Thursday, 25 April 2013

Is it Moral to be Happy in a World of Suffering?

"'Making the best of it' and 'enjoying the small things' is, alas, probably the best that anyone can come up with as a solution for coping with life. In spite of all their thinking and writing, it's all that, say, Schopenhauer and Camus could ever prescribe. But to complicate matters, when we do feel content or happy it's generally unplanned and the feelings come and go of their own accord for no real reason.

A serious problem comes when we realise that in order to actively achieve any sort of equilibrium, not to mention contentment or happiness, we are obliged to put on the narrow blinkers and shut out the almost unquantifiable misery of the world. For a serious person, trying to forget that we live in a world where 25,000 people die of hunger every day, 1,000,000 people a year commit suicide, wars rage endlessly, global poverty exists etc etc in order to enjoy a good novel, piece of music or a movie can be a bit forced.

Is it moral to be happy in a world like this?"

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Poem by Carlo Michelstaedter

Carlo Michelstaedter may be a name known to some. Author of Persuasion and Rhetoric, a work that places itself in the genealogy wherin reside Ecclesiastes, Sophocles, Leopardi, Schopenahuer and other great pessimists, Michelstaedter mercilessly exposed the delusions through which humans convince themselves life is worth living. One day after mailing the manuscript of the work to his university in submission for his doctorate, Michelstaedter shot himself. In addition to his great work, he also wrote occasional poetry, an example of which (addressed to his sister Paula) I present here.

Even as swallows year by year return
Back to the nests that held them featherless,
So man goes back in the course of his days,
Time after time to the thought of his cradle.
And as every year he keeps that day,
That to hunger and thirst, to sorrow and grief,
That to this mortal life did him awaken,
Every year he persuades himself again
To love his life.

And the parents who in the newly-born,
In the fragile and helpless little being,
Saw the fruit of their hopes;
And holding out to him with timorous love
All that life gives to him who asks to live,
Made of his tears a veil for their own eyes;

Trusting that clothes and food
Could make him live his life;
Year after year revive their ancient hope,
Their ancient grief,
And with a veil still cover their tired eyes,
Offering thanks to him for being born,
That he may thank them for his life,
and that The dumb grief be forgotten,
and the vain Promise be ever present.

But may the wish, that, what he never had,
Even for an instant,
Should come to him through long luminous years,
Lend the light that it borrows from the future
To the day of his birth,
and multiplying Illusions,
may it persuade him
That his hunger is good,
and life sufficient
Is this our daily death.
May gifts and kisses and the table spread,
Sweet words in plenty, plenty of sweet things,
Blithe promises and glances full of trust,
Make the familiar room joyous and bright,
And shield it from the terrors of the night.

Paula, I cannot say sweet words to thee,
And things that might be dear I do not know,
Because dumb grief has spoken unto me,
And told me that which every heart suffers
Unknowingly, unconfessed to itself.
Beyond the window-panes of the bright room,
Which the accustomed images reflect,
The darkness I can see, still threatening,
And stay and rest I cannot in the desert.
O, let me go, Paula, through the night,
There to create my own light by myself,
Let me go through the desert, to the sea,
That I may bring thee back the gift of light. _
more than thou thinkest, thou art dear to me.