Past Tense

A compendium of quotes from various authors with some of my own ideas interspersed throughout.


Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward.

Life is no argument. Suppose a man wanted to impart the following conviction: truth is inwardness, objectively there is no truth, but appropriation is the truth. Suppose him to be very eager and enthusiastic to have this said, since if people could only hear it they would be saved; suppose he said it on every occasion and succeeded in moving the hard-boiled as well as those who perspire easily: what then? No doubt there would be some workers standing idle in the marketplace and simply on hearing this summons would go forth to work in the vineyard – proclaiming this doctrine for all. And then? He would then have contradicted himself still further, just as he had from the beginning; for the eagerness and enthusiasm to have it said and get it heard was already a misunderstanding. What of course was most important was that he should be understood, and the inwardness of the understanding would consist exactly in each individual coming to understand it by himself.

My life as a young man can be described in a single phrase: it was a period absolutely without hope. My life at the time lay entirely in the grips of nihility and despair. My decision, then, to study philosophy was in fact – melodramatic as it might sound – a matter of life and death. In the little history of my soul, this decision meant a kind of conversion. That a materialistic philosophy cannot answer the problems of the soul is clear to me from my own experience. For me there is no way to doubt that the questions of the soul are the fundamental ones for man.

With mind distracted, never thinking, “Death is coming,” to slave away on the pointless business of mundane life, and then to come out empty – it is a tragic error. This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness. They live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die. The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.

Knowledge of the truth I may perhaps have attained to; happiness certainly not. What shall I do? Accomplish something in the world, men tell me. Shall I then publish my grief to the world, contribute one more proof for the wretchedness and misery of existence, perhaps discover a new flaw in human life, hitherto unnoticed? I might then reap the rare reward of becoming famous, like the man who discovered the spots on Jupiter. I prefer, however, to keep silent. Sometimes I feel it’s my mission to bring faith to the faithless and doubt to the faithful.

. . . . .

Under peaceful conditions a warlike man sets upon himself. The specifically Christian concept of sin, along with associated feelings of guilt, finds as its source a falling short of the Platonic Ideal, thus introducing an infinitely indebted bad conscience. Such a description as this of the religious psychology may approximate the truth, but as it has been said – we are condemned to be free. The religious is ineffable. It is that of which language can only communicate indirectly, metaphorically, or not at all. It is not truth, nor creed, nor belief. It is that which exists outside of any abstract thought. Consider the childlike faith and imagination. It is that which disappears the very moment speculation appears. The religious is an understanding that finds outward expression in works of love. Who would give a law unto lovers? Love is unto itself a higher law. It is in this sense that disinterested science and reason cannot possibly begin to approach or understand the religious, much less exist in it via understanding. For psychology, the religious remains a mere intellectual interest in understanding the religious, which is precisely a prevention from attaining the religious. For objectivity, the religious is precisely the paradoxical; for reason, it is the absurd – the intuitive and instinctual. To be religious is to be infinitely interested in existing – to the point where the dualistic designation of subject and object disintegrates in ecstasy.

Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large. Once you label me, you negate me. In so-called Christian speculative thought, what other presupposition can there be at all than that Christianity is the very opposite of speculative thought, that it is the miraculous, the absurd, the mystical, with the only requirement that the individual is to exist in it. If there is speculative thinking within this presupposition, then the speculative thought will instead have as its task a concentration on the impossibility of speculatively understanding Christianity. People have wanted to perform the astonishing trick of saying: “Christianity is an objective doctrine.” This is what has abolished Christianity.

At the bottom of Christianity there are several subtleties that belong to the Orient. In the first place, it knows that it is of very little consequence whether a thing be true or not, so long as it is believed to be true. Truth and faith: here we have two wholly distinct worlds of ideas, almost two diametrically opposite worlds – the road to the one and the road to the other lie miles apart. To understand that fact thoroughly – this is almost enough, in the Orient, to make one a sage. The Brahmins knew it, Plato knew it, every student of the esoteric knows it. The cause of the origin of a thing and the purpose of its eventual utility lie worlds apart. It is in this sense that the teaching found in mythology is not to be found in any merely literal interpretation.

However far man may extend himself with his knowledge, however objective he may appear to himself, ultimately he reaps nothing but his own biography. Remember, if you gaze long enough into an abyss, then the abyss will gaze back into you. Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; also that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy constituted the real germ of life from which the whole plant had grown. Indeed, if one would explain how the abstrusest metaphysical claims of a philosopher really came about, it is always well (and wise) to ask first: at what morality does all this (does he) aim? Accordingly, I do not believe that a “drive to knowledge” is the father of philosophy; but rather that another drive has, here as elsewhere, employed understanding (and misunderstanding) as a mere instrument.

What is the value of truth? Consult the unlearned. If the problem is to calculate where there is more truth, whether on the side of the person who only objectively seeks the truth and the approximation of the truth, or on the side of the person who is infinitely concerned that he in truth relates himself to the world with the infinite passion of inwardness – then there can be no doubt about the answer for anyone who is not totally botched by scholarship and science. Faith consists in the presuppositions on which a man lives his life. In this sense, it is necessarily of a moral nature, which leaves any metaphysical claims in the background.

A scientific interpretation of the world might be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it can be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a “scientific” estimation of music be. Nothing of what is “music” would be left in it.

