Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra | Motifs


Lightness and Gravity

Lightness is used in at least three different ways in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In one respect, "lightness" means a lightheartedness that is prankish, silly, and filled with humor. Zarathustra berates the people beneath him in Chapter 7: On Reading and Writing when he says, "Who among you can laugh and be elevated at the same time?"

In the same chapter, Zarathustra makes a slightly different use of the word when he equates darkness with gravity by stating, "This cloud which I see beneath me, this blackness and gravity at which I laugh—this is your thundercloud." Although the transformation of the spirit that must take place is a most "grave" and serious business, it is not one that should weigh down or darken the spirit with depression. In this sense, Zarathustra conveys Nietzsche's ideas that while physical weight responds to gravity (as in the camel weighed down with burdens), one's psychological state can, under certain circumstances, counteract gravity to lift the physical body into the air in dance. The interplay between lightness and gravity is addressed as a weapon when Zarathustra claims to his disciples, "Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!"


There are many references to suffering and illness throughout Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which may be understood as a coping mechanism for Nietzsche who suffered poor health and insomnia throughout his life. Zarathustra addresses the effects of illness in the body on the progress of the spirit in Chapter 6: On the Pale Criminal with the statement, "Those who become sick today are overcome by that evil which is evil today: they want to hurt with that which hurts them." Shedding old preconceptions to form new ideas is encouraged, but requires suffering, as seen in Chapter 24: Upon the Blessed Isles: "The creator must also want to be the mother who gives birth and [suffer] the pangs of the birth-giver." Chapter 26: On Priests offers Zarathustra the opportunity to describe how Jesus has put the priests "in fetters of false values and delusive words" and that he feels compassion for their suffering at the hands of their "Redeemer."


Zarathustra catches himself several times feeling pity for others. His final test of the spirit is revealed in his pity for those he calls "higher men" whose spirits might be capable of transformation. Zarathustra does not dwell on pity since such expressions are small and plaintive entrapments for both the one feeling pity and the one for whom pity is felt. In Chapter 25: On the Pitying, Zarathustra claims, "

A petty thought is like a fungus: it creeps and stoops ... until the whole body is rotten and withered." The statement supports an ongoing integration of perception and the body, or the ways by which the physical body defines the spirit and vice versa. Here pity (which carries connotations of a condescending superior to a suffering inferior person) may summon attention to that suffering, but also has a "time limit" of expression before it begins to corrode the spirit of the person experiencing pity. In other words, if someone falls down, it is an act of compassion to help him stand up again, but it is a mutual corruption of helper and helped to allow the cripple to use a helper as a constant crutch. Both members of such a relationship develop an attachment to resentment against each other. Chapter 9: On the Preachers of Death includes Zarathustra's warning to his disciples that pity destroys human relationships, because "if they were full of pity through and through, they would make life insufferable for their neighbors."

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