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Nietzsche and the Becoming of Life$
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Vanessa Lemm

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823262861

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823262861.001.0001

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Life, Injustice, and Recurrence

Life, Injustice, and Recurrence

(p.121) 7 Life, Injustice, and Recurrence
Nietzsche and the Becoming of Life

Scott Jenkins

Fordham University Press

The second of Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations, entitled “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”, contains some of Nietzsche’s earliest reflections on the relation between life and wisdom. This relation figures prominently in pivotal sections of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and is clearly connected with the doctrine of eternal recurrence that Zarathustra confronts. Thus it is surprising that the “Uses and Disadvantages” essay has received almost no attention in this context. In this paper, I consider the “antithesis” of life and wisdom that Nietzsche presents in the “Uses and Disadvantages” essay and argue that two important claims in that work ought to guide our reading of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The first claim is that life essentially involves injustice. To live is to be driven in one way or another, Nietzsche maintains, and in relation to that drive an object can appear to the living being as valuable. Taking it to be valuable is, however, a matter of injustice since there is nothing about the object in itself that would justify this attitude. The second claim concerns the way in which awareness of this injustice through the discipline of history affects the living person. Such historical wisdom can leave one disheartened, even convinced that there is no reason to continue to live, but Nietzsche also suggests that for one «involved in life» knowledge of past forms of injustice could perhaps have value. This value, I suggest, is grounded in the value for life of the creation and pursuit of a novel goal for action. Thus Nietzsche maintains that life and wisdom are essentially intertwined, with a vitality of the subject necessary for enduring wisdom, which itself can, in some instances, further life. These two elements of Nietzsche’s early engagement with the notion of life reappear in the second and third books of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. There the figure of Zarathustra grapples with an “abysmal thought”, confronts the thought in a state of nausea, and finally reconciles himself with the character of Life herself—all against a background of repeated allusions to the eternal recurrence. I contend that approaching these scenes with “Uses and Disadvantages” in mind yields a new approach to Thus Spoke Zarathustra that privileges Zarathustra’s abysmal thought in relation to the doctrine of recurrence.

Keywords:   Life, Justice, Nietzsche, eternal return, Zarathustra

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