Nietzsche: Loving existence even though it’s horrifying and absurd

A review of Keith Ansell Pearson’s How to Read Nietzsche (2005) at The Journal of Nietzsche Studies features the following paragraph, which, with its focus on Nietzsche and its description of a worldview based on tragedy and horror, is a quintessential example of the type of writing that has unfailingly arrested me with a hypnotic fascination for the past 20 years:

Noting that unlike Aristotle, philosophy for Nietzsche does not begin with wonder but horror, Ansell Pearson commences with a crucial and striking interpretation. Rarely is it emphasized and both analytic and continental commentators often neglect it. The tragic realization is that existence is simultaneously horrifying and absurd, and it is Silenus who utters the crushing assessment that it would have been best for us had we not be born at all, while to die as soon as possible would be the next best thing. Thus begins Nietzsche’s battle, which might be characterized as a lifelong agon with Silenus, who perhaps more than Homer, Socrates, or Christ had to be confronted and overcome. For even if Christianity is overcome, Silenus would still remain. He is the fierce specter haunting Nietzsche, whose philosophy in part is an antidote to Silenus’ exceedingly nihilistic vision of existence. From this pivot, and it is a decisive one to travel from, the journey through Nietzsche’s philosophy is initiated. It is philosophy as sublimity, thus one that requires great courage to live up to. It does not suffer optimists like Socrates but demands figures like Zarathustra or the Übermensch, free spirits capable of confronting the pessimistic dimension of existence and not being overcome by resignation, but loving life in its horrific and questionable entirety.

For more about Nietzsche on the horror of existence, see my post from last October titled, appropriately enough, “Nietzsche on the horror of existence,” which continues to draw a steady stream of traffic.

Also note that the first chapter of Pearson’s book is titled “The Horror of Existence,” which primes me, at least, to acquire a copy. Then there’s Philip J. Kain’s Nietzsche and the Horror of Existence — but good luck finding out much about it online.

Nietzsche being cared for by his sister during his final 10-year illness/insanity
Nietzsche being attended to by his sister Elisabeth during his final 10-year illness/insanity

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on May 30, 2009, in Religion & Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Contrary to popular imagination a philosopher is not a thinking frog or simply a registering mechanism with their innards removed. Thought has to be given birth out of the suffering and trials of life, and then endowed with ‘blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate and catastrophe’. Life, says Nietzsche, means essentially this – to transform all that we are and become into light and flame, including everything that wounds us. Out of various exercises in self-mastery one emerges as different and with more questions than one was prepared to entertain before. It is certain that our trust in life has gone, and gone for ever, simply because life has become a problem for us. Nietzsche counsels us, however, that we should not jump to the conclusion that this necessarily makes us gloomy. Love of life is still possible, but we now love differently. It can be compared to the ‘love for a woman that causes doubts in us’.

    An excerpt from the book which was a great help in grappling with Nietzsche.

  2. That’s a beautifully rendered excerpt, Pierre. What’s the title of the book?

    • The excerpt is from the book you mentioned in your post: How to read Nietzsche, Keith Ansell Pearson.

      I also advise a book titled “Nietzsche,” by Robert Wicks

  3. It is extremely important to read Schopenhauer’s main work, volume I, before reading Nietzsche. This facilitates understanding Nietzsche to a remarkable degree.

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