Sing, my soul

Friedrich Nietzsche

Thomas Masini

Everything eternally returns: everything that becomes past returns as future and as present, and on everything, the Will can exert its power.


     In the course of our brief ‘history of philosophy’, we have now reached one of the most emblematic figures of contemporary philosophical thought: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In the ideal family tree bearing philosophers together, we could point to Nietzsche as Schopenhauer’s pupil, although this definition risks misleading when compared to the bursting distinctiveness of this thinker. As we shall see shortly, the philosopher from Röcken imprinted philosophy with a direction that persists to this day.

     To sketch the core of Nietzsche’s ontological thought (and already this expression is hardly correct), it is necessary to start from what, according to the philosopher, is the fundamental point: being is becoming. What is meant here is not the simple observation of things coming and going, but rather the radical mutability of reality, its inexhaustible birth and death, the continuous and constant change that destroys and annihilates what-is to make way for what-will-be. This movement overwhelms everything: mountains, plants, animals, cities, kingdoms and people. Nothing is safe, least of all the wretched human being-whom the Greeks of Homer’s time rightly called βροτός (“brotòs“), the mortal who is destined to lose everything, even their own life. Faced with such a terrible realisation, Nietzsche writes, human beings, too weak to bear this burden, have tried in any possible way to place themselves in safety, to erect strongholds and bastions that would protect them from the onslaught of becoming. And this is precisely what the great religious, moral, artistic, scientific and philosophical architectures are for: in their search for absolute Truth, for that undeniable Truth that has always been and will forever be, that suffers no end or change, they seek to prove that in the midst of the ocean of change, there is an island of the unchanging, of the eternal, on which we, poor castaways destined to death, can find shelter. All these disciplines and their ‘truths’ are therefore attempts to escape the anguish of becoming, of change, and as such, they are not ‘Truths’ at all but mere fictions: they have the fictitious character of the little stories we tell children when they are afraid of the darkness under their beds. Of course, these constructions have the character of logicality, scientificity, and rationality, but that is precisely the point: since mankind could not live in the constant awareness that it is immersed in a chaotic becoming devoid of an ultimate end or purpose, everything about mankind, from the body to the mind, from the flesh to its rationality, are constituted to create these fictitious reassurances and convince itself that it is the Truth. Self-deception is a constitutive element of human beings.

     The second salient feature of Nietzsche’s discourse emerges here: the fact itself is not given, but only its interpretation. Of everything that happens, of reality and being, no facts are given, only their interpretation appears. Even the idea that there must be a real, ontological fact behind the act of interpretation and likewise that there must be someone who interprets it are not facts, but interpretations. In other words, what is given is interpretation, which is not given as fact but as, exactly, interpretation alone. There is not the giving of something that is not the interpretation itself, which is itself interpretation. But at the origin of interpretation is Will, which is not to recognize itself as a mere passive object in the face of the onslaught of becoming, the will to dominate, somehow, the perpetual and purposeless change that constitutes existence. This will wants, therefore, to be powerful with respect to becoming: it would like to dominate it rather than be dominated by it, which is why its most correct definition is Will to Power. The latter is the agent that accomplishes interpretation; it produces both all the illusory architectures that have tried and try to stem the tide of becoming (religion, morality, art, science, philosophy etc.) and that form of anguish in the face of their failure: Nihilism.


What does Nihilism mean? ‒ That the highest values are losing their value. There is no bourne. There is no answer to the question: “to what purpose?” [1]


Faced with the realisation that all remedies attempted have been in vain, faced with the evidence that all theoretical architectures constructed by human beings to make sense of becoming are nothing but fiction, the Will to Power falls into Nihilism: it recognises the collapse of all defences it had erected: all assumed ends are false, all answers to why self-deception, all supreme values are worthless; God is dead, and we have killed him.


The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him, ‒ you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? ‒ for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers?  […]There never was a greater event, ‒ and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!” [2]


     God represents immutability, immovability, eternity, all that the human has always sought, all those fictitious illusions it has built in order to not succumb to the anguish of becoming. But when the Will to Power reaches a higher self-awareness, it realises that all this must come to an end: God is dead, God had to die, because God and the Will to Power cannot coexist. The Will to Power desires to be powerful, to somehow dominate being, to alter it, to change it according to its needs: to direct the life of things and the course of events. But if there is something immutable, immovable, eternal, here is where the Will to Power finds itself powerless: there is something it cannot change, something it cannot direct, something that will always elude it and dominate it insofar as it is that which abides from ever and forever, for it is eternity  that remains in eternal becoming. God, like all unchanging idols, must wane so that the Will to Power can become a totally unfolded act. Only in doing so can that new figure that embodies it in its most authentic form appear; a different rationality, a different brain, a different body: after the twilight of the idols, the ‘Over-Man’ will appear at dawn.

