The Literary Worldview

From Nietzsche to Huxley: An Exploration of the Literary Worldview

A worldview [1], being the dispositional state for the totality of human belief about the universe, is a seemingly elusive, yet promising, concept within academic circles. Above that, there is still no set standard for investigating worldviews on any systematic level conducive to either learning or practice; that is to say, there is no current methodology for either identifying or constructing the essential elements of a worldview in any discipline. However, this essay will nonetheless posit two possible methods [2] for engaging worldview studies and their following implications and possible inter-relations: namely, the categorical and holistic ways of understanding the nature and purpose of the world. The intention of this essay then will be to concentrate on how categorical expressions of worldview might be able to aggregate towards their holistic counterparts. From this categorical-to-holistic stance, a worldview comprises a three-part structure in forming a gestalt: (1) the global picture, a visual schema constructed from the fundamental conceptions of the lived world; (2) the system of rules, a set of co-ordinating axioms about how the world works in a purely operational and causal sense; and (3) the universal ideal for existence, a pragmatic ideology that aids individuals in their striving towards an idealized purpose for being in the world. To achieve this end, selected works from Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, will act as the primary texts containing particular worldview expressions for discussion and analysis throughout the essay. By focusing on these literary contexts, both literary critics and philosophers may certainly come to understand that worldviews function as interpretive constructs for the nature of reality in that they congeal the lived experiences of its adherents into a meaningful whole.

Although the global picture [3] in Thus Spoke Zarathustra may seem contrary to any notion of a grand unifying theory, it operates seamlessly since it utilizes anti-foundational viewpoints along with a radical existentialism as centers of reference. Yet, these problematic positions still fall within, not outside, “a symbolic system of representation that [… permits the integration of all knowledge] into a global picture, one that illuminates reality as it is presented to us in a certain culture” (Aerts et al, 9) or context. For instance, the possibility of Zarathustra’s worldview only becomes apparent upon his inversion of essentialist metaphysics through his greatest gift to humanity, “that God is Dead” (Nietzsche, 12). This very gift relieves humanity from the oppression of the need to exist, the totality of existence, and it subsequently brings forth a new worldview into being as a necessary counterbalance to all essentialist philosophies. Zarathustra is so connected to this worldview that he must do nothing but admire the tightrope walker for his bravery in seeking the overman by becoming a man of the “rope, tied between beast and overman” (Nietzsche, 14). The parable of the tightrope walker, furthermore, develops into a microcosmic expression of the both the content and the attitude of the global picture within Thus Spoke Zarathustra. After taking on the existential burden of Zarathustra’s worldview, the tightrope walker as man himself becomes the primary focus for this global picture in its perilous navigation through the surrounding axial positions of the last man, the beast, the jester (the traditions of gravity—religion, society, and the like), and the overman—all of these being the various coordinate manifestations of humanity within this worldview. The conceptualization of the global picture as a grid-like structure in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, thus, leads to Nietzsche’s extended metaphor of the existentialist model as a transformative process where each point of being is endlessly vying to intersect with all other points, to strive towards that final destination of the overman, the world-creator.

Likewise, the global picture in Brave New World is equally instrumental in the overall maintenance of symbolic representations of the totality of the universe because it grounds the novel into a totality via its key expressions and descriptors that are intertwined within the details of the characters and, by extension, their societies. One of the first unsettling indications of this World State worldview [4] is its inversion of stock world metaphors [5]. For instance, the arrangement of the organic and the technological aspects of societal life in the World State and its idiolect are radically re-arranged from traditional Western thought to short circuit notions of what might be normative for any given situation. The author achieves this end by describing the decanted infants of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre (CLHCC) as having cheeks like the “innumerable little cherubs” (Huxley, 16) of jubilant heaven, just before their grimaces of white fade to desperate yelps of agony due to deathly shocks of electricity. This kind of attention to subversive contexts supports the notion of an immensely different worldview predicated by a global picture dually immersed in biological and behavioural determinisms [6]. True enough, the global picture within Brave New World functions as a shifting caste system [7], wherein each caste theoretically presupposes itself as the highest pinnacle of all existence, yet, at the same time, differs itself from the dictates of the higher castes for the seemingly flawless governance of society. For instance, this fact of the caste system becomes self-evident when Bernard Marx, as a physically deformed Alpha, has troubles ordering some Deltas to prepare his helicopter since lower castes have come to associate “corporeal mass with social superiority” (Huxley, 58). The global picture thus becomes one of the vital elements of any particular worldview in that it allows its adherents not only to understand their place in the world but also to formulate a proper response to the distinct phenomenon within it.

