Much like how rationalism diminished the credibility of religious authority during the Enlightenment, the Romantic period brought a deluge of irrationalism and eroded confidence in reason. While it’s questionable whether Romanticism was motivated by a genuine search for the truth or by the tedium and conservatism of rational inquiry, reason as the exclusive guideline was gradually dethroned, as was the presumption that the world was an coherent and structured system.Continue reading Sweet Nothings
O sweet & deadly nihilism, what cruel beauty…
Of the four flavors of psychological states,
Three intoxicants are poisonous
Naturally & culturally, individually & socially!
First venomous flavor is the cockcrow
Of arrant meaninglessness–
A failure of Grand Purpose,
Promises a bitter aftertaste of Discouragement & melancholia!
Second rancorous flavor is the faith
In some conjectural Everything, a great Chain of Being;
A cosmic guarantor of infinite worth!
Woe unto he who loses his faith,
for he loses his own self-worth too!
Third malignant flavor is the visceral gasp
At the infinite flux, absent a safe respite;
Nothing to do but condemn all
For the sake of some Cloud Cuckoo Land,
That has no staying power whatsoever!
And the Fourth flavor? Curiously,
Neither aim, nor unity, nor Being apply!
Nothing left but a brand new tomorrow
Freed of crumbling relics & monuments of yesteryear!
Freed at last to create new selves, new worlds, new futures!
I have attached my working English translation of Clemet Rosset’s essay on Schopenhauer, The Sense of Absurd in Schopenhauer’s Philosophy. Rosset has emphasized the concept of absurdity as the chief intuition of Schopenhauer. In this fashion, Rosset has gone beyond the level of explaining odd or strange behavior, and to the root of existence itself. Therefore, to assess the strangeness of existence as a blind, ceaseless will also helps in the assessment of its particular manifestations, we ourselves as individuals.
In this essay, Rosset establishes Schopenhauer as the father of the concept of the Absurd that gained widespread circulation in mid-20th century French literature. As a French theoretician of postmodernity, Rosset pulled off a difficult job in summarizing Schopenhauer without sacrificing the 19th century German thinker’s profundity and relevance for today.
If philosophy cannot guide our conduct, much less change behavior, then why should we bother read philosophy at all? Curiosity, perhaps? If philosophy can help guide conduct, then let’s look at conduct. At the bare minimum, our actions are the result of character, which is what we fundamentally will as motivation. Then it follows that a change in motives will result in a change in action. Then it is reasonable that philosophy can at least produce a change in the information we have about the world that is relevant to how we act.
Hypocrisy is the respect vice pays virtue. – La Rochefoucauld
Hypocrisy is essentially an action where one pretends to hold clear and recognized set of values or attitudes but actually doesn’t. Despite choosing vice, the hypocrite understands that virtue is superior and assumes its facade. Therefore, the hypocrite is not being dishonest about good or evil, but rather himself. Continue reading Master Vice: Hypocrisy
After 7 years, I was burned out by philosophy, yet I continued to haunt the philosophy section in search for anything radical and profound. Amidst the expected titles commonly found at any bookstore, sat A Short History of Decay. I pulled it off the shelf in the faint hopes of killing time until the cigar shop opened in 20 minutes. After a couple of hours disappeared savoring the salacious prose, I begrudgingly closed the book and hurried to the checkout counter, cackling in glee in the wonderful fortune of uncovering a new thinker that spoke blasphemous music to my eyes.
How can pleasure “lack” positive existence? It is indeed the case that our simple common sense seem to attribute positive experience to pleasure and negative experience to pain, that they are the opposite ends of a sliding scale of experience. Continue reading Does pleasure consists of positive existence?
Regarding my previous entry, most people fail to address the force of the argument, which depends on the assessment of pain and pleasure. The insinuation, little more than a cheap handwave, that people who get bored are not creative is easily contradicted by the facts of life. The most creative people i know are also the ones most prone to boredom, (the sharper the intellect, the worse the boredom) more than likely because their intelligence is not so easily satisfied. Creativity provides no immunity to boredom whatever.
Historically speaking, boredom is a 19th century invention that updated the Latin “tedium” and the French “ennui.” Madame Bovary and Awakening both contain protagonists whose boredom killed their will to live.
If a person achieves sustained satisfactions of his/her desires, and because the essence of his/her nature is a restless driving, he/she will find her/himself confronted with an inner emptiness that is brought about by the absence of the only mode in which she/he can exist. This malady is known by many names: anomie, accidie, noia, ennui, existential boredom, is a 20th century characteristic. Schopenhauer says the formula for people to avoid the Scylla of the will and the Charybdis of boredom is “bread and circuses,” i.e., in our modern vernacular, McDonalds and television.
