J. T. Fraser shows that the fullest experience we can have of time is through ascent and descent through the umwelts of time – expressed in moods, images and metaphors, by those who experience the different levels. Fraser calls his theory of time both “the hierarchical theory of time and the theory of time as conflict” – the latter because “in its dynamic features it is a general theory of conflicts” (TCHV, 21). This definition shows its potential relation to Nietzsche’s philosophy insofar as Nietzsche supports both dynamic hierarchy and conflict, or agon, as ways in which creativity is fostered, and as constituents of the world itself. In Fraser’s formulation, the umwelts of reality have, in a hierarchical relation to each other, different time experiences, which are “constitutive of reality” (TCHV, 38) and change with ascent – or descent – through the umwelts. Time is not just a background to reality, but constituent of it. Each umwelt evolves from a lower umwelt or, as Nietzsche states it, there is “evolution of design from chance” (TSZ, 88). We have (the appearance of) being from becoming, order from disorder (entropy).
If we start at the Big Bang (as we currently understand the Universe), we have at the beginning of the Universe, and underlying everything in the Universe, including the rest of the umwelts, Atemporality, the complete lack of time experienced by “electromagnetic radiation” (TCHV, 37), since there is no time for something moving at the speed of light. Since “Everything happens at once” (31) and “no meaning may be assigned to the idea of lawfulness or stability” (31), where there is a “total absence of causation” (37), and “pure chaos or pure becoming [has] formed the foundation of the world and constituted nature’s first stable integrative level, as it still does” (TCHV, 27). As the Universe cooled, much of this energy crystalized, or densified, to become the “time of the particle-waves” of quantum physics, Prototemporality, where time “is statistical; the level-specific laws are probabilistic” (50). As the Universe cooled and expanded further, objects self-assembled, creating Eotemporality, “the time of the physicist’s “t” . . . solid objects” (TCHV, 36), where the arrow of time is reversible and there is no “present because the physical world has only simultaneities of chance” (36), meaning there is no true future or past. “The physical universe is not timeless, only nowless” (35), though this mood is often “mistakenly described as timeless” (36). Then, on one planet at least, a particular form of matter evolved, life, able to reproduce on its own, creating Biotemporality, “the temporal umwelt of living organisms,” which humans also experience. Biotemporality has a short forward arrow, due in part to the possibility (and, for sexually reproducing species, certainty) of individual death. Here we have the needs of the moment: breathing, food, water, and sex. “Before language, the brains of all animals were driven by the demands of the world around them and were strictly tied to the present moment” (McCrone The Ape That Spoke, 13). And finally, in the past few ten thousand years, we had the emergence of the human experience of time, the Noetic, or Nootemporality, the temporal umwelt of the “mature human mind in its waking state” (TCHV, 36). Here, time has a strong forward direction, since “ideas of future and past . . . acquire meaning” (TCHV, 34).
Humans can experience each level in moods, because “as each higher level emerges from a lower one, it retained among its new structures and processes some of the structures and processes of its ancestral strata” (29). For example, the deterministic world of the eotemporal also has elements of probability and of randomness, as recent work in chaos theory has shown. Nietzsche also makes this connection when Zarathustra says “There is a certain madness in love” (68), or, to rephrase it in Fraser’s terms, there is a certain atemporality in nootemporality. Humans experience these levels as moods, in dreams, visions, and art – especially through certain kinds of art, such as music and tragedy. “Creative people seem to be instantly ready to experience these moods and to visit the different temporal assessments of reality present in their minds” (Time, 293). This is perhaps due to the fact that many, if not most, creative people have experienced all the levels, and are thus personally aware of and intimately familiar with all the levels. Having intimately experienced the levels, in descent and ascent, they can then recall these experiences to use in their creative works.
