Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra


I have had some opportunities of studying the conditions under which Nietzsche is read in Germany, France, and England, and I have found that, in each of these countries, students of his philosophy, as if actuated by precisely similar motives and desires, and misled by the same mistaken tactics on the part of most publishers, all proceed in the same happy-go-lucky style when "taking him up." They have had it said to them that he wrote without any system, and they very naturally conclude that it does not matter in the least whether they begin with his first, third, or last book, provided they can obtain a few vague ideas as to what his leading and most sensational principles were.

Now, it is clear that the book with the most mysterious, startling, or suggestive title, will always stand the best chance of being purchased by those who have no other criteria to guide them in their choice than the aspect of a title-page; and this explains why "Thus Spake Zarathustra" is almost always the first and often the only one of Nietzsche's books that falls into the hands of the uninitiated.

The title suggests all kinds of mysteries; a glance at the chapter-headings quickly confirms the suspicions already aroused, and the sub-title: "A Book for All and None", generally succeeds in dissipating the last doubts the prospective purchaser may entertain concerning his fitness for the book or its fitness for him. And what happens?

"Thus Spake Zarathustra" is taken home; the reader, who perchance may know no more concerning Nietzsche than a magazine article has told him, tries to read it and, understanding less than half he reads, probably never gets further than the second or third part,--and then only to feel convinced that Nietzsche himself was "rather hazy" as to what he was talking about. Such chapters as "The Child with the Mirror", "In the Happy Isles", "The Grave-Song," "Immaculate Perception," "The Stillest Hour", "The Seven Seals", and many others, are almost utterly devoid of meaning to all those who do not know something of Nietzsche's life, his aims and his friendships.

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