Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best...

Another thought-provoking thread from Alfred Corn

from Sophocles's =Oedipus at Colonus=, Jebb translation:
"Not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best; but when a man has seen the light of day, this is next best by far, that with utmost speed he should go back from where he came." Agree or disagree.
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  • You, Ida Jablanovec and 7 others like this.
  • Jack Miller Only if you are destined to murder your father, fuck your mother, and blind yourself bloody. Or similar destinies. I'm trying to think of better fates...
    22 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Jonathan Diogenes Plantagenet I think Stephen Dedalus says something similar in Ulysses
    22 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Bethany W Pope I don't think Sophocles agreed with what he had the chorus say. Their role was not to reflect the will of the gods (or of the author) but in this case to serve as an echo chamber for the turmoil that Oedipus was experiencing.
    22 hours ago · Unlike · 6
  • Nicola D'Ugo I disagree, since I am not an Ancient Greek. Moreover, I doubt that Œdipus could go back where he came from, at least if we consider that everybody had to become a fleshless shadow. I wonder, by reading once again this passage, if Sophocles had a pantheistic conception of life, instead of the typical Greek one.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Anna Husain On a bad day.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Alfred Corn "An old legend has it that King Midas hunted a long time in the woods for the wise Silenus, companion of Dionysos,without being able to catch him. When he finally had caught him the king asked him what he considered man's greatest good. The daemon remained sullen and uncommunicative until finally, forced by the king, he broke into a shrill laugh and spoke: 'Ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon." [Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy]
    21 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 3
  • Michael Gregory Stephens In my case it would be Brooklyn, and it is far to expensive for me to go back to it, even the crappy neighborhood that I grew up in just off Broadway near Eastern Parkway, what we called East New York, and what later became, in the newspapers, Ocean Hill, but really when you get down to it is the eastern edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
    21 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Michael Gregory Stephens Er, is far too expensive...oops.
    21 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Linsey Abrams The world is very cruel, and for millions and millions of people this is probably true. But that is not what is meant here.
    21 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Doug Anderson Context: I'd probably feel the same way if I'd just blinded myself with my hanged wife's jewelry.
    21 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Jack Miller For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
    The Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely,
    The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
    The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his Quietus make
    With a bare Bodkin?
    21 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Alfred Corn According to the Nietzsche quote above, the idea predates Sophocles's play.
    21 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Graham Christian No--that anecdote about Midas and Silenus comes from Plutarch, so the written record of it considerably postdates Sophocles.
    21 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Bill Lantry "Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say / never to have drawn the breath of life, or looked into the eye of day..."
    21 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Graham Christian Although "Oedipus in Brooklyn" has a nice ring to it. A friend of mine & I were already talking about writing "Iphigenie in Motor City"--perhaps we should tackle "Oedipus in Brooklyn" first.
    21 hours ago · Unlike · 4
  • Rosanne Wasserman Yes, Bill Lantry:
    "The second best's a gay goodnight and quickly turn away."
    Yeats's version's the best. And when you can write like that, you ought to stick around. Heck, you want to stick around just to read people who can write like that.
    21 hours ago · Unlike · 4
  • Simon Paul Augustine To be born, especially human, is a gift beyond measure. For it is an opportunity to realize complete transparency and freedom; to understand that one was never born and so shall never cease; to become alive in such a way that death becomes irrelevant; and to love. To help others. To see all that is beautiful and grotesque in people and ourselves. With this comes great suffering too, but it cannot be otherwise. To me, Nietzsche is a brilliant stylist, a bold an outraged mind, but pretty much misguided about everything. I always suspected he was an intensely sensitive person, so sensitive, that he had to put up a macho front.
    21 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Tad Richards Hard to agree with that one.
  • Jack Miller How similar is this cynicism about living to the Buddhist (and other Asian philosophy's) view that enlightenment means transcending Saṃsāra ?
    21 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Simon Paul Augustine Not too similar, if I understand your question, Jack. Buddhist practice is not a form of cynicism - it has deeply skeptical elements, but is essentially a positive and hopeful worldview, at least as I try to live it. To be born human is incredibly auspicious, precisely because human consciousness is the only vehicle that makes enlightenment and altruism possible.
    20 hours ago · Unlike · 3
  • Simon Paul Augustine The great thing, and appealing thing, about Buddhism, or aspects of Hinduism, or Advaita, as opposed to the more Western modes of thinking - is that there is much less theorizing - the epistemological and cognitive distance between what we believe or understand, sometime in a vicarious way, and what we experience - on a visceral, existential, emotional, intellectual level - is collapsed. One does not think about Truth or what may be true or develop a theory of reality - one plunges with one's whole being and concentration into testing and living and realizing Truth. What good are a bunch of theories about Reality when one can grab Reality by the balls?
    20 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Jean Paul Taylor Mr. Augustine, you are right. But how rich we have been made in such things as literature because of that dichotomy!
    20 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Jack Miller Perhaps Diogenes would agree in his own way, Simon. Then too, some of the greatest Western minds were mindful of Eastern thinking, and viewpoint.
