Help with Nietzsche

As a first-time Nietzsche reader, I’m having trouble with a few of his terms and concepts. First off, what does he mean by ‘decadent’? I’m also a bit confused about the idea of eternal recurrence. He says that is the highest form of affirmation that can possibly be attained, but I don’t understand how those ideas are related. He also calls his dionysian concept the supreme deed of mankind. Why does he believe it is so important?

As you can probably tell, I’m not a very experienced reader of philosophy. But it would really help if someone would answer my questions.

“Decadent” literally means “falling down” (from the Latin de- + cadere). Nietzsche actually uses the French word décadent. I, who have been reading Nietzsche for 10 years (more than a third of my life), think décadent corresponds to the German word niedergehend, “going downward”, which Nietzsche also often uses. He often contrasts “downward-going life” with “upward-rising [aufsteigendes] life”. Thus Nietzsche distinguishes between two basic kinds of life:

“I distinguish between a type of ascending [aufsteigendes] life and another of decay, disintegration, weakness. Is it credible that the question of the relative rank of these two types still needs to be posed?”
[The Will to Power, section 857, entire.]

Ironically, this question needs to be posed again and again, as most people belong to, or at least side with, the type of decay, disintegration, and weakness, which occupies the lower rank in Nietzsche’s natural order of rank.

As for the eternal recurrence, I will only quote R.J. Hollingdale on it at this point:

“To be sure, only the Superman could be so well-disposed towards his life as to want it again and again for ever: but that precisely is the reason for willing his creation. The joy of the Superman in being as he is, now and ever, is the ultimate sublimation of the will to power and the final overcoming of an otherwise inexorable and inevitable nihilism.”
[Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Introduction, section 4.]

Finally, you say Nietzsche “also calls his dionysian concept the supreme deed of mankind.” I don’t believe the quotation is exact. If you will quote it, and source it, I may look into it; at this point I can make nothing of it.

If you have the time (along with reading Nietzsche himself) - Delueze’s 1962 book on Nietzsche makes a lot of sense (plus much easier to read than anything else by Delueze MUCH easier).

…Weirdly though he puts Nietzsche forward as a sort of “anti- Hegel” who will “take out” all the negative and eternal recurrence is a like sort of selective terminator!

I’m beginning to think that much of Nietzsche is actually very Hegelian - unfortunately I’m still baulking at the prospect of reading ANY Hegel (who is not a fun read like N Dawg) but I guess the plunge will come.

Regardless Deleuze’s book is a great alternative perspective on Nietzsche and widely available…some one put up a very good review and, better, summary of it here last summer but don’t have time to search it out


What Nietzsche says is:

“This work [Thus Spake Zarathustra] stands altogether apart. Leaving aside the poets: perhaps nothing has ever been done from an equal excess of force. My concept of the “Dionysian” [not “my Dionysian concept”] here became a supreme deed; measured against that, all the rest of human activity seems poor and limited.”
[Ecce Homo, on Thus Spake Zarathustra, section 6.]

So against this “supreme deed”, all the rest of human activity seems poor and limited. What, then, is this “supreme deed”? It is the creation of Zarathustra:

“Let anyone add up the spirit and goodness of all great souls: all of them together would not be capable of producing even one of Zarathustra’s discourses. […] There is not a moment in this revelation of truth that has been anticipated or guessed by even one of the greatest. There is no wisdom, no exploration of the soul, no art of speech before Zarathustra; what is nearest and most everyday, here speaks of unheard-of things. […] Here man has been overcome at every moment, the concept of the “overman” has here become the greatest reality,—whatever was so far considered great in man lies beneath him at an infinite distance. The halcyon, the light feet, the omnipresence of malice and exuberance, and whatever else is typical of the type of Zarathustra,—none of this has ever before been dreamed of as essential to greatness. Precisely in this width of space and this accessibility for what is contradictory, Zarathustra experiences himself as the supreme type of all beings; and once one hears how he defines this, one will refrain from seeking any metaphor for it.—the soul which has the longest ladder, and can go down deepest,
the most comprehensive soul, which can run and stray and roam farthest within itself,
the most necessary one, which plunges itself joyously into chance,
the soul in being, which dives into becoming, the possessing one, which wants to want and desire—
the one fleeing from itself, which catches up with itself in the widest circles,
the wisest soul, to which folly speaks most sweetly,
the most self-loving one, in which all things have their current and counter-current and ebb and flow——But that is the concept of Dionysus himself.

