I Will Despair, and be at Enmity With Cozening Hope

Our attitude toward death is influenced by hope as much as it is by fear. If fear is the mother of cowardice, hope is the father. p372

The Greeks considered hope the final evil in Pandora’s box. They also gave us an image of perfect nobility: a human being lovingly doing her duty to another human being despite all threats, and going to her death with pride and courage, not deterred by hope—Antigone. p374

In honesty, what is there to hope for? Small hopes remain but do not truly matter. I may hope that the sunset will be clear, that the night will be cool and still, that my work will turn out well, and yet know that nine hopes out of ten are not even remembered a year later. p374

Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life. If one lives intensely, the time comes when sleep seems bliss. If one loves intensely, the time comes when death seems bliss. p374

If I ask myself who in history I might like to have been, I find that all the men I most admire were by most standards deeply unhappy. They knew despair. But their lives were worthwhile—I only wish mine equaled theirs in this respect—and I have no doubt that they were glad to die. p375

Not only love can be deepened and made more intense and impassioned by the expectation of impending death; all of life is enriched by it. Why deceive myself to the last moment, and hungrily devour sights, sounds, and smells only when it is almost too late? p375

Often we mourn the death of others because it leaves us lonely. But we do not hate sleep because we are sometimes lonely when others have gone to sleep and we lie awake. Death, like sleep, can mean separation; it usually does. We rarely have the honesty to remember how alone we are. The death of those we loved reminds us what dishonesty had concealed from us: our profound solitude and our impending death. In the quest for honesty, death is a cruel but excellent teacher. p378

There is nothing morbid about thinking and speaking of death. Those who disparage honesty do not know its joys. The apostles of hope do not know the liberation of emergence from hope. p375

Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic

5 thoughts on “I Will Despair, and be at Enmity With Cozening Hope

  1. What a great post, Anthony. This book has to go on my pile to be read. Kaufmann’s Nietzsche biography made a strong impression on me although, as you know, I think, I’m a bit more convinced by the Nehamas take on Nietzsche. On that front, I still feel I haven’t entirely come to any firm conclusions on Nietzsche, which is perhaps the healthiest approach. I can very much relate to these quotes from Kaufmann. On a personal note, these days I feel like I’ve lived a very intense life and more than a little precariously compared to many ‘who have done the sensible thing.’ I do have less physical and mental energy to stay as deeply involved as I once did… although I haven’t by any means given up. Due to normal distraction (Heidegger’s ‘inauthentic Dasein?’) it’s not easy to remain ‘beyond hope and fear.’ These readings are powerful (Kaufmann, Nietzsche, Quignard, Heidegger) for never taking a facile or smug approach (whether atheist or religious) to the one fact of life that we can guarantee is common to us all. These exchanges with you over time mean a lot to me. Many thanks.

    • I’m also more convinced in the end by Nehemas than Kaufmann but as much as I like the former’s work, Kaufmann comes alive on the page to a much greater extent. There are parts of this book that I skimmed (the theology section) but the chapter on death is alone worth the price of admission. It moved me. Kaufmann makes me think about how intensely I engage with the world and despite doing so more so than average I don’t live as though I’ve a death sentence hanging over me, which of course I do. Are you still planning a trip to this part of the planet this year, Des? It would be great to chew over some of these questions over some wine.

      • At the moment, I’m looking to be in the UK mid June to mid July. My UK winter plans fell through due to work commitments, but the June plan should work out. I’ll be more than happy to meet up and I’ll keep in touch on that.

  2. excellent post, tx. requisites: a comfortable pace, a kindly outlook, appreciation of sensory input; then death disappears into silence…

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