To Desire Oblivion

What is the meaning of our existence, if it is not that in our own selves that desire for truth has come to it; own consciousness as a problem? . . .
In attaining self-consciousness, the desire for truth will undoubtedly destroy morality; this is that great hundred-act play that is reserved for the next two centuries of Europe, the most terrible, the most mysterious and perhaps yet the most pregnant with hope of all spectacles . . .

Except for the ascetic ideal, Man, the animal Man, has had no meaning. His existence on earth had no purpose; ‘what is the purpose of Man at all?’ was a question without an answer; the will for Man and the world was lacking; behind every great human destiny rang, like a refrain, a still greater ‘in vain!’ The ascetic ideal simply means that something was lacking, that Man was surrounded by a tremendous void he did not know how to justify himself, to explain himself, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his own meaning. He suffered also in other ways; he was in the main a diseased animal; his problem was not suffering itself, though, but the lack of an answer to that crying question, ‘Why do we suffer?’

Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to suffering, does not repudiate suffering in itself; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided that he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose for suffering. The senselessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse which lay upon humanity until the ascetic ideal gave Man a meaning! It was the only meaning offered till now; but any meaning is better than no meaning; the ascetic ideal was in that connection the ‘faute de mieux’ par excellence that existed at that time. In that ideal, suffering found an explanation; the tremendous void seemed filled; the door to all suicidal nihilism was closed. The explanation –there is no doubt about it– brought about new suffering, deeper, more penetrating, more venomous, gnawing more brutally into life; it brought all suffering within the compass of guilt; but in spite of all that – Man had saved himself, he had found a meaning for himself; he was no more tossed about like a leaf in the wind; he was no longer a plaything of chance, a casualty of blind fate; he could now ‘will’ something no matter what, why and how he did so at first – the will itself was saved.

We can no longer conceal from ourselves precisely what this will, under the direction of the ascetic ideal, expresses, which is hatred of anything human, animal or material; abhorrence of the senses, of reason itself; fear of happiness and beauty; the desire to escape from all illusion, change, growth, death, wishing, even from desiring itself – all this means – let us have the courage to confront it – a wish for oblivion, an aversion to life, a repudiation of everything vital to existence, but it is and remains a will! – and to say at the end that which I said at the beginning Man will desire oblivion rather than not desire at all.

Friedrich Nietzsche (2014) On the Genealogy of Morals.

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