Nietzsche suggests this view in TSZ, insofar as it shows how the creative person experiences the world, showing why and how creative people create. This in turn helps us understand something about time and the world itself, particularly through music and tragedy – the two most important art forms for both Nietzsche and Fraser, since, for Fraser, “Music and tragedy are unique among the arts in being able to address directly the organic, mental, and social presents. Through them, they modulate the moods of time felt and speak to our understanding of time” (Time, 293). In tragedy, “The moods of time are ceaselessly evoked and are intricately mixed: we feel the terror of chaos, the call of continuity, the demands, pain, and satisfaction of being alive, and the predicament of being able to think in terms of noetic time” (Time, 294). Fraser reaches this conclusion about music and tragedy through his umwelts of time, while Nietzsche comes to the problem of time precisely through his interest in music and tragedy – which leads him to the eternal return as a theory of time that is itself tragic.
But what are these moods of time music and tragedy make us feel? What metaphors do we use to describe them? If we accept Fraser’s views on time, we would expect Nietzsche, if TSZ is primarily about time, to use the same images and metaphors Fraser attributes to our experience of (to the moods we feel when we experience) the umwelts of time. And we do. Not just here and there, but as the most dominant and meaningful metaphors and images in the book – and on practically every page. It is of particular note that the only part of the book where these metaphors for and of time are absent is in the speech given by ‘Zarathustra’s ape’ in “Of Passing By.” While the rest of the book, as we will see, has multiple images of the different umwelts, the speech of Zarathustra’s ape is notably absent of such references. The closest he comes is in referring to Hell and God, but in such a way that it is clear that his words are empty, that he does not understand what he is talking about (195-7). All other references to the moods of time are absent. Not only the presence of these images in the rest of the text, but the absence of these images in the empty words of Zarathustra’s ape suggest that Nietzsche, by choosing to discuss time as descent and ascent, necessarily had to use the images and metaphors of the umwelts of time, since they are the archetypes of time experience. The fact that Nietzsche gets his images and metaphors from literature and philosophy is no refutation of this connection – it is confirmation, since it suggests that any time a poet, writer, or philosopher deals with time, they will use the same images, or archetypes. Nietzsche’s choices were neither random nor merely ways of engaging in philosophical dialogue with various texts, but were selected because they are the archetypes of time-experience.
The nootemporal mood is the full human experience – that which makes us human and different from the other umwelts. It is awareness of distant future and past and, as such, of our own births and immanent deaths, creating a conflict “between the simultaneous awareness of living and dying” (TCHV, 40). Its mood is the “reasoned and examined life . . . suffering and joy” (TCHV, 130), as expressed in rhetoric-philosophy and art. It is leisure-thinking.
The biotemporal mood is the feeling of being alive. In it we feel the “fright or happiness of an hour” (TCHV, 129-30), and “Hunger and thirst are fundamental needs; the desires to satisfy them are fundamental drives. They are the most universal metaphors for desire” (TCHV, 91). Here we find mere duality – good and evil, love and hate, etc. It is crisis-thinking.
The eotemporal, or clock time, mood is “an oceanic feeling, a sense of continuous but directionless time” (TCHV, 129) – which mystics report feeling, and which Freud famously claimed to have never felt. It is those who descend to this level, but no farther, whom Zarathustra says “are like household clocks wound up; they repeat their tick-tock and want people to call tick-tock – virtue” (118), and later calls “the tick-tock [a] measure of a small happiness” (189). We get this feeling in anything with a regular rhythmic beat, like dancing, since “Dancing to a regular beat focuses the dancer’s feelings on the beat: a steady bump-bump-bump has no preferred direction in time . . . ; the umwelt of such beats is eotemporal” (TCHV, 133).
With the prototemporal mood, we get “indistinguishable people, and aleatory paintings swirling with incoherent islands of local coherence, or the babble of an autistic child” (TCHV, 129). It is the level of probability (likelihood) and instants.
Finally, we have atemporality, “pure Heraclitean becoming” (TCHV, 31), which displays “an infinite depth of self-similarity” as its first product (61), and whose mood is of schizophrenia, panic, and madness (129).
