The Eternal Recurrence

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Reply Sun 22 Nov, 2009 10:16 am
So I have decided to post Nietzsche's first instance of a mention of the eternal recurrence in his body of work. Many scholars have posited both theoretical and practical interpretations of the doctrine of the eternal recurrence, but in his body of work, the theoretical is only argued for in his notes which he chose not to publish found in The Will to Power. Thus, Nietzsche himself would probably not support the theoretical position and instead favor the practical as seen with his conditional that he posits in The Gay Science.

So I ask, what does Nietzsche mean when he writes on the eternal recurrence? Some questions to ponder: Is there such thing as choice if everything has happened and will again? How is the eternal recurrence the ultimate life affirming act? Would a Christian be horrified by the thought of the eternal recurrence? Is the eternal recurrence something to even take seriously...explain? What does amor fati have to do with all of this? Anyway, discuss away.

Quote:
"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, 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 every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and with it, speck of dust!'"

"Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ' You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.' If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question is each and every thing, 'Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?' would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more feverently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (The Gay Science 273-274)
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 05:36 pm
@Theaetetus,
Rorty tackles this brilliantly I think. Here's my assimilation.

Amor fati, the love of fate, is to be able to say yes (and mean it) to one's contingency. We born in a certain place and time with a certain body, all of which we did not choose.

To say yes to eternal recurrence is to say yes to the mess and suffering of it all. It is to say yes to all the youthful despair that precedes our partial illumination. It is to say yes to every heartbreak in our lives over and over again.

It is to accept life as it is, again and again, no heaven or progress in sight.

I think it's important to assume that one's memory is wiped clean between recurrences, and that every recurrence is exactly the same -- and it is not experienced as a recurrence. It is experienced each time with all the terror and bliss of the first time.

I think Heidegger's concept of authenticity is strongly related to Nietzsche's "amor fati." Both men criticize the escapism in so much philosophy.

(This doesn't keep me from finding escapism in Heidegger and Nietzsche, though. And is escapism bad in the first place?)

My 2 cents.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 02:50 am
@Theaetetus,
I think the popular interpretation and consequence of the eternal recurrence is one of the few great things that Nietzsche came up with, something that I wished Kierkegaard had brought up first. And it's this:

"A good life is a life you're willing to live over and over again. "
(Not a direct quote from Nietzsche, but that's one interpretation of it)

I'm not saying one should live the same life over and over again, but if one has to, make it the best damn life the first time around.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 10:39 pm
@Victor Eremita,
I like the terseness of your paraphrase. I think it should be stressed that Nietzsche saw such eternal recurrence as a test. Could one find the strength to embrace the contingent circumstances of one's unique life in their totality, knowing that these contingent circumstances and experiences would be the entirety of existence --forever. Didn't he joke that his sister was a serious obstacle to this Yes in his own case?
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Mon 30 Nov, 2009 11:11 pm
@Theaetetus,
The doctrine of the eternal recurrence was definitely not a form of determinism or metaphysical fatalism as many scholars and readers have posited. It is, though, if one was to hold the Christian ideal of being rewarded for this life in an after life in heaven. To these people the eternal recurrence would send them in despair that their lives were pointless and meaningless. Thus, the doctrine the ultimate revaluation of values that overcomes the nihilism caused by the fact that God is dead.

As a result, Victor is right that the idea is to make this the best life possible this time. I can also see how Nietzsche's sister would be a hindrance in N's life affirmation through the eternal recurrence.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 01:21 am
@Theaetetus,
T.
Not to be difficult, as I respect you both, but Victor said something slightly different. He offered a definition of the good life. And it's a good definition. I just wanted to stress that one must affirm the life one is thrown into, in all its ragged and lonely particularity. Man must find his heaven on the dirt of planet Earth. Indeed indeed.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 04:45 am
@Theaetetus,
I think the origin is oriental. He might have absorbed it from Buddhism and the cosmic cycles of the Hindu Veda, via Schopenhaur. See Mircea Eliade 'The Myth of the Eternal Return' - classic work on the the idea that that which distinguishes the Eastern from the Judeo Christian conception of history is the cyclical idea of time (among other things).
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 04:54 am
@Theaetetus,
Interesting, you mention the contrast of Eastern versus Judeo Christian conception of history. Have you read any Spengler? He writes brilliantly on exactly such things as that. Brilliantly.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 07:01 am
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;107213 wrote:
T.
Not to be difficult, as I respect you both, but Victor said something slightly different. He offered a definition of the good life. And it's a good definition. I just wanted to stress that one must affirm the life one is thrown into, in all its ragged and lonely particularity. Man must find his heaven on the dirt of planet Earth. Indeed indeed.


