oa Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology - Nietzsche's : a glance behind the mask of hardness

Volume 15, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1445-7377



Nietzsche's notion of the Übermensch is one of his most famous. While he himself never defined or explained what he meant by it, many philosophical interpretations have been offered in secondary literature. None of these, however, has examined the significance of the notion for Nietzsche the man, and this essay therefore attempts to address this gap.

The idea of the Übermensch occurred to Nietzsche rather suddenly in the winter of 1882-1883, when his life was in turmoil after yet another deep personal setback. The early loss of his father had deprived Nietzsche of a meaningful "mirroring" and a chance to experience realistic, age appropriate disappointment. This left him with a lifelong tendency towards idealisation. It became his proverbial Achilles' heel and the source of repeated disillusionments and sorrow. The Übermensch may thus have been a culmination of his impulse to create altars and worlds before which he could kneel. Trying to cope with his own vulnerability, Nietzsche evoked an ideal of the Übermensch, a mask of hardness that was designed, if unconsciously, to ward off any future assaults on his fragile self.
The double aspect of Nietzsche's personality is explored in this essay. While a highly provocative, belligerent and uncompromising Nietzsche often emerges from his published works, a vulnerable, lonely and sometimes self-pitying Nietzsche lurks in his letters and the accounts of his friends and acquaintances. But could an "ideal of strength", such as the Übermensch, serve as a protective mask for someone with a sensitive, passionate interior? Nietzsche's descent into madness would suggest that no ideal can be a substitute for human, all too human, compassion.

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