Zarathustra vs Hazel O’Connor

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Prologue 5
vs “Eighth Day”, Hazel O’Connor (Breaking Glass, 1980)

‘Give us the last human, O Zarathustra… Turn us into these last humans’ – such are the words of the crowd, shouting in ‘clamour and delight,’ interrupting and bringing to a close what Nietzsche calls ‘Zarathustra’s first speech.’ Begun in ‘Prologue 3’, the first two sections of Zarathustra’s monologue are direct teachings of the Overhuman – as the ‘sense of the earth’; then as a ‘love’ of becoming – but both times his words are met with laughter. ‘Must one first smash their ears before they learn to hear…’ asks Zarathustra at the beginning of ‘Prologue 5’. ‘Must one rumble like kettledrums and preachers of repentance?’ Worth a try – ‘I will speak to their pride… I will speak to them of what is most despicable: and that is the last human’.

And so Zarathustra preaches the last human, embodied by a culture that seeks to homogenize experience, annul adventure, make everything easy, preserve itself in aspic… and in such a way life is stultified, numbed, deadened. ‘“We have contrived happiness” – say the last humans and they blink.’ Yet this happiness is an anaesthetic to the vital forces that engender life – ‘I say to you: one must still have chaos within, in order to give birth to a dancing star.’ To which the last human replies ‘“What is love? What is creation? What is yearning? What is a star?”… and then blinks’.

Driven by the purest of synthetic pop soundscapes, Hazel O’Connor’s post-punk, new-wave 1980s classic “Eighth Day” approaches just such sentiments.

Although, first by preaching the accomplishments of the human race. ‘In the beginning was a world / Man said, "Let there be more light" / Electric scenes and laser beams / Neon brights the light abhorring nights / On the second day he said, "Let's have a gas"’ and so ‘we'll poison the worms / Man will never be suppressed’. The song tells the story of humanity subduing chaos, the wonders of science, the triumph of culture over nature; and echoes the language and structure of “Genesis” 1 & 2 of The Bible  – ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth’; ‘So God created man in his own image… and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (1.26-8). And just as God kicks back on the seventh day, so do O’Connor’s last humans: ‘In our image, let's make robots for our slaves / Imagine all the time that we can save / Computers, machines, the silicon dream / Seventh he retired from the scene’.

Accordingly, it is just this way – for O’Connor echoing Nietzsche – that humanity purges the vital forces of life:  ‘And he said “Behold what I have done / I've made a better world for everyone / Nobody laugh, nobody cry / World without end, forever and ever”’ – this chorus accompanied by a synthesised male choir morphing into voices chanting, in consort with O’Connor, ‘Amen, Amen, Amen’.

Of course, O’Connor’s song concludes with an apocalyptic vision: ‘On the eighth day machine just got upset / A problem man had never seen as yet / No time for flight, a blinding light / And nothing but a void, forever night’. This imagery, however, is far richer than a simple end-of-days if considered through Nietzsche. It also echoes a human version of the death of God announced in ‘Prologue 2’, and can just as well be read as a human death in-life, the death of vital forces that describe the last humans; or even a machinic becoming that figures the very coming of the overhuman…

And back with Nietzsche, at the end of ‘Prologue 5’, as in ‘Prologue 3’ and ‘4’, Zarathustra is received once again with laughter: ‘Now they behold me and laugh: and even as they laugh… There is ice in their laughter’. The crowd calling for the last human, wishing to embody the last human, full well understands Zarathustra's despising…

First Part: Prologue 6 - Lou Reed

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