Below is a link to a paper I wrote for my Nietzsche class that finds common themes within ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and the Three Metamorphoses with the themes of evolution and personal starbounded destiny in the book and film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s/Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’
Thus Spoke Zarathustra and 2001: Space Odyssey
Existentialist themes of personal change and finding oneself in an alienating world are popular subjects greatly used in literature, especially that of science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer and his most popular book ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ are both significantly influenced by existentialist philosopher Frederic Nietzsche. Symbols throughout both the book and film adaptation evoke symbols of the ages of man, which involve a self transformation from the last man to the over man, concepts that are connected to Nietzsche’s philosophy in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra.’ The values, virtues, and struggles of man that are told in Nietzsche’s story are evident in Clarke’s science fiction epic, both serving as a message to our own modern society to help people find themselves and to grow.
The main messages that Nietzsche wanted to convey in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ pertain to the power of the individual and how the only downfall of man is weakness. Weakness of will, virtue, and individualism lead to downfalls, not progressions. He stresses that people must become a “new Moses,” in which you avenge your own moral laws. Becoming who you are is to let your personality develop without being effected by external, classical moral forces. Being natural is a must, and to be like the creative artist is a way to invent one’s own way of life. Individualism is what leads to transformation to a higher self; to be subjected to morals and virtues constructed by others will only keep a person grounded and unable to overcome the pressure of society’s slave mortality.
Zarathustra, the messenger in Nietzsche’s philosophical story, defines these differences of the weak and the powerful in two forms. The lesser form, called the last man, is weak, takes no risks, wants no change due to lack of ambition, and can’t dream of new possibilities because he doesn’t want to. All the last man seeks is comfort and security in a society that is too caught up with and trapped in moral constraints. The last man never evolves or ascends any where higher because he doesn’t leave any room to. Nietzsche uses this symbol of slave morality as a warning, and it is only through self salvation that one can truly become an individual being that transforms itself into an elevated state of mind and reason. To deify one self is to become one’s own controller in the highest regard.
Zarathustra tells the last man of society that “one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.” (1) Thus being said, it is the struggle within us, not an external guide that gives us the drive towards a higher form of freedom.
The goal that’s pledged throughout Zarathustra is to destroy this weak lifestyle of the last man and to become something new, the powerful overman. In this self elevating state, one takes risks, seeks change, lives with ideas, and aims high by conquering mountains, a symbol used greatly by Nietzsche to convey personal challenges. Nietzsche says in ‘Zarathustra’ that “all beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?”(2), meaning that man has the choice to either decline to be like the apes of the past or to create something within oneself through the eternal voyage. The overman, also known as the Ubermensch, overcomes the struggle of everyday life by creatively constructing one’s own ideas and morals that are not mundanely set in traditional constructs. Many images of overcoming struggles and external forces are used throughout Zarathustra’s speeches, such as “one must be a sea to be able to receive a polluted stream without becoming unclean.” (3) He says that the only thing that stands in the way between the last man and overman is God, and that we must destroy the big boss in order to come up with our own actions and importance. “Man is something that must be overcome;” (4) therefore, it is through the personal voyage of finding one’s own virtues and morals in order to become a triumphant warrior. Nietzsche’s ‘Three Metamorphoses’ also points out the transformation of man’s achievements in becoming overman, which is symbolized by the image of the child, where man has reached the final stage of rebirth as a new, clear minded being. It is like seeing through a newborn’s eyes; to accept the fact that we’re human and reason must be what an individual, not a society, finds fitting and reasonable for their own sakes of living.
With these important concepts in Zarathustra explained, the connections with Arthur Clarke’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ appear more relevant in its tale of the ages of man. ‘2001’ is briefly a story about struggles that positively cause the evolution of man throughout time. It is about new discoveries and change, hence the importance of the title’s use of the term ‘odyssey.’ Although many risks and constraints are evident in parts, it is only through change that these pressures are overcome by.