Optimists in general have neither lived long enough nor looked deeply into the sufferings everywhere. The so-called bright future or the great individuals are merely momentary respite from an overall pattern of one objectification of the insatiably hungry will devouring another. If the essence of the universe is to cannibalize itself by proxy through its objectifications in the world as representation, then there must be a continual give and take. Some are eating, some are eaten, and all things eventually suffer the same fate. The cycle ends only when the world as representation ends (the death or inability to represent for any representing subject). The optimist, totally lacking in a metaphysical foundation in understanding the world as representation, has a narrow attitude that is solely concerned with the fate of those who are (for a time) privileged to be eating rather than eaten, and mistake those limited one-sided happenstances as typical of life. Optimists fail to appreciate that for every objectification of the will that temporarily thrives, there are billions of others that must pay the price. If your life during this particular period of life is going gang-busters, the pleasure that takes place requires the desolation of many other objectifications of the will being sacrificed in the process. (depletion of the natural resources, pollution of the environment, disadvantages for future generations). Show me a successful individual, and I’ll show you thousands of others being used or consumed. The suffering and the exploited always outnumber those who benefit. Moreover, the satisfaction of desires in turn produces its own intense dissatisfaction. Malise is followed by death, and for those who temporarily succeed in gratifying their will, poverty, humiliation and debility await. A sober and realistic view of life is truly pessimistic – perhaps extreme, but to think that we are not meant to suffer, that we somehow deserve happiness, or that the world owes us the fulfilment of our purposes, is a mistake. Schopenhauer’s essay on vanity helps us escape these optimistic delusions to a harder view, but also at the same time a more humane one – more realistic, at least. Life has no purpose, suffering is always part of it and its end may be welcomed.
Some may be tempted to argue that Schopenhauer is not a true pessimist because he does not truly believe that there is absolutely no value possible in life. He grants aesthetic contemplation, artistic genius, life of philanthropy, justice, asceticism, renunciation of the will are the supreme value for some of us. Whosoever escapes the will achieves salvation, a state which value is unassailable. Indeed, this does not quite chime with pessimism, if it must mean that nothing is of any value. However, this does not conflict with Schopenhauerian pessimism where nonexistence would be better and this world is the worst possible one. The value of will-lessness is genuine, but only as some amelioration of the worst possible situation. Hypothetically, there could be an even worse world – one utterly lacking in salvation of will-less resignation. Yet, this existence would appear to be so intolerable that nobody who understood it could endure it at all. Not really a possible existence.
Moreover, I think even Schopenhauer’s salvation is deeply pessimistic, if the only possible true value depends on self-renunciation. Resignation or aesthetic quality is the attitude of detachment from the individual that strives for life. If this individual remains what I am in the world of representation and the will to life, what i am in myself, no immaterial soul, no rational essence, no part of divine plan, then what i am is not only worthless but the very obstacle that must be broken down before true value is even glimpsed. Schopenhauer’s solution to the problem of existence is basically a self-loathing that contains the blackest pessimism possible…
Schopenhauer’s great intuition: human existence is a constant vacillating between pain and boredom. The existence of boredom is more than just evidence of a disagreeable state; it is proof that man is fundamentally unhappy.
“If life possessed in itself a positive value and true content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us. As things are we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something..”(Essays and Aphorisms 53 – 54)
The default reaction to bare conscious continuity, being awake but not doing anything, is boredom. This awareness disappears once we institute and pursue a goal, thereby distracting ourselves from the empty or illusory nature of our lives. During those fleeting moments of satisfaction, we return to raw existence itself.
The final irony of pessimism: even if our desires are satisfied, although imperfectly, the outcome is naught but boredom.
Pure consciousness, framed by space and time, consists of nothing, nothing at all. That nothingness allows us to become most intimately aware of the der Nichtigkeit des Daseins, the Schopenhauerian nothingness of existence, i.e., better known as vanity.
While boredom is not as wounding as sheer pain, it is a form of suffering unique to conscious beings. It is the byproduct of an intuitive understanding of the metaphysical situation of man – the existence in time.
Vanity is not to be confused with the Christian view, where all things are empty as opposed to the heavenly. The phenomenal, temporal and conscious world is illusory because it conceals the real yet transcendental world of the will, and Schopenhauer says “the way in which this Nichtigkeit (vanity) of all objects of the will makes itself known and comprehensible to the intellect that is rooted in the individual, is primarily time. It is the form by whose means that vanity of things appears as their transitoriness, since by virtue of this all our pleasures n enjoyments come to nought in our hands” (WWR II 574)
Because the fundamental element of all individual wishes, for Schopenhauer, is the will, then this Nichtigkeit is “the only objective element of time, i.e., that which corresponds to it in the inner nature of things” (ibid)
Consequently, boredom is the correlate of this essential emptiness of conscious experience, something we become aware of once we quit the striving for individual goals and return to the bare model of existence. While boredom is not a byproduct of reason, it is a cognizance of the evanescent quality of all physical goods.
There is an explanation for why the achievements of our individual goals fail to satisfy: our normal/default condition is active suffering, and since pleasure lacks positive existence, the temporary relief of pain results in boredom, which is but merely a lesser form of suffering. In order to escape boredom we institute fresh new goals. Hence, the constant vacillation between pain and boredom where each extreme sends us in a rush toward the other.
Although our constant yearning, striving, struggling is on the face of it futile, it actually achieves a completely different result other than what we hoped for. Even if we do arrive at our goals, they fail to bring us satisfaction, if at all. But during the process, there is a subtle, yet true achievement: the understanding of the futility of our actions. We can perceive and understand the vanity of existence, once the ongoing effort to keep and maintain physical objects turn out to be utterly pointless. Consequently our illusions about the purpose of life is replaced with the shattering truth.
The predominance of boredom only confirms that it is understood. Look at the countenance of virtually every elderly person, Schopenhauer says. It is an expression of disappointment. If the “fundamental characteristic of old age is disillusionment; the illusions which hitherto gave life its charm n spurred us to activity have vanished. We have recognized the vanity and emptiness of all the splendors of the world… We have learnt that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty n hollowness of our existence. Only when we are seventy do we thoroughly understand the [second] verse of Ecclesiastes.” (Parerga and Paralipomena, p. 494)
Conclusion: for Schopenhauer, boredom is the outcome of the illusions of conscious life.