How do I understand Nietzsche

Lose yourself - know yourself!

Friedrich Nietzsche was an extremist in thought experiments. With him and his Zarathustra you learn what it means to move on the philosophical rehearsal stage of life.

In the Delphic Temple of Apollo, whoever asked the oracle and wanted to obtain a prophecy in the innermost part of the sanctuary, was already given the necessary information in the vestibule - in the form of the most practical of all wisdom, the proverbial wisdom that is difficult to surpass but just as difficult to heed Ears is: "Know yourself" - gnōthi seautón. Even and especially those who only love wisdom and do not yet call it their own, the philosophers, have diligently met the Delphic request since Socrates and let knowledge of the world begin with self-knowledge.

At first glance, it may therefore be a little surprising that Friedrich Nietzsche, as if announcing news, in his “Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future” (published in 1886) considers the realization that all “great” philosophy is “self-knowledge” as remarkable of their author ». But a second look strikes two things: Nietzsche judges as a psychologist of the unconscious, because he concretises what he means by “self-knowledge” as “a kind of unwanted and unnoticed mémoires”. And he apparently does this with the self-confidence that he is himself a turning point in that history of self-knowledge, because he uses the word "so far".

For the thinker, says Nietzsche, it is disadvantageous to "always be bound to one person".

So far, every philosophy was only an unconscious self-knowledge of its originator - and now it will be different. Is that what he wants to say? For Nietzsche, “different” means in any case that one's own life is no longer unintentionally and unnoticed reflected in the philosophical work, but deliberately and - if one may say so - noted. To regard one's own being, doing and suffering as a knowledge-rich experiment, as a self-experiment: That is a thought that Nietzsche celebrates in his "Happy Science" (1882) as a "great liberator".

Such experiments do not go off without an occasional loss of self, as the existence experimenter noted two years earlier. You have to understand "to lose yourself from time to time - and then to find yourself again: provided that you are a thinker". For the thinker it is disadvantageous to "always be bound to one person". Whoever thinks, means this, plays through possibilities - and also makes his own "one" person a possibility among others.

Staged self-loss for the purpose of self-discovery: that is - still this side of good and evil, of superman, eternal return and will to power - an essential characteristic and motive of the "new type" of philosophers whom Nietzsche saw dawning. In “Beyond Good and Evil”, that “Prelude” from 1886, he delimits what he has in mind from what is commonly and incorrectly imagined as a philosopher.

The philosopher as a stuntman?

There are, more precisely, three figures with which Nietzsche sees "the crowd" confusing the actual philosopher: the "scientific man and ideal scholar", the "religiously elevated [. . .] Enthusiastic and drunkard of God ”, but also the“ wise and remote ”wise man. The coming, the right and genuine philosopher, on the other hand, lives "unphilosophically", "unwise" and "above all unwise"; he feels “the burden and duty of a hundred trials and tribulations in life: - he is constantly risking himself. . . "

Is he doing that as a stuntman - for his readers, for us? The more important question: How should the risky life on the philosophical rehearsal stage - or philosophizing in the laboratory of life - take place? And how can the risk, assuming it really is one, be limited? How does the philosopher of the “dangerous perhaps” lose himself in such a way that he has the prospect of finding himself again - even if it is as a transformed one? The answer that could be given by the dramaturge Nietzsche is: by - while writing - wearing masks that he can take off again.

And because for the "new", "nameless" and "premature babies of an as yet unproven future", as Nietzsche calls his peers in the "Happy Science", the play naturally cannot yet be written, it is important to use as many masks as possible from the props of the to try out previous intellectual life, to play as many "other" roles as possible.

The still nameless should, as it is called in the «Happy Science», «have experienced the full range of previous values ​​and desirability» and «from the adventures of one's own experience» should know how «an artist, a saint, a lawgiver, a wise man, a scholar, a pious man, an old-style divinely remote "feel." This requires a "great health", a health that also endures illnesses, explains Nietzsche, whose life has been retold on various occasions as a single case history.

This “great health”, a relaxed elasticity that encompasses all previous values ​​and desires and “plays with everything that was previously called holy, good, untouchable, divine” is what Nietzsche attributed to the protagonist of his “Also Spoke Zarathustra” in retrospect. The “Buch für Alle und Keinen”, published in four parts from 1883 to 1885 - a philosophical poem, peppered with parables, riddles and visions, composed in a very polyphonic role prose (sometimes also role poetry), the elements of tragedy and comedy, mystery play and parody shows - this sparkling work is something like the test of an existential experiment. Some things read as if the author had inhaled intoxicating gases that make clairvoyant, like the prophetic priestess above the crevice in the holy of holies of the Delphic Temple of Apollo.


Is "Zarathustra" the name of the still nameless future? He, too, stands for a parodic volte (as Nietzsche revealed in his autobiographical "Ecce homo", a few months before his collapse): The Persian founder of religion had brought into the world the "most fatal error", the moral-metaphysical distinction between good and bad ; The error should be cleared up in a form of his name and truthfulness as the highest virtue should be made clear.

The actual parody that "Zarathustra" stages, and mostly in the gesture of surpassing, is a Jesus parody that even includes the imagined sacrificial death. This is emphasized by Heinrich Meier, who recently made the extremely complex dramaturgy of the «Zarathustra» book transparent in a no less complex - unparalleled - hermeneutic analysis. The Munich philosopher makes the polyphony of self-understanding audible that Nietzsche is undertaking.

His interest in knowledge is of course concentrated on only two of the roles in which Zarathustra shows himself: on that of the philosopher, moved by the self-sufficient and cheerful love of the wisdom and knowledge of the world, and on that of the prophet, who is of a consuming love for human beings is pushed to change the world. The interpreter comes to the plausible conclusion: The intellectual experiment of merging both the prophet and the philosopher in a single figure, a veritable "counter-Jesus", fails in "Zarathustra" - ultimately it is only the incompatibility of the two Roles demonstrated.

Nietzsche himself, sinking into mental derangement, believed himself to be the crucified Christ or his successor. It seems as if at the end of his consuming intellectual self-experiments there was no more "left" to find, as if he were no longer tied to any person. - So is philosophizing dangerous after all?

Heinrich Meier: What is Nietzsche's Zarathustra? A philosophical discussion. C. H. Beck, Munich 2017. 238 S., Fr. 41.90.