Zarathustra vs The Smashing Pumpkins

Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Second Part – Chapter 5: ‘On the Virtuous’
vs “Cyr” The Smashing Pumpkins (Cyr, 2020)


Gentle laughter: Are you awake? Have you woke? Each night we sleep, and each morning we must awaken. Each night a passing away. Every morning a new awakening.

Some people rarely or never sleep, are always sleepy, sleepwalkers walking through the night, walking right through the day as if it were the night. For them Zarathustra would need to shout and scream, ‘thunder’ and ‘fireworks’ would be needed, though they just drag their slack bodies away moaning and groaning ‘you have failed… fail… fail…’?

You – however – have slept, have slept well. And as you wake, Zarathustra approaches and lies beside you and speaks softly as the dawn dapples the room with light. Gentle laughter for ‘the most awakened souls’: You are awake! You have woke! So Zarathustra asks something of you. He does not ask you which of your acts are virtuous? For questions such as this require something to be answered first, and are for another morning. There is a more essentail, a more fundamental question. What grounds your virtues?

Is it one of them there thousand gods? One of the ones that still survive? Is it the promise of that god, of an old musty book, ancient words, incantations of the henchmen? Be virtuous and you will go to this heaven! Be virtuous or you will go to that hell! Payment and fear. Fear and payment – is that why you are virtuous? Is being virtuous its own reward? A warm glow? Something to allude to? Do you feel ripped about being virtuous? Talk about it? Shout? Confront others with your virtues? Look at fucking me! Condemn others with your virtues? Or are you just following the law? You have all the books! You can discuss cases, and precedents, even loopholes! Perhaps it is punishment that scares you? And justice too! Police. Courts. Prisons. Maybe you see virtues as simply actions that yield good consequences?  Maybe you see virtues as duties? The good and the right are transcendent! They are mathematic, equations, geometric, eternal, and give birth to universes with a bang! Rather than the illusory laws of an absent god, virtue is hardcoded into us, pseudo-science reigns and evolutionary theories are hijacked for objective ethical certainty.

You are virtuous! But -
Are your virtues ‘a spasm under the whip’?
Are your virtues aroused when ‘vices grow lazy’?
Are your virtues just you putting the ‘breaks’ on your vices?
Are your virtues merely habits, ‘regular clocks that have been wound up’?
You are virtuous! But, whispers Zarathustra in your ear, ‘like the snout of a boar shall my words tear open the ground of your soul…’ and ‘the secrets of your ground shall come to light’. You now ‘lie churned and broken up in the sun’. If Zarathustra’s words unground these grounds, bring to light the illusions of these presuppositions, how is virtue possible? Authority becomes shadowy. Idols are toppled, facture, become fragments. Your master slowly dies, is dead: you have killed your master.

We can see such a Nietzschean teaching in ‘Cyr’ (2020). ‘Fragments form the minds / Shadows hold the mist / Fractured as this wish’. So sings Billy Corgan, vocalist, songwriter, programmer, and producer of this re-incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins. Our minds are formed from fragments of given laws, rules, edicts, commandments. Mere shadows of authority, idols, and gods justify our virtues, or at least – in desperation – this is our wish, but these wishes too are fragments. As Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil, his commentary on Thus Spoke Zarathustra: the human being is a ‘social structure of many “souls”’ (BGE: 19); and we possess a soul that is a ‘social structure’ of ‘instincts and passions’ (BGE: 12). When we come to see these authorities, idols, and gods as illusory (as passions and instincts) this is the moment when – as Corgan sings – we are shattered… ‘Shattered I resign’. Nihilism! All meaning is lost. Yet in this shattering of grounds, in our soul lying broken in the sunlight, ‘we're on the verge’ of something new, we are ‘on the verge / Of sacred dawning’.

Or another image: ‘Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives, then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss’. The absence of authorities, idols, and gods confront the hurricane of our virtues with the void, but this void stares back at you, and is also a promise. We’re on the verge… ‘Cyr’ is a glorious electronic synth pop tune, beautiful and dark, full of dangers and the promise of future awakenings. Cyr – after all – is a strange neologism, and pronounced seer. Someone who sees. The band have used beats and toyed with electronica before, no doubt, but on Cyr synth and beats come to the fore in a joyous neo-new wave sound. ‘Cyr’ is a stunningly beguiling and haunting tune, with strange and seemingly opaque lyrics sung with Corgan’s compulsive voice, accompanied by the backing vocals of Katie Cole and Sierra Swan. And come the doubled chorus you can see Zarathustra dancing to this song. Singing along to the mantra: ‘Say, I done told you / Say how I tried, too / Where you've wrought from creation's crown / Say, dire warning / Stare down your masters / With the promise of one and what you are’.

Stare down your masters! - this is the clarion call.
A song for discovering the true ground of your virtuousness. Zarathustra has told you, has been trying to tell you, it is you who shape your virtues. ‘Your virtue should be your self and not a foreign thing, a skin, a cloaking: that is the truth from the ground of your soul, you virtuous!’ This is the warning: your smashing of gods, idols, authorities is a treacherous act, risking nihilism, loss of meaning, confusion. But if you do stare down your masters, there is the promise of a new awakening. As Nietzsche writes in the first book of the Free Spirit series, Human, All Too Human: ‘now he dares to ask it aloud and hears in reply something like an answer. “You shall become master over yourself, master also over your virtues. Formerly they were your masters”’ (HH: 6).

Groundless, except for what you own as your own responsibility, your own ground. In The Gay Science (the final book of the Free Spirit series, and the text that immediately precedes as well as encompasses Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil) Nietzsche writes of the dire warning, with which it seems perhaps best to conclude, for now: ‘Virtue gives happiness and a type of blessedness only to those who have not lost faith in their virtue - not to those subtler souls whose virtue consists of a deep mistrust of themselves and of all virtue’ (GS: 214). Now, time to get up!

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