Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Zarathustra's Animals: Lessons in Environmental Aesthetics

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Zarathustra's Animals: Lessons in Environmental Aesthetics

Article excerpt

By way of an examination of what Nietzsche's Zarathustra learns from his animal companions, this essay argues that the fundamental thought of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the thought of eternal recurrence, cultivates an aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment; hence, Nietzsche's contribution to the field of environmental aesthetics.

An examination of the various accounts of environmental aesthetics leads to the following definition: environmental aesthetics is a philosophical discipline that finds aesthetic value not only in artworks but in all natural environments, nonhuman as well as human-made, (1) including all that lies within natural and artificial environments, displaying a tendency to ground aesthetic appreciation in perceptual models appropriate to the natural world. (2) Given this characterization of environmental aesthetics, it is odd that within the vast sea of scholarship that has emerged on Nietzsche in the past four decades, Nietzsche scholars and environmental aestheticians have passed by Nietzsche's great contribution to environmental aesthetics. (3) It is well known that for Nietzsche, life as an aesthetic phenomenon is paramount; that he strove to redirect philosophy from its obsession with supra-sensuous constructs to an appreciation of earthly things contained within our surrounding world; and that he sought an awakened perceptual engagement with the natural world. (4) Following the above characterization of environmental aesthetics and Nietzsche's thought, environmental aestheticians and Nietzsche scholars are bound to uncover a gold mine of ideas and sentiments in his work that are relevant to the discipline of environmental aesthetics. In this essay I begin this excavation by unearthing the implications contained in the fundamental idea of what Nietzsche believed to be his greatest work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None--the idea of eternal recurrence.

In his notebooks of the 1880s, partially published as The Will to Power, Nietzsche refers to his idea of eternal recurrence as the great "cultivating idea" (zuchtende Gendanke). Among the numerous interpretations of eternal recurrence, however, there is little agreement as to what Nietzsche thought eternal recurrence cultivates. (5) This is as it should be, for in keeping with Nietzsche's perspectivism, the idea of eternal recurrence is multifaceted. (6) I wish to show, however, that among the various perspectives concerning what the idea of eternal recurrence cultivates, one perspective is most decisive insofar as it focuses on the relationship between the central theme and the fundamental conception of Zarathustra.

By means of an examination of Zarathustra's conversation with his animal companions, and by giving thought to what Zarathustra learns from his animals concerning his doctrine of eternal recurrence, this essay argues that the fundamental conception of Zarathustra, the idea of eternal recurrence, is related to the work's central theme: faithfulness to the earth. More precisely, I wish to show that Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence serves to cultivate such faithfulness by instilling an appreciation of the natural environment as it appears in the present moment of lived experience in the one conceiving the idea. This appreciation, I will show, is essentially aesthetic in the most rudimentary sense of the word, for what Zarathustra's animals enable Zarathustra to realize--and, by implication, allow Nietzsche's readers to realize--is how the idea of eternal recurrence carries with it an active power to foster affirmation and hence appreciation of what lies closest to us, what the ancient Greeks called the "sensible particular" (aisth?ton). Before turning to the critical conversation between Zarathustra and his animals concerning the idea of eternal recurrence, let us listen to Nietzsche himself as he names the fundamental conception of Zarathustra.

In his philosophical autobiography Ecce Homo, Nietzsche summarizes and comments on each of his major published works. …

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