Let us take a look, now, at the different ways in which Nietzsche’s metaphors and images parallel the metaphors and images predicted by Fraser’s theory of moods. The clearest way to see the parallels between the two is to look at the in parallel. So consider the following table:
Table I.Fraser’s Moods of Time Expressed in Nietzsche’s TSZ
Moods of Time (Archetypes)
Nootemporal: past and future, possibility, eternity, nonpresence (someone can exist while not being present to the person), art, stories, numbers, monuments, language, morals, meaning, joy, suffering, symbolic goals, sacrifice (awareness of it as sacrifice), ecstasy of dance, reason, plurality, fragments, and the unresolvable conflicts of the desired versus the possible, awareness of living and dying, time felt versus time understood, and tragedy
Biotemporal: organic needs (breathing, food, sex, thirst), living in the present (needs of the hour), necessity, concrete goals, desire, duality, and the unresolvable conflict between growth and decay. sex, desire, and present/moment.
Eotemporal: future and past, steady beats and rhythms, feelings of unity, determinism, coincidence, chance, and the conflicts between entropy and organization, and permanence and chaos/becoming
Prototemporal: indistinguishable people, aleatory paintings swirling with incoherent islands of local coherence, the babble of an autistic child, probability (likelihood) and instants.
Atemporal: schizophrenia, panic, madness, chaos, becoming, everything happening at once, no meaning (nihilism), no causation, abyss, emptiness, underworld, and darkness.
Images in TSZ
Noetic references and images in TSZ: dance and dancers, including the tightrope walker (dancer), the superman (as an example of a symbolic goal), the cross (as sacrifice), sacrifice, past, future, God (as an idea of both eternity and nonpresence), goals, creator/creation, death, Devil, burial (awareness of death), terror, values, eternal, suffering, love, fables/stories/parables, writing, tragedy, fragments, and meaning – all repeated numerous times.
Biotemporal references and images in TSZ: animals (practically omnipresent), body, hour, birth, nature, fear, hunger, thirst, sleep, sex, desire, and present/moment .
Eotemporal references and images in TSZ: mountain, dance, sea (Zarathustra “lived in solitude as in the sea, and the sea bore you,” according to the saint of the “Prologue”), earth, dirt, dice and chance, drums, nature, stone and hardness, clock, and wheels
Prototemporal references and images in TSZ babbler, babbled, and islands (esp. the Blissful Islands).
Atemporal references and images in TSZ:
the cave, depths, underworld, Hell, madness, abyss, chaos, terror, transitory, becoming, and light.
There are also parallels with Fraser’s images of ascent and descent through the umwelts. Fraser says children, as they develop from infants, ascend through the umwelts experientially (TCHV, 11-12). The image of the child is very important in TSZ, especially as a way one can interact with the world. If we become as a child playing, we will experience the world as a playground, and ascend through the umwelts. Music (to which songs can be added, as a linguistic dimension of music – an important connection, as I will show in more detail in my discussion of the origins of language), tragedy, dreams, and visions as ways in which all umwelts may be experienced, ascending and descending. We can also see, with the umwelt theory, that descent and ascent themselves are references to time, meaning the cave, the valley, and every reference to descent can be seen as references to descending through the umwelts, while the child, art (Fraser says art is knowledge which ascends through the umwelts, while science is knowledge which descends through them), and the mountain could be seen as references to ascent through them. So when Zarathustra says “I call knowledge: all that is deep shall rise up – to my height” (147), we can see that for him knowledge means bringing understanding of all the lower umwelts up to the noetic level (this is a reversal of Plato’s allegory of the cave, where one ascends into the light, then descends back down toward man – for Plato, man is low; for Nietzsche, man is high, and knowledge is to be brought up to man, not down to him) . If science is descent through the umwelts and art is ascent through the umwelts, we see here Nietzsche coming down on the side of art. This also suggests that Nietzsche is interested in raising knowledge up to art – the realm of wisdom – rather than being blindly against knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. What Nietzsche objected to was the world the science of the time said existed – a deterministic, and even a teleological, world. As we have seen, and will continue to see, the contemporary scientific world view says instead that the world is deterministic chaos, meaning there is inherent freedom in the world. In other words, it more closely matches Nietzsche’s own insights about the world.
