Nihil Sub Sole Novum*

Galileo sculpture by Aristodemo Costoli in Uffizi

Discontent with the increasing wealth and unchecked corruption of the Roman Catholic church helped to interrupt and eventually break down the stagnant worldview of the Dark Ages, and the long slumber of free inquiry slowly began to end. For the first time in a thousand years, investigations into the nature of things could be directed without clerical tampering and the threat of heresy.

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Apropos of Nothing

Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine

In 314, the Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan assured the Christian hegemony over several competitors. You’d think the anxieties and melancholia present during the Roman Empire’s decline would be partially alleviated with the official sanction of Christianity. Hardly!

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Seneca

Portrait of Seneca the Younger by Pierre Paul Rubens

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, one of Rome’s most famous philosophers spent a large part of his life trying to convince his student Nero the finer points of being a Stoic-flavored philosopher-king. While he did demonstrate unselfish nobility in his writings, his life was rife with greed, made base with expediency. and plagued with conspiracies. Continue reading Seneca

We Know Nothing

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Tyche, the Greek Goddess of Luck

The hallmark of the Hellenistic era was chaos due to the deteriorating political influence of the city states and countless ruinous wars among autocratic rulers. That Tyche, the mercurial goddess of chance, was highly venerated everywhere, clearly indicates the instability of the time. Hellenistic people were deeply cognizant of the omnipresence of contingency in their lives.

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In the beginning… there was Nothing.

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Nothing at all. Our relationship with death has profoundly shaped Western culture. A pervasive death consciousness has created religions, nourished philosophies and eventually stimulated scientific investigation, as well as fueled fanaticism, a brooding and melancholic pessimism, which resulted in nihilistic conclusions. Such nihilistic sentiments are far more than merely isolated occurrences, pervasive although manifesting in various guises. Continue reading In the beginning… there was Nothing.

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