Nietzsche’s Zarathustra Seminars part II


You know how the best ideas come when you’re talking about something else? Like, for instance the Nick Hormby novel and subsequent film ‘About a Boy’ which uses football to beautifully express the father-son relationship.

Well that’s how it is with this take on Nietzsche by our man Jung. Take this passage:

Nietzsche runs up against this terrible problem, what to do with the collective inferior man. And if one doesn’t accept the inferior man, one is liable to become mad since the inferior man brings up the whole collective unconscious. [1356, Routledge 1994]

Stretching across three years, from winter 1936 to 1939, this is the second part of the seminars given in English by Jung on the 19th century philosopher Nietzsche. He held them in Zurich with a select group of followers – many of whom he had previously analysed. It goes deep into Nietzsche’s work about a prophet based on Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest monotheistic religions dating from about 3,500 years ago. But as Jung is telling us here, Nietzsche identified directly with a being outside of time, and above the masses.

What he calls Zarathustra is his companion, his Poimandres, the Poimen that teaches him…he is greater than great, greater than the greatest saviours, the father of prophets.” [p1033, Routledge 1994].

Yet instead of recognising that Zarathustra is the ultimate archetype, the most powerful God-like image that surfaces throughout history, Nietzsche sees the figure as a part of himself, expressing his individual greatness which means that he doesn’t need God. And if he is God, then God is dead.

It was because those old symbols [The Trinity, the immaculate conception] were utterly gone that Nietzsche could make the foolish statement that God is dead, which is just as if I should declare that the president of the United States is dead, that Roosevelt doesn’t exist. But he does exist, and it doesn’t matter to him whether or not I say he is dead.

Apart from being a brilliant example of Jung’s habit of using common sense to skewer an argument, it illustrates the path of madness for Nietzsche.

Without the symbol, the unconscious could not be mediated. The idea of a superman is an invention of Nietzsche’s, not a symbol, because it expresses a conscious attempt to be all-powerful – a will to power that is a conpensation against the onslaught of the unconscious. And the result of this is madness.

It’s a madness that starts out as a neurosis as a result of the difference in the idea of himself and the reality of his life:

I knew the people who supported him financially, an old lady who was a terribly good person and of course she did not understand a word of what he was saying, but she was a pious soul and thought, ‘Poor Professor Nietzsche, he has no capital, he cannot lecture, his pension is negligible, one ought to do something for the poor man.’ So she sent him money, by means of which he wrote Zarathustra.

It’s the simple facts of a person’s situation that strike home. Nietzsche preaches strength but his situation is one of weakness. He won’t accept the earth, the body, the now:

You see, that people can keep themselves in suspense is the reason why they prefer to live in the spirit: they can live a provisional life with reference to the earth or the body; that may come about in the future but for the time being they are quite happy postponing it.

This gets to the heart of the idea about heaven and hell: this life is not to be lived in the body because it’s not as valuable as the life to come in heaven. The spirit is greater than the body according to Christianity and Nietzsche.

But, as Jung says:

The superior thing can be created only if it is built upon the inferior. The inferior must be accepted in order to build the superior. Otherwise it is as if you were trying to build a house suspended in the air, or a roof having no foundation. First you must go into the ground and into the dirt: you must make your hands dirty, or there is no foundation to build upon.” [p1006, Routledge 1994]

The idea that Nietzsche purported to be against Christianity, yet it is precisely his adoption of the Christian move away from the body that leads to his breakdown, is at the heart of this volume, and one of Jung’s greatest insights.

I’m going to leave it here for Volume II, and I hope to tackle Volume I soon, although it wasn’t in the Jung library when I last looked. That’s why I did II first! But I look forward to more like this. It’s the mixing of Jung’s ideas with live audience that adds to the effect here.

I have the feeling that some of the allusions are a little forced to fit with Nietzsche’s visions during these seminars. But that is minor compared to the extraordinary ideas on display. I’ve said before that his Seminars and Letters are easier to read than much of the Collected Works. I’d go further and suggest them to anyone new to Jung should read them.

Jung writing about a book by Nietzsche is never going to be a bestseller, and yet some of he says in this volume is quite extraordinary, and worthy of much wider readership. This could be the greatest of all his seminar and works.


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