Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Philipp Mainlander

Some new links from Compoverde:

A near contemporary of Arthur Schopenhauer. Nietzsche didn't seem to like him much...didn't see him as ubermensch material, I gather. Greatly influenced by Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation', he went on to write his own philosophical treatise, requesting it be published under the pseudonym 'Philipp Mainlander', because "...he would abhor nothing more than “being exposed to the eyes of the world” (antinatalism IS the GREATEST taboo, after all).

“Our world”, writes Mainlander in his Philosophy of Redemption “is the means and the only means of achieving nonexistence”. In his view, immortality, the eternal existence, is unbearable and agonizing even for God. But as God is eternal by nature, the only way to achieve nonexistence for the immortal God, who is beyond space-time and matter, is to transfer Himself into universe, that is to escape from the logically impossible into the logically plausible. “Thus”, continues Mainlander, “everything in the universe is directed towards nonexistence”. Therefore, Mainlander concluded, all mankind must ultimately realize that nonexistence is better than existence. When a person becomes enlightened in this awareness, he or she will end their existence by committing suicide and in this way complete the process of redemption.


Here is a theological view that turns prosaic intuition on its head, no? If nothing else, it serves as kick-ass allegory! WE are the culmination of God's death wish! The Divine lifeblood leeching into the vacuum...numencide by entropy. Wow, this is an exciting concept! Though, it's my opinion that the same end can more easily be achieved by non-procreative means.

Coincidentally, i wrote a collection of poems called 'Castaway' a while back, and ended it with a ten part haiku and triplet that feels appropriate right here. Oh, and thanks again, Compoverde...great links!

A Haiku Fable (Castaway epilogue)

when God slit his wrists
life issued forth forever
stained and innocent

with his dying breath
God tried to take it back but
it was an exhale

all existence fled
into the void riding on
that mephitic wind

dreamless sleep drifts on
a null sea blind radiance
a broken circle

sequence extension
pus from creation’s sore a
link becomes a chain

cilia writhe stretch
howl with the agony of

feed back looped wedding
ringed street smart ganglia fills
up the pussy space

order established
now down to business time to
polish the mirror

all strays accounted
for the last has become the
whole we are not two

reflection is self
Narcissus is sucked in and
it begins again

In Summation-

Place the eye of an eagle inside the mind of a man…
Take him up to about 70,000 feet, and then…
Drop him, and hear the music of humanity…the end

Monday, July 28, 2008

One From the Bard

"Why don’t you just kill yourselves?"

Thus hangs the accusation upon the air again, that those who dare speak against the ultimate goodness of life be hypocrites for not committing suicide. You antinatalists, how dare you speak against conception, whilst loitering in the world you pretend to despise. Off with you then; to your guns, and nooses, and sleeping pills!

Aside from the fact that one can experience a personally satisfying life (at least, to some degree), while still recognizing the risks inherent in bringing new life onboard, is a potential suicide REALLY a hypocrite if he/she doesn’t actually go through with it? I’ve had several people comment on my generally negative attitude towards life in this vein..."Oh, you don’t really mean that. If you did, you’d kill yourself! You’re just...

1. Emoting
2. Seeking attention
3. Being provocative

Are antinatalists, or anyone who’s just sort of down on life, arguing in bad faith, simply because they don’t take that final step and blow their brains out? I would counter with the argument that such an assertion is simplistic horseshit. It completely ignores the fact that the grand subtext behind the human condition is one of competing desires, duties, and fears.

I would now point you to one of the most famous soliloquies in all of English literature...

Hamlet 3/1- William Shakespeare

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

To summarize: Life sucks for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it sucks so much that it would be far better to be done with it, right here and now. HOWEVER (and here’s the rub), there might be consequences which are worse than the ‘cure’ (suicide was deemed a mortal sin by the Church of England, I believe...and certainly there are more than slight religious qualms about it up to this day). Thus our ‘cowardice’ (fear of divine punishment) stays our hand. Hamlet is in no way equivocating in his negative value judgement towards life; rather, he is weighing consequences, and THIS is my point...

