Note: My continuing journal from thirteen years ago.
“What makes the Overman the Overman?”
I was discussing Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra with a friend of mine over coffee in an Italian restaurant, and I asked the above question.
His answer was, “The Overman is the person who recognizes that he is the definer of his horizon of meaning. Once he recognizes that, then he becomes the Overman.”
I replied, “If that is so, then Zarathustra would be the Overman because he is the first to realize that God is dead and thus Man is the true creator of his horizons of meaning throughout history, even though Man refuses to admit it.
But Zarathustra is the harbinger of Overman, not Overman himself, in much the same way that John the Baptist is the harbinger of Christ. Also, I think that Nietzsche posits the Overman as singular, that is, there can only be one Overman in the world at any given time.
What I mean from my earlier question is: Where does the Overman come from? How does he come about? Zarathustra speaks of Man as a rope stretched from ape to Overman. I’m trying to understand how Overman comes from Man.”
“It sounds like the Overman is an evolutionary progression from Man,” my friend responded. “If that is so, then the Overman is no longer Man; he is another species entirely, the Overman, just like the ape is another species from Man, who is homo sapiens.”
“I don’t think Zarathustra sees the rope metaphor biologically,” I began. “I think Zarathustra sees the rope image as a metaphor for inner self-control of one’s actions and thoughts.
An ape is pure bestiality, consumed with various appetites and desires which dictate his actions without any thought; the worst of the rabble would be here, with Ape, who can only live within the confines of his own petty thoughts and shallow, self-serving deeds.
Man, as the rope that progresses from Ape, moves from the mud of Ape-ness, towards the various fragments of what it means to be Man, whom, by increasing levels of self-control, unifies the various fragments of Man. These levels of self-control come out of Man as levels of creativity, such that what is in Man other men can see and respond to this level of self-control.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean by self-control and others responding to a Man’s self-control?”
I thought for a moment and replied, “Zarathustra says that in order for Man to command, he must obey. What I take that to mean is, in order for a man to command others, he must be able to command himself and obey his own commands.
What I mean by self-control is that a man retreats into solitude, stills the various appetites and desires that wrack his body and mind, and comes to that point in which he realizes who he really is and what he is meant to do.
In other words, he recognizes a vocation in which he is competent, and he develops within himself a set of life principles to which he must adhere to in order to live his life as true to his vocation.
Those set of principles I take to be a horizon of meaning for that man.
When a principled man practices his vocation, other men respond to that vocation and feel impelled to follow that vocation. In this way, in obeying himself, Man commands others without force or even saying that he commands.”
“That Man sounds like the Overman, but you say that there can only be one Overman. How is this Man different from the Overman?”
“This principled Man I take to be Zarathustra’s Higher Man. There have been many Higher Men in history: Confucius, Christ, Shakespeare, to name just a few. They are Higher Men because they have created principles – horizons of meaning – which survive after they are gone and still influence various peoples today.
But note that I said, ‘various peoples.’ Not everybody follows Confucius, not everybody follows Christ, and not everybody follows Shakespeare. They are Higher Men because their horizons of meaning cut across all time but not across all space, i.e., do not influence ALL peoples.
Also, such Higher Men attribute their insights to something outside themselves: Ancestors, God, a Muse.
The Overman overcomes these obstacles of time, space, and origin of creation: his creation of the ultimate horizon of meaning will influence all peoples in all times, and he will recognize that he is the sole creator of his horizon of meaning and no other.
When a Higher Man overcomes these obstacles, then he becomes the Overman.”
My friend replied, “I think you just answered your question of what makes the Overman.” Then he drank his coffee.