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Of Eternal Will to Joy

Zarathustra by the Sea, 2004, by Setsuko Aihara    

Of the Love of Eternity
Oh mankind pray! What does deep midnight have to say? “From sleep, from sleep—From deepest dream I made my way—The World is deep, And deeper than the grasp of day. Deep is its pain—, Joy—deeper still than misery: Pain says: refrain!—Yet all joy wants eternity—, wants deep, wants deep eternity!”

(III “The Other Dance Song,” 2, pp. 183-84)

A question of happiness. An urgent question must be posed to the overman: Can the overman ever be happy? Can there be a place for happiness for him who wills his own tragedy by affirming and loving it? What joy can there be for a man who wishes to repeat “again and innumerable times more” even his suffering and pain?
     Richard Hollingdale offers a neat answer to this question. He says that the overman, in affirming his fate however pleasant or crushing it may be, recognizes that both the misery and happiness he experienced in the past were not only necessary but also essential to being what he is. The overman reaches that great moment when he is able to put his life on a scale and declare that all in all, “everything was worth it.” He realizes that his whole life could not have been lived any another way. That even his wrong turns and dead-ends, his valleys and abysses, his tragedies and heartbreaks—all these made him become the man he is now: stronger, and also happier. Only in being able to say “I thus willed it” and “I will will it again” can there be a profound happiness.
Affirmation of both joy and pain. Now this kind of happiness is borne no longer from contingent events or luck; neither is such joy received from another or a gift from God. To the contrary: this joy is given solely by one’s self to one’s own self. It is being able to say that after everything that I’ve gone through, “All is well.” It is being able to say this is still the best of all possible lives, and that I wouldn’t have lived it any other way. That if I could choose a life all over again, I’d choose mine because it shall make me happier still.
     In Nietzsche: The Man and his Philosophy, Hollingdale says that the overman
will affirm life, love life and say Yes even to misery and pain, because he realizes the joy he has known would not have been possible apart from the pain he has known; and as he will not be dismayed at the idea that the joy of his life will be repeated endlessly, neither will he flinch from the knowledge that its pain must be repeated too. (Nietzsche, p. 167)
Because joy and pain are the two faces of the same life, to love one’s joy is to love one’s pain as well. Joy alone does not make a life; the pain you experience defines you just as much, or even more. More than our triumphs and accomplishments, we are who we are because of our failures and suffering. While difficulties will always be unpleasant, they are necessary in composing the story of our lives. If you leave out the bad and take only the good, save only the joy and discard the pain, you will end up repeating another man’s life, and no longer your own.

Zarathustra in the Sleepwalker Song in the fourth part thus tells us:
Have you ever said Yes to one joy? Oh my friends, then you also said Yes to all pain. All things are enchained, entwined, enamored—if you ever wanted one time two times, if you ever said “I like you, happiness! Whoosh! Moment!” then you wanted everything back . . . you eternal ones, love [the world] eternally and for all time; and say to pain also: refrain, but come back! (IV “Sleepwalker Song,” 10, p. 263)
Will to joy, pain and eternity. Because it is in the nature of joy to want to remain joyful, “all joy wants eternity.” Like the will to power which wants to increase its feeling of power, joy also wants to heighten its joy infinitely. If ever pain becomes (and it always is) necessary to increase joy, pain must also be willed constantly. When both pain and joy are then willed infinitely, then you have the definition of the overman: a man who eternally overcomes himself and all his pain, his lack, his contentment. Now even the eternal recurrence becomes willed by the overman who wants to repeat his happy life:
For all joy wants itself, and therefore it wants all misery too! Oh happiness, oh pain! Oh break, my heart! You higher men, learn thus, joy wants eternity,—Joy wants the eternity of all things, wants deep, wants deep eternity. (Ibid.)
Because he knows that whatever diminishes him can only make him stronger, the overman wills his own pain. He is able to on his own transform or transfigure all pain into joy. No one can hurt him anymore. He has no need for a savior or a god to deliver him from pain because he can overcome anything on his own. He does not pray and has forgotten how to hope.

Of Sisyphus’s Smile

There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

     (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus)

Most of the characteristics of the overman described by Nietzsche we can see in Camus’ depiction of the mythical god Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, 1548-49, by Titiano Vecellio
Sentenced to eternal labor in hell for his levity before angry gods, Sisyphus denies them the pleasure of seeing him suffer by silently carrying his boulder with neither regret nor hate. He negates powerful gods by going up his mountain in the same impassive manner again and again, even if he knows that each step upward will be in vain, even if he knows that he will have to descend as soon as he reaches the heights. Yet he goes up again with the same expression on his face and the same strength in his arms, his will undaunted, and his conscience clear.

     Camus tells us that when Sisyphus reaches the peak of the mountain and sees the rock disappear into the earth, he pauses for a moment. That is the moment of consciousness, the blessed instance of lucidity: You know what has become of your fate, you know the cost of your pleasures, you know what you shall do next and for the rest of your life. With neither remorse nor regret, he knows that he will never ask for pardon or forgiveness; he has no notion of guilt. Everything will remain the same, everything is absurd and vain and pain, everything will repeat itself: Sisyphus will descend the heights once more, pick up his fate and put it squarely on his shoulders like he has done innumerable times, and scale the mountain afresh.
     Yet before he descends Camus says that a smile breaks on Sisyphus’ face. That smile, that happiness, that moment of consciousness—they all say “But I will it thus! I shall will it thus!” Endless suffering and pain, meaninglessness, are all overcome by uttering those magic yet tragic words. They become the source of his redemption and eternal joy.


  1. This reminds me of what Conan O'Brien (it's a shame, I am quoting a comedian/TV host haha!) said in his commencement address:

    "Nietzsche famously said 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.' But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you."

    What if you have become too weak too "transfigure all pain into joy"? How do you overcome yourself?

  2. Learning how to be weak is in itself, perhaps, the first step in overcoming yourself. All too often weakness and the inability to do anything double the suffering: You despair more because you know you despair. The point is to ride the the tide, hold on with the last ounce of strength you've got, and then create from nothing. Build a castle in the dark, a majestic though weak one.

    And if nothing else works, there is also learning how to wait. Let time itself transform the world. What then once almost killed you will under the aspect of eternity either remain to be your greatest weight that you must carry--or your highest joy and victory. Either way, it is about being conscious of its existence and inevitability, and perhaps more importantly, knowing that it was given to you and you alone--so will it as yours.

    Tragedies are victories of the soul that have not yet revealed themselves as so.

  3. "Either way, it is about being conscious of its existence and inevitability, and perhaps more importantly, knowing that it was given to you and you alone--so will it as yours."

    Thank you. I shall keep this in mind. I have another question though (I hope it's not too much of a bother), but I'd rather just shoot an e-mail. What's your address? :)

  4. If you don't mind, I'll just give you the address I use for this space in the meantime:

  5. Ok, e-mail sent! :)


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