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One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. -Nietzsche

  October 17, 2008

Alchemists of despair: Transforming tragedy into triumph

When Goethe met Beethoven in 1812, he was shocked by his 'completely untamed personality', a solitary savage that by instinct would not obey basic social conventions. Beethoven's Heiligenstadt testament captures his despairing thoughts as he struggled with hearing loss just as he was beginning to innovate post-classical romanticism. Depressed and considering suicide because of the misery of his secret deafness, he was stricken by the cruel irony in the loss of "the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others." After considering his exit, he pledged his life to art, devoting himself to all that nature has called upon him to create, fearlessly offering himself to face any worsening situation that could arise.

As Beethoven's example shows, there is never a reason to quit if you are doing what you believe. Pledging your life is an affirmative act of faith, whether risking it in violent circumstances or spending it creating the world of your dreams. You can expend yourself on what is deserving and you will be replenished again and again. If you hold back, whether from fear or desire for preservation, you will remain small. Nature provides what is needed: give everything and you will always have more.

Schopenhauer has said of the Musician in general: he speaks the highest wisdom in a tongue his reason does not understand Schopenhauer encourages the same approach, even eternal war against constant misfortune, because life's intrinsic blessings demand an honorable posture. Retreat from a possibly bad outcome is resignation from life, and one must always retain courage and rise to meet any challenge.

In this world, where the game is played with loaded dice, a man must have a temper of iron, with armor proof to the blows of fate, and weapons to make his way against men. Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand--on ne réussit dans ce monde qua la pointe de l'épee, et on meurt les armes à la main. It is a cowardly soul that shrinks or grows faint and despondent as soon as the storm begins to gather, or even when the first cloud appears on the horizon. Our motto should be No Surrender; and far from yielding to the ills of life, let us take fresh courage from misfortune:--

Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.
[Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 95.]

As long as the issue of any matter fraught with peril is still in doubt, and there is yet some possibility left that all may come right, no one should ever tremble or think of anything but resistance,--just as a man should not despair of the weather if he can see a bit of blue sky anywhere. Let our attitude be such that we should not quake even if the world fell in ruins about us:--

Si fractus illabatur orbis
Impavidum ferient ruinae

[Horace, Odes iii. 3.]

Our whole life itself--let alone its blessings--would not be worth such a cowardly trembling and shrinking of the heart. Therefore, let us face life courageously and show a firm front to every ill:--

Quocirca vivite fortes Fortiaque adversis opponite pectora rebus.
[Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims]


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