nietzsche’s tightrope walker and you

first, let me say that I was driven to writing about this some time around midnight, in a downtown hotel in Mexico City.

second, let me explain my position on Zarathustra, with whom I have had a long relationship.  I do not agree with the translation of Übermensch as “Superman”.  In fact, I find this ignorant.  It astounds me that despite such incredible scholarship devoted to Nietsche, no one, not even the native German-speaking scholars, bring this point into question.

The allegory of the tightrope walker provides some clarity on this very issue: he walks a tightrope, above the crowd – the German word über means above, not super. Certainly in US culture, Superman is this guy from Krypton – not from earth. And what makes him super is his strength – that’s it! Consider the beautyr of this quote:

But even the wisest among you, he is only a discord and hybrid of  ghost and of plant.  But do I bid you to become ghosts or plants?

He is not asking us to abandon our humanness –  our earthly essence, as would be the case with the man from Krypton. This is so exactly the notion of “maya” in Hinduism – that the dichotomy between spirit and body is false. (

The Übermench is the meaning of the earth….remain true to the earth

I don’t want to write and exhaustive (exhausting!) critical exposition of this here.  So tired of intellectual babble!  This is a simple reality, something to be used by people, on a daily basis.  It is human and earthly – a practical guide for living.  I consider Jesus’ teachings to be the same.  Theology and Philosophy came later, from men with bigger egos than penises.  The allegory of the tightrope walker is for you and for me.

The rope symbolizes us now – a transition between our animal nature and our ultimate human nature. When Jesus talked of the narrow  path and the straight gate, he was speaking of this same path.

Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus wanted us to become Übermench, too – right here on earth, while we are alive! There could be no narrower path that a tightrope.  Z. says,

what is great about human is that it is a bridge, not a goal

I particularly like this because it contrasts a very common metaphor among us – that life is a path, and that there is some goal, which  is what? A bridge simply connects two points – one is not the goal, more than the other.  The point to bridge is connection. And we must “step as a spirit across the bridge.”

Back to the story – the tightrope walker falls, because “the devil” – actually, a brightly-colored clown –  trips him up.  Z. explains to him that there is no devil.  And clearly, the choice of a clown (often translated as “buffoon” – but what modern English reader knows what a buffoon meant at that time, since N. did not mean “just some stupid guy”, as we understand the word buffoon today).

So, the clown freaks out the tightrope walker.  There is no bedevilment – just confusion at brightly-colored entertainment.  We all suffer from that daily, right?

Z. comforts the dying tightrope walker by honoring him and his choices in life. His life is redeemed because he chose danger as his profession, and died in the line of duty. Of course, we need to be smart here – it’s an allegory – we are not meant to honor trick motorcycle riders over all other humans!

It just  means you have to take chances in life, push yourself, dedicate yourself not to the safety of your couch and your remote, or even your NPR and your NPR coffee mug, but to extending yourself, all of yourself, to the pursuit of finding the truth.  The truth is, inevitably, somewhere outside your comfort zone.


One thought on “nietzsche’s tightrope walker and you

  1. Jim says:

    Hi. I stumbled on this post of yours and found it very interesting. I, too, have had a “long relationship” with Zarathustra, and I thought you might find it interesting what I have written. You can find it at Be sure to check out the explanation of Zarathustra’s Prologue after reading the home page.

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