Sunday, 29 October 2017

Zarathustra vs Underworld

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 22: ‘On the Bestowing Virtue’ I
vs “Cowgirl” Underworld (Dubnobasswithmyheadman, 1994)

Such bestowing as Zarathustra’s reminds us of the experience of an encounter with Underworld’s ‘Cowgirl’, with its refrain of: ‘I want to give you everything / I want to give you energy / Want to give a good thing / To give you everything’ – ‘Everything everything everything everything’…


And so, here in chapter 22 – the finale of the first book of Zarathustra – Nietzsche has the teacher leaving the town of The Motley Cow. His departure has been presaged, there has been a sense of an ending in the way Nietzsche has organised the narration. In the previous two chapters, Zarathustra has initiated discussions on birth and then death. And if these two subjects are not the most important, they are at the very least the essential givens of life, which – of course – has been the focus of all Zarathustra’s speeches. Indeed, birth and death, rebirth and many deaths – such is the experience and opportunity of everyday life. Everything ends, and then something new begins. Why is Zarathustra leaving? Perhaps the teacher feels he has done as much as he can to ‘lure many away from the herd’ (see Prologue 9) – which was, after all, the reason for his sojourn in the town at the opening of book one. And this final chapter mirrors that first chapter – the latter exploring three transformations; the former divided into three sections, each division marked by the teacher’s voice being ‘transformed’. And there are other mirrorings…

The first section of chapter 22 sees Zarathustra escorted to the outskirts of the town by his companions (those ‘who called themselves his disciples’). As a parting gift, they have given him a new walking staff. Set upon the staff is a golden haft fashioned in the image of sun, and around the sun, a coiled serpent. We have already met the serpent (I.19), and will so again. Indeed, one of Zarathustra’s animals – along with an eagle – is a snake; and these animals appear in the opening of the Prologue. And it was in this opening of the Prologue where the rising sun was the inspiration for Zarathustra to leave his cave. The image of the serpent and the sun come together as the circle, but a circle of movement, of endings and beginnings.

The gift encourages Zarathustra to create an on-the-spot allegory: ‘how did gold assume the highest value? Because it is uncommon and of no use and luminous and mild in its lustre; it always bestows itself’. Gold – in this way – is itself an allegory of what Zarathustra sees as ‘the highest virtue’. We must remember – of course – Nietzsche’s conception of the relation between allegory and truth in ‘On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense’. Truth is ‘[a] movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions – they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.’ Zarathustra’s allegory captures up the value of gold, the circles of the serpent and the sun, as well as his and the disciples relations in respect to the past and the future.

This highest value and virtue is that of bestowing. Giving: like the sun. Gifting wisdom, the wisdom you have; your hard-won wisdom, such as it is. Giving of yourself. Such a way of life engenders energy: ‘[e]levated is your body then and resurrected: with its rapture it delights the spirit, so that it becomes creator and elevator and lover and benefactor of all things’. Such bestowing reminds us of the experience of an encounter with Underworld’s ‘Cowgirl’, with its refrain of: ‘I want to give you everything / I want to give you energy / Want to give a good thing / To give you everything’ – ‘Everything everything everything everything’…