Isabelle Wienand. Significations de la Mort de Dieu chez Nietzsche d'Humain, trop humain à Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra
Bern: Peter Lang, 2006. xvi + 304 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-3-03910-865-7
Reviewed by Niels Helsloot
Nietzsche's declaration that "God is dead" (GS 108) is one of his most widely known phrases, though often interpreted merely on the basis of his tale of a madman looking for God with a lantern in clear daylight. This aphorism from GS is central to Significations de la Mort de Dieu, even literally: it is cited in full in the middle of the book. Yet, earlier and later passages in Nietzsche's work where related themes can be recognized are taken into account as well, which allows for a relatively balanced interpretation of this epochal death.
The balance, however, is slightly upset by a limitation to Nietzsche's middle period. Dionysus, the irrational and dismembered god of BT, is not considered as a dead god (being expected to be reborn). The point of departure is the Christian God. Initially, HAH is presented as breaking away from Christianity by means of science and philosophy. Subsequently, the dead God is generalized: He becomes a metonymy for any fixation that undermines life, including scientific certainties from which religion might be criticized.
Against this background, the central passage on the death of God is not so much the tale of the madman (GS 125), but Nietzsche's warning against the worship of "shadows of God" even after God himself has died (GS 108). Such projections, or illusions, shelter from the meaninglessness of life, and thus prevent from unconditionally enjoying and affirming it. They are symptoms of a disease, of the incapacity to live—but diseases don't die.
Wienand, therefore, underlines Nietzsche's ambivalence about the death of God: only a madman could think that illusions can be definitively "murdered." The challenge Nietzsche poses is to live with the complex of metaphors such as God and death, and with the infinite emptiness of the realities they would refer to, by creating unforeseen new perspectives. Thus, the death of God is a continuous task rather than a matter of fact.
This implies that Nietzsche, though making way for new experiences of the divine, does not introduce metaphysical alternatives for the dead God. Wienand considers possibilities such as the Übermensch, but she judges Nietzsche's counter-ideals as consciously vague. Nevertheless, their earthliness can only be thought in opposition to God and gods. Whereas the higher men in Z still need a justification of existence by substitutes of God, Zarathustra himself prefers dancing and laughter without justification, if need be even in gods.
In spite of this, Wienand argues that the split between the earthly divine and God does not exclude the idea of a God, or one God, with capital G ("l'idée d'un Dieu" ) as long as it is not moral but beyond good and evil. This caveat is in line with her disinterest in gods such as Dionysus, with her rejection of Nietzsche's later A because it is too overtly anti, and with her characterization of Nietzsche as an atheist rather than a polytheist.
As we are living in times in which fundamentalist monotheists have revived their jolly religious wars, a more explicit stance about the cultural appeal of reintroducing this kind of illusion (and, maybe, about Nietzsche's strategies to avoid doing so) would have made the book even more topical than it is now. The probably conscious vagueness of the author about her own position, however, leaves intact the value of the subtle reading of Nietzsche's position that results from it.
Radboud University Nijmegen