If Nietzsche is using these moods of time (archetypes), analysis of specific passages should give a new depth to those passages, offering new ways of understanding them. Take for example the passage in the “Prologue” where the tightrope walker has fallen and asks Zarathustra if he is the Devil come to take him to Hell. When Zarathustra tells him there are no such things as the Devil or Hell, the tightrope walker laments that, if such is the case, he is only “an animal which has been taught to dance” (48) – that he lives only in the biotemporal, and has even been reduced to the eotemporal, if there is no God, Devil, and afterlife. But Zarathustra points out that these are not necessary for us to be more than mere biology – to get emergence from a lower umwelt to a higher one, one does not need teleology, an ultimate, highest umwelt to pre-exist, to make the universe emerge into higher levels. Along these lines, Zarathustra later condemns “acorns and grass knowledge” (54) – or mere biotemporal knowledge, as too many people have (in, for example, their merely dualistic beliefs in good and evil) – and he says too that the wise man talking of sleep (a biotemporal concern) as a virtue is a fool (56-8), since we do not find the “meaning of life” in the merely biotemporal realm. Wisdom is not found by remaining in the lower umwelts. Meaning, values, and virtue are precisely noetic concerns. However, we also see that happiness has no place in the noetic world, since “it seems that butterflies and soap-bubbles . . . know most about happiness” (68). The biotemporal and eotemporal levels can know happiness, as contentment, precisely because they do not have nootemporal knowledge. Since people live their lives on the borderlands of the bio- and nootemporal worlds, we can see a continuum among people regarding how they live their lives. Some choose to live more biotemporal lives – us-them, good-evil (particularly when we make the Us-Good, Them-Evil association, which is too often how humans have historically associated good and evil), and/or other mere dualisms. Others choose, often through choosing to pursue more education and/or wisdom, to live more nootemporal lives – taking time to see the various nuances of a situation, seeing the world as more pluralistic, etc. By choosing the former only, one can choose happiness. There is more certainty for such a person, however inaccurate that view alone may be at the noetic level. At the same time, there is a danger in thinking we should ever abandon this element of physis. Tragedy teaches us not to allow nomos (the noetic) to extend itself too far beyond physis (of which the biotemporal is part) – especially to where we abandon such notions as good and evil. We cannot and should not try to dissociate our noetic selves from the rest of ourselves found in the ltoher levels of physis. Good and evil are part of physis if it is part of the biotemporal realm, and should thus never be abandoned, even if we can, at the noetic level, have the knowledge of good and evil, and thus of a more nuanced world, where we can contrast good and evil to us-versus-them and thus develop concepts of justice. But we can also see that the more fully noetic a person’s understanding of the world, the less able the person is to know contentment, as happiness. The more human we become, the less content we become. For Schopenhauer (not to mention the existentialists), this leads to pessimism. For Nietzsche there is still the possibility of joy.
If we accept the claim that Fraser’s references, images, and metaphors represent archetypes of time experience through the umwelts (which must be experienced in order, and cannot be jumped over as one ascends or descends), we see that Nietzsche’s primary concern in TSZ is with time. The number of references one would expect if Fraser is correct about the archetypes of time’s moods is remarkable. But what, exactly, does Nietzsche have to show us about time in this book? Nietzsche calls his theory of time the eternal return of the same, or eternal recurrence. But what, exactly, does that mean, and how does it relate to Fraser’s theory of time, which seems decidedly lacking in circularity or recurrence?
