Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Nietzsche's Animal Menagerie: Lessons in Deep Ecology

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Nietzsche's Animal Menagerie: Lessons in Deep Ecology

Article excerpt

By way of a philosophical examination of select animal images from Nietzsche's animal menagerie, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, this essay develops the thesis that Nietzsche's animal images provide lessons in deep ecology insofar as they serve to move Zarathustra and the reader through the critical transformations necessary for remaining faithful to the earth.


May my animals lead me!
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

As is well known, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche casts the principal themes of his thought not in abstract concepts but in poetic images. Among these images are Zarathustra's teachers. These teachers are also the reader's teachers, for in reading, the reader undergoes the same transforming lessons that Zarathustra experiences. In keeping with one of the principal themes of the book--that man does not stand at the pinnacle of nature but is a bridge between beast and overman--Zarathustra's most influential teachers are not human beings. Nor are they overmen, for their time has not yet arrived. Zarathustra's principal teachers are animals.

Given Nietzsche's extensive use of animal imagery in his major work and elsewhere, it is safe to say that no other major literary figure since Aesop, save Kipling and Steinbeck, has utilized animal imagery to the extent that Nietzsche did. In the history of Western philosophy, moreover, no other philosopher, as Jennifer Ham writes, "has donned animal masks and animal speech more often than Nietzsche" (155).

Despite Nietzsche's copious use of animal imagery in his major work and elsewhere, and despite his lifelong preoccupation with animal life and the spiritualization of human animality, from the time of his collapse at the hooves of a horse being flogged on a street in Turin in early January of 1889, up to the appearance of Martin Heidegger's work on Nietzsche in 1936, (1) few have tried to unpack the profound significance inherent in his animal imagery. With Heidegger's focus on the philosophical significance of Zarathustra's animals, especially the eagle and the serpent in his essay "Who is Nietzsche's Zarathustra?" (66), certain authors began focusing explicitly on Nietzsche's animal imagery, attempting to unpack its profound philosophical significance. Examples of such authors are Gillis Deleuze, Laurence Lampert, Kathleen Marie Higgins, Stanly Rosen, and the authors of the recent anthology, A Nietzschean Bestiary: Becoming Animal Beyond Docile and Brutal. (2) Although these authors do treat Nietzsche's animal images as intrinsic to his thought, no author, to my knowledge, save Adrian Del Caro, has focused explicitly on the ecological implications contained in Nietzsche's animal imagery. According to Del Caro, Nietzsche's "consistently grounded and increasingly elaborate Earth rhetoric [...] has only recently begun to be explored" ("Nietzschean" 321).

Laurence Lampert is correct to point out that "the status of nature is one of the questions that Zarathustra addresses and answers; it may even be said to be the question that Zarathustra addresses" (22). Despite the fact that Nietzsche is a major Western thinker whose central concern is the status of nature, and despite the fact that our current environmental crisis is rooted in the question of the status of nature, I have found only one book and nine essays devoted exclusively to Nietzsche and ecological issues: Adrian Del Caro's monumental book Grounding the Nietzsche Rhetoric of Earth; Max O. Hallman's essay, "Nietzsche's Environmental Ethics" (3); Ralph R. Acampora's two essays, "Using and Abusing Nietzsche for Environmental Ethics" and "The Joyful Wisdom of Ecology" (4); Reinhart Mauer's essay, "Ecological Nietzsche? The Will to Power and the Love of Things" (5); Wilhelm Schmidt's essay, "Did he not Kiss the Horse? Nietzsche as Ecological Philosopher"; Graham Parks's essay, "Staying Loyal to the Earth: Nietzsche as an Ecological Thinker"; Martin Drenthen's essay, "The Paradox of Environmental Ethics: Nietzsche's View of Nature and the Wild"; John G. …

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