"Deeply I love only life": Nietzsche’s Rejection of Eros
"Love of one is a barbarism; for it is exercised at the expense of all others. The love of God, too."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Throughout his work, Nietzsche presents himself as a philosopher or promoter of joy over despair, lightheartedness rather than ponderousness, freedom rather than bondage--and life over nihilism. In many of his prefaces, and even in some of his titles (The Gay Science, Daybreak, Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits), he offers images of dancing and cheerfulness, "an infinite abundance of light and depth of happiness" (from his Preface to Ecce Homo, 219). Although he subtitles On the Genealogy of Morals "An Attack" (or "A Polemic"), he takes pains to tell us that even this combative work has lightheartedness as its goal:
My point of view is... that nothing under the sun is more rewarding to take seriously [than 'the problems of morality']; and part of the reward might be that someday we will be allowed to take it lightly. For light-heartedness, or to use my own phrase, a "gay science" is the reward of a long, courageous, painstaking, inward seriousness... (From the Preface, 156).
And in Ecce Homo he praises Daybreak for being "a Yes-saying book, deep but bright and gracious" (293). Any doctrine or disposition which does not take happiness and the affirmation of life as primary he labels nihilism and condemns. In his gentler moments, he is content to take a quick, mocking swipe at such doctrines; as in his comment on Kant's claim that "That is beautiful which gives us disinterested pleasure," that "certainly Pygmalion was not entirely devoid of esthetic feeling" (GOM 238, 239). Elsewhere he is not so playful, as in Zarathustra's analysis of the motives of "the despisers of the body": "And that is why you are angry with life and the earth. An unconscious envy speaks out of the squint-eyed glance of your contempt" (PN 147). Nietzsche will allow no one to stand in judgment of life or joy, no higher standard by which they might be judged and found wanting. He is willing to investigate the causes of the disease of judging life, in order that it might be cured, but he is careful to remind us always that it is a disease and not an insight. This constant theme of Nietzsche's thought may seem out of tune with another, his alternating silence on and rejection of eros, but in fact the two issues are intimately linked. It is Nietzsche's understanding of life as primary, of life and happiness as the basis from which all other values must be judged, which leads him to reject eros. From this rejection spring many other teachings, insights and preferences, such as, among others, his devaluation of the importance of promise-making; his preference for a fragmented over a stable and integrated identity; and his strange streak of the philosopher's malady, asceticism.
What is the eros that Nietzsche rejects? It is not the same desire Aristophanes describes in the Symposium, although they are kindred beasts. For Aristophanes, eros is a desire for self-fulfillment, a hunt for the lost half of oneself. It is a self-directed quest which appears, due to the catastrophe brought on by the hubris of the round people, in the guise of an other-directed quest. For Aristophanes the highest men, "the best of their generation," are men who love men, and these men "always cleave to what is akin to themselves" (62, 63). This view of eros is not something which Nietzsche often discusses, but it poses fewer problems for his thought than an alternative view, in which eros is far more fundamentally directed outward, away from the self and toward what is unfamiliar. In this model, difference, surprise, and risk are the key elements of eros, as when C. Lewis recounts how his grief at his wife’s death led him to create fantasies about her and ultimately lose the element of "otherness" which he loved in her:
[I]t leads me to misrepresent H. herself. ...[I]n a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over. ...For H. wasn’t like that at all. ...It [her mind] scented the first whiff of cant or slush; then sprang, and knocked you over before you knew what was happening (2-3).
Within the Symposium, this view of eros as directed toward what is different from oneself is closest to the view propounded by Diotima, for in her view men desire the good whether or not it is "akin" to them. "Men are quite willing to have their feet or their hands amputated if they believe those parts of themselves to be diseased," she claims (85). Yet these men do desire to become as much like the object of their desire as possible, and thus to remove the difference between the two. So it is not Diotima’s love any more than Aristophanes’ with which this essay will be concerned, for Diotima’s eros is not directed toward an embodied person but toward a quality and is not necessarily (though it can be, as a temporary measure until the self comes into conformity with the good) directed outward and away from the self. Throughout this essay, "eros" will be taken to mean not the desires in the Symposium but this desire: the paradoxical desire for union with what is different, the desire to possess and be possessed by a being whom one never entirely understands or owns. Nietzsche can only deal with this kind of eros at arms'-length, if at all; if he let it get too close, if it were to become an integral part of his understanding of the world, it might offer a basis for judging world and self that would destroy the happiness and life-affirmation which his philosophy set itself up to defend against all challengers.
