On reading Nietzsche (and becoming a heretic to myself)

I’m reading ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ for the first time.
I read a little of Nietzsche in college and found his writing fresh and brilliant, but also confusing and frightening. I didn’t read much beyond the assignment, partially from the exhaustion of school and partially the exhaustion of strange new ideas.
Prior to college all I knew about him was that he was an old philosopher who was possibly crazy and who was against everything the bible stands for.

I don’t think that is true, although he was certainly a subversive thinker.
And okay, he may have been a little bit mad, and was definitely against the organized religion of the time. I dare say he’d be against a lot of the organized religion today. But I don’t find it frightening any more, I welcome it. I am better able to understand him now, and I think he is a proper genius.

Nietzsche – through the prophet Zarathustra – puts words to nebulous thoughts, concerns, and hopes that have been floating in my head for years, unexpressed and not quite understood.
I don’t understand everything he says… And this is where i want to say ‘and i don’t agree with it all’, but frankly, whether I agree with it or not is not very relevant. Why should I form an immediate opinion on such new thoughts?
My beliefs are changing, shifting, evolving. I used to hold everything I read up to the standards of truth I held in my mind – standards created by the Bible – or by what I was taught was important in the Bible but which I now know many people who do love the bible do not agree with.
Now I still examine what I read – especially things telling me how I should act – but in this examination I try to focus more on logic and kindness, than on how much I agree with what I read. I read with less arguing and more taking things in, letting people speak to me. Digestion comes after tasting.

I read stories from all sorts of people, from different ideologies, with different experiences.
And I learn.
Sometimes, I allow the stories to change my mind.
Sometimes, the stories touch things in my mind and soul I didn’t know were there.
Instead of shutting up others voices – shutting myself off – for fear I will be swayed and tricked away from my absolute truth, I let my mind be open to ideas. Slowly, slowly I’ve realized there can be more truth, and more ways of understanding the truth in this massive universe than just the truth I was taught as a young child and clung to ferociously.
This is why I am ready for Zarathustra now. This is why Nietzsche’s genius frightened me before.
I wasn’t ready.
Now I read and recognize my own self, now I see myself more clearly, and understand how I view the world.
At least i understand it a little more.

So many new ideas jumble inside my head but I am not afraid of them anymore. At least not so much.
If I am seeking truth, I will find it, don’t you expect?
If I cling to my truths with a closed mind, insisting anything new must be not-true because it us new to me, then how will my understanding grow? It will wither inside and nothing new will come in to take it’s place.
So I take in new thoughts and fight the old part of myself that thought knowledge must be sanctified, certified kosher, to be consumed.

Here’s to new thoughts and to the overcomers.

“But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra


One thought on “On reading Nietzsche (and becoming a heretic to myself)

  1. forgedimagination

    I had the same experience when I read Zarathustra for the first time, too. I actually heard an amazing lecture on Nietzsche and Shakespeare in grad school– wish there was a podcast of it.


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