Zarathustra vs Iggy Pop

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 4: ‘On the Despisers of the Body’
vs “The Passenger”, Iggy Pop (Lust for Life, 1977)

The importance of Chapter 4 should not be underestimated. For it is here we encounter – in its most fundamental form – Nietzsche’s topology of mortality. This philosophy is profoundly materialist. ‘“Body am I and Soul”’ swipes Zarathustra ‘thus talks the child’. But ‘the one who knows, says: Body I am through and through, and nothing besides’. Accordingly, ‘soul is merely a word for something about the body’. Nietzsche, in this way, is confronting the so-called mind-body problem – which is not so much a problem, for Zarathustra, as a ruse. Chapter 4 thus continues and extends ‘On Believers in a World Behind’ (ZI.3) which denied the existence of Gods and gods, heavens and promised lands for a belief in the earth, the material universe. Similarly, just as there is no beyond the world, there is no beyond the body. Soul, spirit, sense, ego, consciousness and the I – these words designate a surface function of the body.

Nietzsche’s topology is one that appears to align with modern biology and neuroscience – at least in their most essential claims. Psychology is a derivation of physiology. ‘”I” you say’ but the body ‘does not say I, but does I’. The body acts, the I is along for the ride. Similarly, Nietzsche’s topology is also one that aligns with Iggy Pop’s epic anthem of abandon, ‘The Passenger.’ ‘I am a passenger / And I ride and I ride’. The I is a passenger of the body, of the machine. ‘I am a passenger / I stay under glass / I look through my window so bright’ and – even more explicitly – the passenger ‘sees things from under glass / He looks through his window's eye’.

This is the ruse: senses and spirit (‘what the senses feel, what the spirit knows’) ‘would like to persuade you that they are the end of all things’. That the body is simply the husk (the organ) of a glorious soul – the I, which is the purpose of the body. But this is an error in two ways. First, it divides body and soul; second it acclaims and elevates the latter at the expense and denigration of the former. For Zarathustra, however, affects and understanding enter consciousness after the body has acted. The body is an unconscious actor, the I a passive watcher in its wake. The body is glorious – the I is behind glass.

Yet Nietzsche’s topology of mortality is subtle, and complex; for the body is not only the foundation of the I, but also of the self. Behind the I, behind senses and spirit ‘lies the Self. The Self seeks with the eyes of the senses too, it listens with the ears of the spirit too’. The self ‘is your body’ of course (just as is the I), but holds the ‘leading-reins of the I’ and is the ‘prompter of its conceptions’. ‘Your Self laughs at your I… “What are these leapings and soarings of thought to me?” it says to itself. “A detour to my purpose”’. It may be ‘The Self says to the I: “Feel pleasure here!” Then it [the I] is happy and thinks about how it [the I] might be happy again – and this is what it [the I] is meant to think’. Similarly, ‘The Self says to the I: “Feel pain here!” And then it [the I] suffers and thinks about how it [the I] might suffer no more – and this is what it [the I] is meant to think.’ Psychological states register physiological events: the I is a function of the body’s feedback loop: the self. The self – then – is that which integrates the body and the I, and the I with the body.

Iggy’s ‘The Passenger,’ similarly, exposes such a complex relation of body, self and I. The machine transports the passenger, but the Self commands: ‘Get into the car / We'll be the passenger’. Iggy’s enunciation continually shifts perspective. The ‘I’ is the passenger, sometimes seen as a ‘he’ from the perspective of the Self; sometimes seen as a ‘we’ from the perspective of the body.

Nietzsche’s topology of mortality is thus no behaviourism, no determinism, no empiricism; just as it is no rationalism, no idealism, no theology. And Chapter 4 begins an exploration that will be developed in Zarathustra through the will to power, eternal recurrence and the overhuman. For now, however, Nietzsche’s aim is to outline his basic topology in order to explain how people come to despise the body.

In overvaluing the I, people miss the self and turn away from the body. The self endeavours ‘to create beyond itself. That is what it wants the most, that is its entire fervour’. In other words, the self is our becoming, it is a becoming other than I is, and the death of what is for what it shall become, it wants to increase the power of the body, to live, to act, to experiment. The body can thus appear as an impediment of the I if it believes itself to be the reason and static identity of the body. Thus the paradox: ‘in your folly and despising, you despisers of the body, you are serving your Self. I say to you: your Self itself wants to die and turns away from life’.

Accordingly, Zarathustra declares: ‘I do not walk your way, you despisers of the body!’ For ‘the body is a great reason’, while the I is the ‘small reason’, and the self ‘compares, compels, conquers, destroys. It rules, and is also the I’s ruler’. Bodies are matter, multiplicity enfolding into univocity as a process: ‘a manifold with one sense,’ ‘a war and a peace,’ ‘a herd and a herdsmen’. The self is the process.

Concomitantly, it is in this way Iggy’s anthem to abandon is an affirmation. The passenger sees horror and beauty. ‘And everything was made for you and me / All of it was made for you and me / 'Cause it just belongs to you and me / So let's take a ride and see what's mine’. The rapture of the process of life.

‘Singing: la la la la la lalala…’

First Part: Chapter 5 - Happy Mondays

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