Monday. The weekend that came to an end yesterday was at the same time weird and constructive. I constantly felt both driven and full of energy but also unbalanced as if walking along the edge of a cliff. I cannot say precisely why I felt this way as there were many plausible reasons:
The weekend was three days long. Owing to the fact that my general manager does not like to either plan or structure her own thought. So as it usually happens, I ended up working on the previous Saturday and on monday we left the office at 23:00. On the flip side I got Friday for free. Which I seized to spend the morning of doing unusual things for a Friday. I went to the gym for an hour and a half. I I bought my father a Ribera del Duero Magnum for his upcoming birthday. I visited the halls of the Prado until I was inebriated with beauty. I did the flâneur throughout the city center while smoking a cigar with the sunshine on my face. And when the cigar was consumed I walked into an artsy library where I bought Houellebecq’s latest essay “In Schopenhauer’s Presence”.
Two events during that week triggered that purchase. The first, a random conversation with a girl in which she claimed Houellebecq as her favourite writer. The funny thing is that after a few questions back and forth she held no appreciation whatsoever for the author’s critique of modernity and only seemed to like the decadent and depressing aesthetic of the novels. The second trigger, which built upon the salience Houellebecq had already acquired on my mind from the first, was a colleague of mine who shared a review on the aforementioned essay. I was primed. Not that it is a difficult thing to achive. My book-hoarding issue is well-known by many.
Saturday was binge reading day and, among others, I read the essay we are talking about just before reading Seneca’s “On the Happy Life”. What happened next was an absolute coincidence since I had bought Seneca’s essay the previous week, before knowing anything about Houellebecq’s book. On the essay Houellebecq comments on Schopenhauer’s contradictory disdain for Stoics and their moral of resistance, while at the same time praising certain guiding principles to achieve happiness that are actually quite similar to what Stoics believe. Houellebecq’s comment finishes precisely quoting these guidelines. And so reading “De vita beata” afterwards felt as if Schopenhauer had done a triple backflip to connect his convoluted and useless metaphysical thought into the humanistic and practical thought of the portico.
¿Could it be that to achieve true wisdom you must enter the hell of defeatist pessimism only to ascend away from it more powerful and driven to move closer to The Logos? I believe we can find this synthesis at the end of book 2 of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:
Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgement. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion.
In this fragment the distaste for the material and the temporal is clear. But Stoicism builds beyond mere existential angst and drives you to construct yourself and strive for divinity:
What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded. But if there is no harm to the elements themselves in each continually changing into another, why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil which is according to nature.
From a materialist standpoint this could simply be disdained as having no empirical evidence and being a mere leap of faith of the naïve. The daemon in our heads mere synapses and not that which possesses a part of The Logos. But I rather take a leap of faith than to be arrogant with my own directing mind. It seems to me a very small price to pay for a potentially huge reward.