Nietzsche’s Concept of Eternal Recurrence
“This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a grain of dust.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
“Do you remember what you told me once? That every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.” ~ Tom Cruise as David Aames, Vanilla Sky
Some people consider Friedrich Nietzsche one of the most exciting philosophers of all time. Certainly his ideas have been influential and his writing dramatic. And whatever your take on his point of view, the themes he addresses are provoking enough to give us something to gnaw on and make us think. In the end, to some extent, maybe that was all he intended in a world where people generally just went about their business and accepted the values of the culture they were immersed in.
The quote above addresses one of his original constructs, the idea of life being in an eternal recurrence. Biblical scholars are not alone with regard to giving weight to our daily life decisions as having significant eternal outcomes. Nietzsche, on the other hand, chooses to suggest our decisions in this life have weight because how we choose to live today will be replayed over and over again unto eternity.
It’s a very unusual perspective in some respects, a variant on reincarnation, which also has us returning indefinitely, but in differing capacities. Scholars have argued whether the idea is meant as a serious conjecture or a concept to make us more thoughtful about our behavior here and now.
I believe Nietzsche’s sole intent with this concept of eternal recurrence was to get us plugged in to the significance of our acts. To paraphrase in modern vernacular, to live each day with greater mindfulness.
His was a brilliant mind, but as far as I am aware he does not offer a supporting argument for the notion proposed. It is a certainty that he understood that even if we ourselves were recurring, our circumstances would not be, for times change, culture changes, history is unfolding all around us.
This theme of eternal recurrence is echoed in Cameron Crowe’s film Vanilla Sky. Once one grasps the film’s premise, the viewer is like Theseus following Ariadne’s thread to find his way through the labyrinth. In the film, David Aames is unaware that he is experiencing this “eternal recurrence”, but only knows that something is terribly wrong. The climactic scene on the rooftop brings a number of historically significant philosophical questions to the surface.
While living in Italy, Nietzsche had a nervous breakdown while witnessing a man beating a horse. Embracing the horse, whose suffering was more than he could bear, Nietzsche fell apart and spent the last ten years of his life in a broken state.
In June I finally published a short story I’d been writing and re-writing for a number of years called Aphrodite’s Return. It is probably a flaw of mine that I occasionally try to close with a paragraph or two of philosophical reflection, something akin to the moral of an Aesop fable, except less pithy.
In several versions of the story I attempted to extract and underscore this concept of eternal recurrence. Ultimately I abandoned it, though I’ve continued to roll these notions around in my mind.
What about you? How do you go about living more purposefully and mindfully? What would you do differently if you were knew this day would be an eternally recurring experience?
Originally published at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com.
Nietzsche Memorial photo courtesy Mario Giovanni Monasterolo, a Racconigi historian in Northern Italy.