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Exposé of Nietzsche’s Superman: a Feminist’s Apology

An Exposé of Nietzsche’s Superman: a Feminist’s Apology

ABSTRACT

            Existence as a term exclusively denotes the reality proper to man as pointed out by Martin Heidegger. Dr. Lepp Ignace in his book- Christian Philosophy of Existence explained that existence ‘’signifies the progressive self-realisation by man of his human vocation’’[1].

            Friedrich Nietzsche thoughtful of this realisation of human vocation even proclaimed the death of God for He is a thought that makes all that is straight crooked and all that stands giddy. He proclaimed a new existential philosophy of man that emerges as a replacement for God because it is ‘’only since he (God) has lain in the grave have you (man) again been resurrected’’[2]. The projection of this model of existence, the one who has surpassed man transforming everything into humanly conceivable, the humanly evident and the humanly palpable becomes clarion especially now that weakness is conceived by some (especially women) to be synonymous with women. It is a clarion call in the sense that humanity would no longer lumber awkwardly about and scuttle shamefully into obscurity in the world caused by the subjugation of a group of people by the other with the conception that it is nature’s providence as it is even taken by some of the subjugated group.

            Deductively the preoccupation of this write up is to:

  1. Attempt an exposé of the concept ‘übermensch’.
  2. And with particular reference to its defence of feminism, point out the gods that will die before the emergence of a feministic superman.
  3. Attempt an answer on how to kill those gods.
  4. And finally, state what it means for feminism to be enthroned.

In a form of demand, the statement of the problem is to bring forth beings who are standing elevated above the presently conceived nature of women and who can sacrifice their lives to achieving this. Put in another way, Superman as a Feminist’s apology inquires the extent to which women would sacrifice their times for the developments of humanity to the end of bringing a higher type of woman in existence.

The project will therefore end to assert that the superman stage is a redemptive stage for women and an end to the passivity of women in relation to their participation in the world.

THE LIFE OF NIETZSCHE THE PHILOSOPHER

            Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who was named after the Prussian king was born in October 15, 1844 in Rocken (Saxony), Germany. His father a Lutheran minister died when he was four and Nietzsche grew up under the care of the mother, sister and grandmother.

            Nietzsche at his young age was religiously devout under the supervision of the relations though he drifted away in his early twenties. The time of his drifting away was when he embraced the spirited atheism which was one of the shaping tools and the distinguishing features of his philosophy. He is unusual among philosophers in that he is not read by academic philosophers but also by non-academic philosophers and academia themselves. This is chiefly because, he treated many topics which he taught and rightly too delved attractively to the physical, social, psychological and other existential features of humanity.

            A remarkable turning point in Nietzsche’s life was in the year, 1865. It was on this year, in the university at Bonn, that he changed his discipline from theology to philosophy, declaring his unwillingness to take up from the father as a minister. This change of his major discipline to philosophy consequently brought him into contact with ancient Greek philosophical texts especially the Pre-Socratics and Plato as his writings show a great deal of these.

            Nietzsche later in his life relocated to Leipzig learning that his Professor of philology, Friedrich Ritschl was leaving Bonn for Leipzig. The significant of this movement lies in the fact that at Leipzig, he made acquaintance of Arthur Schopenhauer’s main work entitled World as Will and Representation. Having been impressed by the author’s atheistic stand, got informed more of what to make of his philosophy–what it should be and not be after assimilating the text and several others. The latter influence gotten by his meeting with Wagner and his music contributed to the development of Nietzsche’s literary life as many sessions by him were written in applause to this meeting.

            With these remarkable events in his life, he developed an ardent desire of reinventing humanity. The reason behind this project of his was that as he thought, the earlier philosophers had not yet impacted much that should break the over celebrated affinity of Christians to morality and that he, Nietzsche had the singular purpose of breaking it perhaps by the revaluation of all morals. In a bid to achieve this reinvention, he wrote so many works which include: Thus Spake Zarathustra (1891), Human, All Too Human (1878) Joyful Wisdom (1882), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), The Birth of Tragedy (1872), The Genealogy of Morals (1887), and his last three essays on the foundations of ethics: The Antichrist (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), an autobiography and Nietzsche Contra Wagner (1888). Besides these, he had some other little works in fulfilment of his philosophical career.

            He died in 1900 following a poor health that interrupted a reasonable part of his life as a philosopher.

CHAPTER ONE

 

INTRODUCTION

            The whole tenure of human life is certainly affected by whether human beings regard themselves as the Supreme Being in the universe or acknowledge a superior being or a superhuman being who is regarded as an object of fear. An attempt to resolve this puzzle and give a clearer meaning to the nature of humanity made philosophers through the ages to testify that man is the supreme question for man.

