Understanding the Anti-Christ

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 14, 2011



"Of all writings I love only that which is written with blood. Write with blood: and you will discover that blood is spirit."

The image of blood recalls bleeding, which in turn recalls a sharp object, probably a weapon of some kind, a sword perhaps or knife (since bludgeoning weapons by and large do not cause external haemorrhage), which recall a cutting edge, which recalls the expert, one of whose qualities is that he is at the cutting edge of his field of expertise. The metaphor is intended to emphasize the value of being extreme: "writing with blood" means going so far in your chosen subject that you end up far ahead of everyone else, utterly alone, breaking new ground, and consequently sustaining the most wounds, wounds which bleed, blood which you should use to write. The same insight (that an extreme attitude, even to the point of self-inflicted pain, is required to make progress in anything) is expressed in other terms also later in the book ("Of the Famous Philosophers"), where Zarathustra says that "Spirit is the life that itself strikes into life: through its own torment it increases its own knowledge", thereby linking up with Heraclitus' fragment 94, "It is hard to contend with passion; for whatever it desires to get it purchases at the cost of soul", which expresses the same insight (with "passion" here standing in for "body" — or Zarathustra's "life") but in the opposite direction. The opening lines of this chapter could therefore be rewritten as:

"Of all writings I love only that which is written with expertise. Write with expertise: and you will discover that expertise is spirit."

Which is certainly devoid of the original's poetic beauty, but for that reason easier to understand.


"It is not an easy thing to understand unfamiliar blood: I hate the reading idler."

"Unfamiliar blood" stands here for "unfamiliar feelings" (or "unfamiliar expertise", if we carry on with the terminology introduced above), since the purpose of all writing is to simulate (and thereby stimulate) feelings. The author who writes with blood is attempting to communicate the feelings he experienced while breaking new ground in his chosen subject, feelings which are therefore necessarily extreme, and thus rare, hence why it's difficult to "understand" them (i.e. to feel them; to reenact them inside us as we read the words). The "reading idler", on the other hand, is he who neither has the requisite experiences to understand the author, nor attempts to acquire them; he just sits there and reads as if reading were an activity separate from action; as if writing and reading were not activities that derived from, and were supposed to lead to action, but the production of "mere literature", as Nietzsche puts it in The Anti-Christ, §44. The reading idler ultimately sees the author as some kind of entertainer, some kind of clown whose function is to provide brain fodder for the amusement of lazy and worthless loafers. As to why Zarathustra hates him, this should be immediately obvious to anyone who has ever written anything of value and been misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented (all things which the reading idler is guaranteed to do, since he will fail to understand anything).


"He who knows the reader, does nothing further for the reader."

The point is not to "know" the reader, and cater to his whims, his so-called "needs" (the journalistic way) — the point is to create the reader, to form him and to shape him; if you merely "know" him you are obviously doing "nothing further for him"; you must know a great deal more than him, otherwise he should be the one writing and you reading.


"Another century of readers — and spirit itself will stink."

A prophecy that has clearly been fulfilled, since practically everyone today who claims to possess spirit besides me is a stinking fraud. As to why this has happened, Zarathustra provides the explanation in the next line:


"That everyone can learn to read will ruin in the long run not only writing, but thinking too."

Here Zarathustra bemoans the effect that all these "reading idlers" will have on the faculty of thought. When "everyone" — every last miserable, wretched member of the subhuman mob — has finally learned to read (one of the sacred goals of the "enlightened" "liberals": total literacy; they would even have monkeys reading, if possible — newspapers, above all (which are anyway written by monkeys) — whereas in all previous times reading and writing were activities reserved for well-educated noblemen, which is why the standard of books in the past was incomparably higher than what it is today), thought will be necessarily corrupted, due to the countless misunderstandings, misinterpretations and misrepresentations that the subhumans will create immediately on contact with any half-way decent, worthwhile text. In such an environment humans will be doomed along with subhumans, since bad thought is highly contagious, and thinking will finally be "ruined".


"Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it is even becoming mob."

Spirit was God in the age before philosophy, became man with the philosophers, and has now finally become mob through the subhumans' tragico-comically abortive attempts at theorizing. The substance of this line is to show how the intellectual power of mankind was at first directed towards the gods (see The Gay Science, §285), became redirected towards man with the philosophers (i.e. towards the creation and nurturing of a single future man: the Overman), and is now being distributed and scattered across the "mob" through the pernicious influence of the subhuman doctrines of democracy, equality and subhumanitarianism. Note that the "mob" referred to here includes only the modern, secular subhumans; the religious ones are still directing what pitifully meagre spirituality they possess towards "God".


"He who writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read, he wants to be learned by heart."

Which is to say, he does not want to be read in the abstract, disembodied manner that "reading idlers" read; he wants to be learned "by heart", i.e. felt — one of the (many) advantages of which is that, whoever learns something in this way, finds it next to impossible to forget it, hence the dual meaning of the heart metaphor.


