Monday, September 10, 2007

A better definition of the word "Übermensch" ( or Ubermensch) as used by Nietzsche

For all of you extreme individualists and partisans of Nietzschean Nihilism and philosophy.

The definitions of Übermensch as either Super Man or Over Man are pretty false, with "Super man" being totally false and "Over man" being kind of true but usually contextualized in a way that obscures just what it means.

A clue to what Übermensch means comes from a parallel usage in French. The word "Surrealism" was coined by pairing the french word "Sur", which means on like a bridge over a river or a town on the side of a mountain, or a town on a lake or river, to realism, meaning that Surrealism was something that went on top of reality or beyond reality and realism.

Über literally means over, and in other constructions is used just like that, for instance in the town name Oberammergau, famous for its Passion Play. I would say that Nietzsche employed the prefix
Über like the Surrealists used Sur to indicate that the Übermensch is a man beyond men. The idea "beyond" is key here.

Nietzsche was a misanthrope who believed that most people in his day and age were pretty corrupted, repressed, and hypocritical, and that this was the reality behind the praising of "Humanistic" principles. Man, the man of the 19th century humanists, related to mainstream German philosophy of that time (which was not something that Nietzsche was part of), was to Nietzsche something that was currently flawed. He even titled one of his books "Human, all too Human", in examining the human folly around him. So I don't think that he would have called his concept of what kind of person would be better than the people he saw around him the "Super Man", because Super in this case implies an amplification. A "Superman", like in the Superman comics, would be a sort of exaggeration of how humanity already is. And interestingly enough the comic portrays just that: "Superman" holds up the basic morality and mores of the day, and his superness is expressed in being the sort of muscle bound ideal man that men of the time believed was the ideal. Which brings us back to the "Over Man".

The phrase "Over Man" has been used in more literal translations of Nietzsche, that unfortunately butcher the writing because every person is used to reading "Superman" and no one knows what the fuck an "Over Man" is, frankly in order to make Nietzsche look less Nazi-esque, something that doesn't need to happen. It's sort of the bawdlerization of Nietzsche, but I digress.

What Overman means is something closer to trans-man, man who has gone beyond man as Nietzsche defines him. Nietzsche often made reference to the necessary trans-valuation of all values, the complete redefinition of values according to an entirely new system that wasn't hypocritical, and it's not too much to apply this concept to his definition of the sort of person that he thought should replace how humanity was currently.

What Übermensch ultimately means is a man who has transvalued man, so to speak, who has gone beyond the state that Nietzsche associated with men today and has established a different form of ethics and way of life. It doesn't entail superior strength or necessarily mind power, although Nietzsche comments that Christian culture makes people stupid. Just a different way of living, but not a way of being that's either an amplification of today's norms to an extreme or just some sort of weird "Overman", a word that means nothing to people who think in English.

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