory from Nietzsche. Scholars have an issue with the proof of this idea, with one mentioning that “philosophy was to Nietzsche largely personal experience”, and that we should “forgive…the seeming inconsistencies” (Warbeke 1909, pp. 368). For if everything has occurred already, after and before now, how can we change our actions if they have already happened? Many have said that this is the death of free will. Perhaps, but we must realise that the Doctrine is not meant to be taken as the true nature of the universe. If taken merely to compel us to live our lives to the fullest, we will have understood it, and fulfilled Nietzsche’s idea of what the superman should be. The next statement is perhaps where people take most offence. The idea of ‘will-to-power’ is best described by Salter: “How strong are you, how near completeness in body, mind and soul…*to+ be your own master, and thereby be fit to master others…it is a question of character (in the great sense)” (1915, pp. 428). Nietzsche supposed that everything we do in our lives pushes us to be powerful over others, including objects as well as fellow humans. It is impossible to escape this idea; good acts (although possibly being pure at heart) are attempts for us to feel better and more generous than others; evil acts are the more obvious, in reference to various historical leaders, including the infamous Adolf Hitler. It is highly probable that this fiction is true, although it has never become fully triumphant. This may be because of the overly negative connotations people associate with the word ‘power’. One can imagine pictures of persecuted Jews in concentration camps when told about this idea of Nietzsche’s. This is it’s greatest downfall: Nietzsche is giving too much credit to his readers. To fully understand this concept, one must take the negative in hand with the positive. Only then does the full picture come into focus. One may also take the will-to-power concept to attack benevolent acts, saying they are now undermined and lack any real feeling. Not necessarily, if the person has truly given some benefit to the one receiving the help. The person has still received assistance; it is just the giver that now has more power.

‘Innocent becoming’ ties in well with the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence and will-to-power, as Nietzsche explains that no one in this life is truly good or evil. He put it thus: if the world is eternally being renewed and repeated, how can we say that a person is truly good or evil for their actions, since they have done them a million times before? Also, the world is in a “constant state of flux, and therefore becoming…and destroying” (Dienstag, pp. 927), so how can we measure good and evil? Being an essentially positive idea, “innocent becoming” can be criticised for perhaps doing away with responsibility. If everything has happened before and after this time, then we can surely walk through life without a care, because we can’t be held fully responsible for our own actions. An aporia, as they say. If the Doctrine is to be taken as simply a spur, then ‘innocent becoming’ can only be taken in the same light. For one to be taken as fact, so must the other, which simply cannot be done. If the concept is taken as a way of explaining the world is an ever-changing thing that has no set course, then surely ‘amor fati’ has no place either. Nietzsche has hit his own wall within his definition of the superman. The superman is a holistic example of what we could be, and what we should strive to be: creatures that take pain, turn it into creative joy and love life to the fullest. We should expect obstacles, and tackle them with the greatest strength; we should try to do our best everyday, if taking the Doctrine to heart; we should not resist our natural will-to-power, and embrace our innocence of becoming. Nietzsche has given us a modern day hero to look to for guidance, and like us all, is imperfect (in definition). This was what Nietzsche painted on his blank canvas. He now watches us to see what we will paint on ours.

REFERENCE LIST
Dienstag J, 2001, ‘Nietzsche’s Dionysian Pessismism’, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 95, No. 4, pp. 923-937. Grottanelli C, 1997, ‘Nietzsche and Myth’, History and Religions, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 3-20. Salter W, 1915, ‘Nietzsche’s Superman’, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 12, No. 16, pp. 421-438. Warbeke J, 1909, ‘Friedrich Nietzsche, Antichrist, Superman and Pragmatist’, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 366-385.

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