Heraclitus says “The way up and down is one and the same” (K. CIII) – an image of circularity. By repeatedly descending and ascending through the umwelts, one gets a feeling of circularity. Our fullest experience of time is by descending through the umwelts, followed (if one is to remain sane) by an ascent back through them to the nootemporal. Nietzsche states this in stronger terms in TSZ, when Zarathustra says “The more it [men and trees] wants to rise into the heights and the light, the more determinedly do its roots strive earthwards, downwards, into the darkness, into the depth – into evil” (69). He repeats this image on 191. Nietzsche wants to see a time when “summit and abyss – they are now united in one!” (173). To go up, one must go down. To ascend highest, one must descend deepest. But to remain sane – and human – one must ascend. To be an artist, a creator, a creator of values, one must make this full circle through time. One must descend into meaninglessness, nihilism, an awareness of the pure becoming that underlies everything – one must become a reductionist, a deconstructionist – before one can see the world in a new way, rising up, emerging into meaning, discovering wisdom, reconstructing, which is necessary if one is to become a creator of new values. However, the lower
umwelts may be experienced as beautiful or terrifying, depending on whether they are perceived as aids or threats to the continuity of the self. The elation that may accompany the descent may be that of a person who has jettisoned the burden of individuation, including responsibilities for the future and regrets about the past; it may be the joy of someone who returned to an earlier, less complex, and less burdensome reality but then climbed back onto the noetic world or at least feels that he could do so. But the experience may also be horrifying: the intense present-orientedness of love may be heavenly, but the intense present-orientedness of pain is hellish (TCHV, 130)
Nietzsche understood this. This is why he has a demon offer the possibility of eternal return, and why it is the heaviest burden (GS, 341). Not all can bear it – if one wants to and is capable of taking the demon’s offer, the descent is safer than it is for those unwilling to take it (for them, the feeling would be of pain and would therefore be hellish).
Nietzsche shows us what happens when we make the descent in both the transformation of the shepherd who had the snake in his throat in “Of the Vision and the Riddle,” and in “The Convalescent,” where Zarathustra is trying to pull up his “abysmal thought” – abysmal having here a double meaning. Zarathustra’s animals tell him “all things want to be your physicians” (233) – and in the ascent, all things do act as your physicians, as the world gains increasing meaning and clarity. One has different attitudes toward the umwelts, depending on whether one is descending or ascending (especially for the first time) through the moods: negative feelings can occur on the descent, while positive feelings can occur on the ascent. One descends from the fragmentary human to the dualistic (good and evil) biological to the unity of the eotemporal, and down through increasing disorder with some islands of coherence to hold on to, to complete becoming and meaninglessness leading to terror and (if one is not careful) madness. From here, in the ascent, one is relieved to find islands of coherence, the unity and interconnectedness of the world is understood in relation to the levels under it, the dualistic is seen for what it is – a lower level, appropriate for dogs and cats, and people when pressured into crisis-thinking fight-or-flight mode – and now we see that the pluralistic is precisely the most human – though now it is seen in light of the unity of the world and as beyond dualism. One could attribute Zarathustra’s various attitudes toward aspects of the different umwelts’ images to whether he is on the ascent or the descent – or whether he is looking up or down. But when he chastises those who have negative feelings about the lower levels, he is chastising those who have not made the complete ascent and descent and, therefore, do not understand or appreciate all aspects of the other moods of time, which Zarathustra has had access to through his dreams, visions, and songs. If we can experience the different levels through dreams, visions, and music/songs, taking a close look at the dreams, visions and songs in TSZ should help us understand the eternal return.
“A little poison now and then: that produces pleasant dreams” (46). In “The Adder’s Bite,” we learn poison can awaken one in time – to what dreams can teach us. A good dream “should tell you what your friend does when awake,” that “perhaps what he loves in you is the undimmed eye and the glance of eternity” (83) one gets from dreams. “This indeed is the secret of the soul: only when the hero has deserted the soul does there approach it in dreams – the superhero” (141). These are some of the effects of dreams, but what about Zarathustra’s specific dreams, visions, and songs? What can Zarathustra’s dream of “The Child and the Mirror” (107), the dream Zarathustra describes to his disciples (156), “Of the Vision and the Riddle” (176-80), “The Dance Song” (130-33), “The Second Dance Song” (241-44), and “The Seven Seals (Or: The Song of Yes and Amen)” (244-47), tell us about time and the eternal return?
