Zarathustra vs Tame Impala

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – First Part – Chapter 12: ‘On the Flies of the Market-Place’
vs “Solitude is Bliss”, Tame Impala (Innerspeaker, 2010)

‘Flee, my friend, into your solitude!’ What are we to make of this declaration which opens Chapter 12? The speeches of Zarathustra – those of Part One that are not given a specific placement (such as ‘On the Tree on the Mountainside’ [P1.8]) – are generally considered to have the mise-en-scene of the market-place of the Motley Cow. Our protagonist arrived in the town, soon after abandoning his cave and ten years of isolation to return to and engage with the world, early in Part One (after the ‘Prologue’). His speeches thus appear to be directed, at first, toward disinterested passers-by and novelty-seekers, then later, to a small but dedicated coterie. A coterie that is growing? Yet in chapter 12 Zarathustra appears to be addressing a single interlocutor: ‘my friend’ (anticipating chapter 14 – ‘On the Friend’). Is this one such as the youth met under the tree on the mountainside? Or is Zarathustra speaking to himself? At the end of Part One our protagonist will leave the Motley Cow, cut free his followers and return to his cave for a few more years (P1.20.3; P2.1). The theme of isolation and solitude will thus pepper the next few chapters (P1.14; 17). So, is this a moment expressing self-doubt? Rejecting the lure of the idol? Advice to another? A speech to his listeners? All of these things? None?

Flee into solitude from what? ‘Where solitude ceases, there begins the market-place’. Spaces of stink, din, chatter, inconsequentiality and confrontation crammed with both the great and the small in a symbiotic relationship of host and parasite. The great: play-actors who pontificate and preen – the populist who ‘always believes in that whereby he most strongly makes others believe’; ‘[t]o drive frantic’ the populace, a fascist where ‘blood counts for him as the best of all grounds’. The small: in awe of these self-posited idols, hanging on their every word, their noise, their ‘fame’, their ‘security’ – they are flies buzzing around the shit which chugs endlessly from their orifices. Awaiting the command from on high: ‘blood is what their bloodless souls’ desire’. Slaves and masters, the populace and their idols, the idols and their people – the echo chamber: a symbiotic twittering.

‘I care less and less about it and less about you’ – so intones Kevin Parker, aka Tame Impala, over a psychedelic groove of electric guitars tripped out with chorus and wah-wah.

For Parker isolation is not only an escape from the incessant buzzing of the market-place for a ‘[s]pace around me where my soul can breathe,’ but also an affirmation of lonerism. It’s there, of course, in the title: ‘Solitude is Bliss’. Instead of the desperation of people ‘Making friends like they're all supposed to,’ Parker sings ‘I don't care what I miss’. For the real action is elsewhere: ‘There's a party in my head / And no one is invited’. Accordingly, the upbeat and joyous refrain: ‘You will never come close to how I feel’. Perhaps, however, it is only in the song’s bridge, after the Hammond organ driven wig-out, where what is crucial in such lonerism is unveiled. The kicking riff that powers the tune dissipates, the pace necessarily slows and we are drawn into an amorphous blurred soundscape: ‘Movement doesn't flow / Quite like it does when I'm alone / I'll be the one who's free’…

As Zarathustra echoes: ‘slow is experience for all deep wells’. For the idols and their parasites everything is simple, black and white, everything is bought and sold, everything has two sides, everything is this or that, right or wrong, left or right, everything is founded upon a given identity: ‘only in the market-place is one assailed by “Yea?” and “Nay?”’ The loner needs space and time to create ideas, new values: ‘long must they wait before they know just what has fallen into their depths’, and accordingly, as Zarathustra concludes: ‘you want to set down your chair between For and Against’.

In this way, the great may mistake the loner for one of them; and the small may mistake the loner for one who is great. The lure here would be for the loner to accept the role of the play-actor. To become a populist and seek the power of the Yea and Nay. Yet it is just this role the loner must reject. Hence the Tame Impala injunction: ‘Don't ask me how you're supposed to feel’. No wonder those of slow-thought and deep-thinking are hated by the great and the small, by the populists and the populace alike. The ‘petty and wretched’ may appear innocent but they know only too well what they do and so are full of ressentiment and revenge. They hate the indecision, the contemplation, the unsureness, the process, the thinking of lonerism. The people are not dumb – they are more than willing to give up their freedom, and the freedom of those around them too! All hail the idol! Yet the great are also unfree: they must embody and proselytise either and only the Yea or the Nay. And those who are acentred – the loners – are called heretics, unbelievers and their values called betrayal and that which is haram. They’ll be coming after to you, threatening you, smashing your windows. Conform! Get in line. Choose a side – seek security with the mass under the shadow of their idol, the idol (‘God or Devil’) which is raised on high by each mass.

‘Flee, my friend,’ concludes Zarathustra, ‘into your solitude’.

First Part: Chapter 13 - Violent Femmes

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