Review of Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (1883)


Friedrich Nietzsche (writer).

Read in 2023.

I read the four volumes Nietzsche wrote, in Tage Thiel’s 1950 Swedish-language translation. Nietzsche meant to write more.

A philosopher and spiritual teacher, identified as the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster (ca. 1000 BCE), lectures to his disciples, critics, and various symbolic figures, when he isn’t retreating to the wilderness.

As a novel, it’s no good at all. Nietzsche is fundamentally disingenuous throughout. His Zoroaster has no meaningful relationship to the historical person or his teachings and is not interesting. The story of the fictional character’s life is mostly nonsense, but not because Nietzsche derails the fiction by focusing on the philosophy. He does derail the fiction, filling it with presentism, bland allegory and bad poetry, but the philosophical content is deliberately withheld. If you want to know what Nietzsche believed, you’ll get a summary of it in volume 3’s chapter on “old and new tables”, and if you want to know why he believed it, you’ll get some hints in volume 1’s beautiful chapter on “the thousand and one goals”, but you’ll be better off reading the man’s non-fiction. He used to think that Thus Spoke Zarathustra was his masterpiece, but that’s partly his arrogance talking, partly the brain tumour that killed him.

A lot of the fragments of philosophy that Nietzsche put in this book were intended to be offensive. For example, he extols lust for pleasure, hunger for power, and selfishness. He calls those three things “evil”, dressing his praise in irony, but his love of such transgressive hedonism and self-interest is one of the few moments of honesty in the text. The author was, in modern terms, an edgelord. There is a ready biographical interpretation: He was rebelling against the stuffy moralism of his father, a pastor, and other authority figures. In his theory of Herrenmoral und Sklavenmoral, which is not included in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the writer may have approached an insight about the illusion of evil that is applicable outside of his own Abrahamic cultural context. He did so to rationalize his own contempt, associating himself with ancient heroes whom weaker-minded Christians would revile. Other nihilist thinkers, guided by science, reached further with more useful results.

References here: Worldbuilding for television production.

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