In “The Child and the Mirror,” a child, the symbol of becoming and ascent through the umwelts, tells Zarathustra to look in a mirror – to reflect on himself. Zarathustra sees a devil and interprets this as his doctrine being in danger (107). But then, Zarathustra indirectly reinterprets the dream – more accurately – when he says “I go new ways, a new speech has come to me; like all creators, I have grown weary of the old tongues” (108). The devil is the Christian symbol of pure evil, and in section 4 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche says society equates evil with destruction (and good with the permanent). In Ecce Homo we learn that “among the conditions for a Dionysian task are, in a decisive way, the hardness of the hammer, the joy even in destroying. The imperative, “become hard!” the most fundamental certainty that all creators are hard, is the distinctive mark of a Dionysian nature” (“TSZ,” 8). We see this idea repeated in TSZ, in “On Old and New Tables”: “For creators are hard,” and in Twilight of the Idols “For all creators are hard.” Nietzsche calls the eternal return “the hardest idea” (WP, 1059). For Nietzsche, hardness is the joy in descending to the Dionysian, and creators are hard, meaning creators have joy in descent into the Dionysian. If destruction (as descent into the Dionysian, or descent into the underworld, where once can see the Dionysian element of physis) is considered evil, creators would be considered evil, since they enjoy destroying (they enjoy their descent into the underworld, where the Devil lives, which is the destructive principle of the world, and which threatens to dissolve all the emergent complexity of the unvierse). We can now see Zarathustra’s dream is about what it means to be a creator – you must see a devil staring back at you. This is why Zarathustra sees a devil – he has a joy in destruction whose source is his superabundance – as we learn in “Zarathustra’s Prologue.” For Nietzsche, creativity from superabundance is both “the desire for destruction, for change, for future, for becoming,” and “overflowing energy that is pregnant with future (my term for this is, as is known, “Dionysian”)” (GS, 370). Destruction (better: deconstruction (?)) is part of the descent through the umwelts – and references to destruction can be seen as references to descent (while references to creation would be references to ascent, the two, descent and ascent, creation and destruction, can be seen as one and the same, as we saw in Heraclitus’ quote). The human mind can break down, rendering the person an animal. An animal can die and turn into nonliving matter, matter can break down to quantum particles, and quantum particles can dissolve into pure energy. This allows us to see that becoming underlies all form. As Hatab points out, “Nietzsche does not deny the value of form, only to see form as the fundamental reality. Form is in the midst of formlessness which dissolves form back into itself” (7). This is precisely how one experiences the world as one descends and ascends through the umwelts. One sees becoming, change, destruction as underlying everything. We lose meaning on the descent (we descend into nihilism), but regain it on the ascent – and it is the creators who are, for Nietzsche, the creators of new values.
In “The Prophet,” Zarathustra tells his disciples: “I dreamed I had renounced all life. I had become a night-watchman and grave-watchman yonder upon the lonely hill-fortress of death” (156). A dream of the dangers of pessimism – as the renunciation of life. And a warning that this form of pessimism is a possible outcome of descent – if you descend without the proper attitude (the proper attitude, as we will see later, can be seen in how one would answer the demon’s offer in “The Heaviest Burden”). One can ascend bearing either new values or “his ashes to the mountain” (157). Values are a possible result of descent, but so are ashes. But this form of pessimism (Schopenhauerian) – creationless destruction – is not the only one. The Dionysian can also be a form of pessimism, as we see in the masks and laughter that come at the end of this dream, terrifying Zarathustra awake. But is a Dionysian pessimism possible? “That there still could be an altogether different kind of pessimism, a classical type – this premonition and vision belongs to me as inseparable from me, as my proprium and ipissimum; only the word “classical” offends my ears, it is far too trite and has become round and indistinct. I call this pessimism of the future – for it comes! I see it coming! Dionysian pessimism” (GS, 370). One can perhaps see what Nietzsche means by this when, in section 4 of GS, Nietzsche calls for balance between what society calls “good” and “evil,” insofar as “good” mines the past (as the Classicists do) and “evil” brings new things in (as the avant garde does). Which shows us a cycle of creation and destruction. Optimism, in this sense, would see a world where creation without destruction is possible. This Dionysian pessimism is really a restatement of tragedy – where destruction is necessary for there to be creation, and where good intentions do not always have good results.
