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Kathleen Marie Higgins ZARATHUSTRA IS A COMIC BOOK I When he wrote Ecce Homo in 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche had some unusual concerns on his mind. He was contemplating the possibility that his ancestors were Polish noblemen. He was outlining a precursor to this century's diet books (arguing that coffee "spreads darkness" and that "one has to know the size of one's stomach").1 He was also thinking quite a bit about buffoons.2 He writes, for example, "I make even buffoons behave themselves" (p. 227). He claims that German historians are not merely "buffoons of politics (or the church)" (p. 319). Yet he considers buffoons to be in good company: "I know no more heart-rending reading than Shakespeare: what must a man have suffered to have such a need of being a buffoon!" (p. 246). Nietzsche also considered buffoonery as a career goal. "I do not want to be a holy man; sooner even a buffoon.—Perhaps I am a buffoon.—" (p. 326). Given the weightiness of most of Nietzsche's themes and his deadly serious treatment of them (witty set-ups notwithstanding), this selfcharacterization is startling. Could Nietzsche really have seen himself as a comedian or a clown? Picture Nietzsche, not as the solitary genius of letters, but as a stand-up comic at the Improv. Moustache dripping into the microphone, he coaxes the audience in a low voice: "What if truth were—a woman?" The timing, more than the line itself, grips his auditors. "Would that make philosophers—bunglers in bed?" (Light cymbal crash and hughter.) Who knows? Maybe Nietzsche's lavish dashes are the literary equivalent of cymbals at a nightclub act. Could this really be Nietzsche's image of himself? Nietzsche's other works offer some insight into Ecce Homo's buffoonPhilosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 1-14 2 Philosophy and Literature ery. Nietzsche frequently suggests that laughter, or "comedy," would be the solution to some disturbing cultural situation. The Gay Science, for instance, begins with an account of how "tragic" ages, which seek a defense oflife's meaning in terms of serious purposes, must always give way to comic ages, in which "waves ofuncountable laughter" overwhelm such ponderous quests.3 In comic ages, faith in the nature of things prevails. Tragic ages, which seek to establish the meaningfulness oflife, arise only when that faith is floundering. Yet they give way when selfjustifying exuberance again grows strong (GS, p. 76). The Gay Science might be read as a series of efforts to enactjust such a transformation, for it alternates between innuendos regarding "the true story" and lighthearted hilarity about the process of the human world. Even the ultimate section of the first edition of the work, entitled incipit tragoedia ("The tragedy begins"), is transformed in Nietzsche's preface to the second edition. "Incipit tragoedia, we read at the end of this awesomely aweless book. Beware! Something downright wicked and malicious is announced here: incipit parodia, no doubt" (GS, p. 33). And to further underscore the transmogrification of the tragic by the comic, Nietzsche includes amid his aphorisms on the death of God and the modern faith in science, a further remark on the two genres. Homopoeta.—"I myself, having made this tragedy oftragedies all by myself, insofar as it is finished—I, having first tied the knot of morality into existence before I drew it so tight that only a god could untie it (which is what Horace demands)—I myself have now slain all gods in the fourth act, for the sake of morality. Now what is to become of the fifth act? From where am I to take the tragic solution?—Should I begin to think about a comic solution?" (GS, p. 197) Nietzsche makes a similar gesture in On the Genealogy ofMorals. This book, which casts even the most cocky "enlightened" modern as trapped in a no-win crusade for meaning at any price, is almost unrelievedly harsh in its characterization of human circumstances. The only exception is the usually overlooked closing suggestions, "All I have been concerned to indicate here is this: in the most spiritual sphere, too, the ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real...


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