In Zarathustra's "On the Vision and the Riddle," three animals-a spider, a snake, and a dog-make significant appearances, as do three human or quasihuman figures-Zarathustra himself, the dwarf known as the Spirit of Gravity, and the shepherd who must bite off the head of the snake. Of these animals, it is the dog who receives the most extended attention. Here, in the passage that along with "The Convalescent" (with its eagle and serpent) is usually and rightly taken to be Nietzsche's most articulate and yet highly veiled approach to explaining the teaching of eternal recurrence, the riddling vision involves animals. This is scarcely the only passage in Nietzsche to deal with the figure of the dog, although it is the one in which the dog has the most active role; frequently the name of the animal appears only in figurative speech. Here, even if the entire passage is a figure for the meaning of recurrence, the dog is as lively and noisy within the text as any of the other protagonists. Unfolding the vision and the riddle, or perhaps at least discovering what questions it asks, requires a confrontation with the figures of the animals and that howling dog. The parallel passage in The Gay Science (341) includes a demon rather than a dwarf and a spider spinning in the moonlight but no dog and no shepherd choked by a snake. Let us note, before proceeding further, that of all these animals, it is only the dog who is domesticated in the "real world." Eagles and serpents may speak in fairy tales (or at the beginning of Genesis), but they are fundamentally without language, although we suspect that the style of a dog's whining and whimpering and perhaps its howling may have something to do with its domestication. The need for a more subtle exploration of the role of the animal in the presentation of the thought of recurrence emerges when we realize that nowhere in Nietzsche's published writings is the teaching ever articulately affirmed by a human voice; yet in the two chapters of Zarathustra just mentioned, its dramatic presentation is staged with diverse animals. The discussion of recurrence in "On the Vision and the Riddle" reaches a turning point when the Miirchen-like dwarf has just "murmured contemptuously 'All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle.'" Zarathustra's reply to this reductionistic oversimplification is to pose a series of questions with very little in the way of affirmation, his last question being "must we not eternally return?" But he tells his audience-the searchers, researchers, and guessers of riddles-that with such questions his voice became increasingly soft, for he was afraid of his own thoughts and the thoughts behind them.

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Copyright © 2004 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. This book chapter first appeared in A Nietzschean Bestiary: Becoming Animal Beyond Docile and Brutal.

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