A system of rules [8] is a cohesive element of integration and operation in existentialist worldviews, even if that said worldview thoroughly denies having any rules. Such is the case with Thus Spoke Zarathustra in its ardent commitment to an existentialist philosophy that depends upon two central. The first primary rule of Zarathustra’s worldview is that all meanings and values of the world follow from the individual in his or her pursuit of the aesthetic principle [9] of life. The parable of the three metamorphoses best reinforces this precept because it stresses the individual’s spirit in its creative movement from impotence to genius: “the spirit [in surpassing the camel and the lion and embracing the child] now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world” (Nietzsche, 27). At this point, the spirit of the individual as the child, the naïve being of creation, has the potential to will itself towards the overman, if its worldly experiences nurture its creative impulses throughout its subsequent developments. The second primary rule of Zarathustra’s worldview is the law of eternal recurrence, which binds everything to self-propagation and cyclical time. Zarathustra admits this reality in saying, “we [human begins] have already existed an eternal number of times, and all things with us” (Nietzsche, 220). However, this statement is more like a sermon than a truth for Zarathustra since a full acceptance of the rule of eternal recurrence might subconsciously destroy or revert his existentialist system to essentialist thought: this is the fear that Zarathustra lives with throughout the text. Furthermore, in combining the implications of the first and second rule, the responsibility [10] of the individual thus becomes the prominent insanity that affects all existence from that time forward—no resets to the uncreations and the unbecomings of the failed individual. Only in the fear of failure can the weight of this realization move Zarathustra towards a strong acceptance of his law of eternal recurrence: he must accept it as an article of faith. Zarathustra’s worldview, although perhaps minimalist, depends upon a few core rules that certainly have the potential to proliferate into an entire host of self-created axioms.

The system of rules for the worldview in Brave New World also complements its global picture through its stable centering on formulaic axioms that uphold a solid utilitarian philosophy. From the very beginning of the novel, the author describes the World State worldview as being highly rule-bound, especially when the intent of all its societal conditioning becomes evident to the visitors of the CLHCC. Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, further elaborates on this argument:

Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of these suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our [the World State’s] suggestions! (Huxley, 25)

Through these words, it is quite safe to assume that the World State worldview within Brave New World, rather than promoting the full extent of human agency, limits individuals from freely thinking and acting beyond its suggestions, to suggest the human psyche out of existence—to remove the burden of history and free will. For instance, the many hypnopaedic conditionings, in light of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis [11], act as an inner text that may express itself either verbally in words or kinetically in actions: Henry Foster, in considering a potential female companion, reasserts this inclination into a possible course of action via a hypnopaedic response: “Everyone belongs to everyone else, after all” (Huxley, 41), which removes himself entirely from any sense fault or guilt in this thoughts and actions. Similarly, a divergent inner text animates John’s being when it speaks to an entirely different worldview from that of the World State and its citizens, when he quotes Shakespeare to himself as a means of safeguarding his institutions of chastity against Lenina (Huxley, 130). The layout of the novel at the end of the fourth chapter also provides clues to the dialogical character of this kind of rule enactment since it artistically imitates the process of textual heteroglossia [12] in its erratic presentation of competing voices repeating key aphorisms. Within Brave New World, the systems of rules for each worldview primarily operate via the internal, programmatic qualities of language in its animation of the world.

