ON FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE’S SELF-CREATION:
What does it mean to create myself?
(Transcript of video by Ran Lahav)
Nietzsche envisions a personal transformation which he describes asself-overcoming, or self-creation. In the process of this transformation, I go beyond myself, beyond my psychological structures, beyond my tendencies and personality, and I create a new self.
For example, in his passage “On the Three Metamorphoses” from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the individual starts as a camel—in other words, an obedient beast that carries the load that has been loaded on its back. It carries on its back the common norms, society’s values, familiar ways of life, personal habits, and everything the camel has been taught and educated to do. But in the process of transformation, the individualthrows away this load—as a lion, and then becomes a child: a new beginning, a wheel that propels itself, a first movement, in other words a creator. As a child, the individual is now a creator of a new self, of new values, of a new life.
Nietzsche does not tell us howexactly we create ourselves, how we should behave as a child, in other words what the overman does with his life. Creation is a personal journey, and it cannot be determined in advance. Self-creation is valuable because it gives life to the creator, because it enables him to live fully and intensely, to give himself completely to his personal vision of life.
In this sense, to live meaningfully for Nietzsche is to live an openchallenge, not to walk on a fixed pre-determined path. This is in fact a central theme of existentialist philosophers, ofwhom Nietzsche was one of first:Life is an open question, and to live life fully and authentically is to live it as an open question. Nietzsche’s camel lives life as a set of answers. The child, in contrast, lives life as a question, as an openness, and always keeps thatopenness alive. To use the words of Zarathustra, man is a continuous crossing over the abyss, a continuous walking on a rope, an ongoingself-overcoming, in other words a never-ending process of self-creation. This is a tremendous task, and Nietzsche thinks that onlyfew are able to do it.
But how is this task possible at all? How can I create a new self?The child in “The Three Metamorphoses” is supposed to be a new beginning, a first movement. But how can I possibly be a new beginning at the age of 20 or 30 or 50? Can I really erase everything in me, like the Lion who says No to everything,and start completely anew?
I suggest that we should not see Nietzsche’s self-creation as a creation out of nothing. In the process of creating myself, I make use ofold materials from myself, my capacities, my tendencies, my knowledge. Although I do not accept them as a given, as my boundaries, I use them as a starting point for the creation of my new self. This is why Nietzsche’s transformation does not start with the child, but with the camel. Learning to carry is an important part of the process—it gives you the materials to work with later, the materials to createfrom when you reach the stage of the child.
Here we could use the notion of “response,” although Nietzsche himself does not mention it, so let me make my own suggestion: I create myself when I respond to the camel in me, when I respond to the person I am, when I respond to my life circumstances. I create myself when I don’t simply accept my boundaries, when I don’t take myself as a given, but when I respond. I can do so because I am not just a mechanism that follows a fixed path. I also have the creative powers to respond to the mechanisms in me. I am not just a fixed psychology, because I can respond to my psychology. I am not just my history and education and life circumstances, because I can respond to all of these—or, in Nietzsche’s terminology, I can overcome them.
And most importantly, I can also respond to that which lies beyond my circumstances. I can respond that which I yearn for, I can respond to the possibilities that are not actualized but that call me to actualize them, I can respond to the calling that I hear in my heart that invites me to be what I am not, I can respond to the greater horizons of reality that open themselves before me. Through such a response I go beyond my current self, beyond my psychological mechanisms, and create a higher self, a fuller life.But as Nietzsche says, for this I need intensity, will, passion, creativity, courage and determination, and also a little bit of craziness. All of these we can find mentioned in the passages on the waves, the child, the rope across the abyss, and more generallythe overman.