Well, if you take "Schopenhauer as Educator" and reconcile it with the eternal recurrence, then it would be about making something out of this life and affirming the entire life that one is thrown into with all of its warts, wrinkles, and loneliness. That is the only way to find one's own heaven on this earth in this life.
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 08:30 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;107193 wrote:
It is, though, if one was to hold the Christian ideal of being rewarded for this life in an after life in heaven. To these people the eternal recurrence would send them in despair that their lives were pointless and meaningless. Thus, the doctrine the ultimate revaluation of values that overcomes the nihilism caused by the fact that God is dead.

As a result, Victor is right that the idea is to make this the best life possible this time. I can also see how Nietzsche's sister would be a hindrance in N's life affirmation through the eternal recurrence.
Not all forms of Christianity place a carrot in front of the soul. Calvinism suggests that nothing you do affects your afterlife. You do good to glorify God. Notibly, this is the religious aspect of the merchant class... you can see how it sharply contrasts with the greed and money grubbing of merchants. It could be seen as the religious part of the merchant class trying to reign in earthly lusts before they plunge us into meaninglessness.

How does eternal recurrence compare with Keirkegaard's idea of repetition? The idea there is that there is a melancholy that goes with the idea that there is nothing new. He wasn't saying that there's nothing new, just that there's two ways to look at things:

1. You're unique, this event in front of you is unique and will never come again... there's drama and anxiety with this outlook.

2. You're just another human, this is another morning, on another day, in another year... it's the same year over and over.. it can be a balm on an strife-ridden psyche to know this... that no matter how bad it may seem, we drink the same stream, see the same sun, and run the same course our father's have run....(William Knox)
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 02:11 pm
@Theaetetus,
and of course in popular culture, we shouldn't overlook the hilarious but perceptive depiction of the eternal return provided in Bill Murray's film Groundhog Day.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 02:28 pm
@jeeprs,
By carrot I did not mean to symbolize any sort of heavenly reward. The carrot is equivalent to a Jungian Archetype.

It's a psychological theory that man is compulsively an heroic being. Intellectuals, artists, the man on the street. All of them, I suggest, are role-playing (or incarnating) an heroic ideal, or if you like, an ego-ideal.

The carrot would be the non-contingent energy of this compulsion. The ideal as it is experienced can take many forms.

To act righteously without the certainty of Heavenly reward is a grander way to play the hero. In the same way must of existentialism is quasi-Satanic.
What an aesthetic notion: man alone in the void, creating himself. Or man against the world, him and his chosen essence. Or Sartre with his Marxism cape on, trying to reconcile a quasi-Satanic with a quasi-Christian sort of hero-myth.

Smile
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Tue 1 Dec, 2009 02:29 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;107342 wrote:
and of course in popular culture, we shouldn't overlook the hilarious but perceptive depiction of the eternal return provided in Bill Murray's film Groundhog Day.


Well, that is not really the same idea that Nietzsche was talking about when you consider the cosmological or theoretical formulation of the eternal recurrence. For Bill Murray's character, he experiences the same day over and over again, not a life time over and over again.
 
Fido
 
Reply Thu 3 Dec, 2009 05:19 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;107352 wrote:
Well, that is not really the same idea that Nietzsche was talking about when you consider the cosmological or theoretical formulation of the eternal recurrence. For Bill Murray's character, he experiences the same day over and over again, not a life time over and over again.

Do you suppose Mr. Nietzsche could cough up any proof???

---------- Post added 12-03-2009 at 06:28 PM ----------

Reconstructo;107351 wrote:
By carrot I did not mean to symbolize any sort of heavenly reward. The carrot is equivalent to a Jungian Archetype.

It's a psychological theory that man is compulsively an heroic being. Intellectuals, artists, the man on the street. All of them, I suggest, are role-playing (or incarnating) an heroic ideal, or if you like, an ego-ideal.

The carrot would be the non-contingent energy of this compulsion. The ideal as it is experienced can take many forms.

To act righteously without the certainty of Heavenly reward is a grander way to play the hero. In the same way must of existentialism is quasi-Satanic.
What an aesthetic notion: man alone in the void, creating himself. Or man against the world, him and his chosen essence. Or Sartre with his Marxism cape on, trying to reconcile a quasi-Satanic with a quasi-Christian sort of hero-myth.

