posted by on 2006.08.14, under Uncategorized

Lets talk literature for a bit.

Lately I have been revisiting novels that have shaped the way I think about things in general, philosophically speaking. I re-read T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, about 100 times. Then Brave New World. I am working through Dhalgren by Samuel Delany again (I never read it until grad school, but its excellent, and I might as well have read it in high school). But these I need to revisit:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. ‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed. ‘It’s the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.”

Yes. Perhaps its time to read Catch-22 again. Then Waiting for Godot. Then perhaps Slaughterhouse-Five:

“Throughout the novel, Billy hops back and forth in time, reliving various occasions in his life; this gives him a constant sense of stage fright, as he never knows what part of his life is coming up next. He spends time on Tralfamadore; in Dresden; numbly wading through deep snow in WWII Germany before his capture; living married in America after the war; up to the moment of his murder on Earth many years later. By the time of his murder, Billy has adopted Tralfamadorian fatalism, which has given him great personal peace; he has spread this philosophy to millions of humans and has become a popular public figure on Earth.

Billy’s fatalism appears to be grounded in reality (at least in the reality which Billy perceives); after noting that Billy had a copy of the Serenity Prayer in his office, the narrator says, “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” His Tralfamadorian captors say that out of 31 inhabited planets they have visited, “only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”

After that, or even before that. Maybe at the same time and mix them all up, how about The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

“According to Kundera, “being” is full of “unbearable lightness” because each of us has only one life to live: “Einmal ist Keinmal” (“once is never”, i.e., “what happened once might as well have never happened at all”). Therefore, each life is ultimately insignificant; every decision ultimately does not matter. Since decisions do not matter, they are “light”: they do not tie us down. But at the same time, the insignificance of our decisions – our lives, or being – is unbearable. Hence, “the unbearable lightness of being.”

That one is a major influence – except my take is not that the insignificance of our lives is unbearable, but that it is the greatest freedom and joy.

That’s how you become an optimistic nihilist.

>All those quotations are from the respective Wikipedia entries.

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