Pain and death

‘Yes, much bitter dying must there be in your lives, you creators!’ Thus Spoke Zarathrustra, Friedrich Nietzsche

Creation is one of the unique things about human existence-without creation existence becomes difficult and tiresome, perhaps even completely pointless. Marxist theory suggests that a life devoid of creation is the reason why people turn to religion. Many jobs involve little or no creation, and Marx believed that this lack of creation leads people to religion as a form of consolation, an idea developed later by Freud. Nietzsche said ‘Creating-that is the great redemption from suffering’. Creation is painful in itself, but through this painful creation there is a salvation from suffering. Nietzsche combats the way which people turn to religion for salvation, and entreats that we should rather create in order to save ourselves. Why, though, must creation involve ‘bitter dying’? Because that which precedes creation is self-destruction. Sacrifice must be had if we want to create. Pain and death, then, can give rise to a redemptive and greater form of life.



What is art for? Is it to reflect reality or to create something different from it? Is art a way of appreciating what exists, or is it a means of escape, a way out from the real world?

Nietzsche was hugely appreciative of art, particularly music, being a composer himself, and said that without music, ‘life would be nothing’. This idea of the power and importance of art comes from Schopenhauer, and stems originally from Kant, although Kant thought music was a low form of art, opposing Nietzsche who held music in high esteem. It is not clear why we make art, though it seems a necessary part of life, something that most people cannot avoid doing. In some ways it is a form of self-expression. Yet what has occurred to me is that art portrays one thing: a desire for liberation. In this it seems that art is frequently used as a way of escaping reality and taking oneself elsewhere, not as a distraction as such, but more as a will to be someplace else which is, ultimately, purer. Music offers at least a moment of some kind of perfection, even if that perfection is temporary and man-made. And how, then, does one go about the creation of art? Again, Nietzsche must be quoted:

‘For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.’


A thought on life

Life has never been straightforward. In some ways life has become easier, yet it feels as if we, humanity, as a species, are coming to a standstill. Yes, we are still developing economically, technologically and scientifically, but it seems to be, for the most part, that society is not really going anywhere. We’re advancing, yes, but achieving? Questionable. It has come to a point where it is extremely difficult to determine where society is headed next. Obsessions with social media, gender complications, and popular culture do not appear to be enhancing the human race. The increase in smart-phones, televisions and technology that ultimately dulls the mind and is binge-consumed passively does not seem to be supporting any evolutionary progress. Perhaps we have made things too easy for ourselves that we have become so idle and lazy that little genuine progress in subjects such as philosophy, music and literature. Our societies seem to be founded on repetition, but is all this repetition good for progress that requires intense creativity? Maybe. Maybe not. Is our world hindering creativity?

What should we do with our suffering?

In today’s world, talking about our suffering and pain is mightily encouraged, and keeping things which cause us anguish to ourselves is discouraged and seen as wrong-nobody should have to suffer alone. Of course, there are different scales of suffering, from petty everyday troubles to genuine hardship through poverty, disease, and mental illness. There is no doubt that talking can help, since it allows us to know that we are not alone, and it gives our sufferings an objective viewpoint. Nevertheless, should we always be talking about our hardships and pains of life?

Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the lily in the field and the bird in the sky, saying that even though they suffered, they suffered silently. One should not take this completely literally-obviously the lily is silent! Yet his point is that we, as humans, are not able to remain silent in our suffering. It may be that our troubles always seem so much worse than they actually are is because of our inability to remain silent. Kierkegaard wrote that ‘to suffer is to suffer, no more and no less.’ Perhaps what Kierkegaard may be implicitly calling us to do is to accept our suffering, rather than always trying to talk about it and make a fuss about it which may, ultimately, be a way of fleeing from it. Not all suffering should be accepted, yet not all of it should be extinguished. Life is full of trials and tribulations, and at times the best thing may be to speak to someone, to call out to them for help, but at others, it may be best if we do not speak, but remain silent, and calm, and to use the suffering for something rather than talk about it. Much of the great art we have today may be thanks to suffering. Suffering inspires and motivates. We do not always have to talk about our pains, but rather we can create something-a book, a song, a poem, or a drawing, and through this act of creation, we may discover that not only does it help ourselves, but it has the power to help others also.

The Power of Art

Art is many things. It can inspire, comfort, transform. Art enables man to transform his essence. Christian Morgenstern said that ‘in every work of art, the artist himself is present’ and I believe this to be true. In the music of Mozart we are able to gain an insight into the intense feelings, doubts and frustrations of a musical genius, in the paintings of van Gogh we are thrown into a world of madness, pain and, again, majestic skill. At times, art can satisfactorily express emotions which words cannot.