No real blood flows in the vein of the knowing subject constructed by Locke, Hume, and Kant, but rather the diluted extract of reason as a mere activity of thought. In this sense we can begin to understand that any analysis of the universe is no replacement for phenomenological experience. Awareness in the present moment, qualia experience, is all we ever really know. Science is also a form of poetry, but in our age this is a much more obscure idea. It is in this sense that the juxtaposition of science proper and authentic religion has produced a widely misunderstood false dichotomy.

Being human may be likened to the act of watching a movie. Knowing fully well that the movie which captivates us consists of many individually meaningless scenes that are arranged in such an order as to produce the illusion of a continuum; knowing fully well that the characters portrayed are not real, but mere actors; we tend to mentally make connections and fill gaps to create order, consistency, and meaning. Likewise, we willingly submit to deluding ourselves into believing that the characters are real people, forgetting all about any notion of actors. So it is that there are two truths involved in the act of watching a movie. Likewise, there are two truths involved in the act of being human.

In our conventional wisdom we all recognize that today is Saturday, January 19, 2013. My intention is not to dispute this notion or to discredit history or our conventions of time or place. What I mean to do is simply elicit not “what” is left when all such conventions are removed from thought, but rather “how” we relate to what is left. This seems to me the ground of the most basic form of bad faith and cognitive dissonance in the human mind. It is in this sense that the bodhisattva understands both his illusion and his freedom.

Nihilism is the greatest danger facing our age, yet it does not realize that nihilism itself is essentially a reactionary speculation and therefore intimately related to the religious. Verily, both disappointment and freedom are observed in the child that loses faith in – Santa.

. . . . .

Even as the will of man has been and continues to be the domination of nature, it is never too late for a return to nature. Wed to bad conscience the unnatural inclinations.

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me. You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

Pay no attention to the faults of others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what by yourself is done or left undone. Learn to accept yourself exactly as you are, for therein lies perfection.

Rather than truth, than money, than fame, than power, than possessions, than happiness, than life everlasting – give me authenticity.

Lost out of context, ye had not yet sought yourselves: then did ye find me. Now do I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return unto you.

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.

* * * * *

Living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I feel bound in chains and witness no audacity. People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

Government, as a noun, is a convenient political fiction. Public image is always necessarily an illusion. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain. These men only hold as much power as you allow them to hold.

Do not let your own fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours. The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.

Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him. This is what our society needs – not new ideas and inventions; important as these are, and not geniuses and supermen, but persons who can “be”, that is, persons who have a center of strength within themselves.

Political realism is a theory of political philosophy that attempts to explain, model, and prescribe political relations. It takes as its assumption that power is (or ought to be) the primary end of political action, whether in the domestic or international arena. In the domestic arena, the theory asserts that politicians do, or should, strive to maximize their power, whilst on the international stage, nation states are seen as the primary agents that maximize, or ought to maximize, their power. The theory is therefore to be examined as either a prescription of what ought to be the case, that is, nations and politicians ought to pursue power or their own interests, or as a description of the ruling state of affairs – that nations and politicians only pursue (and perhaps only can pursue) power or self-interest. Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises.

Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer. Nor can he go back to the pity of men.

What happened to the authentic individual? What happened to the free spirit? Precisely how autonomous are we? We have locked ourselves up in cages of fear and, behold, do we now complain that we lack freedom? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is our very last inch, but within that inch, we are free. I often feel like I’m living a lie. Most people just accept mediocrity and live as though they will never die. Your principles are not my principles. You aren’t worthy of my principles. And don’t you allow me to be worthy of yours. Life is too sacred to allow ourselves to be defined by, or slaves to, any system or ideology. I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardize your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” Beware the merchant and his limitless tools of persuasion, for there is nothing too sacred for his sacrifice. Be the change that you wish to see in the world. The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

. . . . .

Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.

A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.

A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”

But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.

The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all – is called “life.”

Many too many are born: for the superfluous ones was the state devised!

. . . . .

Justice is the advantage of the stronger. The world is will to power. Money is power incarnate. And the love of money is the root of all wealth. Natural selection is indifferent until manipulated. Fnord. Nothing is true, everything is permitted. War is father of all, king of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free. What can be smashed must be smashed; whatever will stand the blow is sound, what flies into smithereens is rubbish; at any rate, hit out right and left, no harm will or can come of it.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. With one’s principles one wants to bully one’s habits, or justify, honor, scold, or conceal them: two men with the same principles probably aim with them at something basically different. Jesus said to his Jews: “The law was for servants – love God as I love him, as his son! What are morals to us sons of God!”

Abundance of knowledge does not teach men to be wise. Only authenticity nourishes creativity. Whoever is a teacher through and through takes all things seriously only in relation to his students – even himself.

. . . . .

Therefore do I tear at your web, that your rage may lure you out of your den of lies, and that your revenge may leap forth from behind your word “justice.”

Because, for man to be redeemed from revenge – that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms.

Otherwise, however, would the tarantulas have it. “Let it be very justice for the world to become full of the storms of our vengeance” – thus do they talk to one another.

“Vengeance will we use, and insult, against all who are not like us” – thus do the tarantula-hearts pledge themselves.

“And ‘Will to Equality’ – that itself shall henceforth be the name of virtue; and against all that hath power will we raise an outcry!”

Ye preachers of equality, the tyrant-frenzy of impotence crieth thus in you for “equality”: your most secret tyrant-longings disguise themselves thus in virtue-words!

But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!

Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking.

And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but – power!

With these preachers of equality will I not be mixed up and confounded. For thus speaketh justice unto me: “Men are not equal.”

Good and evil, and rich and poor, and high and low, and all names of values: weapons shall they be!

. . . . .

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

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