Saturday, November 19, 2005

Eternal Return?

Nietzsche in his attempt to excavate the meaning of life once used the myth of eternal return to describe what he saw as the most important reason for men-- and the odd woman, or two-- to move from being into becoming. Eternal return, in short, is the hypothetical box in which the hour-glass of life as you know it is eternally flipped over and over, so that the same joys and sorrows, the same series of experiences repeat themselves ad infinitum.

Nietzsche in his 'gay science' followed his hypothesis with a question, asking whether the reader would curse life forever on being informed of this eternal return, or thank whatever Greater Force there is for the comfort of knowing that nothing new would ever happen again.

Nietzsche meant this again, as the measure of separation between those who chose to remain and those who chose to move. The sheep and the goats. Being and Becoming.

[We will assume that this 'choosing' is a well-oiled tool, a worn coat, a known ciusin. Leave Beckett and Pascal's existential theories on choice aside. Humor me. As you have so often.]

Kundera picked up on this and figured it would be a great way to start a book. He of course, wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being before this present day when Nietzsche is considered passé, where every second high school sudoku aspirant blubs and blogs on the man and his horsey madness.

Except Kundera chooses to assume that this 'being' and 'becoming' is not a choice, that sheep and goats together, we are condemned to be what we essentially are: either 'be'ers or those given to becoming.

I return to India on December 16th.

A thing I assumed I wouldn't be doing till 2007, and even then only in order to renew some visa, any visa before I was off junketing again.

And of course, it is a hypothesis, this eternal return bit.

However, I get this sneaking feeling that the cosmos-- that dear old bitch-- has this way constantly spinning in our hamster's wheel when she knows there's a thing we long to get away from: instead of letting us run and find our man friday and our island, she keeps us on this ferris wheel till conciously or sub-conciously we face whatever we chose to leave behind. A certain about of active reaction is required of us, the price we pay to get off the blessed hell ride.

One of course could just get used to the unchanging scenery.

I have an ADD issue that makes this impossible to do.

And so I return. No air of finality, there still remains a year and a half of a yank degree to complete.

But I return, out of choice. Because I want to be with my parents for christmas. Because I want to be with a numbered few for new year's eve. Because what I came to yankville for no longer has any use for me. Because snow isn't romantic when you're walking through it in order to reach the only meal you will get today.

And also because I want to see how much I remember, and how much I could forget.

And so, to chennai. In less than a month.

O city of grime and gregarious rice
O mixing bowl of the 100 spiced fart
You welcome me with a sun-n-fly frenzy
You whose cows in traffic are kamikaze
I fan-fare thee in my amused distaste.

Chennai! Goddess unknown and thrice disowned
They changed your name ‘coz our Commons
Still mistrusted their Lords;
The Planets had moved—thank ye gods, every 3 million of him n’ her--
(We no longer drank ‘tay’, and avoided the obsequious ‘Sir’)

What metaphors do I make for thee?
Every moment with you is a never-ending concert by the motley crue
Stories and myth are spun in every house—kept refrigerated-- under every tree
Your mangoes 36B'd, your people laughing
In sun rain and at night undrunk, still dancing

You of unfinished cement hills and defiant pot holes
You where every funeral is a flower n’ drum parade
You where post 40, women— and some men—don’t get laid.
You, where difference is distrusted, down to its very soles
How do I find poetry for you in this language you grumble at?

You hide your soul under an ancient pile of dirty linen
Your real face was washed away by a slightly high tide
Your real laughter lives on beaches, and in kaapi cups
Of 3000 year old Tamilian verse
Your ideas walk the streets shuffling, looking for the young to bless or curse.

They call you old and dry and culturally rich
I have seen you buy BMWs, and turn your river to a ditch.
The muse ups and leaves, laughing
Any pain I write will never encompass what has been said and done
I will ask the silent ones to speak, and go wander under another sun.

N.B: I am not going 'home'-- I return to see my parents. There is a difference.

Like the old bony man riding Rocinante, bearing my rusty-trusty spear, I go clip-clopping into windmills.

"It seems to me utterly clear either that you do not really know me, or I do not really know you." Cervantes, Don Quixote: Volume 1, Chapter 33; pg 218.


Anshumani said...

The way I look at it, Nietzsche's theory doesn't allow for choice of any kind ... since it is 'eternal recurrence' all supposed choices that we may make have already been made in the past and will be made in the future ... we can't do a thing about it

And I never liked The Unbearable Lightness of Being ... it is one of those books I struggled to finish and when I did I just put it away never to read again

A Hairy Snail said...

Quite a Catch-22 situation I think this will turn out to be.

Baliga said...


nice to know ull be back in chennai soon....if u want maybe we can meet or something. annway tc.

Abhinav Goyal said...



Interesting point that about the cosmos making us face that what we have chosen to leave behind. If we are those who "be", then there is no point trying to escape - then there is nothing we chose to left behind, and if we are becomers, then its a case of running fast and hard enough in order to perhaps, just perhaps, be able to avoid bumping again into that which we are running away from.

That, I think, is not the problem. The problem is simply this- some of us are too honest to admit (to ourselves- honesty to others doesn't count) that we are running away from something.

And they say that the joy is in the ride.

- B

david raphael israel said...

Priyanka -- in past, when I dabbled a bit in such lines of philosophy, I was drawn more to Mircea Eliade than to Nietzsche. Admittedly I've not done the latter adequate justice; withal, here's pointing out for possible interest, Mircea Eliade's The Myth of the Eternal Return: Or, Cosmos and History [1954/1971 reprint]. His approach to that interesting topic (a topic also of course noted in Plato -- and btw remarkably expounded on by Vivekananda somewhere in his voluminous published lectures) no doubt would be found to differ from Nietz.'s.

cheers, d.i.