     All the artifices created to curb becoming are the history of the past, God is the history of the past, so the Will to Power can now manifest itself in its freest and most accomplished form. Except that, as we all know, God may have been killed, but He has always had a habit of rising again. And indeed somehow eternity reappears precisely in the form of the past, in the form of “so it was.” Therefore, the Will to Power can act on the present and the future, but the past ‒ insofar as it is accomplished ‒ remains as it was: eternal and unchanging. The will’s dissatisfaction is tangible: just when it had won its greatest victory, it finds itself defeated once again, powerless before the corpses it itself helped create; eternity  has not disappeared, it has only shifted through the timeline. A remedy, a solution, is urgently needed; this cannot be the final answer! And one day, «six thousand meters beyond man and time», the «most abysmal thought» appears in Nietzsche’s mind.


‒ What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence ‒  and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!” ‒ Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and gnash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him: “Thou art a God, and never did I hear aught more divine!” If that thought acquired power over thee, as thou art, it would transform thee, and perhaps crush thee; the question with regard to all and everything: “Dost thou want this once more, and also for innumerable times?” would lie as the heaviest burden upon thy activity! Or, how wouldst thou have to become favourably inclined to thyself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing? [3]


        Everything eternally returns: everything that becomes past returns as future and as present, and on everything, the Will can exert its power. It would seem so, at first glance, but a new problem appears. If the Will were to modify the returning past, at that point the returning past would no longer be the past, but the past modified by the Will. Let us assume, for simplicity’s sake, that the past is “x.” If upon its return, the will changed it, it would become “x1“, in which case it would subsequently return “x1” and no longer “x”. In this way “x”, again would be a past that does not return, eternally unchanging. The Will has only one way to be able to get out of this impasse: it must want the past to return exactly as it was; to want eternally the same to return. But how heavy is this burden? It is not simply a matter of passively accepting the fact that everything returns, but of wanting with every fibre of one’s being that everything returns: every moment of happiness, of serenity, of peace; every moment of pain, of melancholy, of boredom; every smallest event, all the time one has lived and all that one has simply let pass, every choice made and every mistake then regretted. A burden capable of making one insane, a will capable of changing the body and mind, of evolving a human being into an Over-Man.

In this way, that “NO!” that Will pronounced in the face of the inevitability of the overwhelming becoming that annihilates everything, that same “NO!” that it had pronounced in the face of the immovability of immutable idols, now becomes a “YES!” in the face of the eternal return of everything, the “joyful yes to life” that affirms it and wants it in the deepest and most radical way possible, that wants every aspect of it, in an eternal dance of joy.


O my soul, I have taught thee to say “to-day” as “once on a time” and “formerly,” and to dance thy measure over every Here and There and Yonder.

O my soul, I delivered thee from all by-places, I brushed down from thee dust and spiders and twilight.

O my soul, I washed the petty shame and the by-place virtue from thee, and persuaded thee to stand naked before the eyes of the sun.

With the storm that is called “spirit” did I blow over thy surging sea; all clouds did I blow away from it; I strangled even the strangler called “sin.”

O my soul, I gave thee the right to say Nay like the storm, and to say Yea as the open heaven saith Yea: calm as the light remainest thou, and now walkest through denying storms.


O my soul, now have I given thee all, and even my last possession, and all my hands have become empty by thee: ‒ THAT I BADE THEE SING, behold, that was my last thing to give!

That I bade thee sing, ‒ say now, say: WHICH of us now ‒ oweth thanks? ‒ Better still, however: sing unto me, sing, O my soul! And let me thank thee! ‒

Thus spake Zarathustra.  [4] 

[1] F. Nietzsche, The Will To Power. Books One and Two, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. The First Complete and Authorised English Translation, edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici, T.N. foulis, Edinburgh: and London 1914, Volume Fourteen, p. 1.. 

[2]  F. Nietzsche, The Joyful Wisdom, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. The First Complete and Authorised English Translation, edited by Dr. Oscar Levy, translated by Thomas Common, T.N. foulis, Edinburgh: and London 1910, Volume Ten, §125 The Madman, pp. 167-168.

[3]  Ivi, §341 The Heaviest Burden, pp. 270-271.

[4]  F. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common, The Modern Library by Random House Inc., New York 1917, LVIII The Great Longing, pp. 248-251.

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