Nietzsche’s Three Metamorphoses and an unexpected PBL Class: How I Got To Where I Am Now

As I’ve been writing these blog posts and thinking about my thesis, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I got here. I’m a senior, biochemistry major writing my thesis about education. How did this even happen? In the bio of my group “An Exploration into PBL by a Curious Undergraduate”, I talk a little bit about an experience I had in one of my Honor Scholar classes run by Beth Benedix. After that, I haven’t really gotten into who I am or how I got here. If you check out my post “The Importance of Conversation to a Student” I talk about some of my classes in high school and college and how those classes made me feel differently than most of the classes I had to take; however, I left out one class that really started me on a path to project-based learning (PBL). 

The class I mentioned in my bio was called “The Legacies of Nietzsche and Kafka”, and it was an Arts and Humanities class for the Honor Scholar program. Going into the class, I had only had Introduction to Philosophy, but I remembered liking the class because my brain got a break from my usual science classes. This new class focused on two philosophers – Nietzsche and Kafka” and how the impact of their writing can still be seen in the modern world. Having never read either of their works, I wondered how we would relate such old writings to the world we live in. On the first couple days of class, Beth explained to us how this class would be different than other classes at DePauw; we had the opportunity to create the syllabus for the class and to submit a reflection at the end of the semester for a letter grade. She was right – I definitely had never been in a class like that before. We also were charged with creating something to share what we learned during the first half of the semester with the community. At first, the thought of completing an ambiguous project was daunting for most of the class, but once we started reading and discussing, our minds were changed completely. 

Little did I know, this class was modelled using a PBL curriculum. Our class had complete autonomy in certain aspects such as the syllabus, class discussions, and the project. We spent the first half of the semester reading Nietzsche and then Kafka and discussing them in class. Each day, everyone came in with material read and questions to ask to the entire group. Beth was there as a source of knowledge and a mediator, but by no means was she the authority figure in the classroom. Many of our discussions centered around finding the meaning behind the text and why each author may have chosen that topic. We spent a lot of time in the realm of the existential which can be frightening without the support of others.

Nietzsche mainly used his texts to diagnose the world. They all focused on sharing how the world appears through his eyes and then how to live in this world once you know how it is. Without going into an in-depth analysis of the texts of Fredrich Nietzsche, he included varying sections about power dynamics, identity, and the importance of freeing oneself from the bonds of society. Almost immediately, I was hooked on the idea of freedom from society and man-made systems. I resonated with the idea of growing outside of the rules of everyone else. My major consists mainly of students with dreams of going to medical school which means they have a drive and sense of self-worth that stems almost solely on their ability to achieve that dream. For a long time, I was the same way. 

When I say this about others I don’t mean it in a condescending or demeaning way, but shortly after being in the class, I realized that I didn’t want to live that way. Being in a PBL class showed me how education didn’t have to be the same way it’s always been. Kafka, the other philosopher from the class, wrote differently from Nietzsche, but their feelings about the human condition were cut from the same cloth. He wove numerous short stories focusing mainly on a single main character who comes up against an institutional roadblock. In class, we spend days discussing the term “red tape” as it related to barriers in normal human life. To me, standardized test scores and astronomical application fees seemed to be the perfect example of red tape. Eventually, I began to feel that way about school in general. How much of my educational career had been spent jumping through hoops and crossing off boxes to get to the next level? 

At the end of the reading portion of our class, each student had to turn two projects – one about Nietzsche and one about Kafka. In keeping with the spirit of the class, the projects could be anything we could think of that exemplified what we had learned from each philosopher. My Nietzsche project was by far my favorite. One of my absolute favorite ideas from Nietzsche was his “Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit”. I’ll attach a link to a video summary below if you want to know more about it, but in short, he explains three different stages of transformation of the human spirit. The first transformation occurs when a human is old enough to understand the structure of society around them; when this occurs, they become a camel. The camel is disgruntled and often sad because of the burden of society they carry with them. “Red tape” and social norms weigh heavily on them as they try to conform their spirits with the rest of the human consciousness. Nietzsche claimed that most of the human population stays in this form their entire lives. 

On occasion, a camel may come to realize the cause of the burden they carry, and it makes them furious. So furious, in fact, that they become a lion. The second transformation into a lion causes them to rage against society and all of its systems. Nietzsche personifies society as a golden dragon, and all things of values have already been etched onto its scales. The lion no longer feels sadness or hopelessness but rather a burning rage to destroy the cage that has been unwillingly built around them and ultimately kill the golden dragon. Once defeated, the lion can have their freedom.  It’s rare for a person to even reach this transformation. Personally, at this point in time, I feel as if I float between the camel and lion. At times I want to rage against the system and burn it to the ground, but at other times, it feels easier to just relax back into the status quo. 

The third transformation that Nietzsche outlines seems to him almost impossible to reach (except for himself of course). After a time of rage and fury, the lion realizes that raging against their cage only further allows the cage to define him. To escape, they must be outside of it all – they must become a child. This part seems strange at first. Why would a human regress to where they started? How could a child possibly hold the key to freedom? On further thought, however, the answer seems clear. As a child, humans are not aware of the constraints of human society. They can be anything, believe anything, create anything. The only limits are on their imagination, and they feel happiness. With this freedom comes the ability to create and to make life into anything one can think of. That was the freedom I had been craving, and this story became the seed for the project you see unfolding today. 

As for the project, I created a children’s book about The Three Metamorphoses, but in the forward to the book, I explained how I envisioned it as a children’s book for adults. Children’s books teach children how to behave and basic concepts. I took that idea and used it to teach adults how to become children again. I’ll attach a link to my artist’s description of the book down below! If anyone wants to see the book, I’ll see if I can photocopy and share!

Link to Three Metamorphoses Video:

Link to my artist’s statement: click on attached document 

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