From his very early work, Nietzsche is concerned with the ways in which a self can affirm life, or seek somehow to condemn and escape it. Yet very often, he ignores the possibility of eros when discussing the options we have open to us. For example, in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, he considers two main responses to the world, neither of which allows for erotic attachment. The Apollonian mode is "the apotheosis of individuation... As a moral deity Apollo demands self-control..." (34). The Apollonian artist is the lone harper, not the chanting multitude (35). In the Dionysian mode, the self is given up, perhaps even destroyed; the principium individuationis is shattered; the Dionysian reveler merges into the collective. Nietzsche imagines the origin of Greek tragedy, in which Apollonian and Dionysian elements combine, in this way:
We might picture to ourselves how the last of these [the Greek tragedian], in a state of Dionysiac intoxication and mystical self-abrogation, wandering apart from the reveling throng, sinks upon the ground, and how there is then revealed to him his own condition--complete oneness with the essence of the universe--in a dream similitude (24-5).
This image captures and unites the two options Nietzsche presents: solitude, and union with everything. The self does not direct its energy outward, at another particular person, but rather dissolves into a vaguely adumbrated "essence of the universe." If there is no self, there can be nothing which is distinct from that self, and thus no beloved. The goal of the tragedians--implicitly, a goal with which Nietzsche sympathizes--is not to preserve an individual's identity but to shatter it, for in "the mystery doctrine of tragedy... individuation is the root of all evil" and of all suffering (66, 67). Individuals die; tragic art and music assure us that "the eternal life of the will" (102) persists. Already the basic problem is in place, although the solutions will change. Later the response to the idea that individuation is the cause of all suffering will not be to submerge the individual identity into a collective (whether a group of people, the Dionysian revelers, or the "Oneness" of the universe), but rather to shiver the individual identity into a heap of mirror-shards--to make, one could say, more than one personality per body rather than fewer. But the goal is eternity, and suffering, despair, and the sense of death's finality are rejected. It is easy to understand how and why, if we take the value of life and of our own happiness as first principles, we might come to set up a system of ethics which justifies our own actions. Nietzsche describes this process in the first essay of the Genealogy of Morals, and it is a fairly straightforward affair. The originators of the concept of "good" began bÿ naming their own ways good, and classed as "bad" or base whatever fell outside their familiar perimeter, whatever was foreign from them or distant (160). "All truly noble morality grows out of triumphant self-affirmation" (170). According to his method, all value systems develop because one group encounters, dominates, or is dominated by another; each group must then determine whether it will begin by affirming itself, and only secondarily negate what is alien, or whether it will begin by reacting against the other. The choices are between saying "Yes" to one's own group (which, since not everyone is like the nobles, will eventually require saying "No" to some outside group) and saying "No" to the dominant and alien group (which is an assertion of righteousness, and thus a "Yes" to one's own group, although only derivatively). Later, in his analysis of ascetic ideals, Nietzsche discerns a parallel choice operating on the individual level, although here he allows for a third possibility: beginning to form one's values or ideals by saying "No" to oneself. His discussion of this possibility will be treated in more detail later; for now, however, it is important to note that Nietzsche writes as if the processes by which societies develop value systems are at least analogous to, and possibly identical to, the processes by which individuals develop their values. Thus the options open to each of us are: "Yes" to oneself, "No" to some other; or "No" to oneself. This picture lacks symmetry; the fourth option, that of beginning one's ethics with a "Yes" to some other, is nowhere discussed. Yet this is the basic starting point for any attempt to make love the basis of ethics.
In his treatment of asceticism, the same conflict reappears: We may take life as the primary value, or we may take nothingness as primary; it is life or nihilism, and love falls on the side of nihilism. In "What Is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?", those ideals are construed as a hatred of life, a
hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material... this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself... (299).
At first this hatred is explored in terms of an easily-grasped and easily-recognized aversion to sensuality--the standard scourges and the hair shirt and the avoidance of women are discussed. Here Nietzsche seems to be a defender of eros against its enemies, for he defends sensuality, distinguishing it from lust: "There is no inherent contradiction between chastity and sensual pleasure" (GOM 232). Here he emphasizes the goodness of physicality, of bodies that change and die, and scorns all those who "regard their precarious balance between beast and angel as an argument against existence" (233). His attack on this variety of asceticism is not motivated principally by a desire to exalt physicality, however; it is an attack on all arguments against existence. Indeed, elsewhere in his work (and elsewhere in the Genealogy) he does not view physicality as something higher than the abstract ideals of the philosophers and poets. In his comparisons of artistic or spiritual creation to procreation, which appear intermittently through his work but maintain a consistent line of argument, babies and spiritual "children" are at least equivalent, and the latter may sometimes take precedence.
