- Nietzsche, Buddha, Zarathustra: Eine West-Ost Konfiguration
In Nietzsche, Buddha, Zarathustra: Eine West-Ost Konfiguration, Michael Skowron sets out to develop a comparative philosophy of "self-overcoming," "transformation," and "process" (p. 7). Skowron's main interest is to retrace Friedrich Nietzsche's "genealogical thinking back to where the Eastern and the Western way began their separate direction in order to unearth the only place where they can be unified in its original form." The goal of this project is "to uncover the religious and postreligious dimensions of his [Nietzsche's] thinking" (p. 5). This work thus promises to contribute to the contemporary understanding of Nietzsche; to compare the philosophies of Nietzsche, Buddha, and Zarathustra; and to facilitate a comparative philosophy of self-overcoming for a postreligious age.
This is a collection of at times promising but, in the end, uneven essays on Nietzsche's Zarathustra and other themes in Nietzsche and Buddhism that are loosely connected to the idea of "self-overcoming." Thematically, these essays can be divided into four categories.
The first group of essays explores themes central to Nietzsche's philosophy. In chapter 2, Skowron praises the visionary nature of Nietzsche's writings and suggests that a metaphysics "beyond good and evil" does not imply a morality "beyond [End Page 560] good and bad" but envisions the "philosopher of the future," who takes "the body as guideline" (am Leitfaden des Leibes) of thinking (p. 45). Nietzsche's Übermensch, Skowron explains in chapter 3, overcomes the self by embracing the ambiguity of the self's "overcoming itself by itself" (p. 52) and of the "eternal return" (ewige Wiederkehr), which simultaneously entails the "return to the past" as implied by the word Wiederkehr and a "future arrival" as indicated by the term Wiederkunft. Chapter 6 explains that Nietzsche's conception of language as having always only a provisional character, which means that every statement has to be written in "quotation marks" (Gänsefüßchen), is rooted in the fragile nature of the subject, which reveals itself as an illusion and conceals that "doing is everything" (das Thun [sic] is alles) (p. 117).
Then there is the second group of essays, which compare tropes in Nietzsche's work to similar motifs in the works of Martin Heidegger (chapter 1) as well as Franz Kafka and Rainer Maria Rilke (chapter 5). In chapter 1, Skowron probes the conceptions of the "death of god" in the work of Nietzsche and Heidegger and concludes that both, albeit in different ways, understand the "death of god" to signify the end of traditional metaphysics; furthermore, both interpretations equally beg the question of who or what the "new god" will be. Chapter 5 explores different conceptions of "transformation" (Verwandlung). In a similar fashion, chapter 4 correlates the four phases in Plato's allegory of the cave—the phases of the prisoner, the liberation from the shackles of ignorance, the contemplation of the pure forms outside the cave, and the return to the cave to liberate the prisoners left behind—to the threefold process of transformation that the Übermensch undergoes from the "obedient camel via the freedom-loving lion to the playfully creating child" (p. 102).
The third and central group of essays strives to develop Nietzsche's Zarathustra as a model of transformation and postreligious religiosity. To be specific, Skowron investigates the models Nietzsche used to fashion his Zarathustra (chapter 7), uncovers flaws in Hans-Georg Gadamer's reading of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (chapter 8), explores the teachings of Zarathustra (chapter 9), and envisions what he calls the "Zarathustra-configuration" (Zarathustra-Konfiguration) (chapter 10). Skowron concludes that despite all potential similarities between, on the one side, Nietzsche's Zarathustra and, on the other, the historical Zoroaster, Siddharta Gotama (the historical Buddha), and Heraclitus, there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that Nietzsche's Zarathustra personifies Nietzsche's vision if not Friedrich Nietzsche himself. The teaching of Zarathustra a.k.a. Nietzsche does not comprise a moral nihilism and an undifferentiated affirmation of anything, as Gadamer suggests, but rather a sophisticated non-dualism of the...