Last updated: 23 December 1998
To hate destructiveness, one must hate life as well: only death is an
image of undistorted life ... organic life is an illness peculiar to our
Life has become the ideology of its own absence.
Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.
But he who dies in despair has lived his whole life in vain.
Life has changed into a timeless succession of shocks, interspaced with
empty, paralysed intervals.
Everybody must have projects all the time. The maximum must be extracted
from leisure ... The whole of life must look like a job, and by this resemblance
conceal what is not yet directly devoted to pecuniary gain.
Rampant technolgy eliminates luxury, but not by declaring privilege
a human right; rather, it does so by both raising the general standard
of living and cutting off the possibility of fulfilment.
Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his
mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he
who fears corruption fears life.
If you think too far ahead, if you even try to think too far ahead,
you'll never make it.
I'm beginning to think that maybe everything that happens makes sense.
Like, if it didn't make sense, how could it happen?
We may finally risk the proposition that precisely because the doctor,
even at the individual sick-bed, has an almost crazy utopian plan latently
in view, he ostensibly avoids it. This definite plan, the final medical
wishful dream, is nothing less than the abolition of death.
I don't stretch my hand out anymore, but I never get tired of waiting
for the next magic.
What is a truthful life?
I'm never angry at anybody! No human being can do anything important
enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel that their acts
are important. I don't feel that way any longer.
The only fit reply
All you have to do is relax and feel your history, because it will never
go away and there is no future without it.
Life had become a reproduction: it was not the real thing.
The passage of time eliminates some of the more intimate details of
one's existence. The routine trivia like passing water and shitting and
the amount of food and alcohol consumed in the course of daily survival.
Sure, there were girls. Lots of'em. It's inevitable.
Every man is indeed bound to do what he can to promote the good of others,
and a man who is of no use to anyone is strictly worthless.
And I shall always hold myself more obliged to those by whose favour
I enjoy uninterrupted leisure than to any who might offer me the most honourable
positions in the world.
Ahead of me lies the familiar litany: weakening of the heart, hardening
of the arteries, increasing brittleness of bones, decreases in kidney filtration
rates, lower resistance of the immune system, and loss of memory. The list
could be extended almost indefinitely. Evolution seems indeed to have arranged
things so that all our systems deteriorate, and that we invest in repair
only as much as we are worth.
And now I am eking out my days in my corner, taunting myself with the
bitter and entirely useless consolations that an intelligent man cannot
seriously become anything; that only a fool can become something. Yes,
sir, an intelligent nineteenth-century man must be, is morally bound to
be, an essentially characterless creature; and a man of character, a man
of action - an essentially limited creature. This is my conviction at the
age of forty. I am forty now, and forty years - why, it is all of a lifetime,
it is the deepest of old age. Living past forty is indecent, vulgar, immoral!
... what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?
... all of man's purpose, it seems to me, really consists of nothing
but proving to himself every moment that he is a man and not an organ stop!
... man is stupid, phenomenally stupid.
After all, I quite naturally want to live in order to fulfill my whole
capacity for living, and not in order to fulfill my reasoning capacity
alone, which is no more than some one-twentieth of my capacity for living.
What does reason know? It knows only what it has managed to learn (and
it may never learn anything else; that isn't very reassuring, but why not
admit it?), while human nature acts as a complete entity, with all that
is in it, consciously or unconsciously; and though it may be wrong, it's
But man is so addicted to systems and to abstract conclusions that he
is prepared deliberately to distort the truth, to close his eyes and ears,
but to justify his logic at all cost.
... each kind of community is a thought world, expressed in its own
thought style, penetrating the minds of its members, defining their experience,
and setting the poles of their moral understanding.
Life is short, the art is long, the problems pressing.
As far as life is concerned, there is no such thing as "Nature".
There are only homes. Home is that environment to which the individual
has become adapted; and almost everything is unnatural outside his range
With reference to life there is not one nature; there are only associations
of states and circumstances, varying from place to place and from time
Human life is now molded to a large extent by the changes that man has
brought about in his external environment and by his attempts at controlling
body and soul.
The very process of living is a continual interplay between the individual
and his environment, often taking the form of a struggle resulting in injury
But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a
harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret
it as though it had an underlying truth.
