Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Laughing Lions - Skepticism & Stoicism



"Great is he, who conquers the frightful. Sublime is he, who, while succumbing to it, fears it not."
Philosopher Schiller

"The art of living well and the art of dying well are one."
Epicurus

The Courage to Be and the Courage not to Be.

"To take into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible forces whose puppets we seem to be -- Death and change, the irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of man before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity -- to feel these things and know them is to conquer them."
Bertrand Russell

A young shepherd I saw, writhing, gagging, in spasms, his face distorted, and a heavy black snake hung out of his mouth. Had I ever seen so much nausea and pale dread on one face? He seemed to have been asleep when the snake crawled into his throat, and there bit itself fast. My hand tore at the snake and tore in vain; it did not tear the snake out of his throat. Then it cried out of me; "Bite! Bite its head off! Bite!" Thus it cried out of me — my dread, my hatred, my nausea, my pity, all that is good and wicked in me cried out of me with a single cry.

The shepherd, however, bit as my cry counseled him; he bit with a good bite. Far away he spewed the head of the snake — and he jumped up. No longer shepherd. no longer human — one changed, radiant, laughing! Never yet on earth has a human being laughed as he laughed! O my brothers, I heard a laughter that was no human laughter; and now a thirst gnaws at me, a longing that never grows still. My longing for this laughter gnaws at me; oh, how do I bear to go on living! And how could I bear to die now!
Nietzsche - Thus Spoke Zarathustra

"The Vision and the Riddle" ends with a shocking scene where Zarathustra comes upon a shepherd with a snake in his throat. The snake--"the heaviest and the blackest"--could symbolize the choking effects of the slave morality, and, as my students have suggested, the snake's head, which Zarathustra exhorts the shepherd to bite off, could represent the Christian God himself. At the passionate urging of Zarathustra, the shepherd does decapitate the snake and is immediately transformed: "No longer shepherd, no longer human--one changed, radiant, laughing . . . a laughter that was no human laughter."95 After the death of God, there is only eternal recurrence, and this "cosmic" laughter of Hesse's immortals is the only proper emotional response to such a meaningless existence. As Graham Parkes says: "laughter [is] an often necessary concomitant of insight into the way things are."

Cosmic laughter is different from the laughter of the child who is the only being capable of loving herself and embracing every moment without any awareness of the terror of the inevitable return of many similar moments. Cosmic laughter is instead the "Olympian laughter" of the "deeply wounded,"97 those, like Nietzsche, who have suffered greatly, who know eternal recurrence as an "abysmal thought," but who still realize that they must embrace it with a child's acceptance. It is the laughter of the lion, who has come home to Zarathustra's mountain retreat resigned to the futility of all his Nay-saying and protesting-- in short, a reformed Titan.98 It is also the laughter of the Daoist sage or Zen master who says "Yes" to anything and everything in the universe, even though at its core it is a faceless hundun.
Excerpted from N. F. Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese, and Western Perspectives

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