Nietzsche can take this position, which seems inconsistent--valuing sensuality and physicality at one point, demoting it at another--because he is using a definition of asceticism which includes but is not restricted to the familiar manifestations of revulsion from physicality. The broad scope of his definition becomes evident when he moves into his analysis of possible alternatives to ascetic ideals. He describes the will to truth, as expressed in modern science, as another avenue to nihilism, to taking the void as one's purpose. He offers a series of arguments as to why this occurs. There is, first, science's emphasis on the discovery of objective truths about the outside world:
The truthful man... thereby affirms another world than that of life, nature, and history; and insofar as he affirms this 'other world,' does this not mean that he has to deny its antithesis, this world, our world? (Gay Science, and quoted in GOM 288).
In order to be objective, they must renounce their own biased perspectives, "all of those violations, adjustments, abridgments, omissions, substitutions, which among them constitute the business of interpretation" (287). He must take what has been famously called the "God’s-eye view" or "view from nowhere." The scholar's detachment is the source of his pride; he has put himself at the service of a higher ideal, he has effaced himself and his own interpretive abilities in favor of some unchanging, alien Truth. If he were to admit the subjectivity of his work, if he were to state plainly that he is an exegete and not merely a discoverer (as certain philosophers of science, along with literary scholars such as Harold Bloom, have since done), he would no longer need to denigrate himself and his will. He would no longer be a servant, and his energies would be directed against himself no longer. For to seek "the truth" is to seek something outside and therefore alien and opposed to ourselves. (This is implicit in the phrase, "the outside world.") This is the source of the opposition of science and art--the scientific man understands himself as a discoverer, the artist as a creator. Nietzsche marshals ancillary arguments against the scholar-as-ascetic, including the exhaustion and seriousness produced by the scientific or scholarly life, and, more relevantly for the question of eros, the fact that science has robbed us of our "belief that [man] was unique and irreplaceable in the hierarchy of beings" (291); but the main lines of this assessment of science as nihilism concern its reliance on a standard apart from the world and the individual human judge of that world. Here we can draw the parallel with eros, and with the pity that it produces. The beloved becomes the standard, outside and sometimes hostile to the self, by which both the self and the world can be judged. The self can be judged based on the beloved's reactions, as in Judah Halevi's devotional poem (taken almost unchanged from an Arabic love poem, with only minor adjustments to recast the human beloved as Yahweh):
I love my foes, for they learned wrath from You,
For they pursue a corpse whom You have slain.
The day You hated me I loathed myself,
For I will honor none whom You disdain.
Even if the beloved does respond with love, the lover can still judge himself harshly based on a sense that his beloved's response was undeserved. Nietzsche alludes to this sense in an acute aphorism from Beyond Good and Evil, in which he challenges: "Discovering that one is loved in return really ought to disenchant the lover with the beloved. 'What? this person is modest enough to love even you? Or stupid enough? Or--or--’" (#102). (Oddly, this aphorism presupposes that one should love what is objectively highest, rather than making an act of will to take one's beloved as the standard. To love only someone whom, before one loves, one has judged to be one's equal or superior seems to require becoming a servant of some objective standard, much as the scientist-ascetic does in the Genealogy.)
Eros also threatens to judge the world, life itself, and find it lacking. This judgment does not arise out of the responses of the beloved, as in the case of the lover's harsh judgment of himself. Instead, it arises out of the lover's pity--the last temptation of Zarathustra. Life is judged based on whether it is sweet or painful for the beloved. Zarathustra must reject pity even for the "higher man," must no longer concern himself with the higher man's suffering or with his own; neither his own pain nor anyone else's may be used as an argument against existence. In eros the problems of death, of longing, and of the divergence of appearance and reality cannot be avoided. The lover, like the scientist, affirms another world--one in which his promises are eternal, his beloved immortal, her life endlessly joyful--and thereby repudiates this world. Moreover, through eros the lover is forced into ethics and politics, for he must judge other men’s actions in so far as they affect his beloved. He cannot remain nonchalant or put on a kind of epistemological humility in which he abdicates any responsibility to judge others. He cannot be tolerant. To do so would be to deny either that other men can aid or attack his beloved, or else that those men’s actions are important (and if that is denied, then the creature affected by those trivial actions--the beloved--must herself be trivial). Just as truth is more important to the scientist than affirmation of life, so the beloved is more important to the lover than either truth or life-affirming; the lover is turned against other people, against himself and against life. Thus, on Nietzsche's definition of nihilism, in rejecting self and world the lover necessarily becomes a nihilist.
