4 May 2009

On Redemption: Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, Sect. 42

by Corry Shores
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Friedrich Nietzsche

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Second Part

XLII. On Redemption

Zarathustra crosses a great bridge. Cripples and beggars surround him. A hunchback explains: In order for Zarathustra to convince men of his teachings, he must first convince the sickly. But to convince them, he must first heal them. (137a-b)

Zarathustra says that their ailments are advantages. The hunch gives him spirit. Blindness protects them from seeing wickedness. The lame are unable to let their vices run away from them. There are those who lack some body part. But worse are those who reduce themselves to just one part: an eye, mouth, belly. "Inverse cripples I call them." (138a)

He gives an example. There was a person who many considered a genius. But really there was just one part of him that was strong, and all the rest was next to nothing. His ear was gigantic. But everything else was imperceptible.
If one used a magnifying glass one could even recognize a tiny envious face; also that a bloated little soul was dangling from the stalk. (138bc)
He was no genius. He was merely "an inverse cripple who had too little of everything and too much of one thing." (138c)

Zarathustra then turns to his disciples. He says he walks among "fragments and limbs" of man, who has been "scattered as over a battlefield or a butcher-field." When he reflects back from the now to the past, he only sees only dismembered creatures, but no men. (138d)

Zarathustra sees humanity as being in diminished form throughout history and even now. But he foresees a higher state in the future.
A seer, a willer, a creator, a future himself and a bridge to the future and alas, also, as it were, a cripple at this bridge: all this is Zarathustra. (139a)
Zarathustra is full of the future's potential. His followers have wondered what to call him. Is he
1) a promiser or a fulfiller,
2) a conqueror or an inheritor,
3) autumn or a plowshare,
4) poet or truthful,
5) liberator or tamer,
6) good or evil?

He sees these fragments of humanity creatively. Out of them he will construct the future.
I walk among men as among the fragments of the future -- that future which I envisage. And this is all my creating and striving, that I create and carry together into One what is fragment and riddle and dreadful accident. And how could I bear to be a man if man were not also a creator and guesser of riddles and redeemer of accidents? (139b, emphasis mine)
Zarathustra defines redemption. We must redeem all those men who went before us. They all failed. This history is an 'it was.' Our own personal past is an 'it was.' But if we deny it or hide from our past, then it becomes more powerful than us. We can become crushed by regrets and knowledge of our past weaknesses. So we must say that all our failings are our failings. We chose them. We willed them. We rolled the dice every second of our lives. Each time we accepted, even loved, our fates. Our redemption and liberation is turning the 'it was' into 'thus I willed it.'

Our will liberates us. To do so, it must rid us of melancholy and mock our dungeons. We cannot imprison our wills. That makes them fools. We imprison our wills when we wish we could reverse time and do things differently. Beware. Your will cannot express itself if you do not realize it is always expressing itself, in your past, now, and forever. That is why we must will our past. Doing so affirms that our wills are always free to express themselves. Otherwise, we trap ourselves and become vengeful.
This, indeed this alone, is what revenge is: the will's ill will against time and its 'it was.' (140a)
When we feel that we should have willed otherwise in the past, we feel that the consequences of our errors punish us. This punishment is the suffering we feel. But really this suffering is not punishment, it is the spirit of revenge.

We should will our pasts, no matter their contents. They are ours. We carry them always as a badge of our freedom. Look at all dark things we willed. Only a profound willfulness could have accomplished those deeds. But some errors spring from our neglects and ignorances. To be neglectful and ignorant requires a profound will not to change or become aware. All things in our past we willed.

But those who cannot deal with the past, do not will it. Rather, they will it away. They think it is cosmic justice for the past to erase, a continual tide washing today's sand-castles away. Those who live by this creed are insane.

They think there can be no redemption like Zarathustra's willing the past. For there is no past for them. There is only the justice of destruction and the suffering of punishment.

But still they cannot free themselves from the specters of their pasts. Their punishments are ever eternal.

And they think they are doomed to repeat continually regretful actions.

Clearly these men are mad.

