Thursday, June 18, 2009

How spake Zarathustra?

For my morning and evening walks to and from work, I'm currently listening to Librivox's Thus Spake Zarathustra. I'm a huge fan of Librivox and use it all the time. All the readers are volunteers and all the recordings are in the public domain. It is the ultimate well-meaning, liberal, education-loving freak's (ie me) dream site.

I'm struggling a little with Zarathustra though. It does seem churlish to criticise, in view of everything I've said above, but nonetheless some of the readings are hard work. There seems to be a general sense of portentousness about the delivery, with everything declaimed and every sentence falling at the end. At times, the repetitiveness of the rhythms becomes boring, and Thus Spake Zarathustra is many things - perplexing, bamboozling, profound, witty, silly, provocative - but it should never, ever be boring. There is one reader in particular, and sadly he reads more chapters than anyone else, who is virtually unlistenable. He seems to dispense entirely with breath for most of the readings, relying purely on a croak from deep in his throat. Ghastly.

I don't know what it is with Nietzsche. I think he's a lot more playful than most people give him credit for; he's generally taken for some dour, half demented ranter. I think Zarathustra should be read with bounce and zip and elan and - yes, humour.

Thus spake Conoboy.


Court said...

Also worth considering: the translation Librivox uses is old, as it is of necessity in the public domain. There are now much better translations of the book, or, I should say, one easier on the English-speaking ear. Dunno if any are available as audiobooks, though. But all those "thous" and "thines" in the old translation do lend themselves to a certain portentousness, you're right.

Tom Conoboy said...

Yes, that's a fair point. They're using the old Thomas Common translation. I actually rather like that translation - there's something about it. Some of his words seem spot on - 'backworldsmen' rather than the awful 'hinterworldly', graet noontide instead of the dull 'great noon', even 'spake' instead of spoke'. There's a poetry to some of it that doesn't quite translate into newer versions.

But you're right, perhaps all the thous and thines which read okay sound clunky with the spoken word.