Nietzsche's definition of nihilism is not the only one. It was crafted without mention of eros, and so the consequences an investigation of eros might have for the definition should perhaps lead us to revise it. In the first essay of the Genealogy, the priest's setting of God as the highest value is described as nihilistic, as valuing "nothingness--or God, for the desire for a mystical union with God is nothing other than the Buddhist's desire to sink himself in nirvana" (166). Yet if "God" were to be replaced by an existing beloved, would a "desire for a mystical union" still be a desire for extinction and nirvana? To have someone else as one's purpose is not the same as having the void as one's purpose. Perhaps there are actually three categories of purpose: life-affirmation and asceticism, the two which Nietzsche acknowledges, and erotic attachment.
If we allow for this possibility--if we attempt to reshape Nietzsche's categories so that he might accomodate eros--we find that his treatment of nihilism is far from the only area which needs an added possibility. A parallel situation occurs in the second essay of the Genealogy, in which Nietzsche gives a history of the origins of guilt and of the ability to promise. This history is based on an insight about the conditions under which men can be happy; Nietzsche maintains (like Albert Schweitzer, who said that "Happiness is good health and a bad memory") that it is our capacity for forgetfulness, for oblivion, which allows us to be happy. Oblivion "maintains order and etiquette in the household of the psyche; which immediately suggests that there can be no happiness, no serenity, no hope, no pride, no present, without oblivion" (189). When a man makes a promise, when he "stand[s] pledge for his own future" (190), he is vowing to will himself not to forget. He is pledging himself to an active rejection of the solace of oblivion. He is vowing to make himself "calculable," in Nietzsche's term: predictable, both to others and to himself. Thus all promising is an abdication of happiness, serenity, hope, pride, and present. The promiser gains a stable identity, but at a terrible cost. What could possibly lead a man to make such a choice?
For Nietzsche, the answer is: Terror. "[T]here is perhaps nothing more terrible in man's earliest history than his mnemotechnics" (192). Interestingly, Nietzsche does not address the question of who, what group in a society, originates these fearsome techniques, who benefits from the stabilizing of men's identities. He implies ("Whenever man has thought it necessary to create a memory for himself...", 192-3) that the institution of such memory aids as "stoning... breaking on the wheel... piercing with stakes, drawing and quartering, trampling to death with horses, boiling in oil or wine..." (193-4) was the statement of an entire society's desires; that each man wanted to become calculable. Whether this was the case or not, his basic point is unchanged: Memory, the prerequisite for promises, both rests on and engenders pain. For some reason, as yet unknown (though its effects can be read in the ancient penal codes), men decided to give themselves memories; we have now advanced beyond the stage in which the threat of flaying alive is necessary to reinforce those memories, but we are still yoked to one another by oaths and pledges. We have learned not only to feel regret, but to want to regret, to will that when we violate our oaths we will feel remorse. And we have done this out of fear of physical punishment.
No honest account of eros could dispute the first portion of the argument--that memory and promises threaten our happiness and destroy its perfection, that they force us to focus on the past and future rather than solely on the present (and thus lead to a dismissal of the present), that they rob us of our serenity. Gallagher writes, of the marriage promise, that "It is the psalms and the Song of Songs and it is the Crucifixion, or at least it is our aspiration to all of these things" (Abolition, 263). This description of aspiring to the Crucifixion fits within Nietzsche's paradigm, in which all promises are aspirations to unhappiness, even to its extremes. This applies well to eros's promises; eros drives lovers to constant concern with any harm they may have done their beloveds, a concern which necessarily ties them to the past. They do not want to forget the wrongs they have done their loved ones, if oblivion means they will no longer desire or be able to make amends for these wrongs.