Zarathustra freed us from these fables. He taught us that our wills create us. They do not destroy us. And our pasts are "dreadful accidents" unless we realize that we willed them and at every moment we continue to will them.
'The will is a creator.' All 'it was' is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful accident -- until the creative will says to it, 'But thus I willed it.' Until the creative will says to it, 'But thus I will it; thus shall I will it.' (141a)
But men still have not begun to will their past. So who will teach them to "will backwards," Zarathustra wonders?

Then Zarathustra paused and looked shocked. He could read his disciples' minds. After a moment, he laughs, admitting that silence is difficult for him. He likes talking at length. (141)

Then the hunchback wonders why Zarathustra spoke differently to his followers then he did to the cripples. To his followers he said to will the past. To the cripples he said to rejoice in their advantageous deformities.

Zarathustra replies that he speaks to hunchbacks in a hunchback way. Then the hunchback asks, "But why does Zarathustra speak otherwise to his pupils than to himself?" (142a)

From the original Common translation:


When Zarathustra went one day over the great bridge, then did the cripples and beggars surround him, and a hunchback spake thus unto him:

"Behold, Zarathustra! Even the people learn from thee, and acquire faith in thy teaching: but for them to believe fully in thee, one thing is still needful—thou must first of all convince us cripples! Here hast thou now a fine selection, and verily, an opportunity with more than one forelock! The blind canst thou heal, and make the lame run; and from him who hath too much behind, couldst thou well, also, take away a little;—that, I think, would be the right method to make the cripples believe in Zarathustra!"

Zarathustra, however, answered thus unto him who so spake: When one taketh his hump from the hunchback, then doth one take from him his spirit—so do the people teach. And when one giveth the blind man eyes, then doth he see too many bad things on the earth: so that he curseth him who healed him. He, however, who maketh the lame man run, inflicteth upon him the greatest injury; for hardly can he run, when his vices run away with him—so do the people teach concerning cripples. And why should not Zarathustra also learn from the people, when the people learn from Zarathustra?

It is, however, the smallest thing unto me since I have been amongst men, to see one person lacking an eye, another an ear, and a third a leg, and that others have lost the tongue, or the nose, or the head.

I see and have seen worse things, and divers things so hideous, that I should neither like to speak of all matters, nor even keep silent about some of them: namely, men who lack everything, except that they have too much of one thing—men who are nothing more than a big eye, or a big mouth, or a big belly, or something else big,—reversed cripples, I call such men.

And when I came out of my solitude, and for the first time passed over this bridge, then I could not trust mine eyes, but looked again and again, and said at last: "That is an ear! An ear as big as a man!" I looked still more attentively—and actually there did move under the ear something that was pitiably small and poor and slim. And in truth this immense ear was perched on a small thin stalk—the stalk, however, was a man! A person putting a glass to his eyes, could even recognise further a small envious countenance, and also that a bloated soullet dangled at the stalk. The people told me, however, that the big ear was not only a man, but a great man, a genius. But I never believed in the people when they spake of great men—and I hold to my belief that it was a reversed cripple, who had too little of everything, and too much of one thing.

When Zarathustra had spoken thus unto the hunchback, and unto those of whom the hunchback was the mouthpiece and advocate, then did he turn to his disciples in profound dejection, and said:

Verily, my friends, I walk amongst men as amongst the fragments and limbs of human beings!

This is the terrible thing to mine eye, that I find man broken up, and scattered about, as on a battle- and butcher-ground.

And when mine eye fleeth from the present to the bygone, it findeth ever the same: fragments and limbs and fearful chances—but no men!

The present and the bygone upon earth—ah! my friends—that is MY most unbearable trouble; and I should not know how to live, if I were not a seer of what is to come.

A seer, a purposer, a creator, a future itself, and a bridge to the future—and alas! also as it were a cripple on this bridge: all that is Zarathustra.

And ye also asked yourselves often: "Who is Zarathustra to us? What shall he be called by us?" And like me, did ye give yourselves questions for answers.

Is he a promiser? Or a fulfiller? A conqueror? Or an inheritor? A harvest? Or a ploughshare? A physician? Or a healed one?

Is he a poet? Or a genuine one? An emancipator? Or a subjugator? A good one? Or an evil one?

I walk amongst men as the fragments of the future: that future which I contemplate.

And it is all my poetisation and aspiration to compose and collect into unity what is fragment and riddle and fearful chance.

