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Thus spake Nietszche

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

A fable.— The Don Juan of knowledge: no philosopher or poet has yet discovered him. He does not love the things he knows, but has spirit and appetite for an enjoyment of the chase and intrigues of knowledge—up to the highest and remotest stars of knowledge!—until at last there remains to him nothing of knowledge left to hunt down except the absolutely detrimental; he is like the drunkard who ends by drinking absinthe and aqua fortis. Thus in the end he lusts after Hell—it is the last knowledge that seduces him. Perhaps it too proves a disillusionment, like all knowledge! And then he would have to stand to all eternity transfixed to disillusionment and himself become a stone guest, with a longing for a supper of knowledge which he will never get!—for the whole universe has not a single morsel left to give to this hungry man. – Nietzsche

To have an ‘unquenchable’ thirst – that sounds like hell. But Sisyphus must be happy, mustn’t he?

Was Sisyphus happy because he had hope? Was Sisyphus happy because of his ignorance of the fact – that his task was unending? Did Sisyphus know that his existence was – in a sense – absurd?

I am Sisyphus. I must find my absurd task and make my peace with it.

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  1. September 24, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    I must find my absurd task and make my peace with it.
    ..Does somehow convey that you have a fair idea of your absurd task unlike Sisyphus. So, you are having a ray of hope that you will find light at the end of the tunnel. There is ignorance and an element of surprise involved but seems like there is a procrastinated thought process added on too that might drive the task or its execution or length of its completion. All in all, seems like ure task wont be that “absurd” at all. (P.S. Absurd in my view point is unknown, unsurmountable maybe, weird, unique to a certain extent, untimed and maybe many more “un(s)”..)

    • September 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

      Quick comment, wordsfromyonder!

      The absurdity I refer to is with respect to the lack of “purpose” to any human endeavor. There is no utopia to be achieved, no end goal for the beast within. There is peace to be made with this feeling, that’s all.

      “find light at the end of the tunnel.”
      There is no tunnel! It is all light 🙂

      • wordsfromyonder
        September 25, 2009 at 9:53 am

        “Task” by its sheer definition is “a definite piece of work”. Definite has length, has a start point and an end point and in that sense, can be perceived as a tunnel, maybe its not dark because its well-lit(the light in this case is the one that exuberates from within, the soul, in your case, is lighted all through, so you ). This also emphasises my point about your statement, that your “all-lit” self bring outs the procrastination involved in execution of the thought, its maybe almost well-known, well-pondered over (by you), maybe not treated in the way you imagine to treat it.

        • wordsfromyonder
          September 25, 2009 at 9:55 am

          Correction ..
          “(the light in this case is the one that exuberates from within, the soul, in your case, is lighted all through, so you )”

          Read as……..
          “(the light in this case is the one that exuberates from within, the soul, in your case, is lit all through, so you say )

        • September 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

          Agreed – finite tasks have a beginning and an end. If I don’t have a “task-at-hand” I don’t perceive a tunnel.

          But life itself is a task, non? And the end of life, is the end of thought – the end of analyses, emotions, everything. If I think of life as a tunnel that I must somehow emerge from, I am naiive. That is why I say there is no tunnel.

  2. September 25, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Actually I would say you don’t really have to “find” any absurd tasks to make peace with – you just have to recognize that all tasks are absurd i.e. have no ultimate purpose.

    • September 25, 2009 at 8:22 am

      Agreed. There was a separate discussion on a Facebook thread where we reached precisely this conclusion. I think I should have been clearer. I tend towards brevity at the cost of clarity sometimes!

  3. Suyash
    September 25, 2009 at 7:07 am

    Knowledge like this makes the idea “knowledge is power” questionable. I’d say an ordinary person’s life is happier than Sisyphus, because his/her tasks are not as obviously purposeless as the stone-rolling. For that matter, nor are they never-ending. Then again, maybe resignation to the eternal nature of the task reduces the unhappiness. Who knows? Discussions about the purpose of life (or the lack of it) don’t fit too well in comment spaces. 😀

    • September 25, 2009 at 8:34 am

      It also makes the idea “ignorance is bliss” more attractive!

      “because his/her tasks are not as obviously purposeless as the stone-rolling”
      I disagree. I think attributing (larger) “purpose” to a task – other than the causal implication of the task – is an arbitrary and very human way of looking at things.

      “maybe resignation to the eternal nature of the task reduces the unhappiness. Who knows?”
      Yes, worth pondering!

      “Discussions about the purpose of life (or the lack of it) don’t fit too well in comment spaces.”
      Agree. Much better accomplished over a cuppa joe!

  4. Nikhil Thatte
    September 25, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Sisyphus had no hope and he knew it

    • September 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

      I see. I am also curious if he had free will? Since he was cursed by the powers that be, I don’t think he had any choice in the matter.