Where an account which valued erotic attachments might differ from Nietzsche's is not in its evaluation of the current state of affairs--the way in which the ability to promise affects us now--but in its addition of a new possibility of the origin of this state of affairs. A different genealogy could be envisioned. In this possible history, men are not only threatened into stabilizing their identities; they are also seduced into doing so. Loyalty itself only comes into existence when men's identities are stable; in order for a man to be loyal, whether to his friend or to his wife, he must be able to promise (for whether the promise is stated in an explicit vow or not, loyalty by definition requires binding one's future self) and he must be able to tell who exactly is the beneficiary of his promise. He must be calculable; and so must the friend or wife. (This second point is more important than it at first appears, for, as will be discussed below, there are instances in which it is not at all obvious to whom one has pledged one's loyalty.) So any society which values loyalty can offer a reward for making oneself calculable, not merely a punishment for failure to do so. And eros is intimately bound up with loyalty; a marriage vow is expected of lovers, whereas a vow of loyalty till death is an exception between friends, a sign of friendship far stronger than one could expect or hope for. Thus lovers are enticed into forming an identity which is constant over time (and the words of praise we use for such lovers, "constant," "faithful," are not words Nietzsche would use to praise). They are enticed, by the promise of erotic happiness, into the very unhappiness which Nietzsche discerns is a product of a stable identity--the backwards-looking, obsessive, self-lacerating, self-judging, and restrictive attitude which the capability to promise entails.
However, here we must ask whether these promises are really part of eros at all, whether they are necessary to eros, harmful to it, or simply irrelevant. It is not immediately obvious that ties which need to be reinforced by promises are in any way higher than those which are maintained out of preference rather than duty, and without the threat of the stigma attached to oathbreaking. Nietzsche, certainly, shows no affinity for such promises; Zarathustra praises the man who "always does more than he promises" (128). We must ask whether the lover should desire to promise himself to his beloved, and thus bind himself, or whether that promise is in some way an insult--a statement that she is not attractive enough, in herself, to keep his love. Moreover, we must ask whether the lover should desire that his beloved promise herself to him in return; is that not an attempt to own her and to destroy her freedom? We must address the argument that promises are themselves anti-erotic, before we can state that eros might entice us to become promise-making animals.
Gallagher touches on many of these arguments in Abolition. First, she points out that without promises, love becomes a matter of whim; without loyalty, nothing is left but the ebb and flow of the lover's mercurial emotional state. (And even if the loyalty is never proclaimed out loud, it is still present in the man who silently vows to stand by his beloved--or his friend.) Without loyalty, love can be defined only by reference to the lover's inner state, thus denying the outward-directed nature of eros and making the love no longer erotic at all:
[R]omantic love, when it is primarily defined by the current emotional state of the lover, is always ultimately about the self, the lover, and rights he earns by the intensity of his feelings. The lover does not care for the beloved so much as he draws inspiration from her; one might almost say he consumes the beloved, although always to the highest purpose, or at least the highest purpose that the self, trapped in itself, can ever know (224).
Loyalty is what makes the difference between taking one's beloved as the standard of value and the crown of the world, and taking her as a means to the end of one's own gratification (or, at best, one's own improvement). In promising ourselves, we wish to assuage our beloveds' fears; we are stating that we do not desire to consume them, and we will not abandon them once they have outlived their usefulness. Further, a mutual promise moves part of the way toward the "ecstatic union" toward which eros impels us. It hooks two lovers together. Eros pushes us to create the closest bonds possible which do not dissolve or disguise the "otherness" of the beloved; thus not only physical unions but the uniting of two individuals' futures in vows of loyalty are part of the demands of eros. This is one of the ways in which eros is more extreme in its demands than friendship; another is its emphasis on submission rather than equality. The model of the dual promise--the couple saying "I do"--is a model of mutual submission. The couple becomes, as in Ambrose Bierce's sardonic definition of marriage, "A household consisting of two masters and two slaves, making, in all, two."
Nietzsche presents his own model of marriage, and of friendships. They are allied, as marriage and friendship are allied in the description of eros's promises above; and, as in that description, marriage is a more extreme form of friendship. In all other aspects, the two models are sharply opposed. First, the two individuals involved do not desire any form of union. Zarathustra teaches, "You should be closest to [the friend] with your heart when you resist him" (168)--there should be no surrender. There should be no naked self-giving, for no man is worthy of giving himself: "Indeed, if you were gods, then you might be ashamed of your clothes" (168); but, as it is, friends must maintain a veil of secrecy to hide their inadequacies. In friendship one acts as "an arrow and a longing for the overman" (168), directing one's energies through the friend to their ultimate goal, the man not yet born, the unknown quantity of whom Zarathustra is herald. Zarathustra uses the same phrase in "On Child and Marriage": "Thirst for the creator, an arrow and longing for the overman: tell me, my brother, is this your will to marriage? Holy I call such a will and such a marriage" (183). Again, in marriage, there is an emphasis on concealing oneself from one's spouse, and on separation: "Your love of woman, and woman's love of man--oh, that it were compassion for suffering and shrouded gods!" (183)
The complete opposition between this view of marriage and friendship, and the erotically-based one sketched above, can be seen in Zarathustra's condemnation of "woman's love":
Are you a slave? Then you cannot be a friend. Are you a tyrant? Then you cannot have friends. All-too-long have a slave and a tyrant been concealed in woman. Therefore woman is not yet capable of friendship; she knows only love. Woman's love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love (169).
