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October 27, 2005

The 'Superman' in Sri Aurobindo & Nietzsche

by Antonio Roybal

Nietzsche is quite emphatic that his Superman is not another word for God. "God is a conjecture," he repeats three times in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, whereas Sri Aurobindo seems to view the Superman as an inherent stage of spiritual evolution towards God, hence a manifestation of God. Only a single passage in Nietzsche is even remotely opaque on this point. In his chapter "On Poets," he writes, "Verily, it always lifts us higher-specifically, to the realm of the clouds: upon these we place our motley bastards and call them gods and overmen. For they are just light enough for these chairs-all these gods and overmen." However, I think it is quite clear that the overmen which are here being equivocated with the gods are not true overmen, but misconceptions of such by poets (i.e. "motley bastards").
Every other mention of the overman is decisively juxtaposed with God: "'Dead are all gods: now we want the overman to live'-on that great noon, let this be our last will," "Once one said God when one looked upon distant seas; but now I have taught you to say: overman," "Could you create a god? Then do not speak to me of any gods. But you could well create the overman," and "God died: now we want the overman to live." When examined closely, the phrasing of the second quote especially begs the question: is Nietzsche not simply replacing God with another God-just one disguised behind a new name? Is it just a question of semantics?
In Bernd Magnus' reading, "an ├╝bermensch is a secular god equivalent, the inverted embodiment of the God of the world-weary." Other critics have pointed out the overwhelming similarities between Nietzsche's portrayal of Zarathustra and the Christian portrayal of Christ. Perhaps his drive for the divine is so strong and uncompromising, that he refuses to accept any conception of the divine which emanates from anything less than the eternal itself. If we focus instead on the third quote, perhaps the issue is whether gods and Overmen can be created.
Nietzsche seems to be saying that we should focus on the Overman, because it is Life's next step for mankind, is within our grasp, and is within our scope to create. He writes, "I desire that your conjectures should not reach beyond your creative will." Yet isn't this the same Nietzsche who referred to God as a human invention or creation? Although his line of thinking gets tangled and reveals knots of paradoxes, he is apparently counseling us not to bite off more than we can chew.The Superman for Sri Aurobindo is, on the other hand, part and parcel of God. The divine has set in motion a process of involution whereupon it condensed itself into Matter.
Nietzsche and Sri Aurobindo are also in agreement about the transitional nature of man. In Aurobindo's words, "Man is a transitional being; he is not final. For in man and high beyond him ascend the radiant degrees that climb to a divine supermanhood." In Nietzsche's words, "Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman-a rope over an abyss." He often summons the image of a bridge, as he does here in his perhaps most definitive passage about the Overman: There it was too that I picked up the word "overman" by the way, and that man is something that must be overcome-that man is a bridge and no end: proclaiming himself blessed in view of his noon and evening, as the way to new dawns-Zarathustra's word of the great noon, and whatever else I hung up over man like the last crimson light of evening.

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