Zarathustra vs Julian Cope

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Prologue 2
vs “Saint Julian”, Julian Cope (Saint Julian, 1987)

‘One occasionally sees the following graffiti: “God is dead! Nietzsche. Nietzsche is dead! God." … the best third line I have seen is “Some are born posthumously! Nietzsche".’ Walter Kaufman.

At the very end of ‘Prologue 2’ – as a kind of cliff-hanger, almost with the implicit musical refrain da!-da!-da! – Zarathustra proclaims: ‘God is dead!’ It is often written – by both atheists and theists alike – this declaration is one of the most difficult in Nietzsche, indicating a ‘first announcement’ in previous book The Gay Science (1st ed. 1882), section 125. This section, entitled ‘The madman,’ sees a frenzied prophet blabbering ‘God is dead,’ and the godless multitude laughing him away. A common claim is that we need to be aware this is not Nietzsche himself speaking, but telling a tale of insanity. Two points. First – who is naming this prophet a madman? Nietzsche, or the people who laugh at him? Is not the madman an early incarnation of Zarathustra? – See Prologue 3. Second, this is not the first mention of the phrase in The Gay Science, and – more importantly – neither will it be the last. And in these sections (the latter added in the 2nd ed. 1887) Nietzsche assuages all difficulty.

In GS-108 Nietzsche writes ‘God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown,’ and in GS-343 adds ‘The greatest recent event – that “God is dead” [means]… belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable.’ ‘This clause,’ comments Walter Kaufman ‘is clearly offered as an explanation.’ Echoing the first section, Nietzsche sees such an understanding as almost beyond comprehension, but the outcome will be decisive: ‘much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined.’ Welcome to ‘breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm’! Such incomprehension and doom is explored in Julian Cope’s “Saint Julian.”

‘I met God in a car in a dream in Ankerside’ – near Tamworth, why not? For Cope, there is initially relief ‘I came upon you when I thought I’d lost you.’ However, God says ‘”I’ve been looking around this world I created / It’s going so well”;’ Cope responds ‘I looked, I stared / I said "I think I’ve lost you" / I cried out "My God, I think I’ve lost you".' Then ‘I thought of all the martyrs, the religious wars / And all of the millions dying for a nobody cause.’ Initially there is madman anger ‘my flailing arms smashed your face,’ but given God’s ongoing historical ‘fall from grace’ Cope asks ‘why should I kill you?’ The song ends with ‘"my God, I know I’ve lost you".’ What has appeared in the wake of this rejection? Cope finds himself ‘Up to my waist in the slime and sweat of days.’

Yet this is not all there is to “Saint Julian.” While the lyrics may speak of doubt, loss, fear and a resultant nihilism, the tune is joyful. With a slick, crisp 1980s processed production, this sprightly pop song skips along with the catchiest of melodies. What is the meaning of such cheerfulness?

Nietzsche asks such a question in The Gay Science, where the final passage announcing the death of God is entitled just this, ‘The meaning of our cheerfulness.’ Those who are ‘waiting on the mountains’ (like Zarathustra), ‘look forward to the approaching gloom without any real sense of involvement and above all without any worry and fear’ because ‘the consequences for ourselves are quite the opposite of what one might perhaps expect: They are not at all sad and gloomy but rather like a new and scarcely describable kind of light, happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement, dawn,’ a ‘new dawn’. Thus, in ‘Prologue 2,’ the old hermit of the forest sees Zarathustra as ‘transformed’, ‘around his mouth no trace of disgust,’ as a ‘dancer’, a ‘child’, ‘awakened’ (themes which return throughout the book).

The curiosity of this meeting, however, is to come. The old man warns Zarathustra against his descent, believing it best to leave the world behind. Zarathustra asks the old man how he spends his time. The response: ‘I make up songs and sing them, and as I make up songs, I laugh and weep and growl: thus do I praise God.’ If it is expected of Zarathustra to rant like the madman here, then there is to be disappointment. Zarathustra simply says ‘What have I to give to you!’, furthermore ‘let me go quickly that I might take nothing from you!’ Nietzsche writes ‘And thus they parted from each other, the old man and the younger, laughing’. Finally, the coda: ‘But when Zarathustra was alone again, he spoke thus to his heart. ‘Could this be possible! This old holy man in his forest has heard nothing of this yet, that God is dead!’ –‘. I think A Matt’ of Fact’s recent analysis produces an interesting reading here, Nietzsche ‘understood the futility of theological dialogue between atheists and theists.’ And neither is Zarathustra some patronising atheist, patting the dude on his head before passing on. For the old man clearly points out ‘I praise the God who is my God’. The hermit actively, questioningly believes as a response to worldly nihilism. Zarathustra’s response is thus awe. Neither the hermit nor Zarathustra are ‘sleepwalkers’. And with this, so off he bobs to town…

First Part: Prologue 3 - Tool

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