When Nietzsche Wept: Eternal Recurrence
"Imagine this thought experiment! What if some demon were to say to you that this life -- as you now live it and have lived it in the past -- you will have to live once more, and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and everything unutterably small or great in your life will return to you, all in the same succession and sequence... Imagine the central hourglass of existence turned upside down again and again and again. And each time, also turned upside down are you and I, mere specks that we are.... let this thought take possession of you, and I promise you it will change your forever!.... I urge you, then, to consider the implications of eternal recurrence for your life -- not abstractly, but now, today, in the most concrete sense!" [Nietzsche]
"You suggest," said Breuer, "that every action I make, every pain I experience, will be experienced through all infinity?"
"Yes, eternal recurrence means that every time you choose an action, you must be willing to choose it for all eternity. And it is the same for every action not made, every stillborn thought, every choice avoided. And all unlived life will remain bulging inside you, unlived through all eternity. And the unheeded voice of your conscience will cry out to you forever."
"So, Josef, once again I say, let this thought take possession of you. Now I have a question for you: Do you hate the idea? Or do you love it?"
"I hate it!" Breuer almost shouted. "To live forever with the sense that I have not lived, have not tasted freedom -- the idea fills me with horror."
"Then," Nietzsche exhorted, "live in such a way that you love the idea!"
"All that I love now, Friedrich, is the thought that I have fulfilled my duty towards others."
"Duty? Can duty take precedence over your love for yourself and for your own quest for unconditional freedom?"...
Breuer summoned the energy for one further rebuttal. "There is such a thing as duty to others, and I have been faithful to that duty. There, at least, I have the courage of my convictions."
"Better, Josef, far better, to have the courage to change your convictions. Duty and faithfulness are shams, curtains to hide behind. Self liberation means a sacred no, even to duty."
Frightened, Breuer stared at Nietzsche.
"You want to become yourself," Nietzsche continued. "How often have I heard you say that? How often have you lamented that you have never known your freedom? Your goodness, your duty, your faithfulness -- these are the bars of your prison. You will perish from such small virtues. You must learn to know your wickedness."
Excerpt from When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom.
This will be the last excerpt from the novel, concluding this series of posts.