–by Joshua Beane–
“God is dead.”
After all these years, people still misunderstand Nietzsche’s declaration. What the great philosopher meant to say is that god is simply not relevant to modern people; they no longer have a moral and ethical framework that is supported solely by supernatural fiat. Nietzsche is not, however, celebrating this fact. Without god to give focus to our existence, from whence comes our meaning?
According to Nietzsche:
“…man has become a fantastic animal that has to fulfill one more condition of existence than any other animal: man has to believe, to know, from time to time why he exists; his race cannot flourish without a periodic trust in life.”
We are thus left with nihilism, the “radical repudiation of value, meaning, and desirability.” Confronted with the loss of intrinsic meaning, some have found nihilism to be paralyzing. Life is filled with disappointment and suffering. It is ultimately hopeless and ends poorly. Objectively, nihilism is the only reasonable conclusion. However, because it fails to offer a way forward, pure nihilism cannot be a means to an end, in and of itself.
Musician Christopher Vincent describes nihilism as a philosophy of exaltation. Why is there a disparity between perspectives? The nihilism of Vincent’s band Qiet is a positive one that goes beyond simple negation.
Qiet’s song “Get Found” sketches this positive nihilism. The narrator is a seeker. Having no answers, he contends with the fates to find those answers. In many ways, he is like the Old Testament Abraham, having his conversation with god. The speaker in “Get Found” begs the fates for understanding, but instead only gets riddles and the same old stories. Finally, he resolves:
“You know that I’m hungry,
And you better bet I’m easy,
And you know I’m homeward bound.
If I get lost, you better bet I’m gonna get found.”
The voice in “Get Found” is resolute. He is fully accepting of his limitations, yet he is nonetheless assured of his ability to find his path to the truth, even if he gets lost along the way. This is a positive nihilism that accepts our ability to find a relative personal meaning, even if it is not absolute.
Nietzsche believed we should fill the gap left by the divine with art. He even specifically singled out music as sublime, saying that life is a mistake without it. Today, people are even lazier than they are stupid or cowardly, and most of us are a lot of all three. Thus, the art that we let fill our hearts and minds is often unworthy and base. Yet, such things are, nonetheless, subjective. What is deep to one may be boring to another. What is glib to one is joyful to another. Is there any substance to what we consume? If there isn’t, our art intake is no more spiritually nourishing, no more intellectually stimulating, no more motivating than blind religious faith.
While art is important, even essential, to our lives, it must touch our souls in order to be deeply meaningful. It must motivate us. Great art pushes us in the direction of self-realization. To paraphrase Nietzsche, we must become who we are; we must create ourselves. We make ourselves in the image we desire. We become more than we were and achieve our potential. We get found.
Nihilism is a philosophy of radical freedom. Predictably, a thoughtful person who loses faith in the structures with which he or she was raised may go through a phase of depression. Such episodes may reoccur over time. We spend our lives dealing with poorly functioning constructs. Sometimes you just want to watch them burn. Qiet’s song “Cosby Sweater” speaks directly to this impulse:
“As I waltz with the world,
I want to set it all aflame.
I wanna laugh at all her pain.
Douse her, cleanse her, hold her, cry with her again.”
However, everything leads back to the existential questions: “Am I misperceiving? Are we supreme beings?”
We come closer to resolution on Qiet’s next album, Kiss of the Universe. The song “So What, Anyway” offers an apocalypse even more imminent, and yet, it ends tellingly:
“And I know this: What is lost will soon be found.
And so what, anyway?
Get ready for the cold rain.
Get ready for the sky to change.
Get ready for the lord.”
Suffering and death are ubiquitous. The universe itself is hostile toward us. In the face of this, when we ask what the meaning of life is, we are asking for the justification of the suffering in the world. Self-discovery can be just as ubiquitous as suffering if we are only willing to open our eyes.
“Dionysian Dream” uses the same call and response employed in “Get Found,” but to greater effect. Finally, a ray of light shines through:
“Shed your burden and unify
Suffering is not life.”
Life may be suffering, but suffering is not life. In other words, our lives may be defined by struggle and strife, but those hardships are not the reason we live. To know real life, we must rise above our suffering and seize control of our lives. To do so requires our belief that it is possible to succeed, as well as our acknowledgement that it is also possible to fail. What matters is that we elevate ourselves in the process of striving.
Our sprint through Nietzsche via Qiet finishes with “Bring My Day.” This song encapsulates a Mahlerian hero’s journey from the warmth and innocence of youth to the disillusionment of adulthood, a tale begun early with the line:
“Lord, bring my day, before I waste away, and die cold.
Needless to say, I’ve taken this something life and made it nothing.”
The hero later finds peace in maturity:
“I’ve taken this nothing life and made it something.
And maybe they’ll miss me…”
The song finishes close to where it begins. Perhaps we may find our enlightenment where we began. Nietzsche called childhood “…innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a Sacred Yes.” A philosophy of exaltation indeed.
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