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  • Ruminations and Rejoinders:Eternal Recurrence, Nietzsche’s Noble Plato, and the Existentialist Zarathustra
  • Robert Gooding-Williams

Only rarely do our scholarly efforts receive the engaged and engaging criticism that Zarathustra's Dionysian Modernism (ZDM) has obtained in the three preceding essays. I am honored and grateful that Paul S. Loeb, Martha Woodruff, and Kathleen Higgins have given ZDM such thoughtful, detailed, and largely sympathetic consideration. By probing and questioning the interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra I set out there, they have prompted me carefully to reevaluate the reasons that can count for or against that interpretation.

In the pages that follow, I hope to show how much I have learned from Loeb, Woodruff, and Higgins, even where I continue to disagree with them. I will forgo the temptation to summarize ZDM, for taken together their essays effectively outline the book's main lines of argument. I begin with a point-by-point rejoinder to Loeb's critique of the thesis that the thought of eternal recurrence is a "thought-drama" revealed through Zarathustra's thoughts and actions. As a rule, Loeb's criticisms fall short of their mark, for notwithstanding their prima facie persuasiveness they betray an insufficient appreciation for, and practice of, what Nietzsche terms "reading as an art," a necessary condition of which, he insists, is "ruminating [wiederkauen]" (GM P 8). Loeb is not enough of a cud chewer I suggest, and according to Woodruff neither am I. Indeed, Woodruff claims that ZDM does not chew over enough Nietzsche's admiration for, and indebtedness to, Plato—a charge with which I agree. Thus, I more than welcome her extended reflections on Z's relation to the Republic and the Symposium and take them as an invitation to write more here than I write in ZDM about what I interpret as Nietzsche's fidelity to Plato. With respect, finally, to Higgins's portrait of an "existentialist" Zarathustra, I am delighted to continue a conversational rumination, which, as she notes, we began some years ago, and to convince her that less separates her Zarathustra from my Zarathustra than perhaps she suggests.

Eternal Recurrence

As I count them—and I apologize in advance if I have missed some or conflated others—Loeb states six sets of objections to my interpretation of eternal recurrence. In what follows, I try to address his objections. [End Page 96]

First, Loeb seems to object to the claim that eternal recurrence (as I interpret it) is the Grundconception of Z, arguing that because "D1," the soothsayer's speech, in response to which Zarathustra first forms the thought of recurrence (or so I argue), "does not take place until the end of part 2, . . . it is . . . not clear how the thought-drama of eternal recurrence is the unifying theme for the entire book" (Loeb, p. 80). According to Loeb, I have two responses to this objection: (1) that the soothsayer's representation of repetition is prefigured by similar representations in parts 1 and 2 and (2) that the thought-drama of recurrence contextualizes the possibility of creating new values, which "is the other unifying theme of Z" (Loeb, p. 81). The first response is unconvincing, he proclaims, for "the heart of the thought-drama, the movement from R1 to R2 to R3 [the three notions of eternal recurrence], would then still take place only in the second half of Z" (Loeb, ibid.). And the second response is questionable, because it "ties the thought of eternal recurrence to a lesser (albeit significant) theme of Z and thereby loses some of the breadth and import that Nietzsche intends for this thought" (Loeb, ibid.).

Loeb's criticism of my first response is beside the point, for it presupposes a notion of a Grundconception that I do not defend. In short, Loeb assumes that a Grundconception is something like a musical leitmotif—for example, a melodic figure or a chord sequence—that can recur in distinct parts of a single composition.1 Thus, he suggests that a Grundconception could unify a work—literary or musical—only if it were explicitly evident or "mentioned" in all the parts of that work (Loeb, p. 80) and, specifically, that the thought-drama of recurrence...


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