The Great Philosophical Divide in Science Fiction

TomorrowLand Concept art

Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness. — Cioran, History and Utopia

There’s a fault line running in science fiction that predates it: the Great Optimism -Pessimism divide. The most obvious trope of each is the role of utopia/dystopia in the science fiction work, but that is slightly more complicated than it appears.

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Break On Through (Schopenhauer) to the Other Side!

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!

Leopardi and pessimism

 

Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on....
Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on….

 

Giacomo Leopardi is one of the greatest secrets of 19th century poetry. Despite being heralded by luminaries like Schopenhauer1 and Nietzsche, his fame remains scattered in Europe and hardly extends to the American hemisphere. Leopardi’s Zibaldone di pensieri2 was read by every school kid but they barely cracked open his Operette Morali.3 The likely culprit is an irredeemable pessimism that was too difficult for interpreters to connect it to contemporary issues. Leopardi wrote mostly moral essays, parables, fables, and dialogues – painting life as a joke of the gods – a darkly comic view of world and its inhabitants. However, instead of leaving the reader sad and pathetic, they are actually funny.  Continue reading Leopardi and pessimism

“Consciousness… the dagger in the flesh.” An essay on Cioran

Cioran, by Awet Moges

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.

Continue reading “Consciousness… the dagger in the flesh.” An essay on Cioran

Sisyphus Shrugged: An essay on Myth of Sisyphus

by Awet Moges

At the end of the 1949 film, Sands of Iwo Jima, after the US soldiers survive a battle, Marine Sergeant John Stryker (John Wayne) tells his fellow comrades in the trench that he’s never felt so good in his life.  He asks them if they want a cigarette, and then he gets killed immediately by a sniper. Later, the others find a letter on his body that contains many things John Stryker planned to say, but never did. Absurd, I thought, when I first saw this movie. I was expecting a happy ending to the movie because the protagonists always survived the climax. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that scene when I read Albert Camus’ essay on the absurd, The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay I will break down the concepts of the absurd, eluding, suicide and eluding, and make a few observations of my own. Continue reading Sisyphus Shrugged: An essay on Myth of Sisyphus

Philosophy of the Gods, part II

(For part one, go here)

ELDER GODS

Mamacocha and Isis, by Awet Moges

Their immortal hearts have been seared and hardened by an insurmountable evil that makes them immune to all fantasies & hallucinations of gods who still believe in ideals. Elder gods reject Cartaphilus, that dangerous prophet, and the most audacious thinker of delirious times.

The elder gods are typically radical skeptics & lovers of doubt. Instead of an impetuous glorification of life, these elders have a disillusioned outlook that considers themselves to be superior skeptics and exorcists of all certainty & conviction. Their observations are fueled with the abysmal mechanisms of doubt – an antiseptic that pacifies the spirit and detaches it from any vital stakes. Continue reading Philosophy of the Gods, part II

History according to pessimism

Marvin, the pessimistic android

After hearing about Fukuyama’s End of History thesis, I began to wonder:

Were there truly an “end” of history, a post-history, the possibility of all events coming to an end, who would be a competent historian to observe this end of all cycles?

This does not refer to theoreticians of the “end of history,” but of a different type – a true historian looking back after all histories had ended, a post-historian observing that there are no more events to record, except perhaps the act of recording for the unknown readers of the future. The end of history is the end of the fall into time – when man became historical after being exiled from paradise. Continue reading History according to pessimism

Does pleasure consists of positive existence?

Delush!

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?

All is vanity…

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.

Optimism/Pessimism: Schopenhauer vs Nietzsche

by Werner Horvath

This essay seeks to compare and contrast Schopenhauer and Nietzsche by putting their philosophies of pessimism and optimism in high relief. In relying on Georg Simmel’s analysis, I suspect I may have caricatured Nietzsche in order to write a balanced essay, so feel free to disregard this as an adequate representation of Nietzsche’s multifaceted philosophy. It was originally written for a friend who argued that I had no reason of siding with Schopenhauer over Nietzsche, and it became a lengthy analysis of optimism and pessimism. Continue reading Optimism/Pessimism: Schopenhauer vs Nietzsche