A person can dislike his existence to varying degrees, including up to the point where he’d just as well end it all; and yet, he might choose to endure out of fear, like Hamlet. Or out of love for people who depend on him, or out of a sense of personal responsibility to his friends, his community...whatever. Or maybe he just can’t bring himself to commit a violent act, even against his own person (this would be very tough for me, I think). In short, there are a host of imaginable reasons why a person might not like life, and yet refuse to take that final step. I really don’t understand why I need to explain this, ONCE AGAIN, but it seems that some folks need everything spelled out for them. So, here it be.

And for you who absolutely LOVE life- as you savor every precious moment, affirming to yourselves that, for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows...can you at least pull your heads out of your asses (though I’m sure they smell sweet) long enough to acknowledge that misery exists, that it’s not always curable, or even mitigable, and that there’s no way to adequately predict who might come out on the short end of the existential stick? If you can’t, then you are intellectually impaired, empathetically numb, and absolutely no use to me at all...

Maybe you should consider suicide (just kidding...seriously suggesting such a thing, ESPECIALLY to someone who might be seriously depressed, would be cruelly reprobate of me...tut!)


In his dream, space became an endless declivity,
descending from emptiness to emptiness.
The earth-a boulder, its surface preoccupied by its own longing.
Every wish became another turn down the slope,
(or was it the other way 'round?),
though the din of the crushing became a song to those inclined to music
(or, did they just like to sing?).

When the prophet awoke, it was to the sound of his own screaming.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More on Zapffe

The View from Mount Zapffe

Gisle Tangenes describes the life and ideas of a cheerfully pessimistic, mountain-climbing Norwegian existentialist.

“This world,” mused Horace Walpole, “is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” And for Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899-1990), humans are condemned to do both. We have evolved a yearning for metaphysical purpose – for intrinsic justice and meaning in any earthly event – that is destined for frustration by our real environment. The process of life is oblivious to the beings it makes and breaks in the course of its perpetuation. And while no living creature escapes this carnage, only humans bear the burden of awareness. An uninhabited globe, argues Zapffe, would be no unfortunate thing.

Born in the arctic city of Tromsø, in Norway, Zapffe was a luminous stylist and wit, whose Law examination paper (1923) – in rhyming verse – remains on display at the University of Oslo. Following some years as a lawyer and judge, he had a revelatory encounter with the plays of Ibsen and reentered university to attack “the ever burning question of what it means to be human.” The answer he reached is an original brand of existentialist thought, which, unlike the more optimistic views of Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus, concludes in a minor key. Among its earliest airings was a little essay called ‘The Last Messiah’ (1933).

The piece begins with a fable of a stoneage hunter who, as he leaves his cave at night, is stricken by pity for his prey and has a fatal existential crisis. This is a parable resonating with two archetypical tales of Western culture. Firstly, it recalls the Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic, which also relates the eyeopening exit of a cave; secondly, it alludes to that origin myth of moral sentiment, the Fall of Man in Genesis. Zapffe chimes in with an exegesis to the effect that his caveman was a man who knew too much. Evolution, he argues, overdid its act when creating the human brain, akin to how a contemporary of the hunter, a deer misnamed the ‘Irish elk’, became moribund by its increasingly oversized antlers. For humans can perceive that each individual being is an ephemeral eddy in the flow of life, subjected to brute contingencies on his or her way to annihilation. Yet only rarely do persons lose their minds through this realisation, as our brains have evolved a strict regime of self-censorship – better known as ‘civilisation.’ Betraying a debt to Freud, Zapffe expands on how “most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.” So, ‘isolation’ is the repression of grim facts by a code of silence; ‘anchoring,’ the stabilising attachment to specific ends; ‘distraction,’ the continuous stream of divertive impressions; and ‘sublimation,’ the conversion of anguish into uplifting pursuits, like literature and art. The discussion is sprinkled with allusions to the fate of Nietszche: the poster case, as it were, of seeing too much for sanity.

Lastly, Zapffe warns that civilisation cannot be sustained forever, as technology liberates ever more time for us to face our demons. In a memorably ironic finish, he completes the tribute to Plato and Moses by foretelling a ‘last Messiah’, to appear in a tormented future.