Within existentialist worldviews, the universal ideal for existence [13] provides its adherents with a self-defined purpose for being that allows its happiness principle to fluctuate to the needs of the adherent. Even in the most difficult of cases of existentialist philosophy like Thus Spoke Zarathustra follows this pattern. In the opening prologue, Zarathustra proclaims not only the possibility but also the necessity of this very point in his oration on the new faith of the earth: “I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth” (Nietzsche, 13). In living by the meaning of the earth, the key message of Zarathustra’s worldview is that humanity should exist, above all else, for its present happiness in the physical world. Alternatively, Zarathustra further expresses this notion in his denouncement of the afterworldly and its false allure, which incessantly tricks humanity into an uncreative and unwilful mindset that would blindly sacrifice all for a little heavenly respite in “another state of being and happiness” (Nietzsche, 32). Yet, this form of wishful thinking is necessarily disappointing for it only prevents humanity from initiating the process of self-overcoming and from triumphing over those horrible circumstances that it once merely dreamed of escaping in delusion. The secret to self-overcoming for Zarathustra is life itself strengthened by the will to power for it is “that which must always overcome itself” (Nietzsche, 115). The spirit of the individual though embodying this intense procreative strength of becoming, in this context, quite rightly allows himself or herself the transformative insight to redefine his or her circumstances and self, to live by the meaning of the earth in its heroic assumption of the aesthetic principle. Although the universal ideal for existence in Thus Spoke Zarathustra may not be as streamlined as most worldviews due to its association with existentialism, all true adherents of Zarathustra’s ways struggle the same struggle in their constant creative dialogue with the world, and only through this endless process of self-overcoming are they able to rapture in the purpose of their existence, their self-actualization.

Interestingly enough, the universal ideal for existence in Brave New World manifests itself in a rather strict and collective manner. The primary goal of this World State worldview finally becomes clear by the end of the novel, when Mustapha Mond, the World Controller, reveals that the sole intent of the World State and, by extension, its citizens is to insure its social stability at all costs (Huxley, 202). In fact, the adherents of this World State worldview believe that they have “perfected” society itself so much that they espouse a fanatic conservatism along with an outright aversion to the historical process. This perspective in its idealization of socio-political stasis and its struggle for meaning on the cosmic scale, for instance, comes into full play with its subtle distain for the lessons of the past, which become “brushed away [as] a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees” (Huxley, 30). Given this particular stance, the individual’s purpose for being within the World State thus centers on his or her willingness to perpetuate its essential structures. The vast majority of The World State’s institutions relating back to the lived certainty of the “hive” mentality, the betterment of the part solely through the well-being of the whole. Moreover, anything outside this logic becomes entirely inconceivable as either an enigma or an anathema because the “world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they cannot get” (Huxley, 200). If anything might go amiss in the world, there are always the key psychological checks of soma [14], the ultimate pleasure drug, and unrestricted copulation [15], the ultimate cohesive act, to offset the varying stresses of life and work. In this sense, the World State worldview of Brave New World self-entitles its adherents to a universal ideal for existence that promises everything they might want—conditioning them in a way that they strive for nothing but the status quo, the childish mind.

A worldview then operates in literature, philosophy, and elsewhere by providing a global picture of the world that details its core nature, a set of rules that stipulates how the world might work as a whole, and a universal ideal for existence that offers a practical means for understanding and evaluating self-existence within that world. In other words, a worldview must be able to provide substantive answers to the following questions: what is the world, how does it work, and how do I live in it? The selected texts, Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Brave New World, are key contrastive examples that contain diverging expressions of worldview. For instance, the Zarathustra’s worldview depends upon never recognizing itself as a worldview, whereas the World State worldview depends upon always recognizing itself as a worldview. Neither of these expressions thus can escape the metaphysics of presence, for a worldview is a necessary thing. This fact becomes painfully clear in Derek Attridge’s unintentional discovery of the paralysis of deconstructionism in his discussion with Derrida on Beckett:

He is a nihilist and not a nihilist. Above all, this question should not be treated as a philosophical problem outside or above the texts. When I found myself, with students, reading some Beckett texts, I would take three lines, I would spend two hours on them, then I would give up because it would not have been possible, or honest, or even interesting, to extract a few “significant” lines from a Beckett text. The composition, the rhetoric, the construction and the rhythm of his works, even the ones that seem most “decomposed,” that’s what “remains” finally the most interesting, that’s the work, that is the signature, this remainder which remains when the thematics is exhausted (and also exhausted, by others, for a long time now, in other modes). (Attridge, 61) [16]

Rather than scrutinizing Beckett in a meaningful manner, Derrida lets his own self-identification with the controversial writer subconsciously prevent him from profaning the deconstructionist worldview and its primary tenet of the meta-sign from which all other signs become obsolete in their infinite deferral. A small personal admittance that the prison house of language knows no distinction between the once proud deconstructionist movement and its former adversaries. Yet, a worldview—even in its most simplistic sense—is something to celebrate for it says I am sentient, it says I am with a thunder louder than all the gods and beasts before us! Truly, the task of philosophy must somehow be to reconcile itself with the worldview concept, so that it might someday reclaim the former majesty of its oldest masters from the stupor of post-modernist nihilism.

Works Cited

    Attridge, Derek. Jacques Derrida: Acts of Literature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

    Aerts, Diederik, et al. World Views, from Fragmentation to Integration. Ed. Clément Vidal and Alexander Riegler. 1994. Center for Leo Apostel. 2007. 20 February 2009. .

    Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Hammersmith, London: Flamingo, 1994.

    Kearney, Michael. “World View Theory and Study.” Annual Review of Anthropology 4 (1975): 247-270.

    Naugle, David K. Worldview: The History of a Concept. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

    Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York, New York: Modern Library, 1995. Trans. of Also Sprach Zarathustra. 1892.

    Orki, Ben. A Way of Being Free. London: Phoenix House, 1997.

    Schultz, Emily A. and Robert H. Lavenda. Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    “Weltanschauung.” Def. 1. The Oxford English Dictionary. Online ed. 2009. .


[1] Worldview is the English derivative of the German term “weltanschauung,” which is broadly—if not vaguely—defined by the OED as “a particular philosophy or view of life; a concept of the world held by an individual or a group.” This term further elaborates as a comprehensive system of philosophy that constructs an interpretation of the totality of reality, keeping with the way it is perceived, experienced, and internalized by an individual or group of individuals.

[2] There is a common literary motif of conscientious—yet overreaching—individuals who seek either divine knowledge or matter only to end up impaired by its reception to the mortal coil. For instance, Euripides’ lost tragedy Bellerophontes speaks of Bellerophon’s flight to Olympus and Neil Gaiman’s Calliope describes Richard Madoc unlawful abuse of one of the Greek muses for his own personal gain, but these two individuals, regardless of their intentions become inhabitants of the Plain of Aleion (the eternal wandering). In this sense, the methodology in this paper will never be explicitly revealed to anyone since this knowledge would subsequently force eternal wandering on the reader, whom the author has always loved for their innocent joy in reading the text.

[3] The notion of the global picture traces back to the works of Karl Jaspers (The Psychology of Worldviews), Martin Heidegger (The Age of the World Picture), and Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations). Additionally, the global picture never restates or re-represents all aspects of a world as such since it provides a basic synopsis of the totality of reality for those that experience a particular worldview. This essay, by no means, expresses the global pictures of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Brave New World in a complete manner. The research on these global pictures is limited to partial, yet substantive, investigations, so that they might encourage worldview speculation within literary texts, not human subjects.