The description of "slave and tyrant" in one body is Bierce's description of marriage; the description of woman's injustice "against everything that she does not love" is the demanding exclusivity required when one's beloved is one's standard of value. It is the old English posy engraved on lovers' rings: "All I refuse and thee I chuse." There is no Crucifixion in this ideal; although Zarathustra describes the ideal husband and wife as "suffering and shrouded gods," he later speaks as if sexual union can be unyoked from suffering. In "On the Three Evils," he proclaims,
Sex: for free hearts, innocent and free, the garden happiness of the earth, the future's exuberant gratitude to the present.... Sex: the happiness that is the great parable of a higher happiness and the highest hope (300).
Significantly, he says here, "[T]o many is marriage promised, and more than marriage" (300-1), in an echo of the earliest description of men who do "more than they promise."
Nietzsche's vision of marriage and friendship is further opposed to eros in that the partners in both cases are more or less fungible. A man should not choose a "goose" or a "little dressed-up lie" for a wife (182); but once he has chosen a worthy wife (should such a being exist), since her ultimate purpose is to direct his energies and longings toward the overman, presumably he can exchange her for any other satisfactory woman. By the same token, the friend can take as his friend anyone who is "an arrow and a longing for the overman"; this means, first, that he has no reason to be loyal to his friend, and, second, that he has a distinct and compelling reason to be disloyal if he finds that he was mistaken about his friend, and that he has befriended a slave or a tyrant or a man "who makes no secret of himself" (168). Again, constancy to the future man, the overman, is higher than constancy to the actually-existing, present friend. This is consistent with a feature of Nietzsche’s thought which is easy to overlook, a feature which contrasts sharply with his rhetoric. He presents himself a friend of the senses, a partisan of the body; he attacks asceticism and "the despisers of the body." Yet his ideal, his goal, is not embodied, at least not yet. It is that shadowy figure, the overman. Thus one is not loyal to a particular person, but to those qualities in that person which suggest the overman. (How we determine which those qualities are, is left somewhat cloudy.) Love of, and loyalty to, qualities rather than persons is outside the realm of eros; eros desires physical union, and is thus necessarily a relation between two incarnate beings. In fact, the question of identity becomes a physical question. One is not considered loyal if one abandons a beloved, or a friend, when she loses the qualities which first made her attractive (especially if she loses these qualities involuntarily)--for example, if she develops a mental illness, or a degenerative disease, and is no longer courageous or witty or kind or in love with life. We are expected to be loyal to particular people, in their bodies, and not to a disembodied quality; thus we cannot exchange one wife for another with the same spiritual features (at least not without breaking our promise). Thus although Nietzsche’s ultimate goal is an incarnate being, the overman, any ties of marriage or friendship in the present seem to be quite shaky and not linked to physicality in any way. There is the possibility of loyalty to a person rather than a quality in the future, but not in the present. The question of how much Nietzsche truly values the body becomes even more complicated when we examine his discussion of creation and procreation. Throughout his work, creation is of the highest importance; it is an statement of life. The inability "to create beyond" themselves is what has made the "despisers of the body" "angry with life and the earth" (147). Both creation and procreation are inextricably tied to life-affirmation; thus "the preachers of death" desire no children (157). Zarathustra’s creation trumps everything else for him, as, in his final speech, he states: "Am I concerned with happiness? I am concerned with my work" (439). It is through the work that he is able to express and justify his affirmation of life.
