Monday, June 11, 2012

Faust, Melancholia, and another look at Nihilism

I received this email from a reader named Paulina a few days ago as a response on my posts on melancholia and on Nihilism, but because Blogger apparently has a word limit for comment length, she was unable to post it. Fortunately, she emailed her response to me and I'm posting it here, because it's totally brilliant (the images are added by me and somewhat less brilliant). So without further ado, here it is:

I stumbled over your blog because of some obscure Martin Freeman related link... now it's almost 3 am and you have me thinking about melancholia and all that. Two things on that:

http://music.minnesota.publicradio.org
1) You might be interested in Goethe's opinion of melancholia as he expresses it in "Faust" (sorry, being German and just having had to read this in school, you know) - at least the idea of it in his time, when it didn't just mean a feeling of not being connected to everything and all that stuff, but was rather thought of as having a second side to it: that of genius, alternating between utter apathy and mad energy (and if you're not thinking of Sherlock Holmes by now, you're no fangirl ;-) ). The beginning of Faust is a good illustration. We find him having studied everything there is to study, having disregarded a personal life beyond that, and realising that he still can't understand all he wants to understand. To prove that he is brave enough to overstep the last human boundary he is on the brink of committing suicide. Next second, he hears the church bells toll for Easter service, delays the plan because of his emotional recollections and when he meets the devil is immediately ready to face all the world may offer in the way of pleasure. Zeal - despair - zeal, which is a far more dynamic concept of melancholia than what it's commonly thought of nowadays.

2) Regarding Nihilism. I'm not sure if it was in this post or the newer one, anyway: I have been "diagnosed" as nihilistic by my philosophy teacher a year ago, and I think I have since come to terms with that. However, I have, while reading "Middlemarch" in February discovered that I am also very idealistic and optimistic. And hopelessly romantic as well, but I knew that before. For some time now I have been thinking about how to reconcile all these beliefs and ideals that are still true for me, and I have come to the following conclusion: The fact of existence is purely accidental. The universe might as well not be (I'm still not decided about the multiverse thing, it's a charming idea, and yet!...). This also means that existence is aimless, except for one thing, which is to prolong itself. Therefore, no decision I make can in any way matter to some greater scheme (because there isn't one). Which gives me the ultimate freedom of not being able to make a wrong decision. I might make such as prove to be detrimental to me, but then they still were right for me. I can, in this absolute and boundless freedom of mine, set myself to any aim I'd wish to achieve and strive after any ideal that suits my fancy, and feel all fuzzy and warm inside when watching Pride and Prejudice the umpteenth time - but if I fail to achieve what I aimed for, it doesn't matter. You see, the way I think of Nihilism is that it gives each individual absolute freedom, because it's not important. Which takes the edge out of it. The human race might destroy it's environment, but that way it'll kill itself, and the Earth won't give a fig. I mean, were only alive as we are because at some point a kind of bacteria significantly increased the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. (There's this joke where one planet says to another "Oh, I've got this itch that just won't go away!" Says the other "Ach, that's Human. I had it too, it'll pass")

Optimistic Nihilism - xkcd.com: "Something like this?" Gina: "Well... *laughs*...close enough."
There is this wonderful idea in one of Douglas Adams Hichhiker novels, where Zaphod Beeblebrox is brought to the ultimate punishment: He is subjected to a machine/computer/thing that shows you the entire universe, all that is, and yourself as a little, entirely insignificant dot. This demonstration of your own insignificance is so overwhelming/shocking/incredible that you die (Zaphod survives by a trick, I can't remember).

So I've decided that I will do as I like, and if there's something I don't like, reconcile myself to it, and set my aim no higher than being remembered when I die, and having a pleasant time till then. No pressure. Nothing really matters.


On a side note, you might immensely enjoy the works of Terry Pratchett (if you don't know them already). He writes about society, but uses the fictional discworld as a sort of mirror for our good ol' roundworld. I'm very sad he's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but so far he's still writing and being a bearded old philosopher. As far as I can tell, it's all right up your alley.

Ah well, it's nearing half past three now, I should stop rambling.

Good night,
Paulina


Happy hedgehog is happy :D

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