Reading Nietzsche IV: Pity, the Last Sin

Note: The last of my Thus Spoke Zarathustra journal entries.

20 October 1999

Why is pity Zarathustra’s last sin, and why does Zarathustra esteem the Ugliest Man?

Pity is a difficult concept because the common-sense view sees pity as admirable. A person, seeing another suffer, feels bad for him, which is pity, and in response to this pity tries to alleviate the suffering of this other person. In this sense, pity and mercy are synonymous.

But Zarathustra sees pity as not admirable but, in fact, as a sin.

It is a sin because, inextricably caught up with feeling bad for the sufferer, the pitying feels at the same time, “I am glad I am not him, but he should be like me, and I know how I can make him be like me.”

Says Zarathustra, “Having seen the sufferer suffer, I was ashamed for the sake of his shame; and when I helped him, I transgressed grievously against his pride.”  (p. 201).

The pitying transgresses the pride of the sufferer, whose pride is his suffering, which, with his pity, devalues that pride by trying to take it away by external means. Says Zarathustra, the pitying “are lacking too much in shame.”

In other words, pity is the self’s refusal to see oneself by only looking at others.

Shame, however, is the self turning its eye on itself, becoming aware of a lack in oneself that needs to be filled. This lack within oneself is not filled by another, i.e., through the almsgiving of the pitying, but through self-creation, through acceptance of one’s suffering as one’s own, one’s own creation, and thus is great.

Thus, Zarathustra esteems the Ugliest Man because the Ugliest Man realizes that the source of his pity (his ugliness) should not be pitied but should be respected for its “great misfortune, for great ugliness, for great failure” (p. 377).

In realizing that God is Pity personified, the Ugliest Man kills pity by asserting his ugliness as his and his alone, his greatest creation. Unlike the other Higher Men, the Ugliest Man is so creative in his powers that he is even able to create a god from a donkey, as seen in the “Ass Festival.”

21 October 1999

In the end of the Fourth Part, Zarathustra becomes the Overman, “glowing and strong as a morning sun that comes out of dark mountains” (p. 439), which ends the development of Zarathustra from unheard hermit in the wilderness to teacher with disciples to Overman.

In the beginning, Zarathustra tries to speak to the many and is ridiculed, only is able to speak to a dead man, then chooses to speak to a few at the Motley Cow, then speaks to even more few at the blessed isles and on the ship traveling away from the blessed isles, and finally hosts the Higher Men who seek him out in his domain, around his cave on top of the mountain.

Zarathustra would speak to each group of people and then would return to his cave to his solitude, in which his body would inform his soul. After a time he would return, or go under, back to people again to speak.

In the Fourth Part, he gathers — in his errand to find the source of the cry of distress — the Higher Men into his cave, and he realizes that the cry of distress comes from the Higher Men. The Higher Men, the best Men of the age, cannot overcome their melancholy, which is why they cry in distress for Zarathustra.

Zarathustra, their teacher, unwittingly pities them, sending them to his cave. In pitying them, Zarathustra succumbs to the final sin with which the soothsayer says that he has come. In pitying them, the Higher Men do not realize that they need to lose Zarathustra in order to follow his teachings, and they begin to slip into the idolatrous mode of the Last Man, which they had mocked in the Ass Festival just the night before.

In the morning, the Higher Men “had awakened and arranged themselves in a procession to meet Zarathustra and bid him good morning” (p. 438) as if they were in procession to greet a king.

They cannot overcome this all-too-human habit of idolatry, which the lion, who only greets him who overcomes himself, recognizes by roaring at the Higher Men, who disappear into the security of the cave.

Zarathustra is higher than the Higher Men, and he finally overcomes his last obstacle to his final evolution to Overman: “Pity!  Pity for the higher man! …Well, then, that has had its time! My suffering and my pity for suffering – what does it matter? Am I concerned with happiness? I am concerned with my work” (p. 439).

In overcoming his pity and the Last Man’s concern for happiness, Zarathustra is prepared to be a creator, without the secure trappings of mockery (like the Ugliest Man) or religion (like the Last Pope).

Metaphorically, the Higher Men are fragments of the Overman, which Zarathustra collects in his cave.

After the drunken song, in which Zarathustra calls for all the Higher Men to join him, and after night has passed, Zarathustra emerges from the cave like a newborn god, having united the fragments into a Whole Man, the Overman.

In this way, the Fourth Part is an appropriate ending to Thus Spoke Zarathustra.


About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
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