"In the mountains the shortest route is from peak to peak, but for that you must have long legs. Aphorisms should be peaks, and those to whom they are spoken should be big and tall of stature."

"Aphorisms should be peaks" means "aphorisms should not be chatter" (journalistic chatter, for example), and they should be spoken to those who are "big and tall of stature" because no one else will understand them anyway (and even worse, the "small and short of stature" will misunderstand, misinterpret and misrepresent them, as we've already seen).


"The air thin and pure, danger near, and the spirit full of a joyful wickedness: these things suit one another."

I.e., the most suitable attitude with which to face danger is that of "joyful wickedness" (exemplified, for instance, in the artistic sphere, by Ian Fleming's James Bond).


"I want hobgoblins around me, for I am courageous."

This formulation inverts how subhumans feel about courage. Subhumans think that courage is something you need in order to face danger, whereas in reality he who IS courageous SEEKS OUT danger (see Twilight of the Idols, "The Four Great Errors", "The error of confusing cause and consequence"); if you feel that you are IN NEED of courage, this is simply a consequence of you NOT BEING courageous (i.e. not courageous enough to face the danger which prompted you to feel the need for courage).


"Courage that scares away phantoms makes hobgoblins for itself — courage wants to laugh."

The phantoms which courage "scares away" are the beliefs of subhumans, specifically the beliefs in powerful beings (or, in the case of pseudo-atheists, "karma" and similar superstitions) which oversee the affairs of men and dish out reward and punishment according to immutable and predetermined sets of rules. Zarathustra is here saying that he who is courageous (i.e. fearless and powerful) enough to do away with subhuman beliefs, will necessarily end up creating "hobgoblins" (i.e. adversaries) for himself, because he wants "to laugh" — i.e. to overcome them.


"I no longer feel as you do: this cloud which I see under me, this blackness and heaviness at which I laugh — precisely this is your thunder-cloud."

A very eloquent expression of the inversion of perspective which occurs with the passage from subhumanity to humanity; the former's greatest fears become the latter's entertainment and amusement.


"You look up when you desire to be exalted. And I look down, because I am exalted."

Which is to say, the subhumans look upwards to their gods when they desire to feel exalted, directing their gaze away from earthly affairs which they cannot cope with, because they cannot cope with them; whereas Zarathustra, who CAN cope with them, copes with them, which is why he feels exalted, and why he looks "down", which is to say to the earth (see "Zarathustra's Prologue": "I entreat you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of superterrestrial hopes!"), focusing his attention to real, tangible affairs (instead of the subhumans' fantasies) on which to expend his power.


"Unconcerned, contemptuous, violent — that is how wisdom would have us be: she is a woman and never loves anyone but a warrior."

This striking metaphor (the wise man as warrior; wisdom as a woman) is meant to emphasize the similarities of the attitudes that attend the possession of physical and mental strength, similarities which subhumans deny and deprecate, because mental strength (and also, in many cases, the physical kind) is precisely what they lack (since this is, after all, what makes them subhuman in the first place), and therefore know nothing of it. The "wise man", as the subhuman imagines him, is soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and deferent — basically a fagot — and anything but "unconcerned", "contemptuous" and "violent"; but, as Zarathustra also alludes to in many other places (as, e.g., in "Of the Three Evil Things": "And sham-wisdom: that is what it calls all wit that slaves and old men and weary men affect"), that's only because he's not really wise.


"You tell me: 'Life is hard to bear'. But if it were otherwise why should you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?"

This passage does two things. Firstly, it attempts to show to subhumans that their beloved feeling of pride is contingent upon the existence of hardship; and secondly, that it is impossible for the feeling of pride, which the subhumans value, to exist, without also the feeling of resignation, which the subhumans deprecate and would prefer to abolish (whereas the Nietzschean philosophy stipulates that in order to increase the amount of pride in the world one must also increase the amount of resignation by an equal measure).


"Life is hard to bear: but do not pretend to be so tender! We are all of us pretty fine asses and assesses of burden!
   What have we in common with the rosebud, which trembles because a drop of dew is lying upon it?"

The message in these lines is to basically man the fuck up and stop whining like a little bitch at every little misfortune (hence the "drop") that comes your way.


"It is true: we love life, not because we are used to living but because we are used to loving."

What does it mean to "love life"? Life is the will to power; love is the desire for possession; to "love life" therefore is to desire power. But we desire power not because we are used to having power, but because we are used to desiring; i.e. because we lack power. "Loving life", in other words, is an attitude of the weak (see also Schopenhauer: "The love of life is at bottom only fear of death"), those who are not capable of what is mistakenly labeled as "self-sacrifice" — which is another form of "loving life", but this time as seen not from a point of weakness, but of power. Using the same inverted vocabulary, the higher man does not "love life", he "loves death" — just as the good player does not love winning, he "loves losing", while the one who really loves winning is the loser (see Videogame Culture: Volume II, "On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose").


"There is always a certain madness in love. But also there is always a certain method in madness."