In the beginning of both the book and film adaptation of ‘Space Odyssey,’ primitive men live a comforting yet unchanging life, therefore doesn’t go anywhere until a mysterious structure known as the monolith created by alien beings is discovered. This initiates the primitive man to become curious, thus triggering an important event in which man starts questioning their own reasoning which is symbolized by not only the discovery of tools but the killing of another primal man by using the tool as a weapon. This is seen in a positive light by both Clarke and the director Kubrick by being a form of advancement for a species, leading to the next phase of the story, modern men.
Modern men have an even greater challenge than that of the primal, ape-like man, and that is to find out not only the location of the next monolith, but the meaning behind it. A group of researchers on the space vessel “Discovery” are sent out towards Jupiter once they are given the location of the next and final monolith once the one on the Moon gives a signal of its coordinates. HAL, a computer system constructed by men in order to be the controlling, reasonable force on the vessel, interferes with the mission, causing one of the last crew members to finally shut down its system. This member, Dave Bowman, is than left alone to go on his own quest to not only search for the last monolith but to transform him into the last form of being.
So far, the connections between Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ and Clarke’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ are highly evident. The last man greatly reflects the same mundanely zones of the primitive man in the beginning of ‘2001.’ It is only through a will, a change of things, that both the last man and primitive man develop a way to construct new ideas and create goals in order to achieve higher levels. Modern man, who Nietzsche views as being between apes and overman, is stuck in a transformational state in which he can choose to fall back to an unchanging life where external morals and virtues rule over, or the choice of overcoming ‘man’ in order to become the high, creative state of the overman. ‘2001’ demonstrates this existentialist voyage throughout, and its message is fully revealed in the ending where man through all of its hardships finally becomes ‘the star child.’
At the end of ‘2001,’ Dave Bowman finds the last monolith, the final quest of knowledge. During a sequence of visions, reflection and aging, Dave finally transforms from man to overman, represented through the form of the star child. The overman has destroyed God, has leaped beyond man, and has become the artist that has become his own work of art. Clear thoughts, clear reason, and clear virtue are at its full potential, and creativity is wielded just as a child would in their own new world where the reason of others doesn’t impact. Clarke also touches on this aspect of transformational feat by the human contact from alien life, which would give the human race great wisdom and clarity similar to the same sources that can be discovered deeply within oneself.
The last scene in ‘2001’ shows the star child, or in Nietzsche’s case, the overman, floating in space looking pleasantly back at Earth, where it came from and constructed its own values on. In ‘Zarathustra,’ Nietzsche states that the overman “is the meaning of the earth; remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak of otherworldly hopes!” (5) Also, he explains how “the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world,” (6) a very powerful statement that evokes the transformation from forgetting to a new beginning with a “self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred ‘Yes.’” (7) Because human beings live on Earth, the best comprehension that people can reach is through their own individual understandings and morals that pertain to the lives they live on this planet. Until other sources from the unknown reveal themselves to modern man, reason is forever interchangeable and particular to every human being that will find out their own values as they go on their own personal odysseys, just as Dave Bowman and Zarathustra has. To naturally become who you are is the only way to do so, according to both Clarke and Nietzsche.
Zarathustra tells to the masses that “man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—-a rope over an abyss.” (8) This quote greatly connects both the themes of the last man becoming the overman in ‘Those Spoke Zarathustra’ and the transformation throughout the ages of man in Clarke’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Both stories exemplify a philosophical foundation of the existentialist evolution that helps humankind discover their own potential in self understanding in the world around them. The concept that “God has created man” is truly reversed in the modern society that we live in, where man has created a God that has forced external reasoning towards a society instead of reasoning created by individual beings for their own individual selves. Both Nietzsche and Clarke have demonstrated this message very well in their own accounts, serving as messages to our own modern society in order to help it grow towards higher states of being that only a science fiction novel at this rate could imagine.