An Explanation of Nietzsche's Superman and Ubermensch

On the Origin of Supra-Individuated Human Being from the Bad Conscience

I have begun receiving inquiries about my theory of supra-individuated human being. Specifically, people ask, where is it? Well, it doesn’t exist. And the reason it doesn’t exist is because I haven’t lived it yet, or rather, I have not reached that point in the drama where it is achieved. However, I have reached that point where it becomes apparent. It happens in the dithyramb called Of the Vision and the Riddle.

All at once I was standing between wild cliffs, alone, desolate in the most desolate moonlight.

But there a man was lying! And there! The dog, leaping, bristling, whining; then it saw me coming – then it howled again, then it cried out – had I ever heard a dog cry so for help?

And truly, I had never seen the like of what I then saw. I saw a young shepherd writhing, choking, convulsed, his face distorted; and a heavy, black snake was hanging out of his mouth.

Had I ever seen so much disgust and pallid horror on a face? Had he, perhaps, been asleep? Then the snake had crawled into his throat – and there it had bitten itself fast.

My hands tugged and tugged at the snake – in vain! they could not tug the snake out of the shepherd’s throat. Then a voice cried from me: ‘Bite! Bite!

‘Its head off! Bite!’ – thus a voice cried from me, my horror, my hate, my disgust, my pity, all my good and evil cried out of me with a single cry.

Zarathustra comes upon a young shepherd who has been struck down by a black snake that has crawled into his mouth and taken a hold that will not yield. That is the representation in metaphor. Now, what do the metaphors signify?

The young shepherd is the highest and deepest Self. It is the highest in the sense that all things within the inner world are perceptible to it, and it is the deepest in the sense that it has become buried within the inner world amidst the chaos of thought and emotion that results from the disintegration of myth. And the black snake is suffering, but particularly subliminal suffering, suffering that lingers deeply and intractably within the subconscious.

I have put forth the working theory that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a dithyrambic drama and that a dithyrambic drama is a journey into the subconscious wherein the actor discovers his demons and then redeems them. This dithyramb, Of the Vision and the Riddle, represents that point in the drama where the discovery and the redemption begin. Before we go any further with this, let’s go back and look at what Nietzsche wrote about the bad conscience.

In Genealogy of Morals, he writes the following:

The bad conscience is an illness, there is no doubt about that, but an illness as pregnancy is an illness.

With the phrase "bad conscience," he means much more than merely a guilty conscience; he means subliminal suffering. Specifically, he means emotion whose discharge has been obstructed. In consequence to the obstruction, the emotion instead turns inward. Consider, for example, what happens when you are suddenly and unexpectedly frightened. You shout. You instinctively and forcefully expel the fear out of your being with a powerful discharge: a shout. Can you imagine, for a moment, what would happen if you were suddenly and terribly frightened and instead of shouting out the fear you were forced to be silent? The fear turns inward, and you never get it out. Am I way off base here, or can you follow me for the sake of understanding? And this happens with any titanic emotion, not just fear. It’s why women wail at the graves of their loved ones: to get the pain out. Otherwise, again, it turns inward, and when it turns inward, it takes a hold which is extremely difficult — if not impossible — to break. This is the grip Zarathustra speaks about when, during the confrontation, while trying to extricate whatever demonic suffering he has encountered, he says "My hands tugged and tugged at the snake — in vain! They could not tug the snake out of the shepherd’s throat."

Thus, by my reading, when Zarathustra speaks of a black snake having crawled down the throat of a young shepherd, I understand him to be speaking of demonic suffering, and when Nietzsche speaks of the "bad conscience" in his writings, I believe he means all manner of sublimated suffering, not just a guilty conscience.

Continuing with Nietzsche’s thesis, then, he sees something extraordinarily good coming as a solution to the terrible problem that suffering poses.

The bad conscience is an illness, there is no doubt about that, but an illness as pregnancy is an illness.

Regarding the origin of suffering, which we must now all agree is emotion turned inward in such a way as to cause unending torment, Nietzsche believes it is the result of the beast in man having been civilized. He theorizes that civilization necessitated the check of certain savage instincts that were once valuable assets in the wild. Suddenly, with the advent of civilizing forces, the beast was forced to tame himself, to block the unbridled discharge of certain instincts and urges, in order that individual beasts could come together and form a community.

I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced — that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace. . . . All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward — this is what I call the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his "soul." The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited. [The political organization required protection from the old instincts that previously ensured the beast’s freedom. As a result of this change in value,] prowling man turned backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in destruction — all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of the "bad conscience."

This theory regarding the origin of the bad conscience is a fascinating one, and quite plausible as well, but I do not entirely agree with it. Instead, I see a failure on the part of the animal in successfully attributing the emotion (that eventually turns inward) to his Self, resulting in the emotion running amok, but the argument is irrelevant for the point at hand. Whatever gave rise to the phenomenon of subliminal suffering, its development, according to Nietzsche, constituted an extraordinary turning point in the history of the species.

Thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself — the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy, and terribleness had rested hitherto.

What makes Nietzsche’s teachings messianic is the hope he brings to this historic and decisive malady. He sees something extraordinary coming from a resolution of this conflict.

Let us add at once that, on the other hand, the existence on earth of an animal soul turned against itself, taking sides against itself, was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and pregnant with a future that the aspect of the earth was essentially altered. . . . From now on, … man gives rise to an interest, a tension, a hope, almost a certainty, as if with him something were announcing and preparing itself, as if man were not a goal but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise.

Seasoned students of Nietzsche’s work will recognize these words immediately. He’s talking about the superman. The words "bridge" and "great promise" are used specifically when Zarathustra talks about the superman. Thus, and I call on Nietzschean scholars everywhere in this, from now on, when we speak of the superman, let us no longer speak of superhuman beings, a master race, a supreme being, and individual who has achieved extraordinary self-control, or any of the utterly worthless notions that were bandied about when people previously spoke the word "superman." Rather, let us speak of a state of being which exists beyond the bad conscience, beyond human suffering, something but which is attainable only through a direct confrontation with that suffering and through its redemption. Let us speak of this, and let us speak of it loudly! From here on out.

But what is the superman? What is supra-individuated human being?

Notice above that Nietzsche wrote the following:

All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward — this is what I call the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his "soul." The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited

This means that man’s inner world acquires depth as a direct result of his suffering. Without suffering, man may be said to be more shallow, lacking thought and passion. Moreover, Nietzsche says, the predicament that suffering visits upon the individual may indeed be troubling, even calamitous, but, he says, it also presents a tension and a promise. When man suffers, his being becomes like an archer’s bow stretched wide. If only the bow could be let go, according to Nietzsche, the arrow would spring far. Simply put, just as man acquires depth through suffering, he acquires height through the redemption of that suffering. In other words, through redeemed suffering, man acquires mind, and by mind, I do not mean thought, though that too. Rather, I mean insight, revelation, the ability to think in leaps and bounds. I mean genius.

Somewhere, in the Will-to-Power, while arguing against life as a process of being, Nietzsche says that if the process that drives becoming within the world is aimed toward a state of being, then, surely, that state must have been reached at some point and would be evident to us. But it never has. Everything that has ever become has always passed away. There is nothing within the world, either the inner world or the outer world, that has ever achieved undying being.

The same can be said of the meaning of life. If life has meaning, if life moves toward some particular goal, then that goal must have been achieved at some point and would be evident to us. Where, then, is there evidence of supra-individuated human being. My answer: in the genius; the genius is what humanity produces through the process of life, the process by which subliminal suffering is raised up, confronted, and redeemed. The genius is what humanity produces as a justification for its existence, as the jewel, the fruit, of its existence, as the reason that it suffers. And genius, the incarnation of supra-individuated human being, exists far beyond the limits and abilities of ordinary men, thereby raising humanity to a height it would otherwise never know. But what is redemption?

Returning to the dithyramb entitled Of the Vision and the Riddle, before encountering the man lying on the ground with the snake in his mouth, Zarathustra first encounters a howling dog. The "dog" is a metaphor for pain, which Nietzsche himself reveals to us in Human, All-Too-Human, in which he writes:

My dog. – I have given a name to my pain and call it “dog.” It is just as faithful, just as obtrusive and shameless, just as entertaining, just as clever as any other dog – and I can scold it and vent my bad mood on it, as others do with their dogs, servants, and wives.

In any case, after trying to extricate the demons and not being able to, Zarathustra cries out to the man "Bite! Bite! Its head off! Bite!" Let me explain this.

Upon encountering one’s deepest and most painful moment of suffering, instincts come into play with which one has no ordinary experience. Nietzsche the dithyrambist has represented those instincts — and the action they compel — with the word "Bite!" Upon my reaching this point in the drama, I encountered my own demons, by which I mean deeply felt and intractable torment, painful emotions that had crawled as if down my throat where they took a hold whose grip would not yield. In that encounter, the instincts that came to me were not "Bite!" but rather "Jump!"

This walk went very well. The greatest problem I’ve had in trying to bring my subliminal torment into consciousness is that when I do, I see no light at the end of the tunnel. The suffering seems insurmountable to me, which is why I relegated it to the subconscious realm in the first place. When I confront, I have no where to go; my will is blocked. But, if you recall, a few days ago, when I confronted my worst and most paralyzing fear, I thought "this is totally insurmountable; there is no way I can get around this fear" and then my will said "Jump’" and I did, and I flew into a height of the mind which I did not know existed. But the whole experience was merely conceptual. In other words, I knew how to transcend my suffering, but I hadn’t actually done it. Now, I’ve begun to actually do it. The experience is extraordinary.

