Wednesday, October 27, 2004

E Return

From The Gay Science
341. The greatest stress

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in 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 you 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 in 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 fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

A haunting scene in Bergman's Hour of the Wolf. The one where Johan murders the child (maybe "slaughters" is a better word) and drops the body into the pool where he has been fishing. We watch, with Johan, the body slowly sinking. And then it rises again. Ever so briefly the boy's hair becomes matted to the surface, before sinking again. A resurrection, of sorts - we are left with little ambiguity about the lingering force of this experience in Johan's life. A beautiful, disturbing scene. Perhaps not so much a sacrifice as a founding murder? But the child has attacked him, with almost superhuman strength, and after stealing Johan's sock from his boot...without a doubt I am missing something (from the Bible, stupid, she helpfully suggests).

What might be at stake in a psychoanalytic reading of Nietzsche's eternal return? Someone else has apparently asked this question too.

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