Zarathustra vs Tool

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Prologue 3
vs “Right in Two”, Tool (10,000 Days, 2006)

I teach to you the overhuman’. This declaration of intent constitutes the first words Zarathustra speaks in ‘Prologue 3’, and these words are the beginning of what Nietzsche will designate as Zarathustra’s ‘first speech’, a speech that extends across the next two sections of the prologue (I.P5). As we will see, however, each of these passages has a very different quality. We thus need to discover, captured in three moments of modern music, something of the intensity and something of the sense – the madness and the sanity – of the three approaches, attacks, of Zarathustra’s first speech. Anyhow, having left his mountain-top home and traversed the forest, Zarathustra has arrived at a small town during a festival, the centrepiece of which is to be a tightrope performance. His speech is thus delivered to the people of the town who have gathered in the marketplace, all ready for some good old-fashioned entertainment. Needless to say, things won’t go too well for Zarathustra. But we are getting ahead of ourselves…

‘I teach to you the overhuman’ becomes the refrain of this part of Zarathustra’s speech. And this teaching – in this section – appears to have two fundamental co-ordinates: both of which emerge in the wake of the death of God announced by Zarathustra at the conclusion of ‘Prologue 2,’ and both of which converge on a conception of the world as fundamentally a material realm. The first aspect concerns an annulling of dualism, destroying the need for an independent, eternal and ideal spirit opposed to a dirty, filthy, transient body chained to the foul earth which will give birth to it, and eventually reclaim it. If the first aspect concerns the spatiality of bodies through the denial of the everlasting soul; the second concerns the temporality of the species through the ambiguous figure of the ape. Here we encounter a presentation of Darwinism, an expression and affirmation of an image with which Darwinism was first mocked, and an exploration, acceptance and validation of the necessary conclusions of such a still-radical narrative.

These coordinates – it seems to me – are well captured in the music and lyrics of Tool’s “Right in Two”.

There may well be an objections here. The song is, after all, laced with religious imagery and language (Eden, the Father, heaven), and, furthermore, narrated by, or on behalf of, angels. Yet such a literal interpretation need not concern us – or rather, what need concern us is the status of this language and imagery. For these angels are ‘on the sideline’, yet to be called to the stage of the present from the wings of the future, as much ciphers as the overhuman. The song is thus articulated from the yet-to-come, looking back to the as-it-is of the human world, humans which appear as ‘talking monkeys’, as ‘silly monkeys,’ a world marked by ‘monkey killing monkey’. Maynard James Keenan’s lyrics, just like Nietzsche’s text, use and abuse religious iconography and signs. For it is these human-monkeys which believe in a Father, that which gave them reason, free-will, choice – which conceived of a spirit apart from the body. As Keenan repeats ‘and where there's one they're bound to divide it right in two.’ Such divisions are a ‘polarizing’ of mind and body, life and death: ‘Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability / To lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here’. Resisting the call of the future means ‘Angels on the sideline again / Benched along with patience and reason’.

‘Once sacrilege against God was the greatest sacrilege,’ teaches Zarathustra, ‘but God died, and thereby the sacrilegious died too.’ Now, the only heresy is a denial of the Earth and ‘the overhuman is the sense of the Earth’. Zarathustra says ‘stay true to the earth and do not believe those who talk of over-earthly hopes!’ Nietzsche here is referring to a non-material realm, god, idols. These people – philosophers of idealism as much as religious teachers ‘are poison-mixers’, are ‘despisers of life’. Why? Because they divide body and spirit, and place one with the Earth (body) and the other with God and the eternal (a soul). ‘Once the soul looked despisingly upon the body, and at that time this despising was the highest thing… she thought to slip away from the body and the earth’. Such a definition of life marks the human, and thus for Zarathustra: ‘the human is something that shall be overcome’. Shall be – it is inevitable. The human being which we see as a centre, as so special, is but a moment in the universe, in the story of the universe. And the human is not a moment of stasis but a transformation toward this overhuman – whatever it may be – coming from the future. ‘What is the ape for the human being? A laughing-stock or a painful cause for shame. And the human shall be just that for the Overhuman: a laughing stock or a painful cause for shame… Once you were apes, and even now the human being is still more of an ape than any ape is.’ Yet it is exactly this overcoming us humans resist: ‘you want to be the ebb of this great tide.’

What is the reaction of the people? They laugh at Zarathustra. One wag even repeats back this teaching of the overhuman in a literal way: ‘we’ve heard enough about the rope-dancer: now let us see him too’.

First Part: Prologue 4 - David Bowie

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