(English is not my mother tongue, sorry in advance if I make mistakes)
I am currently reading a philosophical book that I stumbled upon by chance, a unique work by a young (23yo) Italian of the early 20th century, after what he killed himself: Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter. I don't know if anyone here has read it? I hope so, because I may not be the clearest.
At first I must confess that I didn't understand it at all, but as I progressed through the book I began to see what he was talking about: I haven't finished his book yet, but I can already tell - it's amazing. There's so much to say, I'll try to keep it synthetic.
This book had been sold to me as "the most depressive philosophical book (that my interlocutor had read)". I'm not disappointed, I got my money's worth. But in fact, its analysis is incredibly deeper than that. Let me be clear: the more I read it, the more I am struck by his observation: his whole book seems to me to be about dukkha. It's really incredible, I'm pretty sure he's never heard of Buddhism and yet his whole book is a wonderful analysis of dukkah, this cosmic suffering-unsatisfaction hidden in the hollow of all phenomena, like a cursed mark on (conventional) life.
He analyses both dukkha caused by boundless desire, dukkha caused by the impermanence of all things, and dukkha caused by conditioning itself. This is wonderful. I would like to quote entire passages from the book to show you that a Buddhist monk could approve everything.
My point is that he committed suicide after this book. And when you read it you can understand why, it's even almost logical: he didn't know Buddhism and therefore the radical teaching of Buddha: certainly dukkha exists and is everywhere, but it is not absolute; a way out is possible (nirvana). Except that Carlo didn't know this way out, and when one realized only dukkha, what's the point of living?
The problem is that I recently read a very good article (PS 5) in the blog 'Politically Incorrect Dharma' about the difficulty of reaching enlightenment: in this day and age, in fact, hardly anyone achieves nirvana. Therefore, even if we can believe the testimonies of the historical enlightened about the existence of a way out (nirvana), when the chances are infinitesimal that we reach it, for us, it is as if there is no way out. From that point on, how can we not be depressed when we have (at least partially) realized dukkha? I'm not talking about a purely intellectual understanding, but a real beginning of realisation. How not to end up like Carlo, or completely depressed at the very least?
At the risk of repeating myself, I have chosen only one part of the book's topics here, apart from the absence of solution (nirvana) because of his ignorance of Buddhism, his whole book sounds deeply Buddhist to me, as it delivers a brilliant and profound analysis of impermanence, desire (tanha), conditioning, life, phenomena and suffering-dissatisfaction.
“Are you persuaded of what you do or not? Do you need something to happen or not in order to do what you do? Do you need the correlations to coincide always, because the end is never in what you do, even if what you do is vast and distant but is always in your continuation? Do you say you are persuaded of what you do, no matter what? Yes? Then I tell you: tomorrow you will certainly be dead. It doesn't matter? Are you thinking about fame? About your family? But your memory dies with you,with you your family is dead. Are you thinking about your ideals? You want to make a will? You want a headstone? But tomorrow those too are dead, dead. All men die with you. Your death is an unwavering comet. Do you turn to god? There is no god, god dies with you. The kingdom of heaven crumbles with you, tomorrow you are dead, dead. Tomorrow everything is finished—your body, family, friends, country, what you’re doing now, what you might do in the future, the good, the bad, the true, the false, your ideas, your little part, god and his kingdom, paradise, hell, everything, everything, everything. Tomorrow everything is over—in twenty four hours is death.
Well, then the god of today is no longer yesterday’s, no longer the country, the good, the bad, friends, or family. You want to eat? No, you cannot. The taste of food is no longer the same; honey is bitter, milk is sour, meat nauseating, and the odor, the odor sickens you: it reeks of the dead. You want a woman to comfort you in your last moments? No, worse: it is dead flesh. You want to enjoy the sun, air, light, sky? Enjoy?! The sun is a rotten orange, the light extinguished, the air suffocating. The sky is a low, oppressive arc. . . .No, everything is closed and dark now. But the sun shines, the air is pure, everything is like before, and yet you speak like a man buried alive, describing his tomb. And persuasion? You are not even persuaded of the sunlight; you cannot move a finger, cannot remain standing. The god who kept you standing,made your day clear and your food sweet, gave you family, country, paradise—he betrays you now and abandons you because the thread of your philopsychia (love of life) is broken.
The meaning of things, the taste of the world, is only for continuation’s sake. Being born is nothing but wanting to go on on: men live in order to live, in order not to die. Their persuasion is the fear of death. Being born is nothing but fearing death, so that, if death becomes certain in a certain future, they are already dead in the present. All that they do and say with fixed persuasion, a clear purpose, and evident reason is nothing but fear of death– ‘indeed, believing one is wise without being wise is nothing but fearing death.”
“Likewise, however little man, in living, demands as just to himself, his duty toward justice remains infinite. The right to live cannot be paid by finite labour, only by infinite activity.
Because you participate in the violence of all things, all of this violence is part of your debt to justice. All of your activity must go toward eradicating this: to give everything and demand nothing; this is the duty—where duties and rights may be, I do not know.”
PS 4 (>Xbox):
“I know I want and do not have what I want. A weight hangs suspended from a hook; being suspended, it suffers because it cannot fall: it cannot get off the hook, for insofar as it is weight it suspends, and as long as it suspends it depends.
Its life is this want of life. If it no longer wanted but were finished, perfect, if it possessed its own self, it would have ended its existence. At that point, as its own impediment to possessing life, the weight would not depend on what is external as much as on its own self, in that it is not given the means to be satisfied. The weight can never be persuaded.
Nor is any life ever satisfied to live in any present, for insofar as it is life it continues, and it continues into the future to the degree that it lacks life. If it were to possess itself completely here and now and be in want of nothing—if it awaited nothing in the future—it would not continue: it would cease to be life.
So many things attract us in the future, but in vain do we want to possess them in the present.”
Edit: I just learned that Evola was a reader of Michelstaedter, that he wanted also to kill himself at 23, and that he changed his mind after reading the Pali Canon. Amazing. My hunch didn't come out of nowhere!