  5. September 25, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Firstly, I like the Nietszche quote.

    “To have an ‘unquenchable’ thirst – that sounds like hell. But Sisyphus must be happy, mustn’t he?”

    — I don’t know why you connect Nietszche quote to Sisyphus.

    “Was Sisyphus happy because he had hope? Was Sisyphus happy because of his ignorance of the fact – that his task was unending? Did Sisyphus know that his existence was – in a sense – absurd?”

    Nope. I am assuming you are refering to Camus’ synthesis. That Sisyphus was happy was Camus’ derivation. But Sisyphus indeed may have been whatever.
    Now, Sisyphus (per Camus) was happy because he had a task to do, to get engaged in and come to love. He loved his rock, grew fond of it, and found meaning in making love to it (snicker away!). He longed to run down to roll the rock back up when it went a’tumbling, after that brief moment of clarity regarding the futility and absurdity at the top of the hill.

    According to the myth, nope, he was cursed, and hence he did not have the freedom to choose not to do this. Metaphorically of course, we are all cursed to roll our rock (live). Yes, that is the similarity. The difference is huge, that he has to do it for eternity.

    “I am Sisyphus. I must find my absurd task and make my peace with it.”

    — Firstly, you are not Sisyphus exactly, for the reasons of finiteness. Secondly, like we discussed yesterday, when and if you do find a task that you find meaningful, it is not absurd to you (regardless of whether it is to some other feller). Only if you do not find a meaningful task do you need to “make peace”.

    — Lastly, note that “meaning” is always in the interpretation of symbols and events, and hence firmly needs a cognitive process. Meaning is not just out there like a fruit to be picked. Meaning comes from interpreting. What you are looking at here are some electrons hitting your monitor holding together a stable pattern of squiggles. Are these squiggles absurd, or are they meaningful. The answer of course, needs to follow another question: “To whom?”

    • September 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

      “What you are looking at here ”

      — I mean that as in, right now, as you are reading this…

    • September 25, 2009 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks for a very good comment unawoken.

      “I don’t know why you connect Nietszche quote to Sisyphus”
      Because of the ultimate futility in both endeavors.

      “Nope. I am assuming you are refering to Camus’ synthesis. That Sisyphus was happy was Camus’ derivation. But Sisyphus indeed may have been whatever.”
      Agreed and understood. Moreover, I have not read the entire text by Camus’, just the concluding paragraph.

      “and found meaning in making love to it (snicker away!)”
      This is poetic. I like it very much.

      “Meaning is not just out there like a fruit to be picked. Meaning comes from interpreting.”
      I understand. Each time I interpret an ambiguous (for want of a better word) piece of prose/poetry/symbolism it is a mirror into my own thought process. The more ambiguous the symbols, the more it becomes about me and less about the creator of the piece.

  6. Justuju
    September 25, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    If this Don Juan has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and he actually enjoys the search for new knowledge, I doubt he’ll be unhappy. I don’t believe a person can know so much that there’s nothing more to know and thus remains thirsty.

    About the rest of your post, I think Unawoken’s analysis is right on the mark.

    • September 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm

      I think he is unhappy because he remains thirsty forever. There is no salvation.

  7. September 27, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Its very interesting to put Nietzsche’s Don Juan together with Sisyphus.

    But I suppose, as this thread goes on with, there’s that difference.

    Sisyphus is cursed and happy. Don Juan is not, but will remain unhappy.

    Nietzsche, however, says that Don Juan takes pleasure, not in the absolute knowledge he has acquired (“He does not love the things he knows”), but in the “the chase and intrigues of knowledge”.

    Thus, if it is the chase he enjoys so much, then I dont see why he shud be unhappy with his thirst. He shall eternally be chasing after knowledge, even if he were to have all of it, he would still want more. And thus, continue the chase.

    Agreed, when described as an unquenchable thirst, it sounds thoroughly hellish. But is it really? For a man who revels in it? (Reminded me of Captain Ahab for a second.)

    Reading unawoken’s comment made me wonder, does Sisyphus think what he is doing is absurd? Perhaps he does not. He prolly thinks it is meaningful, he, too, enjoys it. Is that what makes him happy? Finding meaning?

    I really wonder..

    • September 28, 2009 at 9:42 pm

      I think you and Justuju make a good point. There are more ways than one to interpret this fable. I am going to chew on it and reply back later.

  8. Nachshon
    November 2, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    That quote is from Camus’ Notebook VIII, not Nietzsche.

  9. Nachshon
    November 2, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    oops, sorry…i guess camus’ just copied it word for word and the editors forgot to cite Nietzsche. My bad.

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