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"Zarathustra Is Dead, Long Live Zarathustra!"

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 41, Spring 2011
pp. 83-93 | 10.1353/nie.2011.0006

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Paul Loeb's book will appeal most to those who love to solve riddles and puzzles and who conversely cannot stand to see them unresolved; it will be welcomed by those who love to tidy up and tie up loose ends, the closure-seekers; it will be hailed by those who jubilate in the slaying of ambiguities—his book speaks with one voice and has a tendency to silence others. The book's closest analogy would be the commentaries that range from Naumann's four-volume Zarathustra-Commentar (1899–1901) to Gooding-Williams's Zarathustra's Dionysian Modernism (2001), not because Loeb provides a chapter and verse running commentary but because he offers an overall explanation and exegesis that speak to the whole of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In fact Loeb's book is much bolder and potentially more compelling than the great commentaries, because its boldness rests solidly on the boldness of Nietzsche himself—this is the most literal reading of Nietzsche's masterpiece to date, literal in the sense that it dares to take Nietzsche at his word where others have ascribed metaphoricity and other rhetorical functions to him. Loeb is not merely a close reader of Nietzsche, he is hyperclose, hyperattentive to detail, hyperkeen on maintaining hermeneutical discipline, in short, close to the point of "too close," to the point of sucking the oxygen out of the room or reducing the sweeping panorama of Z to a few key episodes. The strength of Loeb's method is also its weakness, at least as far as the narrative itself is concerned, but happily the aftereffect is more bracing and potentially transformative. His reading of Z is not as different as he claims, though he does a good enough job of demonstrating where he differs with others. He identifies a group of commentators who appear to accept Simmel's and Heidegger's pronouncements on eternal recurrence of the same (ERS) and the superhuman, presumably because they have contributed to the prevailing view that ERS and the superhuman are incompatible and are not to be taken seriously. Of course not all commentators subscribe to this view, but more on this later.

I will first treat the problematic aspects of Loeb's new book, though later sections will detail what I think are its advantages and where I am more ambivalent than in disagreement. The title itself does not sound promising to those of us who are attracted to Nietzsche's Dionysian life affirmation as depicted first in The Birth of Tragedy and then exalted as the memento vivere in Untimely Meditations II and generally thereafter in all the writings—those of us who take seriously Nietzsche's claim that he was the spokesman of life and the teacher of ERS, a doctrine purporting to represent the highest affirmation of life, chafe a bit when we are invited to dwell on Zarathustra's death. But Loeb has his reasons, and it was only a matter of time before someone came along to write Nietzsche literally to death. By focusing only on the life of Zarathustra readers have missed out on important dimensions of Z and the recurrence doctrine, which can only be revealed when Zarathustra's death is properly foregrounded and juxtaposed with the deaths of Socrates and Christ, and even God. So the morbid focus on Socrates's death (2010, 32–66; hereafter cited only by page number), on Zarathustra's suicide as the crowning act of his life (77, 80), and on Nietzsche's "counter-myth of a dying Zarathustra" to oppose Plato's disembodied soul (83) is designed to help make the point that Dionysus has not been properly understood as the god and companion of Nietzsche until we "find a counterpart in Nietzsche's narrative to the symbolically crucial event of the death and rebirth of Dionysus" (84). Lampert and others might ask why such a counterpart is necessary; is there no Dionysian in Nietzsche and his writings unless Zarathustra commits suicide? And if only Zarathustra commits suicide, while Nietzsche remains alive and (not for long) well, does this mean there is no Dionysian in Nietzsche? In which versions of the myth, for that matter, does Dionysus himself...



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