And how could I endure to be a man, if man were not also the composer, and riddle-reader, and redeemer of chance!

To redeem what is past, and to transform every "It was" into "Thus would I have it!"—that only do I call redemption!

Will—so is the emancipator and joy-bringer called: thus have I taught you, my friends! But now learn this likewise: the Will itself is still a prisoner.

Willing emancipateth: but what is that called which still putteth the emancipator in chains?

"It was": thus is the Will's teeth-gnashing and lonesomest tribulation called. Impotent towards what hath been done—it is a malicious spectator of all that is past.

Not backward can the Will will; that it cannot break time and time's desire—that is the Will's lonesomest tribulation.

Willing emancipateth: what doth Willing itself devise in order to get free from its tribulation and mock at its prison?

Ah, a fool becometh every prisoner! Foolishly delivereth itself also the imprisoned Will.

That time doth not run backward—that is its animosity: "That which was": so is the stone which it cannot roll called.

And thus doth it roll stones out of animosity and ill-humour, and taketh revenge on whatever doth not, like it, feel rage and ill-humour.

Thus did the Will, the emancipator, become a torturer; and on all that is capable of suffering it taketh revenge, because it cannot go backward.

This, yea, this alone is REVENGE itself: the Will's antipathy to time, and its "It was."

Verily, a great folly dwelleth in our Will; and it became a curse unto all humanity, that this folly acquired spirit!

THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE: my friends, that hath hitherto been man's best contemplation; and where there was suffering, it was claimed there was always penalty.

"Penalty," so calleth itself revenge. With a lying word it feigneth a good conscience.

And because in the willer himself there is suffering, because he cannot will backwards—thus was Willing itself, and all life, claimed—to be penalty!

And then did cloud after cloud roll over the spirit, until at last madness preached: "Everything perisheth, therefore everything deserveth to perish!"

"And this itself is justice, the law of time—that he must devour his children:" thus did madness preach.

"Morally are things ordered according to justice and penalty. Oh, where is there deliverance from the flux of things and from the 'existence' of penalty?" Thus did madness preach.

"Can there be deliverance when there is eternal justice? Alas, unrollable is the stone, 'It was': eternal must also be all penalties!" Thus did madness preach.

"No deed can be annihilated: how could it be undone by the penalty! This, this is what is eternal in the 'existence' of penalty, that existence also must be eternally recurring deed and guilt!

Unless the Will should at last deliver itself, and Willing become non-Willing—:" but ye know, my brethren, this fabulous song of madness!

Away from those fabulous songs did I lead you when I taught you: "The Will is a creator."

All "It was" is a fragment, a riddle, a fearful chance—until the creating Will saith thereto: "But thus would I have it."—

Until the creating Will saith thereto: "But thus do I will it! Thus shall I will it!"

But did it ever speak thus? And when doth this take place? Hath the Will been unharnessed from its own folly?

Hath the Will become its own deliverer and joy-bringer? Hath it unlearned the spirit of revenge and all teeth-gnashing?

And who hath taught it reconciliation with time, and something higher than all reconciliation?

Something higher than all reconciliation must the Will will which is the Will to Power—: but how doth that take place? Who hath taught it also to will backwards?

—But at this point in his discourse it chanced that Zarathustra suddenly paused, and looked like a person in the greatest alarm. With terror in his eyes did he gaze on his disciples; his glances pierced as with arrows their thoughts and arrear-thoughts. But after a brief space he again laughed, and said soothedly:

"It is difficult to live amongst men, because silence is so difficult— especially for a babbler."—

Thus spake Zarathustra. The hunchback, however, had listened to the conversation and had covered his face during the time; but when he heard Zarathustra laugh, he looked up with curiosity, and said slowly:

"But why doth Zarathustra speak otherwise unto us than unto his disciples?"

Zarathustra answered: "What is there to be wondered at! With hunchbacks one may well speak in a hunchbacked way!"

"Very good," said the hunchback; "and with pupils one may well tell tales out of school.

But why doth Zarathustra speak otherwise unto his pupils—than unto himself?"—

Quotations from:

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Transl. Walter Kaufmann. New York: The Modern Library, 1995.

Text reproduction from:

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Transl. Thomas

Common. London: T.N. Foulis, 1911.

Online text available at:




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