This question of man for man has been an age long problem that the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger held that though no epoch has delved into the notion of man as ours and none has been successful in presenting the knowledge of man as effectively as ours, we are still unable to explicate the problematic of man.

The authenticity of this assertion with the seeming frustration contained therein and the several other glaring negativities of life must have led Bertrand Russell to comment that God deserved no handshake for leaving the world as it is after millions of years of trial and error. Friedrich Nietzsche, on this confusion, still tried to reshuffle the direction of the management of being by his declaration that it is either that God is dead or that he is relegated without surveillance to the cosmic eventualities. Some other philosophers and theologians other than Nietzsche have also battled with this question of God’s existence (the problem of the divine nature and the relationship of man and the world to him) and their solutions have significantly influenced man’s conception of the world, the position he occupies in it and the scope of his life pursuit.

Nietzsche knowing what the gods represented and in discontentment with the effects of the popular perception of God, offered a possibility who would substitute God in fulfilment of the animating thought in his life which remained the quest for a better life. This substitute for Nietzsche is the supermanübermensch.[3] The superman is the only worthy successor of the being of God because even when everyone is ‘man-all-too human’[4] for this God stage or position, he alone can surpass this ordinary nature man.

Though the researcher will not dismiss dogmatically as fetish, the compelling testimonies of remarkable men and women whose relentless analysis of their lived vicissitudes, utterly and most profoundly convince them that in God alone is to be found the ultimate meaning and purpose of human existence; however, the researcher considers that the upgradation and consequent succession by the Superhuman is relevant as a feminist apology. It is about whom Nietzsche thought thus: “Once you said ‘God’ when you gazed upon the distant seas; but now I have taught you to say ‘superman.’”[5] This is because, these future lords of the earth that will ‘’replace God’s’’[6] position will beget in those whom they rule, a confidence that is deep and unconditional.

To realize the goal of this project which is explaining the notion of Superman in Nietzsche’s philosophy and critically highlighting its relevance in defence of ’feminism’ the essay is divided into five main chapters. In chapter one, a considerable attention is paid on the life of the philosopher, some underpinning elements to his authorship, the nature of the research work and the operational definitions of the basic terms used. In the second chapter, the view of some philosophers on the nature of man and his struggles for authentic existence are treated. More so, it treats the positions of some philosophers on the relationship between God and man; the fulfilment of man as dependent on the belief or disbelief in this concept, God. The third chapter deals with an exposition of the concept, “Superman” and the characteristics of this would-be god. Worthy of note here is also a discourse on the problem which Nietzsche’s Superman is set to solve; that is, the problem of the death of God. In chapter four, feminism is explained and the problems encountered in women’s quest for self realization are exposed. The relevance of Superman as a sure path to the liberation of women is also treated. Chapter five evaluates the whole essay and concludes therefrom.

1.1       Background of the Study

Feminism as a philosophical problem or controversy has an extraordinary capacity of survival because the propositions in favour of it have not been implemented.

Following the age long problem of male supremacy, it is now systemic in women that their way of life is subordination and acceptance of oppression. By this supremacy, there is embedded, two spheres of human existence or living, viz: the public sphere and the private sphere. This division relegates woman to the private sphere in affirmation to the saying that their biology is their destiny.

Against this backdrop, the researcher wishes to affirm and reaffirm the status of woman, to empower them to a higher mode of living and worldview through the acceptance of the superman stage of life. This is the stage as the researcher shall set to enunciate that will enable women to realize their full potentials, achieve the long desired equality and equity with men. Equality here is by no means physical nor is it measured by any other physical characteristics like strength, genetic factors, body physique; that is, biological differences. It is rather, a stronger disposition towards their socially constructed roles, a fairer participation on what it means when it is said that someone lives.

 

1.2       Nature of Research

A critical look into the life and the intellectual works of Nietzsche discloses that he had many interconnected teachings. These teachings are in one way or another supporting the superman concept. In this work, the researcher attempts a critical analysis on his notion of superman which cannot be done in isolation from other of his teachings. The researcher uses expository, analytical and critical investigative methods to arrive at his aim.

Some borrowed words from foreign languages are explained relevantly to aid the understanding of the philosopher’s thought. Also, some explanations are given to some coinages which as the researcher considers, would best point to his view of some certain situations.

 

1.3.0   Operational Definitions

1.3.1   Feminism

Feminism is a contemporary movement that rethinks the philosophy of exclusion of women and through this tends to produce a society that recognizes women and men as both different and equal.

