“Verwandelt ist Zarathustra”: On the Hermeneutical Significance of the Protagonist’s Existential Transformations (“Verwandlungen”) in Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

By George Heffernan.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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In “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (1883–1885), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) has the protagonist proclaim many iconoclastic teachings, for example, the death of God, the supremacy of the “superhuman being”, a geocentric biology, an evolutionary axiology, the ineluctability of embodiment, the will to power, and the eternal recurrence. There is a vast literature investigating Zarathustra’s doctrines and their reception by his audience. The goal of this paper, on the other hand, is to examine Zarathustra’s learning responses to his teaching activities. Hence the analysis focuses on the pivotal role that existential mood states and mood shifts play in the gradual evolution of Zarathustra’s complex character and in the complicated developments of his communicative relationships with other salient figures. The investigation shows that, from the Prologue at the beginning to The Sign at the end, Zarathustra is “being transformed” (“sich verwandeln”). In the First Part, his existential mood is sanguine; his hermeneutical mode is confidence with respect to his message; and his rhetorical tone is sincerity in regard to his audience. During the Second Part, Zarathustra’s existential mood becomes choleric; his hermeneutical mode becomes skepticism with respect to his message; and his rhetorical tone becomes irony in regard to his audience. During the Third Part, Zarathustra’s existential mood becomes phlegmatic; his hermeneutical mode becomes apathy with respect to his message; and his rhetorical tone becomes solipsism in regard to his audience. By the Fourth Part, Zarathustra’s existential mood has become melancholic; his hermeneutical mode has become diffidence with respect to his message; and his rhetorical tone has become resignation in regard to his audience. Finally, the question is posed: What do the “transformations” (“Verwandlungen”) of the protagonist mean for the readers’ understanding of the work? The purpose of this paper is to present an original, significant, and tenable interpretation of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by demonstrating that understanding the existential mood shifts of Zarathustra as hermeneutical transformations provides a useful heuristic device for understanding the philosophical arguments of Nietzsche.

Keywords: Philosophy, Hermeneutics, Rhetoric

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 10, pp.61-78. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 689.354KB).

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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