"Sie Verstehen Mich Nicht": On the Hermeneutical Upshot of the Rhetorical Breakdown in Zarathustra's Prologue and Nietzsche's Protreptic

By George Heffernan.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (1883–1885) is unique among the works of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). For it illustrates, by means of a compelling account of the tragic fate of its hapless protagonist, that courageous life which is unconditionally demanded by the most rigorous commitment to honesty and integrity about morality and reality. Zarathustra’s Prologue not only concisely and precisely articulates or anticipates all the major doctrines, including the death of God, the superhuman being, the ecology of life, the creation of values, the will to power, and the eternal recurrence, but also shows that the herald and his hearers fail to understand one another. Hence it is that part which is most representative and revelatory of the whole of Nietzsche’s “Zarathustra”.
The goal of this paper is to offer an original, significant, and tenable interpretation of Zarathustra’s Prologue as Nietzsche’s Protreptic or exhortation to philosophy and to suggest that the failure to communicate is a result both of the controversial philosophical teachings involved and of the questionable rhetorical techniques employed. On the one hand, philosophically regarded as a protreptic with a hortatory purpose, Zarathustra’s Prologue plays a special role in that it represents Nietzsche’s Protreptic or exhortation to human beings to live the philosophical life as he envisions it. On the other hand, rhetorically regarded as a parody with a pedagogical purpose, Zarathustra’s Prologue also breaks with the traditional hortatory genre by emerging as Nietzsche’s dehortatory protreptic, that is, as an argument that is as likely to discourage human beings from doing philosophy as it is to encourage them to do it. Hermeneutically, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” justifies its subtitle: “A Book for All and None”.

Keywords: Philosophy, Rhetoric, Protreptic

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 11, pp.175-186. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 599.314KB).

Dr. George Heffernan

Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Merrimack College, North Andover, Massachusetts, USA

George Heffernan earned his B.A. and M.A. at the Catholic University of America and his Ph.D. at the University of Cologne. He was Instructor at the University of Bonn and Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame. He works in the areas of Classical Phenomenology, Early Modern Philosophy, and Hellenistic Epistemology. His publications include Isagoge in die phaenomenologische Apophantik (1989), Descartes’ Regulae ad directionem ingenii/Rules for the Direction of the Natural Intelligence (1998), and Augustine’s Contra Academicos/Against the Academicians (forthcoming).


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