It is a term that emerged out of acute social unrest on the question of position between men and women. In its primary explanation, it denotes a movement that is opposed to the discrimination on the basis of sex. As such, “it opposes therefore any ideology, belief, attitude or behaviour that establishes or reinforces such discrimination (between men and women). The ultimate aim of feminism is equality among persons regardless of gender.”[7]

The Cambridge Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines it as “the belief that women should be allowed the same right, power and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.”[8]This definition recognizes feminism or sees it in the light of something that has to be given or tolerated-a gift to the women fold. Feminism as we use it in this essay is not a gratuitous gift as such, but a stage which can be attained by proper self definition of selves. It seeks the right of women from their own perspective and not from the contributions of the external worlds. Therefore, over and above the dictionary definition, to dispel the obscure view of this concept , it is important to clear more the use of the word as regards this write up, which may differ from some others’ notion.

Feminism has been conceived by many thinkers in many different ways but according to The Body Politic, there are two possible interpretations of the word, one ideal and the other historical. Feminism, in the first sense, is the “conception of a society in which the roles of dominator and dominated are reversed, and in which women take over the superior status of men.”[9] In the second, it can be seen as a struggle for equal rights from a religious or ethical standpoint.

The first interpretation is built on the presupposition that men are superior to women. Men here are seen as the standards of everything and for everything. Feminism here is utopian and to that extent not a political movement. Their solution is taken to the extreme and this notion of takeover has influenced some thinkers’ notion of the word “feminism”. If eventually feminism maintains this interpretation, it would lead to an endless circularity of either women subordination or men subordination but because the basic tenet of feminism is the equality of both genders’ right, this first opinion is not a feministic approach. It is only historical anyway.

Some may consider the struggle for rights as an escape from women’s femininity, but this is not so. However, untamed pursuant of the second sense of the interpretation of feminism may explain it in the context of the first. To avoid such misinterpretation, the definition of feminism here takes the explanation that looks into its problematic by some thinkers to define women only in terms of the dominant group or relationships.

Feminism is, therefore, taken here as a cause for woman empowerment; ascendancy to the selves not experienced and an amazing rediscovery of self through the imbibing of the characteristics found in the concept of superman. It upholds that women are not just social attachments, and that their persons are to be transformed and surpassed. This transformation will upgrade their ego, improve their status and cease to make them economies of insecurity without their male counterparts. More so, it will create a separate identity for them which will enable them discern their condition outside the context of relationships.

Finally, it is a fight against the existence of women in and only through their husbands, seeking to produce a better world for women and thus, by extension, for humankind.

1.3.2     Superman

The concept übermensch as shall be used in this write up is attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. Before him, the concept of superman have been used to refer to some heroes, but with him it gained a new perspective being seen in the light of a being above man. He is a man who is in himself and for himself.

Superman, Overman, Superperson or Superhuman are different names which serve the same purpose of referring to what Nietzsche meant with his language übermensch. These prefixes to man or humanity in the translations denote transcendence above the former state of man. This ability to transcend what man was, made Nietzsche to see the superman as the ideal man with exceptional character and quality. He is the man who has the strength to recognize that there are no eternal facts but perspectives and who strives ahead with his own authentic perspective.

Superman, as used in this project in defence of feminism, does not mean that the two concepts have the same meaning or are related as in one standing for the other, but to show that feminism could be better approached when it takes some of the characteristics found in superman.

Nietzsche though was not explicit in his definition of superman as not limiting it to either men or women, he, however, saw women as debased men. To this extent, the man attached to the superman is ambiguous for he may have meant both the rising of the debased man (woman) and the rising of man above the ordinary state of man or either of them.

The project exposes superman in this light as that possible for women. It is taken here to be a stage set for women, which they are expected to attain in their quest for self actualization. It is a necessary condition needed for the self realization of women to be fruitful.

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[1] I. Lepp, A Christian Philosophy of Existence, trans. L. Soiron, Melbourne: M. H. Gill and Son Limited, 1965, p. 8.

[2] F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, IV, “Of the Higher Man”, p. 297. (Emphasis is mine)

[3] Übermensch is a German word which has been translated by philosophers as ‘superman’, ‘overman’ or ‘superhuman’. Nietzsche uses this to designate the being that emerges after the death of God.

[4] F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Middlesex; Penguin Group, 1969, p. 117.

[5] F. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, II, “On the Blissful Islands”, p. 109.

[6] The word ‘replacing’ supports Nietzsche’s thinking that the two concepts of God and superman are incompatible.

[7] C. V. Eke, Feminist’s Christology ( A Critical Analysis of Patriarchal Sexism), Enugu; Snaap Press Ltd., 2007, p. 19.

[8]Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary, Hong Kong; Sheck Wah Tong Printing Press Ltd., 2007, p. 461.

[9] Michelene Wandor (Compiled), The Body Politic: Writings from the Women’s Movement in Britain, London; Stage 1, 21 Theobalds Road, 1972, p.14.

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