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The Other Sorrows of Knowing


1. Preface

I hate citing, but I had to write something tonight. A preface: Here are two reflections from E.M. Cioran in his On the Heights of Despair.

Total Disatisfaction

Why this curse on some of us who can never feel at ease anywhere, neither in the sun nor out of it, neither with men nor without them? Ignorant of good humor, an amazing achievement! Those who have no access to irresponsibility are the most wretched. To possess a high degree of consciousness, to be always aware of yourself in relation to the world, to live in the permanent tension of knowledge, means to be lost for life. Knowledge is the plague of life, and consciousness, an open wound in its heart. Is it not tragic to be man, that perpetually dissatisfied animal suspended between life and death? I'm weary of being a man. If I could, I would renounce my condition on the spot, but what would I become then, an animal? I cannot retrace my steps. Besides, I might become an animal who knows the history of philosophy. As to becoming superman, that seems to me utter and ridiculous folly. Could there be a solution, approximate of course, in a sort of superconsciousness? Couldn't one live beyond (not just on this side, toward animality) all complex forms of consciousness, anxiety, agony, in a sphere of life where access to eternity would no longer be pure myth? As far as I am concerned, I resign from humanity. I no longer want to be, nor can still be, a man. What should I do? Work for a social and political system, make a girl miserable? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical systems, fight for moral and esthetic ideals? It's all too little. I renounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone. But am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer expect anything? Beyond present-day common ideals and forms, one might breathe in a superconsciousness where the intoxication of eternity would do away with the qualms of this world, and where being would be just as pure and immaterial as nonbeing.

I Do Not Know

I do not know what is right and what is wrong; what is allowed and what is not; I cannot judge and I cannot praise. There are no valid criteria and no consistent principles in the world. It surprises me that some people still concern themselves with a theory of knowledge. To tell the truth, I couldn't care less about the relativity of knowledge, simply because the world does not deserve to be known. At times I feel as if I had total knowledge, exhausting the content of this world; at other times the world around me does not make any sense. Everything then has a bitter taste, there is in me a devilish, monstrous bitterness that renders even death insipid. I realize now for the first time how hard it is to define this bitterness. It may be that I'm wasting my time trying to establish a theoretical basis for it when in fact it originates in a pretheoretical zone. At this moment I do not believe in anything and I have no hope. All forms and expressions that give life its charm seem to me meaningless. I have no feeling either for the future or for the past, while the present seems to me poison. I do not know whether I am desperate or not, since lack of hope does not automatically imply despair. I could be called anything because I stand to lose nothing. I've lost everything! Flowers are blooming and birds are singing all around me! How distant I am from everything!  

2. Paroxysmal yet playful thoughts
One needs to first reach the heights before one is to discern the abyss.

Anything before that is just talk. One must first have wagered everything on an idea or in a dream, taken the leap from those very heights--and see everything perish before your eyes--before he can speak, finally, of beautiful things, such as those birds singing and these flowers blooming, the warm smiles of children on this earth, of greatness, of love and hope and faith. I understand what it means to fail in the highest of hours, and be failed by what you trust most in their lowest. After that you realize that it was all a joke. Totlstoy's greatest fear was conceiving and fighting for a dear idea that you realize fifty years later was stupendously false. You don't recover from that. "What a trash / To annihilate each decade" (Plath). It could have been very simple, you see. If only you did not know, or did not want to know, you'd have a decent death at least. But alas! The fruit was too tempting--and now we are banished from the eternal garden. It is true that the weight of living is never made lighter by philosophizing: decisions will still have to be made, and I will still have to be held accountable for my actions; but these facts of life apply to both the thinker and the one who never did care. The former need not always be the better man; I see the other skipping and smiling.

I have lost my pride, and these things are not easily won back; as if it was just a matter of finding it again, new as before. If we could find our way in the world through the printed page, perhaps to use it as a guide or a map--then it is necessary that you lose your way, and you can do that by burning your map. Nothing is more dramatic than a hero turned stranger in a distant land, where he once again does not know. It is only then that he really lives. The true story of Oedipus begins in Colonus.

What, in reality, is the philosopher's victory? What will he be able to show for when he is summoned and asked What have you done with your life? I shudder before that question all the time, even if it is asked by the accidental stranger or my dearest friend. Because when I come down to it and assess what I have and what I have done, assuming that I have for a decade "invested" myself (devoted, really, but I shy away from the word: I am serious but not religious) to philosophy, and if I set aside all pretentious statements that we tell ourselves (I've become "wiser," a "better person," more "mature," though these things may be true)--what can I show or say except nothing? We are speaking of honor here, and decency is the only knife available for a wretched man. The pages I have written are worthless, not only because they are not and will not be read, but ultimately because I cannot even bear to read them myself: I want to burn them. The supposed fact that I have in one way or another and in some time inspired a mind will forever be unknown to me. I liked the idea of an anonymous teacher before, like the man who leaves a book he loves on a bench of a public park so an other may chance upon it. But the credulous man shall never know. The book may be rotting there now. Acts themselves do not count when you have to hold on to something on the heights of despair.

The "nothing" that the philosopher harbors within himself: "Woe to him who hides deserts within!" (Nietzsche). But deserts, with its vast voids and empty landscapes, at least teach a man how to thirst. A thirsty man will drink anything, like a philosopher who will do anything to rid himself from philosophy. If only he had a choice, he would sleep much better at night; there would be something left to hope for. But there are some roads that you cannot go back from as to start all over again; there are some sicknesses which we suffer unto death. And philosophy is a sickness unto death. Now it is clear why the philosopher and the desperate man are one: sadness is the proper milieu of thought, as despair is the father of desire. The philosopher does not seek knowledge out of holy wonder or by divine inspiration, he only desires to know in order to hide the deserts he harbors within. Cioran: "One should not forget that philosophy is the art of masking inner torments." What a joy if we were never sick! What a wonder if I could really see the sky without my blinded eyes! But such joy can never be attained. What silent refuge on earth is there for a man who can never escape the torments of his own unquiet mind?

. . . 


  1. Anonymous11/11/2010

    Agh. Sana hindi hamon at keso ang ulam sa baba.

    Took a while, but I'm back. Good morning.

  2. Sometimes life gets in the way of philosophy, doesn't it?

    A good day to you, my friend.

  3. Anonymous11/12/2010

    ... Sleep gets in the way of both!

    I still haven't started writing my fourth chapter - the hardest in my thesis - because I'm too chicken.

    I'm hoping for a productive day, for myself and for you.


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