The view of life as a struggle for power generates a language in which
life has no significance and only power matters.
"I'm not afraid to die," I said. "I'm not afraid to live.
I'm not afraid to fail. I'm not afraid to succeed. I'm not afraid to fall
in love. I'm not afraid to be alone. I'm just afraid I might have to stop
talking about myself for five minutes."
Most people, of course, spend their lives caring about the wrong things.
The worry about South Africa or Nicaragua. They spend so much time finding
themselves that they lose their taxicabs. They don't see that what kind
of napkin you get at a delicatessen is a matter of much significance in
the world today.
We're all worm bait waiting to happen. It's what you do while you wait
Life-planning takes account of a 'package' of risks rather than calculating
the implications of distinct segments of risky behaviour. Taking certain
risks in pursuit of a given lifestyle, in other words, is accepted to be
within 'tolerable limits' as part of the overall package.
In a world of alternative lifestyle options, strategic life planning
becomes of special importance. Like lifestyle patterns, life plans of one
kind or another are something of an inevitable concomitant of post-traditional
social forms. Life plans are the substantial content of the reflexively
organised trajectory of the self. Life-planning is a means of preparing
a course of future actions mobilised in terms of the self's biography.
We may also speak here of the existence of personal calendars or life-plan
calendars, in relation to which the personal time of the lifespan is
While emancipatory politics is a politics of life chances, life politics
is a politics of lifestyle. Life politics is the politics of a reflexively
mobilised order - the system of late modernity - which, on an individual
and collective level, has radically altered the existential parameters
of social activity. It is a politics of self-actualisation in a reflexively
ordered environment, where that reflexivity links self and body to systems
of global scope. (...) [L]ife politics concerns political issues which
flow from processes of self-actualisation in post-traditional contexts,
where globalising influences intrude deeply into the reflexive project
of the self, and conversely where processes of self-realisation influence
'Taking charge of one's life' involves risk, because it means confronting
a diversity of open possibilities.
The history of life is a tale of decimation and later stabilization
of few surviving anatomies, not a story of steady expansion and progress.
We live fragmented, compartmentalized lives in which contradictions
are carefully sealed off from each other. We have been taught to think
linearly rather than comprehensively, and we do this not through conscious
design or because we are not intelligent or capable, but because of the
way in which deep cultural undercurrents structure life in subtle but highly
consistent ways that are not consciously formulated.
It is never possible to understand completely any other human being;
and no individual will ever really understand himself - the complexity
is too great and there is not the time to constantly take things apart
and examine them.
A good life is not measured by any biblical span.
Life is short, science is long; opportunity is elusive, experiment is
dangerous, judgement is difficult.
We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and
in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into
the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try
to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in
vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and
enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies - all these
are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable.
We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.
From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.
In life, man proposes, God disposes.
Nothing is uncontroversial anymore, and very little is innocent.
This is a tragic world we live in.
We do not live in a world of unambiguous identities and definitions,
needs and fears, hopes, disillusions. The tremendous social realities of
our time are ghosts, specters of murdered gods and our own humanity returned
to haunt and destroy us. The Negroes, the Jews, the Reds. Them. Only you
and I dressed differently. The texture of the fabric of these socially
shared hallucinations is what we call reality, and our collusive madness
is what we call sanity.
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness.
The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison,
the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars.
A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite
to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in
the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau's dictum: In wilderness is
the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl
of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.
The modern dogma is comfort at any cost.
Individuals inherit a particular space within an interlocking set of
social relationships; lacking that space, they are nobody, or at best a
stranger or an outcast. To know oneself as such a social person is however
not to occupy a static and fixed position. It is to find oneself placed
at a certain point on a journey with set goals; to move through life is
to make progress - or to fail to make progress - toward a given end.
Remember, the grass is always greener where you don't happen to be the
We can no longer imagine that we are part of something larger than ourselves
- that is what all this boils down to.
If life was what you made of it, then it could not be made for you.
One has to be set firmly upon oneself, one has to stand bravely upon
one's own two legs, otherwise one cannot love at all.
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants
nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not
in all eternity.
She had nothing to do all day ... but did it with the greatest possible
I have never cared much for people. Most of them are cowards, conformists,
muddleheads, moneygrubbers, and they infect each other.
I am a hindrance to the world, and the world is a hindrance to me.