Nietzsche then makes “another consideration”, and thereby gives another description of the concept of Dionysus; but I have quoted him enough for now. The point is that the man Zarathustra is the concept of the “overman” become the greatest reality, i.e., the concept of the “Dionysian” become a supreme deed. And Nietzsche, the poet of Zarathustra, - what does this make of him?

“But the power to the mightiest reality of vision is not just compatible with the mightiest power to the deed, to the terribleness of the deed, to transgression - it even presupposes it…”
[Ecce Homo, Why I Am So Clever, 4, my translation.]

So Nietzsche, in envisioning the character of Zarathustra, proved his own likeness to that character:

“When I look for my highest formula for Shakespeare, I always find only this, that he has conceived of the type of Caesar [Julius Caesar]. Suchlike one does not guess, - one either is it or one is not. The great poet draws [or: creates] only from his own reality - to the extent that he can no longer stand his work afterwards… When I have just thrown a glance into my Zarathustra [Thus Spake Zarathustra], I walk around in my room for a half hour, unable to overcome a paroxysm of sobbing.”

Oh please;

Nietzsche uses the word decadence to describe degeneration, be it moral, social, intellectual etc. Remember, moral degeneration for Nietzsche is any straying away from noble morality, as opposed to straying away from Christian morality.

The eternal recurrence is the best way to understand how it is that ideas and personality types recur with the passage of time. But more to the point, Nietzsche’s statement is related to the idea that if you had to live this life again, innumerable times, it would be a great weight upon your actions. However, a superabundant ‘yes’ to life would wish for nothing more than to live life again, ad infinitum. To bless your actions with a ‘I would wish this again into eternity’ is the highetst formula of affirmation, made possible by the idea of eternal recurrence.

I personally believe that until you have truly suffered at the hands of decadent ideals, one is unable to comprehend the significance of the concept ‘Dionysian’. Dionysian life is free of decadence. Dionysian joy is the greatest joy, the result of a veritable superabundence of life overcoming itself in a great celebration.

In Nietzsche’s eyes a decadent is one who is unfit to live in this world, i.e. one who slanders existence;namely Christians.He is very irrate at them for making this world a living hell,where the well disposed suffer from a levelling by a motely,sick,and stupid majority. He thinks the well disposed should rule the earth.Giving preference to a platonic real world that does’nt exist over our world is the ultimate "sin’ to him. The eternal return is a test to sort out those who can affirm all the pain in their lives,and "will’ it eternally. The dionysian is kind of like Freud’s id, the primitive unbounded man who is ruled by superior instincts,as opposed to inferior reason.

I usually consider id=soul=subconscious

So, to have a Dionysian id would be to be ruled by superior instincts.

Degeneration for Nietzsche is always physiological degeneration. The rest follows from that.

Thanks everyone. I think I understand what Nietzsche was trying to say now.

the only real thing Nietzsche said was “read the Greeks”…


The only similarity that I see between Hegel and Nietzsche is that Hegel said he was the end of history – I suppose as being the fullest flowering of thought, or as discovering what no one saw before. Neitzsche, in the talk about the Dionysian being the greatest deed of mankind, I read as saying the same thing: the world of thought would not be the same after him.


Since Neitzsche wrote about reading the Greeks, would this thread be a good place to compare Nietzschean “will to power” ethics and Aristotelian “virtue ethics”? I haven’t discussed that for a while at ILP.