Smile

Good is good as an action because good is its result... There is no need for heaven to make men moral, because the lessons of immorality are all around us... We see the pain it causes, and that pain is an evil thing because it is brought onto ourselves...The difference between a Job, or a Jesus is that we suffer out of choice, and inflict suffering out of choice, and suffer the infliction of suffering out of choice...So, if we have choice, then choose to be moral because goodness is its reward, good health, long life, sober judgement, and best of all the power to help others endure the viscissitudes of life...This is hell and we are demons, or with a simple choice this is paradice and we are angels..The good we do, or the evil we do eternally re-occurs.... Save a life...Help out others...We have only this single life between us, no different for one than another, sprung from a single seed...Enjoy it...Give a care...Share water brother... Thou art God...
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Thu 3 Dec, 2009 06:14 pm
@Theaetetus,
But I thought that one of the messages of the Book of Job was that dreadful suffering can befall those who do not seem to have done anything to deserve it. (Of course, in the East, this is not so difficult to explain, because one can always attribute it to 'past bad karma'. But the Judeo Christian tradition does not appear to have this.)
 
salima
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 12:21 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;107953 wrote:
But I thought that one of the messages of the Book of Job was that dreadful suffering can befall those who do not seem to have done anything to deserve it. (Of course, in the East, this is not so difficult to explain, because one can always attribute it to 'past bad karma'. But the Judeo Christian tradition does not appear to have this.)


i know this is off topic, but cant resist commenting. i see everything as a unified happening, and in that light there is perfect justice. job is only a part of all humanity, and whatever befalls him befalls the whole race as well as any good fortune is jointly owned. the only way to deal with it is to know that we are not individual entities at all, and to try and have a unified self image that includes the whole human race.

as to the OP...i think it is insignificant whether we are repeating since we wouldnt know it and couldnt learn from it or adjust to it or change it in any way. if we were told that is the way it is, what would it matter? i already surmised that the big band would be followed by a total collapse and another big band on and on ad infinitum, and the one we are in is certainly not the first. but if we will be repeating everything exactly i dont know, i suppose it is as possible as anything else. how would it matter?

the deists and theists can also accept this, because the same ends could apply as in the scriptures, that god could choose to stop it at any time and proceed on to the next phase of afterlife.

maybe the significence to mr N was if we had the choice would we want to do it again. and to that, i cant imagine anyone saying yes. even if their life was totally fabulous-why repeat it again with no improvisation? boring...

nice post, theaetetus-great comments are coming out!
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Fri 4 Dec, 2009 02:43 am
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;107270 wrote:
How does eternal recurrence compare with Keirkegaard's idea of repetition? The idea there is that there is a melancholy that goes with the idea that there is nothing new. He wasn't saying that there's nothing new, just that there's two ways to look at things:

1. You're unique, this event in front of you is unique and will never come again... there's drama and anxiety with this outlook.

2. You're just another human, this is another morning, on another day, in another year... it's the same year over and over.. it can be a balm on an strife-ridden psyche to know this... that no matter how bad it may seem, we drink the same stream, see the same sun, and run the same course our father's have run....(William Knox)


Kierkegaard's idea of repetition is similar to the eternal recurrence, but has different groundings and conclusions. I'm interpreting what Nietzsche wrote in Ecce Homo, that is, "my formula for greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity".

Kierkegaard writes in Repetition:
Quote:
"Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions; for what is recollected is repeated backwards, whereas geniune repetiton is recollected forwards. Recollection makes us unhappy, but repetition, will make us happy, provided we give ourselves time to live and do not immediately at birth, try to find some lame excuse (that we forgot something for example) for creeping out of life again."


Kierkegaard posits repetition as a feature of the ethical life, contrasting with recollection a feature of the aesthetic life. In recollection, one just lives, statically, reflecting back on lost love for example, never doing anything with his life, always living and yearning for the past which never changes.

Repetition looks to the future, whereas recollection looks towards the past. Marriage, job, and responsibilities are types of repetition, and one continually chooses to maintain it and reaffirm it. In this sense, life is lived and constantly in motion. In an ethical life, one must not forget the past, but one must live for the future.

So whereas one interpretation of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence says a good life is a life worth repeating, one interpretation of Kierkegaard's Repetition says, a good life must be lived forwards, but understood backwards.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 11:22 am
@Theaetetus,
There are two key features of the theoretical aspect of the eternal recurrence. First, it is eternal, and second, it is a recurrence. Thus, it invites us to think of our lives as finite segments in an ever revolving cycle. It also forces us to realize that our lives cannot be infinite as Christian dogma suggests because an infinite life cannot recur. Therefore, willing the eternal recurrence of our earthly life is to welcome its finitude since it both acknowledges and affirms the inevitability of death.
 
salima
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 05:00 pm
@Theaetetus,
uh...am i nuts or has the capability of editing posts been removed? i know there was no 'big band', though that would have been a nice concept. i meant to say 'big bang' of course...
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Mon 7 Dec, 2009 06:29 pm
@salima,
salima;108991 wrote:
uh...am i nuts or has the capability of editing posts been removed? i know there was no 'big band', though that would have been a nice concept. i meant to say 'big bang' of course...
Big band is a type of music. If you ever see a big band in concert, it's important to request a Glenn Miller song so you can see their response. The whole band will look up in exasperation. They're sick and tired of Glenn Miller. It's their eternal recurrence. (I knew you meant big bang... and I appreciated your comment very much)
 
 

 
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