“Of the Vision and the Riddle” has several references to descent and ascent, and images of the different umwelts include death, boulders, mountain, stones, abyss, Devil, high, fall, climb, dream, animals, pain, deep, suffering, eternity, moment, time, Lame-foot (tragedy – a reference to Oedipus), past, future, spider, dog, child, snake, horror, sea. In his vision, Zarathustra is trying to ascend “despite the spirit that drew it [his foot] downward, drew it towards the abyss, the Spirit of Gravity, my devil and archenemy” (177). The Spirit of Gravity, half dwarf, half mole, equates Zarathustra with stones (or hardness, already shown to refer to creativity through destruction), but a stone which “will fall back upon you!” Entering the cycle of descent and ascent can destroy a person – since ascent means future descent in this cycle. Here too we learn of various abysses – things which can draw us down: pain, courage, seeing, pity, and even life itself, as it shows us a world of suffering. “Courage, however, is the best destroyer, courage that attacks: it destroys even death, for it says: ‘Was that life? Well then! Once more!’ (178). Courage keeps the creator in the cycle, by making ascent possible once one is in the abyss.
In the second section of “Of the Vision and the Riddle,” we get the image of the gateway: eternity coming together in a moment. Every moment returns eternally (179). To say this means “time itself is a circle” is to “treat this too lightly” (178). This is a moment which “draws after it all future things” and “Therefore – draws itself too” (179). A repetition of the moment in eternity, which returns eternally. D. W. Dauer, in “Nietzsche and the Concept of Time,” points out that “The concept of moment leads us to the idea of eternity in four ways. One is to consider each moment as reflecting and containing the macrocosmos” (83). Here we see that, even in 1975, when chaos theory was relatively new, and fractals barely known outside a few specialists, Dauer managed to get an inkling of the fractal geometry of the eternal return. It is probably due to her likely lack of knowledge at the time of fractal geometry that she suggests the eternal return is self-contradictory – something I hope to show is not the case.
A dog’s howl draws Zarathustra to the “young shepherd writhing, choking, convulsed, his face distorted; and a heavy, black snake was hanging out of his mouth” (180). We have seen a snake before – in “The Adder’s Bite” – where the snake awakens Zarathustra. We have also learned that a little poison is good for pleasant dreams, and that dreams access all umwelts for the dreamer. So what happens here? The shepherd bites off the head of the snake and springs up “No longer a shepherd, no longer a man – a transformed being, surrounded with light, laughing! Never yet on earth had any man laughed as he laughed!” (180). This is the transformative power the eternal return can have. The Spirit of Gravity drags Zarathustra down to the abyss, where he witnesses the image of the gate. When the dwarf vanishes, a dog’s howl draws Zarathustra to a horrific image, and he witnesses a transformation he wishes to see again. That the transformation happens in someone else shows Zarathustra is still not ready to understand the eternal return, though he is drawn to the Dionysian laughter of the transformed shepherd. But we can see in this an image of the creator being born from the terror of the abyss. We have seen that for Nietzsche the eternal return was “the hardest idea,” and that “creators are hard.” Would not, then, the hardest creators be those whose creations were informed by the eternal return? Could one not see the eternal return as an image of the creator creating? Do not creators, at the moment of creation, draw the future (and the past) toward them, as does the gateway Moment?
