Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Being and suffering

Being is better than nothing. With all its misery, sickness and disease it’s still better than nothing. During short glimpses of sanity between episodes of fever, I was thinking of following.

If you’ve ever been in the Room 24 of the British Museum, you must have seen a majestic exposition devoted to living and dying. The main artwork over there is titled ‘Cradle to Grave’ – a 14-meter long table that showcases medical histories of a typical man and a typical woman in the UK by displaying packages and wrappings of medicine they’re likely to have taken throughout their lives. Pills, syringes, sentimental photographs. It’s very touching, it almost makes you cry. And yet all of it gives a very sobering perspective on the human condition.

Death, sickness and disease. Cries and whispers. Pain and isolation. The integral parts of organic life. Better captured in artworks and movies than by any coherent prose ever written. So well portrayed by Ingmar Bergman. By Lars von Trier – in his ‘Nymphomaniac’ and its notorious scene with the father of protagonist dying in hospital in the state of delirium. Disintegration of organic brain tissues makes him suffer from all sorts of hallucinations and insufferable pain, as morphine doesn’t help against decaying neural cells. Gruesome scenes mixed with sentimental memories from the past. Something about the souls of trees. Indeed, what are these beautiful moments and stories we keep telling to each other on the backdrop of physical torment. Are ephemeral memories stored in our minds in any way justifiable when the organic reality hits and targets the physical medium for storage of these very memories? The theories, subtle feelings, sophisticated mental structures, the brightest revelations. All of them recede into void at the gate of agony and death. Our only sin is that we demand from life more than what it can offer us.

That’s what I thought about when I woke up last week with eyes so swollen I couldn’t open them. Do you know how hostile the devices become when the life goes in disarray? Even the friendliest tools become enemies, when face recognition algorithms don’t detect proportions of your deformed face. When the only remaining 5% of vision don’t allow you to type the phone password from the first 5 attempts. When vocal cords become so inflamed that you have no voice to make a phone call, and your mind is so feverish that it becomes impossible to type a sequence of symbols needed to compose a message. The prison of inaccurate tools all malfunctioning at once. Gradually losing the ability to speak, to see, to hear. Trapped in an isolated cell with all sensory neurons set at receiving pain input.

It’s all very sensual, almost poetic. Incomprehensible by reason, yet captured by myths. Mayan people believed into the place called Xibalba, a dismal star, the underworld, with a road to it paved by the Milky Way. Darren Aronofsky later interpreted Xibalba as a dying star in a distant nebula – somewhere in the constellation of Orion. That’s where the ten Lords of Death rule. Reining over the rivers of blood, lakes of pus, traps with scorpions. The only way to leave this loathsome place alive was to go through the series of tests, trials and traps. There was the Test of Darkness, the Rattling House with bone-chilling cold. The Razor House filled with blades moving ‘according to their own accord’. The fire, screaming bats, the heat, the ferocious jaguars.

Curiously, the Mayan mythology proclaimed that even places like Xibalba are destined to fall. Eventually, Xibalban Gods of Death were defeated by the Mayan twin heroes Hunahpu and Xbalanque. No later account of Xibalba is given in any myths, though there seem to be indications that it ‘continued existence as a dark place of the underworld long after’. Well, that’s a rather realistic ending. The archetypical suffering is never really gone, it’s always somewhere in the backdrop of everyday existence.

The fever, the sickness, the swollen eyes, the pain, the pus pouring out of all holes. It takes courage to love life this way. After going through enough struggles, you start understanding the perspective of Henry Miller and other writers depicting the gruesome parts of reality. Where paragraphs about true love and most gentle human feelings are accompanied by graphic descriptions of STDs. The best cure against love and other romantic preconceptions about the world is life itself. Suffering gives you a better, more comprehensive account of human existence, without illusions and misconceptions of how stuff should be in theory: good, polished, ideal. Attaining a sober perspective on things is a noble goal, even if the cost is unpleasant. But, like in every argument that you’re destined to lose, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Losing the battle, winning the war.

Unless it’s human life of course, where you’re destined to fail regardless of any outcome. Socrates called life a divinely ordained suicide mission. The final prize is death. But courage is a noble virtue. And what’s important is the willingness to take the risk. The strive to embrace the full spectrum of human experiences, to perfect them and distill the best parts.

The best parts… Who else should we turn to in order to learn about transforming pain into perfection if not Nietzsche? The poet of torment, some speculate that he infected himself with dysentery, diphtheria and syphilis deliberately. It requires courage to live this way and speculate about love for one’s fate, eternal recurrence, and importance of suffering in perfecting one’s character. According to Nietzsche and his genius ‘Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music’, we should all take inspiration from Ancient Greeks. Instead of resorting to nihilism and pessimism, they found courage to look into the abyss of human misery, and find beauty in this world – to transform it into something even more beautiful. Into art and music, into plays and tragedies. The terror and ecstasy of human existence were distilled into fine arts. The beauty of it affirming that earthly life is not entirely pointless – and there’s no need to invent another illusionary world to justify the suffering embedded into this one. The world is plentiful and sufficient, if you’re brave enough to accept it.

Alas, not all human cultures agreed with the idea that being is better than nothing. Christians, Buddhists, as well as other proponents of degenerative ideologies have always been notorious at rejecting life, repudiating the world, and obsessing over death – all for a dim chance that there’s an afterworld awaiting us. Well… there might be. But the only certain truth given to us for granted is the existence of this one. So it’s stupid to renounce it.

The antidote that Nietzsche offered against the perverted other-worldliness of Christians was the concept of eternal recurrence – a weapon against radical depreciation of this world. In his philosophy, eternal recurrence is linked to the idea of amor fati, the love for one’s fate. Amor fati is when ‘one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it – all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary – but love it’. The courage and exaltation to live and ‘love the same life once more, and innumerable times more’ placing on one’s fate an ‘ultimate eternal confirmation and seal’. Indeed, what else can be a better definition of happiness and positive confirmation of one’s life if not this? We should all aspire to be like Greeks. Aspire to be like Nietzsche.

Anyway, life is suffering. That’s the factual truth. Human existence is overwhelming, painful and intense. And yet. Being is so much better than nothing.

I write about cats and theories. About the blog »