This prophet of doom, an heir to the visionary caveman, will be as ill-fated. For his word, which subverts the precept to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” is not to please his fellow man: “Know yourselves – be infertile, and let the earth be silent after ye.”

The Messiah’s ideas are developed at greater length in the treatise On the Tragic (1941), unaccountably never translated into any major language. The work is rigorously argued, yet so suffused with carnevalesque humour that one critic acclaimed its author as ‘the Chaplin of philosophy.’ Nor is there want of poetic imagery; at one point, for instance, a sea eagle bred in cage is evoked as an analogy to the human predicament. While unable to manifest its potential in captivity, such an eagle should doubtless perish if released into the open sky.

That dilemma highlights a fundamental concept of Zapffe’s tome: the ‘objectively tragic’ sequence, that is, any narrative in which excellence is linked to misadventure. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy in the Poetics centers on the debacle of a generally virtuous individual who makes a fateful error of judgment, expressing a latent flaw of character. By contrast, objectively tragic tales do not hinge on any fault of the protagonist; rather a manifestation of ‘culturally relevant greatness’ prefigures his demise. Such excellence either engenders the calamity or is else instilled in the protagonist by whatever does, for instance a disease. To clarify his model, Zapffe introduces a hierarchy of ‘interest fronts’: biological, social, autotelic (pertaining to whatever is rewarding in itself), and metaphysical. The latter one, essential to humanity, requires a dual virtue for objectively tragic sequences to unfold: (i) aspirations to secure a just and meaningful world; and (ii) intellectual honesty. Insofar as (i) alone is found in a character, whether real or a fictional, her response to absurdity and injustice should be to sacrifice lower-ranking interests on behalf of the metaphysical one. This sets the stage for what Zapffe labels a ‘heroic’ sequence of events. A tragic sequence demands the addition of (ii), and peaks with a devastating realisation that existence never will become satisfactory in terms of meaning and justice. For Zapffe, such resignation to futility marks the apex of many classic tragedies, from Prometheus Bound to Hamlet. His most intriguing case in point is The Book of Job, in the Bible, which given its seemingly happy ending was never anybody’s idea of a tragic tale. Yet on Zapffe’s reading, Job has the misfortune to uncover the Lord’s genuine nature: a benighted tyrant, mistaking might for right. Even martyrdom would be lost on this ‘godly Caliban’, and the disillusioned Job takes cover behind a mask of repentance. His is a timeless tragedy, for Jehovah ‘holds sway in our experience’ even today, as the symbol of ‘a familiar social and biological environment:’

“He represents… the blind natural forces oblivious to the human craving for order and meaning, the unpredictable strikes of illness and death, the transience of fame, the betrayal of friends and kin. He is the god of machines and might, of rule by violence, Moscow tribunals, party yoke and conquest, of copper pipes and armour plates. Job is not alone to face him with spiritual arms. Some are downtrodden in heroic martyrdom; others see the limitations of martyrdom as well, yielding in the outer things, but hiding despair in their hearts.”

The human condition is so structured, then, that objectively tragic sequences will readily arise (which is ultimately why they are described as ‘objective’.) Not only is humankind distinguished by an impossible interest, the need for purpose in a realm of pure causality; it also excels at comprehending that realm. We relate to the truth as do moths to a flame.

Thus the ‘thousand consolatory fictions’ that deny our captivity in dying beasts, afloat on a speck of dust in the eternal void. And after all, if a godly creator is waiting in the wings, it must be akin to the Lord in The Book of Job, since it allows its breathing creations to be “tumbled and destroyed in a vast machinery of forces foreign to interests.” Asserts Zapffe: “The more a human being in his worldview approaches the goal, the hegemony of love in a moral universe, the more has he become slipshod in the light of intellectual honesty.” The only escape from this predicament should be to discontinue the human race. Though extinction by agreement is not a terribly likely scenario, that is no more than an empirical fact of public opinion; in principle, all it would require is a global consensus to reproduce below replacement rates, and in a few generations, the likening of humankind would “not be the stars or the ocean sand, but a river dwindling to nothing in the great drought.” This rather less than life-affirming message is actually not without historical precedence.