As far as he could see, the world was moving, in an orderly capitalist
fashion, toward a logical, perhaps provisional, perhaps permanent, end.
He regarded life as a rather odd club of which he had accidentally become
a member and from which one could be expelled without reasons having to
be supplied. He had already decided to leave the club if the meetings should
become all too boring.
I mean, so what if some fifty-eight-year-old butt-head gets a load on
and starts playing Death Race 2000 in the rush-hour traffic jam? What kind
of chance is he taking? He's just waiting around to see what kind of cancer
he gets anyway. But if young, talented you, with all of life's possibilities
at your fingertips, you and the future Cheryl Tiegs there, so fresh, so
beautiful - if the two of you stake your handsome heads on a single roll
of the dice in life's game of stop-the-semi - now that's taking chances!
Which is why old people rarely risk their lives. It's not because they're
chicken - they just have too much dignity to play for small stakes.
Some people are worried about the difference between right and wrong.
I'm worried about the difference between wrong and fun.
Anyone who thinks he has a better idea of what's good for people than
people do is a swine.
I'd like to end the book a lot of ways. Except I don't have any answers.
Use your common sense. Be nice. This is the best I can do. All the trouble
in the world is human trouble. Well, that's not true. But when cancer cells
run amok and burst out of the prostate and take over the liver and lymph
glands and end up killing everything in the body including themselves,
they certainly are acting like some humans we know.
Time makes more converts than reason.
Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defence.
The world comes to us in an endless stream of puzzle pieces that we
would like to think all fit together somehow, but that in fact never do.
It's better to live with a sad truth than with all the happy progress
talk you get up here in the North.
One could almost define life as the organized disobedience of the law
of gravity. One could show that the degree to which an organism disobeys
this law is a measure of its degree of evolution.
The sense of community does not arise out of collective movement, nor
from conforming to some group direction. Quite the contrary. Each individual
tends to use the opportunity to become all that he or she can become. Separateness
and diversity - the uniqueness of being "me" - are experienced
The paradigm of Western culture is that the essence of persons is dangerous;
thus, they must be taught, guided, and controlled by those with superior
If the time comes when our culture tires of the endless homicidal feuds,
despairs of the use of force and war as a means of bringing peace, becomes
discontent with the half-lives that its members are living - only then
will our culture seriously look for alternatives.
Both the young and the old are almost completely useless in our modern
society, and are made keenly aware of that uselessness. They have no place.
They are private, isolated - and hopeless.
There are as many "real worlds" as there are people!
We in the West seem to have made a fetish out of complete individual
self-sufficiency, of not needing help, of being completely private except
in a very few selected relationships.
Everything was simple, physical, painful, exalting. The world consisted
of the four elements - land and water, firepower and distancing air.
As one passion begins to fail it is necessary to form another, for the
whole art of going through life tolerably is to keep oneself eager about
Everything should be understood, and anything can be transformed - that
is the modern view.
Everyone had an opinion and no one had a solution.
What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere,
if you're not in a hurry.
Words were not the servants of life, but life, rather, was the slave
Safe in life, safe in death, the merchant liked to feel.
Life is a great disappointment.
Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells
in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams.
If a man treats life artistically, his brain is his heart.
I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes
one so liable to be understood.
It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation
of the world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.
In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what
one wants, and the other is getting it.
Human life - that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating.
Compared to it there was nothing else of any value. It was true that as
one watched life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, one could
not wear over one's face a mask of glass, nor keep the sulphurous fumes
from troubling the brain, and making the imagination turbid with monstrous
fancies and misshapen dreams. There were poisons so subtle that to know
their properties one had to sicken of them. There were maladies so strange
that one had to pass through them if one sought to understand their nature.
Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
Screw us once, shame on them; screw us twice, shame on us.
Yes, this world is truly terrible, which is why the pure and the holy
come bravely forward: They have decided to eradicate the sins of the world.
They want to standardize people, keep them in order, keep them in place
under their own rear ends. They are the reason I have had to die a hundred
I've come to realize that it is much easier to infatuate people with
promises, or even to lead them to their own deaths, than it is to awaken
them to use their minds.
"Mountains and rivers are easy to move, but it's impossible to
change a man's nature." (Chines proverb)
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001