In “The Dance Song (130-3), Zarathustra says Life seems unfathomable. Life replies “But I am merely changeable and untamed.” This is where we get the first images of the love triangle among Zarathustra, Wisdom, and Life Nietzsche returns to in “The Second Dance Song.” Zarathustra says of Wisdom, “One thirsts for her and is not satisfied, one looks at her through veils, one snatches at her through nets.” In this way, Wisdom is like Truth. Suggesting Wisdom, like Truth (or, more accurately, truths), is a strange attractor which cannot be reached. Life is the fractal image around the strange attractors of Wisdom – which would help explain why Zarathustra would say he is fond of Wisdom because she reminds him of Life. Life is the dynamic system around the “stationary” attractor Wisdom. It is what acts to unify the variety of parts that constitute the world.
In “The Second Dance Song” (241-4), Zarathustra sings of Life, of dancing with her, of her serpent, of his desire for her, of her crookedness. He says Life “binds us, enwinds us, seduces us, seeks us, finds us.” He must pursue Life because she is always on the move, she never stands still, she always changes, is never stagnant, and, like him, is “beyond good and evil.” We see here again that Life is jealous of Wisdom, and Life is afraid Zarathustra is going to leave her, that he is going to die. But then he whispers something in her ear, the thing that makes Life say to him: “You know that? No one knows that!” He dreams that “The world is deep, . . . Deeper than day can comprehend,” and that “all joy wants eternity, . . . – wants deep, deep, deep eternity” (244). In “The Seven Seals,” Zarathustra says he wants to have children with eternity. What on earth could this mean? How can eternity be deep, and how can one have children with it? This enigma can be understood once we understand what Nietzsche means with his idea of eternal return. I have already suggested the eternal return is connected to creativity. Nietzsche backs this up when he has Zarathustra sing “If ever a breath of the creative breath has come to me . . . how should I not lust for eternity and for the wedding ring of rings – the Ring of Recurrence!” His desires to discover, to dance, to unite “good and evil” are all related to his wanting to have children with eternity. But what kind of children could one have with eternity? Works – works where one revalues all values. Works that say “Yes” to life. Tragic works of art.
Nietzsche realizes he is not the first to have had this insight. The problem is past insights have ended up taking false turns. That is what both Zarathustra’s ape and Book 4 are about, particularly the songs of Book 4. Here, we see how Zaratrhustra’s insight could take a false turn with “The Ass Festival,” where Zarathustra’s “Yes” to life has been turned into the ass’s “Ye-a.”
There is a great deal we can understand about eternal recurrence through TSZ, but if we want to come to a fuller understanding of it, we will need to see what Nietzsche says about eternal recurrence in other works. The first obvious reference to eternal return is in “The Heaviest Burden” in GS, where Nietzsche asks the reader how he would react if a demon should offer him eternal recurrence. How would one respond? Would you be crushed by the idea? Would you curse the demon? Or has there ever been something in your life so wonderful you would want to repeat your life in every detail so you could relive that moment – and become the person you are at the moment of the offering – over and over again? Perhaps what Nietzsche is offering the reader is precisely the section that follows: “Incipit tragoedia” – for those who can accept what the demon offers. Only those who can say “Yes” to the offer are ready to hear what is to follow – Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Perhaps this is what Nietzsche means when he says “Everything becomes and recurs eternally – escape is impossible! – supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength” (WP, 1058). But if everything recurs, how could recurrence be a selective principle? Perhaps what it is selecting are those who would accept it. Perhaps, too, what it selects is precisely that which does recur, which can recur. That which repeats has meaning, in art as in life (though, as we saw with Marquez, a single example of the awe-inspiring – awesome, awful – also has meaning). Let me suggest that there is something which could aid us in understanding what Nietzsche is talking about here – the images of chaos theory, including the Lorenz attractor, the Mandelbrot set (a fractal), the butterfly effect, and dissipative structures.