Zarathustra vs Lou Reed

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Prologue 6
vs “Walk on the Wild Side”, Lou Reed (Transformer, 1972)

The lowest, or highest, entertainment? Risking life, the rope-dancer: skilfully walking the high-wire, step after vigilant step, balance-pole in steady hands, focused on the way ahead. So opens “Prologue 6” of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The eponymous ex-solitary now forgotten, the attention of the crowd turns instead to the dangerous deed unfolding high above their heads, on the rope suspended over the market-square, strung between two towers. As the crowd watches, however, a jester races along the rope, jibes and jabs the walker, before leaping over him and reaching the other side. Such audacity causes the rope-dancer to loose concentration, then balance, and fall, tumbling to the ground far below. Here he lies ‘badly injured and broken, but not yet dead’ close to where Zarathustra stands, now alone, the shocked crowd having backed away. The rope-dancer beckons to Zarathustra, perhaps mistaking him for some kind of holy saint, asking for pity and last rites. But such succour is not forthcoming: ‘Your soul will be dead even sooner than your body’ and ‘there is no Devil and no Hell’ that makes any recanting necessary.

Rather – Zarathustra celebrates the rope-dancer’s death. ‘You have made danger your calling: there is nothing in that to despise’.  Living dangerously enlivens life. The imagery here resonates throughout Nietzsche’s text. Earlier in the “Prologue”, for instance, Zarathustra has described the human as ‘a rope, fastened between beast and Overhuman – a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking back, a dangerous shuddering and standing still’ (Prologue 4).  And so for the rope-dancer it proves. Yet it is just this danger that should be rejoiced, be sought, and tasted.

Living life dangerously: such lives are praised in Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, five vignettes of transformation, risk and – sometimes – crashing to the ground.

‘Holly came from Miami F.L.A.’ croons Reed, ‘Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A. / Plucked her eyebrows on the way / Shaved her legs and then he was a she’. Then Candy ‘never lost her head / Even when she was giving head’ and ‘Little Joe never once gave it away / Everybody had to pay and pay’. The Sugar Plum Fairy hitting the ‘Apollo’ and finally, Jackie ‘just speeding away… I guess she had to crash’. Affirmations all – there is no disavowal, no sense of forgiveness asked for nor imposed. No pity. Celebrate these lives, rejoice their transformations. They lived, they are examples to us all – ‘hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’. The instrumentation of the song is delicate, sparse, considered, quirky, no darkness, no tragedy here, but a wry walking of the wire… skilful, considered – but for all that, no less dangerous. It is in this way the human (seen in Prologue 5 as the last human, the homogenized, the easy-life, preserved in aspic) is overcome – ‘but only a jester thinks “the human can also be overjumped.’” (PIII.12.4). And there are many jesters out there…

First Part: Prologue 7 - Goat

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