Do you know what all this means? It means I no longer have any reason to deny the [suffering that exists within the subconscious]. Sure, I’ve got to live a little with the pain and the horror after I confront it. But now I know how to transcend it; I know where to go when I confront it. Now, it might truly be possible for me to summon up all the horror.

I am intoxicated with lofty possibilities, and my heart aches with blissful anticipation.

Please note that when I stated "I am intoxicated with lofty possibilities, and my heart aches with blissful anticipation," I was not merely waxing poetic, I meant that my heart was literally aching with happiness. Having said that, it might give you some idea why the dithyramb immediately following Of the Vision and the Riddle is Of Involuntary Bliss. In the course of life’s process, happiness becomes a problem and must be sublimated. Thus, Zarathustra says "Away with you, blissful hour! With you there came an involuntary bliss! I stand here ready for my deepest pain — you came out of season!"

Next, the dithyramb continues with what happens after confronting this deep suffering.

The shepherd bit as my cry advised him; he bit with a good bite! He spat far away the snake’s head — and sprang up. No longer a shepherd, no longer a man — a transformed being, surrounded with light.

It is here, at this particular point in this particular dithyramb that the vision of supra-individuated being comes to the actor, and it consumes him.

Now a thirst consumes me, a longing that is never stilled. My longing for this [vision of a weightless, glorious, enlightened state of being] consumes me: oh how do I endure still to live! And how could I endure to die now!

This was precisely the experience I had when I transcended my suffering.

I have been like an arrow on a bow, strung taut by my suffering and now let go. Previously, all I knew were my depths. Now, I feel like a whole new dimension has been added to my being. Now there is height as well, and from that height I can see much more, so that there is breadth as well.

The last two sentences of the above dithyramb (endure to live, endure to die) are a deliberate enigma, an explanation of which would deflect our focus on the point at hand. Suffice it to say, after this experience, the actor realizes the meaning and the value of his suffering, that it stands as a gateway into supra-individuated being, and so he seeks it out with a resolute determination — in order that he may redeem it, the process of which he now knows. This vision of a state of being beyond suffering, above suffering, is what Nietzsche meant by the word "superman."

I have found two clear indications of the nature of supra-individuated human being in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the dithyramb entitled Of Reading and Writing, Zarathustra, as a metaphor for supra-individuated being, says "You look up when you desire to be exalted. And I look down because I am exalted." Also, in another dithyramb whose title eludes me and which I will cite later, Zarathustra says something like "Do you divine my two-fold will: that, in the presence of fear, my glance reaches upward and my hand reaches downward." This experience is the exact opposite of what occurs in human being in the face of fear, fear so great that its arousal threatens the principium individuationis and causes the ground of being to give way. When we face such fear, we feel the ground give way, our glance plunges into the abyss, and we instinctively reach upward to avoid falling into that abyss. In supra-individuated being, the opposite occurs. Instead, we would feel ourselves not falling into the abyss but rather being elated (experiencing some ascension) at the opening up of an abyss, which would prompt us to instinctively reach downward in order to hold on and avoid too great an ascension.

A Note on the Theory of the Eternal Recurrence

Somewhere, and, again, I promise to find the quote and cite it accurately, Nietzsche says of the eternal recurrence "That is our religion." In the Will-To-Power (WP) note #462 reads "In place of “metaphysics,” and religion, the theory of eternal recurrence." Again in WP, note #1057, he states "Probable consequences of [recurrence] being believed: it makes everything break open. " And, in a fourth instance (I promise to cite it when I find it), he says something like "I can’t help it if the exorcism of one demon from the subconscious causes everything in the subconscious to come out."

The theory of an eternally recurring world is not an idea that can be explained in such a way that its explanation would result in the full effect that a direct apprehension of the idea would have. It is an idea that arises in the course of life, in the course of descending into the subconscious with the hope of redeeming what is found there. The idea that the world recurs eternally arises through an engenderment of the will-to-power, and it arises from intuition. It is an idea that the demons within the subconscious recur eternally, that they never go away. The individual stricken by demons may look away from those demons, but the demons themselves do not go away. Believing this has the effect of breaking open the subconscious and bringing the demons within to the forefront, wherein they may be dealt with. In such a way, the idea of an eternally recurring world is a religion, an idea that provides a powerful assistance to the process of life, which, by my reckoning, is the definition of religion: it assists life, helps life to achieve its goal. Religion is not the end-all of life; it is merely a tool in the process of life. Culture is the end-all of life, and culture is a corroboration between religion, art, and philosophy through which the individual beholden to those "three sisters" compel him toward a single end — in this case, supra-individuated human being.

Boston, Christmas Day, 2001