There is Nothing Left

Eyes open. Again. Another day. I did not ask for this, I do not want this. The peace, the rest, the calm of sleep – shattered. Wakefulness, awareness, being there, being here. Again. The sun goes up and the sun goes down, I beat out my routine in all the bleakness and faded never-was-glory of a place that might have almost been something once, long ago, but has now ground its way down to such vacuity that only chemically induced false mirth can make it tolerable. And we are all out of chemicals.

Life can seem like little more than a passing of the time that begins and ends ignominiously. One never asked to be born but one was, and there is only to make the most of it. Yet what exactly does that mean, “making the most of it”? In the absence of any preordained purpose or plan it must come down to the manner in which one is able to make some meaning out of it all. The universe might be deterministic, we might all be bound to the fates, the tightly wound chains, wrought by our circumstances, genetic inheritances, upbringing, socioeconomic backgrounds, opportunities had and opportunities not had during our formative years, etc., etc., etc. We might in fact have no choice in anything and are simply stuck: hamsters sprinting away in spinning wheels until our hearts give out. Whether or not that is the case though without the Norns around to tell us there is still that vast yawning emptiness that must be filled, somehow, someway, always.

We know the answer to this, of course. We are writers, and so we write. We pile up project upon project, barely getting started on one before an idea strikes for the next, disciplining ourselves to actually make a plan and then stick with it – only to quite naturally not stick with it. Words, words, endless seas of words poured out and out, punctuation spilling and splashing onto the floor. Never mind, edit number twenty-six will find that mistake and all will be well. Readers? Who cares, we are living our lives in the only way we really know how: silently out loud, mentally at full volume, fingers going clack, clack, clack. Does any of it mean anything? Does any of anything mean anything?

We have Thomas Nagel to thank for pointing out that, among many other penetrating observations, although it is true (and somewhat unremarkable) that nothing we do today will matter in the far future, so too nothing that will actually matter in the far future matters today. We are here today, all we have is today, cursedly-blessedly awake and aware in it, the only true reality possible: ever-now. In particular, Nagel goes on, it makes no difference to us today that in the far future nothing we do today will matter.* Is this not one of the most liberating revelations imaginable? Cutting all cords to the future opens up life as it is lived like nothing else can. This moment now, all these flitting dust motes, is the only attainable surety one can ever face and the meaning of it, the matter of it, is too just here and just yes. Yes to its being, yes to my being, yes to being. The question of how to fill the time has been answered, the means determined, and the outcome – pffft, fate will wield its will and not a thread of it is of any concern. The sun rises and the sun sets. The clock bangs out its rhythm. I am hunched over a keyboard. There is nothing behind any of this. And yet, there is everything. Eyes open.

 

*Nagel’s piece where these thoughts appear was originally published as a journal article titled, “The Absurd”, in the Journal of Philosophy, 68:20 (2003), 716-727, and then later reprinted in David Benatar’s (ed.) Life, Death, and Meaning (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 29-40.

 

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