    20 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Jean Paul Taylor Heraclitus lived in Syria, I believe. What is this east west nonsense?
    20 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Robbi Nester No. I don't agree at all.
  • Robbi Nester But I guess we've all felt that way sometime.
  • Carolyn Holmes Gregory Disagree. Important to keep moving forward, not retreat.
    19 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Paul Attinello Without feeling like joining the fray - that characterisation of Buddhism is a little unrealistic. If it is possible to classify religions by amount of theorising, Buddhism is way up near the top - masses, and masses, and masses of books over the centuries - probably more than the monotheistic religions...
    19 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Ron Smith My guess is that for most humans on the planet now and in the past it would NOT be better not to have been born. Most of the time I agree with Stevens: "Death is the mother of beauty." So--or and--the pains and humiliations of life are compensated for by the beauties and pleasures and loves of life.
  • Jack Miller “ESTRAGON: I can't go on like this.
    VLADIMIR: That's what you think.” 
    "Waiting for Godot."
    18 hours ago · Like · 4
  • Jesse Glass Look, who disagrees with one of the greatest dramatists ever? I'll give a provisional nod just for old times' sake.
  • Jesse Glass Mind you, it's provisional, and in a mood less given over to nostalgia, I might think otherwise.
    18 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Patrick Tracey Life is a shithole--a gentleman does his business and moves on.
  • Ida Jablanovec Rhetorical questions: Have you ever been in love? When you were in love, did you ever question "why was I born?". Do animals; cats, dogs, tame and untamed animals contemplate/commit suicide? It is the absence of love and the beloved that makes us question the value of our life. You boys need to fall in-love and you'll be less inclined to philosophizing and agonizing over the meaning of life.
    17 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Jesse Glass Ida, I think love is cool, but it also makes me agonize, or at least made me do so in my earlier incarnations. I'd like to think that I once made others agonize and reach for their philosophy books too. 
    17 hours ago · Edited · Like · 3
  • Jack Miller Ida, perhaps you will recall Sara Teasdale: "When I am dead, and over me bright April Shakes out her rain drenched hair, Tho you should lean above me broken hearted, I shall not care. For I shall have peace. As leafey trees are peaceful When rain bends down the bough. And I shall be more silent and cold hearted Than you are now." Years later of course, she did commit suicide.
    17 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Alfred Corn But, Graham, Plutarch and Sophocles both might have been drawing on a very old oral tradition in Greek culture.
    16 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Carole Ann Borges Somewhat similar to my father's advice when Joe said he was planning on marrying me,"I think, son, the smartest thing you can do is to jump off the stern and keep on swimming." Wisdom is often just a tad too tardy.
    16 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Ida Jablanovec Jack, I read your post but I did not "Like" it. I will always chose life. I'm stubborn that way.
    16 hours ago · Unlike · 2
  • Mary Maxwell "Classic": the hero's "beautiful" i.e. early, death... even with the relatively minor aches and pains of middle age... yeah, I agree with Sophokles...
  • Jack Miller Yes, I've chosen life too for now, Ida. Yet the times I came closest to suicide were when I was in love, and loved in return, not unlike Sara Teasdale's circumstances. For me love itself has been a spur to my quest for meaning in life, philosophy, and poetry. Hence my take on your earlier comment. Very thought provoking thread, don't you think?
    16 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Wendy Battin Some of us are born homeless and leave so, even if there's some temporary respite. I agreed with Sophocles when I was young, but once the story becomes absorbing it's hard to put it down.
    16 hours ago · Like · 6
  • Garrick Davis Alfred, this appears to be a paraphrase of the wisdom of Silenus.
    15 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Veronica Golos wow, alfred, another one of your questions of depth. But since, at least most of us, don't remember, are not conscience of not being born, the question is not whether it would have been better, but what do we do since we are here? Do we end our lives? Even Oediupus doesn't end his life-- nor Lear. There is something about living that drives us, that pushes us even in pain and tragedy. But really, I don't know.
    14 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Jesse Glass Alfred! Once again you're dishing up the grim side of things. The weather's been great here where I am--cherry blossoms, birds of all sorts making nest-like assemblages in green places. Could you please break down and give us a question that matches the nice weather? Would love to answer such a one.
    13 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Paul Breslin As long as I've still got my all my marbles (or most--I've probably lost a few already) and am not in excruciating pain, I'd like to stick around. Death is the price of admission to life. It's tough, but it's the only game in town.
    13 hours ago · Edited · Like · 2
  • Alfred Corn Ida, I second the emotion recounted by Jack Miller. The closest I ever came to ending myself was the first time I fell in love. It wasn't returned. I was young and Wertherish. I was in such pain, I wanted to die. Something, I know not what, stopped me, and here I am still stuck on the wheel of existence, though I keep in mind the Enlightened One's recommendation: "You should live life as though you were already dead."
    13 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 3
  • Jesse Glass That's the key: "Young and Werterish". I like the anecdote by Kleist called "A New Werther"--fitted with an appropriate paradox: the latter-day Werther in his despair attempts to shoot himself in the heart in the other room. The gun misfires and the old man, married to a very young wife, has a heart attack upon hearing the discharge and dies, leaving the failed suicide free to become the happy husband of the widow, with many children at his happy knees as a result. And everybody's happy--maybe even the old man is happily dead.
  • Greg Caramenico I'm reminded of what I took to be Auden's "echo" of this adage and similar Attic expressions in his early "Death's Echo": The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it, / Not to be born is the best for man." A perspective which he gradually shook off even as (I think) his pessimism about humanity increased.
    12 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Jack Miller

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