Sunday, November 30, 2014

"God Is Dead!" (Nietzsche, Die froehliche Wissenschaft, #125)

The most famous quote by Nietzsche is probably either "God is dead" or "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger," the latter of which Nietzsche himself demonstrated to be untrue early in 1889, when something which didn't kill him left him completely insane and helpless for the remaining 11 years of his life. A third passage, from Also sprach Zarathustra, may have briefly challenged those two for prominence in the mid-1970's, at least within the movie business, because it gave the film The Wind and the Lion its name.



The phrase "God is dead" occurs several times in Nietzsche's works. It occurs most famously in aphorism #125 of Die froehliche Wissenschaft, "la gaya scienze." The Gay Science. Le Gai Savoir. Весёлая наука. Iloinen tiede. Den glada vetenskapen.



Aphorism #125 is much longer than those 3 famous words, and it's very interesting. Nietzsche was right: he was a poet, a great one. I'm going to show the entire aphorism below, then my translation of it, and then add a few remarks.

<<< Der tolle Mensch. – Habt ihr nicht von jenem tollen Menschen gehört, der am hellen Vormittage eine Laterne anzündete, auf den Markt lief und unaufhörlich schrie: "ich suche Gott! Ich suche Gott!" – Da dort gerade Viele von Denen zusammen standen, welche nicht an Gott glaubten, so erregte er ein grosses Gelächter. Ist er denn verloren gegangen? sagte der Eine. Hat er sich verlaufen wie ein Kind? sagte der Andere. Oder hält er sich versteckt? Fürchtet er sich vor uns? Ist er zu Schiff gegangen? ausgewandert? – so schrieen und lachten sie durcheinander. Der tolle Mensch sprang mitten unter sie und durchbohrte sie mit seinen Blicken. "Wohin ist Gott? rief er, ich will es euch sagen! Wir haben ihn getödtet, – ihr und ich! Wir Alle sind seine Mörder! Aber wie haben wir diess gemacht? Wie vermochten wir das Meer auszutrinken? Wer gab uns den Schwamm, um den ganzen Horizont wegzuwischen? Was thaten wir, als wir diese Erde von ihrer Sonne losketteten? Wohin bewegt sie sich nun? Wohin bewegen wir uns? Fort von allen Sonnen? Stürzen wir nicht fortwährend? Und rückwärts, seitwärts, vorwärts, nach allen Seiten? Giebt es noch ein Oben und ein Unten? Irren wir nicht wie durch ein unendliches Nichts? Haucht uns nicht der leere Raum an? Ist es nicht kälter geworden? Kommt nicht immerfort die Nacht und mehr Nacht? Müssen nicht Laternen am Vormittage angezündet werden? Hören wir noch Nichts von dem Lärm der Todtengräber, welche Gott begraben? Riechen wir noch Nichts von der göttlichen Verwesung? – auch Götter verwesen! Gott ist todt! Gott bleibt todt! Und wir haben ihn getödtet! Wie trösten wir uns, die Mörder aller Mörder? Das Heiligste und Mächtigste, was die Welt bisher besass, es ist unter unseren Messern verblutet, – wer wischt diess Blut von uns ab? Mit welchem Wasser könnten wir uns reinigen? Welche Sühnfeiern, welche heiligen Spiele werden wir erfinden müssen? Ist nicht die Grösse dieser That zu gross für uns? Müssen wir nicht selber zu Göttern werden, um nur ihrer würdig zu erscheinen? Es gab nie eine grössere That, – und wer nur immer nach uns geboren wird, gehört um dieser That willen in eine höhere Geschichte, als alle Geschichte bisher war!" – Hier schwieg der tolle Mensch und sah wieder seine Zuhörer an: auch sie schwiegen und blickten befremdet auf ihn. Endlich warf er seine Laterne auf den Boden, dass sie in Stücke sprang und erlosch. "Ich komme zu früh, sagte er dann, ich bin noch nicht an der Zeit. Diess ungeheure Ereigniss ist noch unterwegs und wandert, – es ist noch nicht bis zu den Ohren der Menschen gedrungen. Blitz und Donner brauchen Zeit, das Licht der Gestirne braucht Zeit, Thaten brauchen Zeit, auch nachdem sie gethan sind, um gesehen und gehört zu werden. Diese That ist ihnen immer noch ferner, als die fernsten Gestirne, – und doch haben sie dieselbe gethan!" – Man erzählt noch, dass der tolle Mensch des selbigen Tages in verschiedene Kirchen eingedrungen sei und darin sein Requiem aeternam deo angestimmt habe. Hinausgeführt und zur Rede gesetzt, habe er immer nur diess entgegnet: "Was sind denn diese Kirchen noch, wenn sie nicht die Grüfte und Grabmäler Gottes sind?" –- >>>

