Gott Ist Tot
Nietzsche’s agonizing “God is dead” has become a twentieth century cri de coeur. Although almost everyone knows the text, few know the context. We present below the editor’s translation of the madman sequence from Die Froehliche Wissenschah (Book Three. 125).
(ILLUSTRATION: Friedrich Nietzsche)
HAVE YOU HEARD of the madman who lit his lamp on a bright morning, ran to the marketplace and cried out endlessly, “I search for God, I search for God.” Since among the bystanders were many who did not believe in God, there arose a great laughter. “Is he lost?” said one. “Has he run away like a child?” said another. “Is he in hiding — Is he afraid of us? Has he sailed away somewhere? Wandered off?” So they spoke and laughed among themselves.
The madman sprang into their midst and let his glance bore through them. “Where is God?” he cried. “I will tell you where. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. Why have we done this? How could we have emptied this sea! Who gave us the sponge that has washed away all our horizons? What did we do to unchain the earth from its sun? Where will it move in the future? Where will we move? Away from all suns? Will we not continually fall and stumble — backwards, sidewards, forwards, in every direction? Is there still an up and a down? Won’t we be forever straying through an infinite nothing? Can we breathe in empty space? Isn’t it growing colder? Isn’t night coming and more night? Must we not light our lamps in the morning? Don’t we hear the noise of the gravediggers as they bury God? Don’t we smell traces of the divine decay? Even Gods decay.
“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How are we to console ourselves for this murder of all murders? The Holiest and Mightiest the world ever possessed has bled to death from our knife wounds — and who will wash this blood away from us? With what water can we be purified? What form of penitence, what holy ritual must we invent? Is not the immensity of the deed too great for us? Must we not become Gods ourselves, if only to appear worthy of them? There was never a greater deed — and those who are born after us will belong for the sake of this deed to a history higher than all previous history.”
The madman stopped and was silent and again looked at his listeners. They were also silent and regarded him strangely. Finally he threw his lantern on the ground. It broke into pieces and went out.
“I have come too soon,” he said. “The time is not yet ripe. This monstrous event is still taking place, still spreading over the landscape. It has not yet reached the ears of men. Thunder and lightning need time, starlight needs time, deeds need time, even after they take place, in order to be seen and heard. This deed is farther from men than the farthest star, even though men have accomplished it.”
The tale is still told that on the same day the madman broke into several churches and played his Requiem aeternam deo. When he was led away and brought to justice, he repeated over and over these words: “What are these churches, if they are not the tombs and the gravestones of God?”
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Source: Instauration magazine, October 1977