Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Schopenhauer: Dante used Our World to Describe HELL

From The World As Will And Idea By Arthur Schopenhauer, 1909

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Every one who has awakened from the first dream of youth, who has considered his own experience and that of others, who has studied himself in life, in the history of the past and of his own time, and finally in the works of the great poets, will, if his judgment is not paralysed by some indelibly imprinted prejudice, certainly arrive at the conclusion that this human world is the kingdom of chance and error, which rule without mercy in great things and in small, and along with which folly and wickedness also wield the scourge. Hence it arises that everything better only struggles through with difficulty; what is noble and wise seldom attains to expression, becomes effective and claims attention, but the absurd and the perverse in the sphere of thought, the dull and tasteless in the sphere of art, the wicked and deceitful in the sphere of action, really assert a supremacy, only disturbed by short interruptions. On the other hand, everything that is excellent is always a mere exception, one case in millions, and therefore, if it presents itself in a lasting work, this, when it has outlived the enmity of its contemporaries, exists in isolation, is preserved like a meteoric stone, sprung from an order of things different from that which prevails here. But as far as the life of the individual is concerned, every biography is the history of suffering, for every life is, as a rule, a continual series of great and small misfortunes, which each one conceals as much as possible, because he knows that others can seldom feel sympathy or compassion, but almost always satisfaction at the sight of the woes from which they are themselves for the moment exempt. But perhaps at the end of life, if a man is sincere and in full possession of his faculties, he will never wish to have it to live over again, but rather than this, he will much prefer absolute annihilation. The essential content of the famous soliloquy in “Hamlet” is briefly this: Our state is so wretched that absolute annihilation would be decidedly preferable. If suicide really offered us this, so that the alternative “to be or not to be,” in the full sense of the word, was placed before us, then it would be unconditionally to be chosen as “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” But there is something in us which tells us that this is not the case: suicide is not the end; death is not absolute annihilation. In like manner, what was said by the father of history has not since him been contradicted, that no man has ever lived who has not wished more than once that he had not to live the following day. According to this, the brevity of life, which is so constantly lamented, may be the best quality it possesses. If, finally, we should bring clearly to a man's sight the terrible sufferings and miseries to which his life is constantly exposed, he would be seized with horror; and if we were to conduct the confirmed optimist through the hospitals, infirmaries, and surgical operating-rooms, through the prisons, torture-chambers, and slave-kennels, over battle-fields and places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it hides itself from the glance of cold curiosity, and, finally, allow him to glance into the starving dungeon of Ugolino, he, too, would understand at last the nature of this “best of possible worlds.” For whence did Dante take the materials for his hell but from this our actual world? And yet he made a very proper hell of it. And when, on the other hand, he came to the task of describing heaven and its delights, he had an insurmountable difficulty before him, for our world affords no materials at all for this. Therefore there remained nothing for him to do but, instead of describing the joys of paradise, to repeat to us the instruction given him there by his ancestor, by Beatrice, and by various saints. But from this it is sufficiently clear what manner of world it is. Certainly human life, like all bad ware, is covered over with a false lustre: what suffers always conceals itself; on the other hand, whatever pomp or splendour any one can get, he makes a show of openly, and the more inner contentment deserts him, the more he desires to exist as fortunate in the opinion of others: to such an extent does folly go, and the opinion of others is a chief aim of the efforts of every one, although the utter nothingness of it is expressed in the fact that in almost all languages vanity, vanitas, originally signifies emptiness and nothingness. But under all this false show, the miseries of life can so increase—and this happens every day—that the death which hitherto has been feared above all things is eagerly seized upon. Indeed, if fate will show its whole malice, even this refuge is denied to the sufferer, and, in the hands of enraged enemies, he may remain exposed to terrible and slow tortures without remedy. In vain the sufferer then calls on his gods for help; he remains exposed to his fate without grace. But this irremediableness is only the mirror of the invincible nature of his will, of which his person is the objectivity. As little as an external power can change or suppress this will, so little can a foreign power deliver it from the miseries which proceed from the life which is the phenomenal appearance of that will. In the principal matter, as in everything else, a man is always thrown back upon himself. In vain does he make to himself gods in order to get from them by prayers and flattery what can only be accomplished by his own will-power. The Old Testament made the world and man the work of a god, but the New Testament saw that, in order to teach that holiness and salvation from the sorrows of this world can only come from the world itself, it was necessary that this god should become man. It is and remains the will of man upon which everything depends for him. Fanatics, martyrs, saints of every faith and name, have voluntarily and gladly endured every torture, because in them the will to live had suppressed itself; and then even the slow destruction of its phenomenon was welcome to them. But I do not wish to anticipate the later exposition. For the rest, I cannot here avoid the statement that, to me, optimism, when it is not merely the thoughtless talk of such as harbour nothing but words under their low foreheads, appears not merely as an absurd, but also as a really wicked way of thinking, as a bitter mockery of the unspeakable suffering of humanity. Let no one think that Christianity is favourable to optimism; for, on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as almost synonymous.

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