What genre is Thus spoke Zarathustra? This question has been kicking around the academic universe for a long time. A friend of mine, Kathy Higgins, in her book on Zarathustra, called it a Menippean satire, and compared it with Apuleius. I think she is right about that. I also think that the Menippean form, in modernity, flows into the gothic novel. Just as there is goth poetry and novels, there is a space for Goth scripture – the Gothic novel in fact yearns to supply that gap, to convey the “Bad news.” TSZ, upsetting the value system that counts one kind of news as good and the other as bad, counts as Goth scripture, attempts to fill up the space left by the Schauerroman, by Faust, Frankenstein and De Sade’s Sodom.
This isn’t a claim that Nietzsche read Frankenstein or the One hundred days of Sodom. It is rather that there is a thematic in modern culture, a music, that Nietzsche was keenly attuned to. I don’t doubt that Wagner, at least, was familiar with de Sade, and most likely Frankenstein. And surely Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. De Sade said about The Monk and Anne Radcliffe’s that they were the “indispensible fruits of the revolutionary shocks which have been felt throughout Europe”. Indispensable to those shocks? The phrase, the word, is ambiguous. I would use a less organic metaphor – that the music of the news, the music of actuality, was the score in which they were inscribed. In fact, Sade compares them to the terrifying events of the past ten years, and asks whether the “malheur” of the average European doesn’t outweigh one hundredfold any sorrows or cruelties cooked up to torment Gothic characters. The Inquisition may picturesquely stretch people on the rack in the dungeons of the dreamt up Spain of Monk Lewis, but a mere for years before he wrote, a revolutionary delegation from Paris, sent to Lyon, had lined up counterrevolutionaries in a public square and killed them in mass by shooting chained together cannonballs at them, which tremendously splattering results. This is to say nothing of the White terror that the counterrevolutionary alliance was putting into place in the areas it conquered.
Of course, Zarathustra was written eighty years after de Sade penned his judgment on the contemporary state of the novel. But the span of European history since that time, as Nietzsche was keenly aware, was still determined by the French revolution. Or not determined – rather, that history was like a firefly trapped in a bottle, and bumping against its interior, and maddeningly transparent, walls.