The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 1938
The Exaggerated Nietzsche:
Poet and Superman
--A Diagnosis, by W. J. Cash
Site ed. note: Cash probably lays it to old Freddy a little too hard because of the context of the times and the perversion of Nietzsche, which of course Cash readily acknowledged, by the Nazis. It is unlikely that Cash really could not render an interpretation of the words he quotes here; as with any poetic expression, they are subject to debate and that is probably the point Cash is making--(for the sake of hopefully de-particlizing nazis among his readership, perhaps). One interpretation is that man either overachieves or underachieves, reaches too high or sinks too low, but seldom if ever reaches stasis, stability, satisfaction (as in "I Can't Get No..."), and thus always inherently longs, in a sense, for death--the insensate, sterile Ubermensch, or "Overman", as it is sometimes literally translated. You may have another--as long as it isn't based on kryptonite and great metropolitan newspapers. A fine interpretation of the meaning of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (the book or the movie) will do in a pinch if you are pressed. Cash didn't have Kubrick to help him along though, so don't be judgmental or overly self-impressed if you think you can come to it when the savant Cash maybe fell shy. For indeed, as Nietzsche is regarded as a nihilist, it may well simply be meaningless in any rational sense. And anyone who has ever read the book, that is, Thus Spake Zarathustra, would have to agree with Cash that parts are so fogged in as to be expressionless to the reader of reasonable sensibilities and Nietzsche does certainly defy being made "of a piece". But as Cash points out, so, too, are most poets. Which is why poets make rather poor role models for those bent on imposing a dictatorial will on others.
For another Cash article on the Nazi perversion of Nietzsche's Superman, see "Europe's Ku Kluckers" - September 5, 1937, supra.
IT is the custom of varied learned gentlemen in the world to quote Friedrich Nietzsche as a great philosopher. But I have my doubts that he was any such thing. He was, indeed, a magnificent poet. I know of no book save only that of Heine's verse, which I had rather read aloud (and the test of poetry is what it sounds like when read aloud) than "Also Sprach Zarathustra." German is the best of all languages for poetry, anyhow, and only in Heine is German more gorgeously rotund and impressive than here.
But as a philosopher, he is as muddy as one would naturally expect a poet who was also a syphilitic, to be. Henry Mencken and Willard Huntington Wright and a number of other impressive persons have set out, to be sure, to make him seem quite lucid and all of a piece. But having read their books carefully and having conned his over and over, I am moved to report that, with all due respect to them, I think they are talking baloney. He isn't of a piece, and the picture of him as the hard, bright, completely disillusioned and completely regnant intellect, cutting surely and certainly through all sham, remorselessly hacking away all the sentimentalities and emotionalities of the lesser breed, and resolutely trans-valuing all values--that picture seems to me to be in itself a sort of sentimental nonsense.
There was something bright and hard in him, certainly. His intellect could sometimes be cold with a hyperborean coldness. But the essential basis of his mind, I think, was not intellectual at all but, as is always true of the poet, emotional and sentimental and confused and mystical.
Take that most famous of his ideas, for instance, the idea of the Superman--"Man is an overgoing and downgoing... and an arrow of longing of the other shore." Who, having read and re-read every word that he ever said on the thing, knows exactly what he was talking about? I don't, and I am convinced that he didn't, either. There is a lot of bad and ill-digested Darwin in the notion plainly enough, and I haven't much doubt that there is a great hunk of the same ideology which was peddled around by Heinrich Von Treitske, and which finds its ultimate incarnation in--God save the mark!--Adolph Hitler, the little Austrian house-painter who sits on the throne of the Hohenstaufens and the Hapsburgs. I know very well that he expressed dislike for the Junkers, I know that he said that the German peasants, and not these Junkers, were the real aristocrats of Germany. But I suspect that he admired them, too--that his dislike for them was more a matter of envy than anything else--and that in his heart of hearts he thought of them as the archetypes of his Superman. In short, I suspect that he was actually greatly under the influence of the notion of German Destiny and Nordic Superiority as it was peddled crudely about in his time. And though it may be true that he would have looked with scorn on the fellow, Hitler plainly draws no little part of his inspiration precisely from the pages of Nietzsche.
Take two parts of garbled Darwin, then, two parts of Ur-Hitlerism, add one part of the somewhat vague but exalted yearning that belonged to the long line of Lutheran ministers from which he sprang, add, again, two parts of the bitterness of a man who was ill, who was physically inferior and yearned to be physically superior--two parts of the hatred of the human race natural to such a man--and pass them through the cloudy ferment of the mind of the poet which was always teetering on the brink of madness--and you have, exactly, I believe, the actual genesis of his Superman. A mystical conception that he himself could not have made concrete and lucid to have saved him.
And what holds for the genesis of that idea holds more or less, I'm convinced, for all the others.
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