In a previous article, I commented on the passage in Prologue in Heaven, where Mephisto likens men to grasshoppers. I said, “Crickets and grasshoppers try to leap as high as they possibly can. In the end, though, they fall back into the grass and sing the same old song.” Indeed, this is where many of us are on the path of becoming. It is where Faust begins his journey in the beginning of the story. Even though he has scaled the heights of learning, he is thrown into despair.
Mephisto is right in one way, for this is the way of life. The human experience is one of conflict. Just as sunny days give way to thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, and these, in turn, give way again to sunny days, the human being experiences an incessant barrage of pain and pleasure, peace and turmoil, love and hate, calm and rage, etc. Inner forces are constantly ebbing and flowing. Tomorrow may bring a formidable bout with depression, only to find oneself, the next day, wondering why depression had gained the ascendancy.
What Mephisto doesn’t realize is that this ebbing and flowing actually brings about a metamorphosis in human consciousness, which leads one to discover one’s true self. Little does he know that, in his attempt to capture the soul of Faust for eternity, the latter will actually be changed for the better, and will become a sort of Nietzschean Ubermensch.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche describes a three-fold process of transformation which mirrors the evolution of consciousness that Faust is passing through. In the section entitled, “Of the Three Metamorphoses,” Zarathustra describes what will become his answer to the apprehension created by the death of God. Nietzsche begins:
I name you three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall become a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.
These metaphors describe various stages in the transformation of human consciousness. Just as we pass through physical stages on our way to adulthood, Nietzsche proposes that we pass through various stages of consciousness. We are constantly becoming. We are not static creatures. In fact, for Nietzsche, nothing is static; all is in flux; there is no imperishable Being; all is becoming. This process is not necessarily linear. It seems to be more cyclical in nature.
Goethe also believed in cyclical becoming. I think he would agree (as would Nietzsche) with something G.K. Chesterton said in his study of Chaucer:
Up to a certain time life was conceived as a Dance, and after that time life was conceived as a Race (Chaucer. New York. 1932. pgs 158-159).
He is referring to the general philosophy in Medieval times, where life was thought of as one thing balancing another (the Dance), as opposed to how life was viewed after the Renaissance, when one’s life consisted in chasing after objects (the Race). In the race, the dancer loses his balance. The only way they recover it is by chasing objects. The former is cyclical, the latter linear. We’re still chasing objects today.
In subsequent posts, I will examine the Zarathustra metaphors in more detail. For now, however, I will say that I am certain there are many parallels to be drawn between Goethe’s Faust and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and that the transformations they experience are very much the same.
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