Ich lehre euch den Übermenschen. Der Mensch ist Etwas, das überwunden werden soll. Was habt ihr gethan, ihn zu überwinden?
English: I teach you about the Overhuman. The human is something that should be overcome (Note: “überwunden” – post’s title, “Überwindung”, is the related noun). What have you done to overcome it?Nietzsche, “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Erster Teil, Abschnitt 3 von Projekt Gutenberg, English my translation
Was gross ist am Menschen, das ist, dass er eine Brücke und kein Zweck ist: was geliebt werden kann am Menschen, das ist, dass er ein Übergang und ein Untergang ist.
Ich liebe Die, welche nicht zu leben wissen, es sei denn als Untergehende, denn es sind die Hinübergehenden.
English: What is great in the human is that it is a bridge and no goal. What can be loved in the human is that it is a going-over (Note: “Übergang” as in title) and a going-under.
I love those who only know to live as one who goes under, as they are those who go over.Nietzsche, “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Erster Teil, Abschnitt 4 von Projekt Gutenberg, English my translation
As a precursor, I have to open this with a clarification of stance and intention. Russian Circles vies for the place of my favorite band. I’ve listened to them more than any other band for the last few years, and I’m thrilled that they will be touring through here next week. I’ve been waiting to see them live for years. I’ve written about them one time previously here, but I haven’t even touched on the depth of meaning and empowerment they inspire in me. This post will be a rough attempt at that, riffing on some ideas from Nietzsche and the Stoics that came to mind last night.
I was going down stairs last night with a weighted vest on, having pushed myself to climb up them multiple times with that extra weight. My legs ached. Such is the pain of pushing oneself to the limit through bearing extra heaviness. Perhaps Nietzsche’s own Spirit of Heaviness from Zarathustra echoed in the recesses of my nonconscious mind, as I flashed on the “Untergang” of going down the stairs in the darkness, the going-under. My mind jumped between Nietzsche’s own strong usage of the term (as above) and its connection to the overcoming and overgoing/going-over of the Overhuman (Übermensch) as well as a philosophical friend pointing out years ago that Plato’s Republic begins with Socrates going down out of the city to the manor for the festival and party where the dialogue takes place. That connection always feels both random and not accidental every time I think of it, somehow.
As I thought of these things, Russian Circles’ Memorial played in my ear buds. Even with their magnificent recent release, and despite the fact that I would say Guidance is their best album, Memorial is the album that I listen to the most with them. It’s haunting – literally and figuratively: literally because it’s an album that stays in your mind after listening; figuratively because it is about grieving and that ambience dominates throughout the album, so it is about the specters of the past.
I’ve wanted to write about this band and find a particular song to focus on for some time. In the past year, I’ve been obsessed with “Micah” from Enter, “Vorel” from Guidance, and “Harper Lewis” from Station among so many excellent songs. I could pick multiple songs from any of their albums to speak about, so it’s really difficult to pick one to summarize a message and a feeling that I sense carries across their albums, despite their very different tones and technical explorations in each.
Recently, I was on another walk, the first with that physical version of the Spirit of Heaviness, the weighted vest, and I was also listening to Memorial. When I hit “Ethel”, I felt so incredibly empowered in the way that I can only describe as a Nietzschean overcoming and overgoing, what I always associate with light feet. I wrote about this long ago in a grad school class where I wrote aphorismically about therapy and existentialism:
12) Healing thyself. As Nietzsche said: “Everything good is instinctive – and consequently light, necessary, free. Effort is an objection, gods and heroes belong to different types (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity)”. Light feet as divinity – a revelation! Feeling the weight of heaviness keeps us from running, dancing, flying… We encounter the suffering of others all the time, but we are more than just vessels for suffering. Staying healthy requires a lightness of foot, mind, and soul, rather than the heaviness of disease; it requires a quick, easy readiness to laugh! Remember that to heal oneself is a dance with the abundant radiance that is in oneself, in the Other – “You”, and in the world. Light feet…Writing mine. Quote from Nietzsche: Nietzsche, F. (2002). Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thinking of all these moments last night, the Nietzschean contrast of going-under and going-over, undergoing and overgoing, came to me as the dynamic pull to describe in Russian Circles’ music. All of their work feels like a facing difficulty and moving forward through it, a being destroyed and reborn, a Stoic resolve (a supposed Nietzschean influence, although I find him to be at the very least an early modern/existentialist reimagining of the attitude; Deleuze was right in emphasizing the dynamism of Nietzsche’s energetics affirmation and transformation: that’s precisely what’s at play with the transformation of destruction, going-under, into a positive creation and affirmation of the entire process, going-over). I remember doing a lot of research into Russian Circles’ message some time ago, and I swear that one of the band members said something very similar of Guidance, but returning to the search today, I can’t find it. I did, however, find this echo in a review of Guidance that summarizes this dynamic march of strength and resolve well: ” Guidance is another steady step in their journey, a record that bears the artwork of that photo packet that came into the band’s possession, trying to paint a portrait of strength and dignity even in the face of hell” (Meat Mead Metal Album Review, July 2016). That review is fantastic because it gives an explanation of the evocative album cover of Guidance. It’s an image of a man being marched to his execution: hence the portrait of strength and dignity even in the face of hell. Furthermore, nothing is more existentialist (think of Camus’ The Stranger or Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return). The thing is, that strength and dignity is what I get in every Russian Circles album albeit with different overtones and undertones, different supporting themes and feelings around it. That stance is there throughout: an overcoming and overgoing, eine Überwindung und Übergang.
Again, “Ethel” is a fantastic example of this. It’s a song full of major key energy in the midst of an album exploring the various layers of grief. It’s only a couple songs before the final song, a song where Russian Circles has a guest vocalist who sings of going crazy and grieving the heartbreak of the past, questioning the validity and intensity of that experience, while undergoing it. “Ethel” in contrast feels like someone dancing and climbing mountains, no matter the weight, overgoing in precisely the way I aspired to in running up stairs while wearing a weighted vest.
I hope to write more about Russian Circles after seeing them next week and about that track with vocals, but at this point, I think I’ve summarized the theme and feeling well enough to leave you with “Ethel” as a song to experience and hope you will check out the rest of that album and their discography in general.
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