If there is one thing that my conscience always reminds me to improve on is reading more. Whether it is from lack of time, lack of want or simply ignorance, I am ashamed to admit I haven’t read as much as I wanted in 2015. But, regardless, I always longed for becoming a “better and bigger” reader.
So, at the end of last year, the knife has finally reached the bone, as they say and I decided to start listening to audiobooks for good, since the strong grip called “lack of time” wasn’t going to leave me be anytime sooner.
And, because I am a brave one, I picked up the most complex author I could think of at that moment: Nietzsche.
Story is as follows: I was going for a routine medical checkup at Medlife Grivita last autumn and I saw this punk kid in the subway holding a book in his hands, reading it with such passion. It was, of course, Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. I immediately felt ashamed and respectful at the same time. I lowered my eyes, recognizing to my previous ignorance, but felt joyful that our youth is still hungry for literature and, most of all, philosophy.
I picked up Thus Spoke Zarathustra for free from libravox.org, which by the way is a great site and initiative to bring audiobooks in the public domain by getting volunteers all over the world to narrate all sorts of literary masterpieces. I am truly giddy inside on the prospect of having access to this free resource and I recommended it to all who wish to improve themselves.
Moving onward with the review, this will be comprised of two sections: some thoughts on the Audiobook experience and some thoughts on the actual book.
The Audiobook experience
After hearing the 80 sections of Thus Spoke Zarathustra narrated by various people all around the globe, I can truly say that audiobooks are not for everyone.
This is not my first attempt in the Audiobook realm. I have previously tried listening to: The Hobbit and The Decameron, but I have failed to finish any of them.
The main struggle comes from the fact that you really need to be focused on the listening experience. And because when reading your eyes interpret the information and you basically articulate the written words in your brain, this is more easy to do. When, instead, your eyes do nothing and your brain is requested only to focus on the ears and the information received from there, then things tend to become tricky as the slightest change in the context of your hearing experience can distract you.
But, as always, with patience and exercise, you should be able to zone out and be a better listener. I have been listening to Thus Spoke Zarathustra each morning on the way to work and even if I considered it to be hard at first, near the end I actually managed to transform this experience into a brain stimuli, getting fully awakened and thoughtful.
As I previously stated, libravox.org audibooks don’t feature just one narrator, but many. I have listened to English narrators with great accents, precise German people and some less fortunate Indian ones. If there is one gripe which I have with this audibook experience is when the narrator is very hard to understand.
I was at section 68/80 in my audiobook when an Indian narrator started speaking for the next few chapters. For me, it was important to understand properly as much as possible from this already hard book, but this guy made my “listenings” a living hell. I literally needed to go in a quiet room and just focus on his voice to get what he was saying; even the simplest phrases were a chore. So, my honest feedback to the site is: it’s great what you’re doing, but don’t let people with really hard to understand accents narrate. It is unbearable to hear them and it ruins a rather nice experience.
But, besides this annoyance, I recommend the audiobook experience to all that are up to the task. Audiobooks are not for the sloths or snobs as you might think. They are actually a challenging form of internalizing information and there is quite a lot of effort that needs to be put in them, if you want to understand the lecture properly.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
The book itself is, in my opinion, an epiphany. I do not claim I understood it all – for sure there is so much more to explore in this text, hidden from my amateur ears. But, nonetheless, the little that I took from it changed my mind for the better.
The version which I listened to is the 1909 one, translated by Thomas Common. It is spoken in the old English language, so, if you want to follow my footsteps, be prepared for lots of weird grammatical constructions that we no longer use in the modern English language.
Like the German language in general, Nietzsche is almost mathematical with his writing and maxims. Sometimes, while listening, I could understand the causality in his phrases, I could actually imagine them like equations that a clear, mature mind would be able to grasp and understand fully.
I liked the book for its views on the world, for its maxims. And boy, does Nietzsche have lots of those. Though I could not shake the feeling that there is great disgust in his speech for the world of men. And this is also depicted in the book when Zarathustra becomes ill for several days in his cave due to this reason.
Another thing which I noticed is the rather misogynistic nature of Nietzsche. He considers all things related with women as being weak and not worthy for the higher purpose he is supposed to fulfill. There is a section where Zarathustra is asked to speak onto an old woman and the intellectual payload is rather strange. His conclusion is that women and men can’t be friends, that women are only an object of joy for the “warriors” and slaves to the feeling they call love. This is somewhat contrary to other sections in the book where his views change and regards women and maidens as gifts and compliments their beauty or their dance.
The book is comprised of 80 sections where Zarathustra, a lonely wanderer that preaches the teachings of the Super Man, presents his ideas onto his disciples and the world. I really liked the fact that Nietzsche took his time to actually have a story that grounds the ideas in reality rather than go full on with his etheric speeches.
The main message transmitted by the book is that God is dead and that man needs to descend into his higher self. For Nietzsche there is no upwards going, but downwards, down into the depths of being, where you could understand your nature and become a Super Man. A being that transcended pity, voluptuousness and other earthly deadly sins. The book touches on many areas of life and society, mocking the state as being the most vial of beasts, the church and God who is considered to be dead and then, later on, ironically resurrected in a donkey, good and evil, death and even science and human ugliness.
As the full title says, Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a book “For all and none” and in my opinion it is a title that I am happy to have finally heard in this lifetime. I believe now that it is an essential lecture or reading experience for all aspiring youth. It should be understood as much and as personal as possible.
Until I finish listening to my next audibook experience, I highly recommend you trying Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is hard, it requires lots of attention, but it shines brightest when you get a glimpse of the treasure it hides inside.