Through art, Mozart, Bach, da Vinci, Ovid, Homer, and numerous other writers, musicians, poets and painters, became immortal. Although they were all inevitably destined for death, they were able to live forever, not in body or mind, but in spirit. Each person’s art allows a glimpse of that persons life. Not only does art satisfy and gratify the spectators, but it also satisfies the creators themselves. Art, it seems, is created because of some dissatisfaction or some feeling of emptiness that can only be filled by something creative. Many writers have expressed some belief of this sort, saying that ‘art never comes from happiness’ (Chuck Palahniuk) or ‘art is to console those who are broken by life’ (van Gogh). Art can, if we allow, assume a form of catharsis. To the artist himself, art is a means to expressing the inexpressible, to the spectator, art indicates that the feelings of loneliness, doubt, fear,  inadequacy, anxiety, and depression are not exclusive to the spectator alone, and that art can be used to channel these feelings. As Thomas Merton said, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’

We live in a society full of art. Music is available at a few clicks of a button, is played in supermarkets, restaurants, in transport, and in many other public and private spaces. Moreover, paintings are widely available to view and poetry and writings are at hand in many, many places. We have, thankfully, recognised its importance and its benefit to mankind. For art may be, at times, the only thing that keeps a man sane.

Addiction and human nature

Addiction is most commonly associated with the category of drugs. But what if we all had different addictions, to different drugs? I’m not saying that we’re all secretly addicted to heroin or ketamine, because although we put these kind of substances in the group of ‘drugs’ that people take, there may be more and more drugs than we think. Are we all addicts?

Is there something which you need to get you through the day? Must you have coffee in the morning, or TV late at night? Are the Facebook and Instagram feeds your form of relief to make the day bearable? Do you have to read some of a novel to help you get work done? I’m sure everyone has some form of relief they use to get them through life. I may be wrong, but then again…

Addiction may not just be something to do with illegal or legal ‘substances’. In fact, addiction may be all around. The question is whether we are all addicted to something, something which makes the day bearable. This does not mean that addiction is wrong. What it does tell us is a key insight into human nature. If we really do need certain things to pull us through life, what is our natural state? If we are addicts, in one form or another, what is the norm without such things? It is hard to think that the state of humanity is anything but a dissatisfied one. It seems that boredom is natural to man, and that ‘happiness’, or ‘satisfaction’, is not the norm. Perhaps it is, and I am wrong, but throughout life today, the widespread use of social media, the excess of consumption in the form of clothes to the form of television seems to prove my point. We fill our lives with distractions because we are not satisfied.

It was Arthur Schopenhauer who proposed that life is a pendulum swinging ‘backward and forward between pain and boredom.’ When we are in pain, we fill it with things to relieve the pain, but after a while, we become bored of this. This is, according to Schopenhauer, how life works. Even if this is true, we must not despair. In one of my previous posts, ‘why suffering can be good’, I wrote about the usefulness of pain. Although at first we may want to immediately sedate the pain, this may not be the right choice, since it is only through suffering that we can grow as people and evolve. The most worthwhile of things are the products of hard work, sacrifice and suffering. Concluding that we are addicts at nature may help us realise two things:

  1. That it is not primarily our fault for our addictive nature-it is just the world we live in.
  2. Addiction is a way of dealing with boredom and pain. There are many various ways of dealing with this dissatisfaction, some better than others.

Rather than turning to heroine, binge-watching of television or social media feeds, we can, as Alain de Botton wrote, ‘turn pain into knowledge.’

Today is the only day

We like to think that we will live forever. We like to think that death doesn’t really exist, or at least that it won’t affect us. It may be true that death won’t affect us in the way we think because we’ll be dead, and so we won’t exist any longer, but this doesn’t mean we won’t ‘die’.

Death isn’t easy to accept, but it must be confronted. If we act as if we have an infinite amount of time on earth, then it is hard to see a good reason for doing anything worthwhile, since we will always be here. But if we realise that we only have a limited time on this earth, and that soon enough we will be dead and no longer exist, we might just come to recognise the importance of today, and that the only time is now, because soon enough there will be no more ‘now’ for us.

Death shouldn’t be frowned upon, nor should it be feared. Rather it should be used as a reminder of the brevity of life, that our lives could end at any minute, perhaps even right now, and that life is something to be seized and used while it can be. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, do it, because tomorrow you might be dead. If there was something you wanted to tell someone, say it, for tomorrow they might be dead. Death is far from something to be avoided and thrown to the back of our minds. If we allow it, death may enable us to live our lives to the full. Once we accept that this is the only time we have, that today is the only day, and that soon we will be no more, we can start living.

Why suffering can be good

‘Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing.’ Chuck Palahniuk

It is a commonly held view that pain is bad and that suffering is to be avoided. It’s true that avoiding suffering is generally easier than facing it and dealing with it. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what we should do. The idea of the importance of bearing with suffering goes back to Nietzsche who emphasised that suffering was necessary for greatness. Nothing good can come without pain, sacrifice, hard work.

An easy life can come from avoiding suffering. The most fulfilled lives, however, the lives of the greats, were made by suffering. It is because of suffering that we are able to listen to the likes of Mozart, to look at the likes of da Vinci, and to read the likes of Homer. The suffering itself may be incredibly painful, at times almost unbearable, but it is this suffering which will enable us to create art of another level. Arthur Schopenhauer, who was a heavy influence on the thought of Nietzsche, once said ‘once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.’ Only through enduring pain and suffering can we become greater human beings, and, if we wish, create something worthwhile.