Saturday, 22 March 2008
Apocalypse Now / Eternal return - Julian Baggini
First off let me highly recommend the amazing book by Julian Baggini "The pig that wants to be eaten" and 99 other thought experiments. It gives sevreral philosophical ponderings and ethical dilemas, it's one of the best books i've read in ages (*coughs*, oh apart from this one book, i forget the name of it).
Anyway number 69 (no serioulsy) The Horror makes an interesting speculation about the end scene of Apocalypse now:
" 'The horror! The Horror!'
Many have speculated about what inspired Colonel Kurtz to utter those famous last words. The answer lies in what he realised just before he let out his last breath. In that moment, he understood the past, present and future were all illusions. No moment in time is ever lost. Everything that happens exists for ever.
That meant his impending death would not be the end. His life, once lived, would always exist. And so, in a sense, the life he had lived would be lived again and again, eternally recurring, each time exactly the same and thus with no hope of learning, of changing, of righting past wrongs.
Had Kurtz made a success of his life he could have borne that realisation. He could have looked upon his work, thought 'it is good' and gone to his grave serene in triumph over death. The fact that he instead reacted with horror testified to his failure to overcome the challenges of mortal existance.
'The horror! The horror!' Would you react to the thought of eternal recurrence any differently?
Sources: Thus Spake Zarathustra by Fredrich Neitzsche (1891); Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
Baggini goes on to point out 'Even if our lives are not fated to be infinitely repeated, whether or not we can bear the thought that would be is, for Neitzsche, a test of wether we have 'overcome' life. Only the 'overman', who has complete self-mastery over his fate, could look upon his life with enough satisfaction to accept his eternal recurrence.
It is important to remember that what Neitzsche is talking about is not a kind of Groundhog Day. IN that film, Bill Murray found himself in the same day again and again, but each time he had the opportunity to do things differently. Hence he had the possibility of redemption, of escaping the cycle, by finally learning how to love. Neitzsche's form of recurrence is one in which there is no awareness that one is doing the same thing again, and there is no opportunity to do it differently. It is literally the exact same life, lived again and again...
The overman accepts the idea of recurrence without the blinkers and filters that protect us from the pain of remembering. That is why Neitzsche believed the overman was so rare, and why the rest of us would react like Kurtz to the thought of history repeating itself again, and again and again.
Overman. Interesting. Discuss (my fingers are tired)