Memories of Recurrent Echoes




(A conversation between Otto and his friend the artist)



  Gnothi Seauton… Know thyself. What did the Delphi Oracle, Heraclitus, and Socrates mean by this affirmation?”

  “Indeed. This is the question! Alte vestiga… seek in depth. Who is the real me?”

  “Your self is the lost Garden of Eden. Find it, and metaphorically you would have found the Adam that is in you before he was chased out of the garden. The less you know your self the more you need mundane requisites to recompense for the emptiness that is in you.”

  “But… you have to do something to feel realized! ‘Realize others if you have to feel realized,’ said once a great Chinese philosopher.”

  “True enough. But on the other hand, Nietzsche tells us that everyone is distanced from himself, that we know next to nothing about ourselves. Both are right.”

  “How can it be?”

  “It can be, if you’re at the centre of these human balancing-scales. Confucius told us that going beyond thought is as bad as not arriving where you ought to arrive. Protagoras asserted that man is the measure of all things. One who knows himself is actually at this centre of all measurements. He is the one who according to Stendhal knows the difference between the ignorance of mundane routine and everyday repetitive rebellion. One who, according to Kierkegaard, is the individual who in this repetitive life beholds a religious movement built on the virtue of the absurd.”

  “Agreed. In fact, many a treatise has been written in this regard.”

  “Yes. For instance, George Berkeley affirms that truth is everyone’s tears, but the game of few. Fichte concluded that the type of philosophy man chooses depends on the type of his persona. Something similar was uttered thousands of years earlier when Empedocles affirmed that every human being believes only his own experience. There are many other extant similar sententiae. These philosophers had only one problem, that they were right. That is, whatever they said could convince nobody.”

  “Well-reasoned… once human experiences differ from each other.”

  “We would be correct, then, when we admit to the fact that this kind of indifference is the generator of a collective montage that produces the dynamics of relative progress? Is it this pen that writes the History of Humanity?”

  “Schopenhauer deems History as nonsense because he asserts that everything returns to its former state.”

  “And from the doctrine of the eternal recurrence, which the Buddhist call Samsara, Nietzsche demanded thus: To what extent is Man disposed to accept the repetition of life without altering it?”

  “Nobody accepts crude life as it is. Time is interminable without some form of activity; thus, as Tolstoy asserted, Man tries to supply his existence with an amount of imagination to somehow beguile himself.”

  “But to entertain and occupy himself, Man brought upon himself and humanity great tragedies. Thus we shall ask: how necessary is the concept of the philosophical indifference, known as ataraxia, or the Taoist wu-wei, against the mundanely absurd, to that man who knows that the sum-total of the world will forever be the same? Is this kind of indifference justified for that individual conscious of all this? If so, how imperative and legitimate it is for him to ask…”





(Chapter One, year 1890)



“… How many would like to get out of this world at the cheapest price?”



 Knowing that everything will invariably revert to its starting point, that any reform means a type of return to the remote past.


  The question as to which ideology one has to embrace is an archaic and eternal one. This problem has always troubled humanity in the past, and, it will continue to do so. Maybe it is true, the name of that particular ideal may change with time, but behaviour never; all that takes place is a recycling of what already existed in the past.

  If you analyze Man’s life you will discover that the sum total remains the same: the result is always an equation between what is good and what is bad according to the “relative absurd measurements” that society creates. You may quote, for example, the (scientific) developments which occurred through time. But these always are at par with Man’s capricious needs.


  You may say, it is easy to criticize and do nothing. Well, to a certain point you would be right, for the solution is just doing nothing. But it is not the “nothing” you have in mind. It is the need to do nothing to leave nothing negative behind which I am talking about, so that you manage to proceed onwards without any obligations to anybody. And when you are obliged to nobody, you do not create a precedent.


  I know that this sort of cause and effect will always be put into action; we have been dragged too far by the avalanche of obligations that we created out of the past and because of which we must perforce do something in the present. We want to do good, but we do it as if we are doing nothing. As Christ and Confucius before him once said, we must do nothing to others that we do not want done to ourselves. See what has been said: we must do “nothing”, and not what we want to do.


  On the other hand you cannot just do nothing when need demands, especially when you see your brother suffering beside you. This is apart from the fact that such a gesture is too satisfying to be refused because of vanity. Do not forget, that vanity is the human coin which shows Man’s pride on one side and his humility on the other.


  To give from what is superfluous is quite worthless, if not for the new stimulus engendered. But a new stimulus will engender others and we know this leads to total dissatisfaction. That is why nothing should ever be done in this regard, so as not to create any precedent.


  Some people insist that Man’s greatest scope is to create a better world. Who would argue with that! But why should we attain some goal in our lives thanks to the misfortunes of others? We bring about mishaps on others when we decide to leave some dangerous stone in the middle of a street, for we do not bother to remove it unless we are certain that we are thanked profusely for so doing.

  It is this, the “nothing” we should condemn. “Never let your left hand know what the right one is doing...” And it is this, the “nothing” we should adopt instead. If one thinks he is doing something better than he is obliged to, he is doing nothing extraordinary other than turning himself into a reactionary product of the same precedent committed by someone else before him in the past… and life’s cycle repeats itself anew.


  Here we see, that it is not so easy in this world to symbolically re-affix the apple of Eden back in its place.


  So, in essence, wu-wei consists of  “non action”, understood as no unnatural action, rather than complete passivity. It implies spontaniety, noninterference, letting things take their natural course. “Do nothing and everything is done.”

  An alternative for this philosophical principle is the Western concept of ataraxia which basically means the same. This implies a form of non-action against moral principles because selectivity is frequently a function of need, interest or desire within the cyclical system of society.

  Therefore, a man who knows himself never acts (wu-wei, so he could get out of this world at the cheapest price), and yet, there is nothing he leaves undone.