[4] The beauty of this fictitious worldview is that it is a worldview in and of itself, as the World State worldview simultaneously embodies the poles of both a dystopia and a utopia in that both of these “nowheres” become a somewhere because both of these entities solve the other—a perfect union.

[5] These world metaphors are a class of metaphors that serve “as the foundation of worldviews in different societies include societal, organic, and technological metaphors” as some of the most common instances of world metaphors (Schultz and Lavenda, 178).

[6] The World State worldview strives to force environmental and biological determinisms (the soma principle) in an attempt to control cognitive and emotive determinisms (the psyche principle). The majority of the novel centers on the class between these two entities of humanity. In fact, John’s sacrifice, not suicide, centers on his desire to correct the imbalance of these two determinisms within his world, so that a proper dialogue might spring forth in the mind of the onlooker.

[7] This caste system depends on rankings reinforced through divergent biological, behavioural, and socio-political conditionings for each of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. The sequential listing of the various castes also corresponds to their respective positions in society. Other categories of being outside the caste system, like the savages or the exiles, are still significant, though not crucial, to the operation of the global picture.

[8] A system of rules, like all other aspects of a worldview, further qualifies its global picture by saturating it within a set co-ordinating axioms about how the world works in theory. Michael Kearney, in a similar manner, systematically engages worldview studies in an way that limits the investigation to only cognitive catalogues of the essential domains in which universal rules most be formulated for any worldview to function as a whole. He notes seven primary areas of worldviews via the seminal works of Kant, Durkheim, and Piaget, “self, other, relationship, classification, space, time, and causality” (248).

[9] Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy derives its strength from prescribing synthetic, not natural, forms of happiness to possible adherents of the Zarathustrian way of life.

[10] The responsibility of the individual leads Nietzsche to the creation of the psychological concept of an overman, so that the entire thought of an existentialist system does not collapse in disrepair. However, there is never a clear distinction of how an overman differs from a god, as both of these entities are interpretive constructs of perfection, to which no particular can ever become in their finite nature. This is the major flaw of Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy.

[11] The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis roughly translates as the notion, “if you cannot speak it, you cannot think it.” This line of reasoning also leads to various forms of linguistic determinism in which all thought directly relates to the influences or of both grammar and language. All worldviews, moreover, can cause certain limitations among their adherents from thinking or behaving outside the logic that very worldview.

[12] Heteroglossia defines as a diversity of languages either competing or co-operating for expression within a given context.

[13] All worldviews depend upon their universal ideals for existence, which become apparent only after their global pictures and systems of rules outline the basic existential and operational structures of any given world. David Naugle, furthermore, notes that narratives, like worldviews, “form a symbolic world for which people are inclined to live and even die. Indeed, the power of stories to establish a context for life has been recognized since time immemorial” (297). See also Ben Okri’s work A Way of Being Free for similar discussions on the significance of stories and worldviews, especially his statement that “In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories we planted—knowingly or unknowingly—in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives” (46). Humanity’s happiness, in this case, may be dependent upon the stories that it chooses to uphold as true, for within these very narratives we can hope to know ourselves and others.

[14] Due to the overuse of soma, no one within the World State—with the exception of the World Controller and the island individuals—has the potential for growth or enlightenment because no one is allowed to solve their own existential crises from birth to death. The biggest threat to the World State, thus, is a counter-revolution from both the island and reserve individuals.

[15] This form of copulation is more akin to masturbation than sex because both the female and male ego of the World State can never truly differentiate themselves from the other, as they view the opposite sex as simply a means to an end—nothing more or less.

[16] I would like to give special thanks to my former English professor, Peter J. Murphy, and his insightful comments on the interview between Derek Attridge and Jacques Derrida concerning the nature of deconstructionism and Beckett’s work in his article, At Beckett’s Grave (or why Jacques Derrida has given up on Writing in the Direction of Beckett—for the Moment).