In a preface to the 1983 edition of On the Tragic, Zapffe refers to “the insight, or Gnosis, that the Mystery of Life is amoral.” That is no mere figure of speech: his philosophy does indeed suggest the mystical viewpoint known as Gnosticism, influenced by Judaism and Platonism and flourishing early in the Christian era. Gnostic doctrines generally teach as follows. Our innermost selves began on a deific plane, the ‘Fullness’ (Pleroma), but were dispersed around the earthly shadowland, and locked into a cycle of rebirths, at the dawn of time. They may break free and reunite through Gnôsis: the awareness of their divinity, promoted by holy messengers. Yet the majority keep mistaking the dominion of death for home and partake in its reproduction, encouraged by cosmic slavers (archons) who serve the ignoble creator of matter – the deity of the Old Testament. As Hans Jonas noted in the 1950s, this esoteric lore resembles, to some degree, the outlook of modern existentialism. Both depict the human self as somehow thrown into, and incarcerated in, a foreign world, in which it mindlessly acquiesces unless woken by a sense of alienation. With Zapffe, the match appears closer than usual, for if he denies, like most existentialists, that humankind belongs in a heavenly home, he also echoes Gnostics in rejecting its continuance on earth.

Zapffe defended On the Tragic for his doctoral degree, not a risk-free act in the German-occupied Norway of the day; his friend Arne Næss, later the originator of ‘deep ecology’, took a break from resistance work to serve as opponent. After liberation, Zapffe turned down a professorship to live instead by his essays, monographs, poetry, plays and humourous writings.
Many of the latter address a favourite activity, the art of mountain climbing. This he extolled for being “as meaningless as life itself.” (Destinations included, incidentally, the spire of Tromsø Cathedral, whence he proclaimed that he could not ascend further by means of the Church!)
Some find his zeal as a mountaineer, humorist and early champion of environmental conservation rather at odds with his philosophical pessimism. According to another friend and eco-philosopher, Sigmund Setreng, this paradox is resolved by considering the ‘light bliss founded on dark insight’ of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism – a wakened sage who accepts the futility of human accomplishment. In any case, Zapffe lived as he taught in reproductive matters, staying childless by design. Apart from Berit Zapffe, his spouse through 47 years, his name is now borne only by one of the arctic mountains he pioneered. As for Mt. Zapffe’s philosophical counterpart, it presents an austere, yet impressive, vista of the earthly vale of tears. In a letter dated 1990, its conqueror described his ‘view from the final cairn:’ “The human race come from Nothing and go to Nothing. Above that, there is Nothing.” At the close of his last major writing, Zapffe answers all who despair of this view. “ ‘Unfortunately,’ rues the playful pessimist, ‘I cannot help you. All I have for facing death myself, is a foolish smile.’ ”


Another New Link

I've added another link, Discontinuation, to the blogroll. You'll find some great quotes here:

I especially liked this one-

"A coin is turned around before it is handed to the beggar, yet a child is unflinchingly tossed into cosmic bruteness." Peter Wessel Zapffe

Much is made of the fact that most people, when asked, say they're glad to be alive. I'm suspicious of this answer, for a number of reasons which have been outlined in this blog, and elsewhere; not the least of which is the universal concoction of fairytale afterlife vignettes (religion) into which almost all people in the world invest their post-mortal aspirations. Just the fact that there is ALWAYS a negative evaluation of 'here' when compared to 'there' (at least, for those who dedicate themselves to one of these scenarios...a telling feature of dogmatism-by-threat as a tool to reinforce dubious belief systems), exposes our true feelings about the quality of this life. This is why, in my view, religion is ultimately bad. It provides false hope, which translates to bringing future generations into the world. It allows people to assuage their guilt by believing that, some day, their children will live in an eternal paradise, and all the bad stuff in this life will disappear into the dusty footnotes of time long past.

Meanwhile, we suffer, and we die, and in between we produce new food for the monster of existence...

"It is said of the nihilist that ”to him, nothing is sacred”. He might reply that at least he does not sanctify the lie, the common compulsory living-lie; be it expressed as optimism about civilisation or as the falsettos and tightened throats of those who must hide the disconcerting facts to children, so these are not frightened witless even at the outset." - Zapffe