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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Nietzsche en « Bouddha de l’Europe »

by Stéphane Floccari, philosophe

Nietzsche as the " European Buddha "

Translated Monday 30 November 2009, by Edward Lamb

Will the Western theorist of « übermensch » [1]
succeed in inspiring a return to the wisdom of Zen without staging an iconoclastic, anachronistic encounter; an innovating essay explores the question.
Nietzsche l’éveillé , de Yannis Constantinidès et Damien MacDonald, Éditions Ollendorff 
et Desseins, 194 pages, 24 euros.

JPEG - 13.6 kb
Nietzsche & Dogen

In the margins of this quite original treatise, interspersed with the striking analyses by Yannis Constantinidès, already acknowledged for his distinguished work on Nietzsche [2], we discover ink drawings by Damien MacDonald, playwright and author of prize-winning documentary films.
The tandem works so well that the resulting « illustrated essay » almost leads us to overlook the underlying exploit: the demonstration of the complex relationship where the Western inventor of the “death of God” concept encounters a certain Far Eastern wisdom which fundamentally conceives itself without reference to a Creator or Idol.
This is no new question. It has been raised by others, including Marcel Conche, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy [3] But Constantinidès’ and MacDonald’s work is none the less innovative and original. Firstly, because the proximity of words and sketches accord added depth to their meditation, an insight into the primal origins of things, in their ever so paradoxical simplicity. In much the same fashion as Nietzsche in his clever use of aphorism, the authors play on the effects produced by linguistic juxtapositions the hidden meaning of which depends on the reader’s aptitude to interpret them. [4]
This is no moot point, considering that the interest of this work lies not in Nietzsche’s attitude toward « primitive » Buddhism; but, rather, in the philosophical influence of Zen. For, neither Buddhism nor Christianity (the latter of which Nietzsche has already sufficiently commented on that it needs no further intermediary…), is endowed with any more homogeneity than that which our own ignorance tends sometimes to imply. The primary interest of the book is that it takes the risk of an intellectually fertile encounter between a 19th century German author and a 13th century Japanese monk, Maître Dôgen, who deserves to be better known to our Western philosophers.
Both one and the other encourage a return to those « things nearest to us » (our health, our home, what we eat every day, how we sleep, etc.) [5]
which the last great works on Nietzsche never failed to bring to the foreground [6] ; both of them invite us to shun those aseptic dualisms according to which we believe that the soul should be opposed to the body, the sky to the earth and, even worse, man to man.
The antique Greek notion [7].
of the “path” or “way” [8]
, which seemingly inspired the Cartesian term of “method”, might thus lead us to something other than the cult of truth [9], perhaps even be transformed into a simple “awakening” to the reality of the world. So it is that Nietzsche still remains one of the great examples of “awareness”, always cautious not to succumb to the nightmarish torpor of dogma and prejudice.

[1(NDLR) Übermensch: The first translation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra into English, was by Alexander Tille, published in 1896. Tille translated Übermensch as Beyond-Man. In his translation published in 1909, Thomas Common rendered Übermensch as "Superman"; Common was anticipated in this by George Bernard Shaw, who did the same in his 1903 stage play “Man and Superman”. Walter Kaufmann lambasted this translation in the 1950s for failing to capture the nuance of the German über and for promoting an eventual puerile identification with the comic-book character Superman. His preference was to translate Übermensch as "overman." Scholars continue to employ both terms, some simply opting to reproduce the German word.
Zarathustra, contends that "man is something which ought to be overcome:"
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Übermensch

[2Nietzsche, Hachette, 2001.

[3Nietzsche et le bouddhisme, Encre marine, 1997.

[4(NDLR) “An aphorism properly stamped and molded has not been ‘deciphered’ when it has simply been read; rather, one has then to begin its exegesis, for which is required an art of exegesis” - Nietzsche:On The Genealogy of Morals, preface 8.

“A good aphorism is too hard for the teeth of time and is not eaten up by all the centuries, even though it serves as food for every age: hence it is the greatest paradox in literature, the imperishable in the midst of change, the nourishment which—like salt—is always prized, but which never loses its savor as salt does.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher. Mixed Opinions and Maxims, aphorism 168, ’In Praise of Aphorisms’ (1879)

“The aphorism, the apothegm, in which I am the first among the Germans to be a master, are the forms of ‘eternity’; it is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book - what everyone else does not say in a book.”
- Kaufmann, Walter. The Portable Nietzsche, New York: Viking Press, 1968, p. 555-556. In "Twilight of the Idols, Skirmishes of an untimely man, #51".

[5(NDLR) calling us back to things that are nearby, Nietzsche is not concerned with mere utility. Rather a second self-limitation of the truth appears when he asks us to affirm the illusory for what it is, to will it, to place our trust in it.

“What, for so many, make the earth into a field of ill-fortune is ignorance about the most trivial and common things…” - Nietzsche

What lies near at hand is incomparably important because it involves necessities upon which our lives are entirely dependant.

“We take seriously the most humble things that have been despised and neglected in all times…”
“The little things -food, place, climate, recreation and all casuistry of self-seeking- are incomparably more important than everything that has been regarded as important up to now.” - Nietzsche

- Nietzsche: an introduction to the understanding of his philosophical activity : Karl Jaspers, C. F. Wallraff, F. J. Schmitz.

[6Nietzsche, philosophie de la légèreté, Olivier Ponton, Walter de Gruyter, 2007.

[7(NDLR)Friedrich Nietzsche: The Gay Science. “Oh, those Greeks—! They knew how to live — to believe in forms, in tones, words, the skin, ...

“Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial—out of profundity. And is not this precisely what we are again coming back to, we daredevils of the spirit who have climbed the highest and most dangerous peak of present thought and looked around from up there—we who have looked down from there? Are we not, precisely in this respect, Greeks? Adorers of forms, of tones, of words? And therefore—artists?" - Friedrich Nietzsche: The Gay Science.

Nihilism Before Nietzsche, by Michael Allen Gillespie
Nietzsche and the Greeks: Identity, Politics, and Tragedy: Giacomo Gambino

[8(NDLR)"We know the way, we have found the exit
out of the labyrinth of thousands of years.”
Nietzsche, The Antichrist §1.

[9(NDLR)St. Thomas Aquinas in the phrase, “the cult of latria,” (see Chapter 120, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 3)