At that moment in the narrative, he also tells us that his "children are near." This raises the question of how we can distinguish between his work and his children--between creation and procreation. In Book Two of The Gay Science, Nietzsche compares physical to spiritual pregnancy, and a mother’s love for her children to "an artist’s love for his work" (129). He offers no discussion of ways in which the two situations might differ. The artist desires to dominate, possess, and understand (another means of domination) his work, just as the mother does her child. Nietzsche returns to this description of the artist’s relation to his work in the third essay of the Genealogy of Morals, in his attack on Kant’s claim that "That is beautiful which gives us pleasure without interest"--in other words, that is beautiful which makes us no longer partisans, concerned only with our own interests. By contrast, for Nietzsche the artist’s "interest" is supremely engaged in his work, and the desire to possess it is strong. In this context, the contrast at the close of the fourth book of Zarathustra between the nearness of Zarathustra’s children and his statement that "I am concerned with my work" may be read as no contrast at all; the children and the work may be identical.
There are other strong hints that this is the meaning Nietzsche intended--for example, Zarathustra’s face changes "to bronze" just before he proclaims his concern with his work, echoing the second essay of the Genealogy: "They [the conquerors of the first state, the first tyrants] ...examplify that terrible artists’ egoism that has the look of bronze and knows itself justified to all eternity in its ‘work,’ like a mother in her child." Thus several times Nietzsche returns to this theme, that spiritual and physical children can be equated (especially as regards their relationship to their creator). This equation would seem to set up a very close personal relationship at the center of Nietzsche’s thought, making not a solitary man but the parent-child dyad the crucial element of the world.
However, there are important consequences of this attempt to equate spiritual and physical children and childbearing. What Nietzsche achieves with the equation is an ability to convey the deeply partisan, interested, sensual, desiring nature of the artist/artwork relation. Our recognition of this truth gives force and sting to his comment that "If our aestheticians never weary of asserting in Kant’s favor that, under the spell of beauty, one can even view undraped female statues ‘without interest,’ one may laugh a little at their expense: the experience of artists on this ticklish point are more ‘interesting,’ and Pygmalion was in any event not necessarily an ‘unaesthetic man’" ( 238-9 GOM).
The identification of Zarathustra’s children with his work also resolves some of the tensions surrounding the possible goals of his journey and his relationships with the inamorati he teases and encounters. If the only pregnancy in Zarathustra’s story is a spiritual pregnancy, then there is only one parent; this is the relationship most often allegorized as artist and Muse, and here even the identity of the Muse figure is never made particularly clear or specific. If Zarathustra’s sole concern and purpose is his children, and those children are his work, there seems no need for an actual outside lover to aid in the creation. His creation will take place in much the same way the artist’s does, in a kind of parthenogenesis. Thus we should not necessarily expect to be able to straighten out the tangled relationships and possible identifications among Zarathustra, Life, Wisdom, Ariadne; they are not really separable. Eternity, in "The Seven Seals," comes closest to being a pure Muse figure: "Never yet have I found the woman from whom I wanted children, unless it be this woman whom I love: for I love you, O eternity" (341). Here, as in the description of the artist in Genealogy, he emphasizes the carnal and "interested" aspect of his love of eternity ("how should I not lust after eternity..."), yet Zarathustra does not make a Pygmalion-like attempt to turn his Muse into a living human. (Pygmalion performed this transformation on his work, but Zarathustra seems at least equally interested in a sensuous as well as spiritual unity with his Muse.) He does not try to bring eternity into the present--although the possibility of this event is held out through the Eternal Recurrence. He does not attempt to bring eternity into his relations with some particular and separate person--to melt the nuptial ring of "The Seven Seals" together with an everyday wedding ring. Nor is there any record of Zarathustra’s desiring to do so (unless one assumes that this is what Nietzsche means in Ecce Homo by "The answer to such a dithyramb of solar solitude in the light would be Ariadne. --Who besides me knows what Ariadne is!", 308).
Is Zarathustra then erotic and unfulfilled, as the longing tones and subjunctive tense of the "Yes and Amen Song" suggest? There, he seems to be searching for a woman to be his wife, with a strong desire expressed in physical terms of lust and childbearing. Yet in the final chapters of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he claims that he has children, and that they are approaching; does this mean that he has at last found the fulfillment he was seeking, that he has celebrated his wedding-day while we were not looking? Or, a third possibility, were all the women with whom Zarathustra enjoyed or desired romantic entanglement (Life, Wisdom, and at last Eternity) actually aspects of himself? Were they the shards of the mirror?