The first sentence here expresses in an eloquent, poetic manner the insight that instinct is irrational; the second that this "madness", i.e. the instincts, is permeated by "a certain method", i.e. reason, and can therefore be mastered through it. See Orgy of the Will for an explanation of how instinct creates reason, and reason shapes instinct.


"And to me too, who love life, it seems that butterflies and soap-bubbles, and whatever is like them among men, know most about happiness."

In other words, happy creatures know most about happiness.


"I should believe only in a God who understood how to dance."

Which is to say a God who is high-spirited, exuberant and victorious, i.e. a powerful God (in contrast, for example, to the Christian God, who is always whining, bemoaning and lamenting everything, and is therefore obviously weak, since all these patterns of behavior are symptomatic of weakness). All Zarathustra is saying here therefore is: "I should believe only in a powerful God", and since belief is a form of subjection ("The 'believer' does not belong to himself, he can only be a means, he has to be used, he needs someone who will use him", The Anti-Christ, §54), what he's really saying is, "I should subject myself only to a powerful God". Which makes sense, if you think about it: If you absolutely have to subject yourself to a God, it is best to pick a powerful one.


"And when I beheld my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: it was the Spirit of Gravity — through him all things are ruined."

Why are all things ruined by the "Spirit of Gravity"? "Gravity", i.e. seriousness, when it is a terminal state, is a symptom of the failure to excel — since excellence, though it does requires a general outlook of seriousness, thoroughness, etc., does not, however, stop with them — excellence wants to laugh (and to prod, and to gloat, and to provoke, and do many other things which hurt the pride of the defeated, and which they therefore attempt to forestall and minimize by slandering and deprecating them). Seriousness is therefore merely a means on the way to laughter, to better laughter; to stop with it and assume a grave and morose posture is a sign of weakness and incompetence (just as surely, by the way, as it is to be laughing all the time like a moron), see Twilight of the Idols, "The Four Great Errors", §2: "Effort is an objection, the god is typically distinguished from the hero".


"One does not kill by anger but by laughter. Come, let us kill the Spirit of Gravity!"

One does not kill by anger because anger is a consequence of defeat and the ressentiment that goes with it. The winner is not angry because he has no reason to be so — after all, he just fucking won. Winning leads to laughter and losing (and especially the losing of poor losers) to anger, hence the best winners (the greatest killers) will also be the greatest laughers. Zarathustra has reversed the causality here (as he also did, by the way, in the previous line: things are not ruined by the Spirit of Gravity; rather, the Spirit of Gravity appears when things have already been ruined); it's not, as he says, laughter with which one kills; rather, laughter is a consequence of being a good killer. But insofar as "an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form" (Orwell), it is a good idea in general to promote laughter over anger, which is what Zarathustra is doing here. This is not, however, to place a moratorium on anger (which is how the subhumans will interpret it in order to trick their masters into being less angry with them) — there will be moments of anger (since anger is, after all, one of the characteristics of being a master; see, e.g., Beyond Good and Evil, §146), but not the anger of ressentiment (more precisely called indignation, see The Will to Power, §765, "The pessimism of indignation"), nor the anger of revengefulness and self-righteousness of, for example, religious and ideological bigots. The anger of the master is annoyance, as when a fly buzzes around your head and you slam it into the wall, lashing out instinctively, "completing and exhausting" your ressentiment "in an immediate reaction", which is discharged and leaves the body at once, and therefore does not poison (On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, §10).


"I have learned to walk: since then I have run. I have learned to fly: since then I do not have to be pushed in order to move."

The passage from walking to running to flying reflects the increase in Zarathustra's physical and intellectual powers: from a baby that learns how to walk, to a man who knows how to run, and finally to the flying, which is here meant metaphorically (since the book was written several years before the Wright brothers' maiden flight); a kind of flight effectuated by the spirit. The second sentence reflects the doctrine of the Will to Power, created by Zarathustra's "learning how to fly" (i.e. precisely by his spirit), which exalts the spontaneity of action of the man of power: advocating offense over defense, attack over revenge, action over reaction; not requiring to "be pushed" in order "to move" — which is to say to act.


"Now I am nimble, now I fly, now I see myself under myself, now a god dances within me."

Zarathustra sees himself under himself through the effect of his superior intellect, his "spirit". By reflecting on himself he "sees" his current condition, whilst also anticipating the next one (see "Of the bestowing Virtue": "And the spirit — what is it to the body? The herald, echo, and companion of its battles and victories"), which, since Zarathustra is a part of the healthy, ascending line of mankind (see Twilight of the Idols, §33) will be more powerful, and therefore higher. The god that dances within him is the God of creation of the monotheistic religions or the god of gods of the polytheistic; the final Overman, whom Zarathustra is helping to create, in a very real sense giving birth to him, and who is consequently within him (as to why he dances, see §20).

[Excerpt from Alex Kierkegaard, Understanding the Anti-Christ, due out in 2012.]