Today I bought a copy of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. It’s the third book in a series by the late Stieg Larsson, of which I have read the first two. The first book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’m not sure if I can recommend the books. There’s lots of sex and violence. But it’s a really good story, one of those books that’s hard to put down, and the main character (the girl referred to in the titles) is compelling because of her dark past, her cunning, and her unrestrained goodness.
Her name is Lisbeth Salander. She’s very small. But she can fend for herself. She doesn’t hesitate to lie, kill, or steal if it’s in her interest to do so. But she always pursues ends that are good when she does these things. She completely disregards the rules, but she is still bound by her own sense of morality, and she follows it without fail.
I see Salander as a literary instantiation of the Nietzschean übermensch because of this. The übermensch does not need to cling to the dead values of those who have already passed. Instead, she can create her own values to live by. This is exactly what Salander does. She decides what she thinks is good, and she does not let anything or anyone get in her way. Her pursuit of the good is relentless, and cannot be stopped by social norms and customs or even laws.
Characters like this are fascinating because the idea of an übermensch is kind of appealing, in some ways. What if we could pursue the good without being constrained by all these burdensome societal expectations? What if we could do evil that good may follow without a guilty conscience? It’s interesting to think about. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t make the world a better place. But what I appreciate about the idea of the übermensch is the idea that you have to own your values. Otherwise they’re not really yours. And if they’re not yours, then you’re not likely to care that much about them. Of course, you’re not free to create your values, because we can’t do that. But we must actively commit ourselves to the good, and not just passively acquiesce to it. Salander does that.