The culmination of Zarathustra’s thought is the Eternal Recurrence, Zarathustra’s "nuptial ring of rings." It is presented in two works, but cast differently. In the earlier presentation, it suggests a stark rejection of eros; in the later, it seems to be a replacement for eros. Just as eros implies an ethical theory and a way of understanding death, suffering, and the value of life, recurrence offers a parallel worldview in which all the answers are different--or almost all. Examining Nietzsche’s descriptions of recurrence may provide the best understanding of which goals he is pursuing, and of what he gains by making the choices which would lead him to a rejection of eros. Recurrence first appears in a brief fable in The Gay Science:
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you... [H]ow well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (273, 274)
Here, recurrence is a thought-experiment: What would we do, if this happened? How would we respond? And, of course, What can we learn about our values from that response? The issue at hand is affirmation of oneself, of one’s own actions, and of life. One must relive every moment and, therefore, take every action again; thus we are challenged to find out what would make reliving our actions unbearable. What would make an action so terrible that extinction is preferable to reenacting it? One answer is, that the action damaged something we value more highly than we value our own lives. We saw above how eros leads us inescapably to regret; the lover values the beloved more than he values his own life, and he fails her. The man who reacts to the recurrence with despair or terror may have many different motivations. He may be an ascetic, in horror of himself and in love with the void. He may be an adherent of some code of morality against which he has offended, and which he values more than his own life (a state which Nietzsche would identify with the nihilistic asceticism of the first man). Or he may be in love. The man who responds to the thought of recurrence with joy is beyond good and evil, for he has cleansed himself of any regret; by the same act, he has gone beyond love. Although Nietzsche emphasizes that love and morality are distinct and, in his view, opposed forces ("Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil," BGE 90), in this case the lover and the moral man must come to the same conclusion. The man in love, like the man with a standard of moral perfection, must regret; only relativism coupled with rejection of eros can make us securely happy. For only the unerotic relativist is unable to fail. Only he has no standard outside himself which he cannot move.
Thus we see how the Eternal Recurrence might suggest a denial of eros. In Zarathustra, by contrast, Nietzsche implies that it might actually replace eros. The "Yes and Amen Song" is the clearest example of this replacement; in it, Zarathustra yearns for what recurrence provides, the entrance of eternity into time. Eternity is brought into every moment of the present, for every moment recurs eternally. For good reason he captures his desire for this recurrence in the language of a wedding; it is this which couples most desire, that their promises be eternal. Zarathustra is even more extreme in his desires than most wedding-rites, for couples pledge themselves only "till death do us part," while Zarathustra’s marriage to eternity would make death an irrelevancy, a sideshow. In fact, this "eternal present" is what every religious sacrament enacts; this is the form of the Catholic Mass, in which the eternal God is made present in time. Thus although the marriage may last only as long as life (and the implication, for those who believe in an afterlife, seems to be not that all marriages necessarily end at death, but that marriages last for life at least), in those religions which make marriage a sacrament eternity dips into time whenever a couple stands at the altar. To that limited extent, all such weddings model Zarathustra’s proposed and desired wedding to eternity. In his marriage, however, there is no risk of faithlessness, for eternity is not a woman with a will of her own. Here the marriage allegory breaks down. Again we find that Zarathustra’s "marriage" to eternity, with the ring of recurrence, would be more stable than a non-allegorical marriage to a woman. Recurrence offers the benefit of the marriage sacrament, the grasping of eternity, without the immense risks of abandonment and betrayal which marriage entails. Thus the "Yes and Amen Song" is a song of longing for a marriage with no spouse, a promise with no one to promise to. Death becomes unimportant, but no one becomes more important than Zarathustra. We see his deep longing for eternity, and hear the cadences of suffering in his voice; yet ultimately it seems that his longing is fulfilled, somehow, in his children, that he manages to wed eternity and beget--it seems--himself upon himself.
This narrative sounds bizarre, but as a philosophy of life-affirmation it makes good sense. It is a way to remove all objections to life, all arguments against it; in fact, something like recurrence (in both its thought-experiment and doctrine variations) seems to be necessary if we are to take life as the primary value and reject all arguments against existence. The outlandish images suggested by the various relationships between the aspects of Zarathustra’s self are only a byproduct of Nietzsche’s desire to write an allegory rather than an explanation; they should not blind us to the two great achievements that recurrence makes possible for Nietzsche. Through recurrence, he can pull the fangs of two terrorizing arguments against life: death and sin. Death is temporary; sin, the offense against what is most highly valued, is impossible for the man who will not regret, for he can only avoid regret by refusing to value anything against which he might offend. With recurrence, and only with the rejection of eros, Nietzsche can destroy death and Hell.