The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche on laughter might seem surprising considering his reputation but it occupies an important place in his mature philosophy. The parable of Zarathustra and the shepherd with the black snake illustrates the central importance of this—he meets a shepherd choking on a black snake and he urges him to bite its head off. This black snake is the doctrine of the eternal recurrence—a nightmare that threatens to kill us—or seen more broadly it is the tragic view of life itself. When the shepherd does bite off the snake’s head, he is transformed:
“No longer shepherd, no longer human—one changed, radiant, laughing! Never yet on earth has a human being laughed as he laughed! O my brothers, I heard a laughter that was no human laughter; and now a thirst gnaws at me, a longing that never grows still. My longing for this laughter gnaws at me; oh, how do I bear to go on living! And how could I bear to die now!””
In this episode we are going to explore the meaning and depth of this laughter and its counterpart the laughter of the herd which has been the target of disdain from philosophers and theologians throughout the centuries.
Lippitt, J (1992), 'Nietzsche, Zarathustra and the status of laughter', British Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 39-49. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjaesthetics/32.1.39
Weeks, M. (2004). Beyond a Joke: Nietzsche and the Birth of "Super-Laughter". Journal of Nietzsche Studies, (27), 1-17. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20717828
Meyer M. (2018) The Divine Hanswurst: Nietzsche on Laughter and Comedy. In: Moland L. (eds) All Too Human. Boston Studies in Philosophy, Religion and Public Life, vol 7. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-91331-5_10
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