<<< The crazy person. -- Haven't you heard of that crazy person who lit a lantern one bright morning, ran to the city square and screamed unceasingly: "I'm looking for God! I'm looking for God!" -- It happened that at the moment many people were standing together there who didn't believe in God, and so he provoked a great wave of laughter. Is he lost? said one. Did he run away, like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Is he on a ship? Has he emigrated? -- so they shouted and laughed all at the same time. The crazy person sprang into their midst and drilled right through them with his gaze. "Where did God go? he shouted. "I'll tell you! We've killed him! -- you and I! We all are his murderers! But how did we do this? How did we manage to drink the ocean dry? Who gave us the sponge that could wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this Earth from its Sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going? Away from all suns? Aren't we continually plunging, backwards, sideways, forward, in every direction? Is there still an up and a down? Aren't we lurching through an endless nothingness? Isn't the empty space blowing on us? Hasn't it became colder? Isn't night and always more night coming? Shouldn't lanterns be lit in the mornings? Do we still hear nothing of the noise made by those who are burying God? Do we still smell nothing of the godly decay -- gods rot too! God is dead! God is going to stay dead! And we've killed him! How can we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? The most holy and the mightiest that the world ever possessed has bled to death under our knives, -- who's going to wipe this blood off of us? With what water can we clean ourselves? What sun dances, what holy games will we have to invent? Isn't the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shouldn't we have become gods just to be worthy of it? There was never a greater deed, -- and whoever's born after us belongs to a higher history than all history ever was, because of this deed!" Here the crazy person fell silent and looked at his listeners again: they were silent as well as looked at him in puzzlement. Finally he threw his lantern to the ground, where it was smashed to pieces and went out. "I came too early," he said, "it's not time yet. This monstrous event is still underway, it's wandering -- it hasn't yet reached people's ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, after they're done, to be seen and heard. This deed is still farther away from them than the farthest stars -- and yet, they've done it!" -- It's said that on the same day the crazy person forced his way into various churches and recited his requiem for eternal God there. Led back outside and forced to account for himself, he always said only this: "What are these churches anymore, except the mausoleums and gravestones of God?" -- >>>

Yeah! Told you it was more than just those 3 little words!

So what does it mean, Perfessor?

Well Sonny, as time goes by I'm less inclined to argue with people that Nietzsche meant this and not that, especially the really dramatic passages like this one which don't necessarily need any more commentary than Here, read this! It's poetry, I tells ya! But since you asked: There's nothing whatsoever unusual about the others in the passages, who at first laugh at the crazy person, and by the end seem as if they may have been struck speechless. The thing to do when you see a crazy person, of course, is to try to help him, not point and laugh. But today's rank-and-file atheists demonstrate every day that you don't need to believe in God in order to be as crude and thoughtless as anyone else. Whatever ever else the crazy person's tirade is, it's unusual. I myself have never heard anything else remotely like it. To me it's seems that if you've come to the realization that there is no God -- the crazy person is just as much an atheist as the others in the passage. No, actually, he's much more of an atheist, because he's really thought about it -- and it doesn't scare the living crap out of you, at least now and then, then you haven't thought about it very deeply, about the consequences of making this abrupt change from the way people have thought -- the way people have lived -- for tens of thousands of years. There's more to religion, much, much more, than just Yes I believe in God or No I don't.

Is the crazy person Nietzsche? I think so. He's Zarathustra in a somewhat less bouyant mood, the Antichrist on a rampage, having forgotten momentarily that his true readers haven't been born yet. The crazy person and Zarathustra and the Antichrist and Nietzsche are all the same brilliant too-lonely man. That's my best guess.

Oh, just one more thing I meant to point out: the crazy person lighting a lantern on a sunny morning to look for God is an obvious reference to Diogenes of Sinope, one of the founders of the Cynical school of philosophy in ancient Greece, who carried a lit lantern around in broad daylight saying he was looking for an honest man.

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