The Unbearable Lightness of Being and "eternal return"

I first heard about the book <The Unbearable Lightness of Being> by Milan Kundera back to my high school from a book fair in Shanghai. 10 years later, I picked it up from the bookshelf at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Bangkok. I decided to read this book, because the beginning of the novel refer to Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” concept that with infinite time and a finite number of events, events will recur again and again infinitely.

So at this very moment, I am typing on my laptop pondering about the idea “Time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we will do over and over again.”, this moment already happened so many times and will happen again and again?

Perhaps the phrase, “Time is a flat circle” means that the universe is cyclical—that time loops back on itself over and over and over again, like a fish swallowing its own tail. ( We are like that fish living in a bubble observing the world out of the bubble from inside holding the idea of the world - ‘all what we see is what it is’.”

Or perhaps it refers to Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, which, contrary to how it may sound, is not a theory on the nature of the universe at all. Rather, eternal recurrence is a thought experiment that asks: what if every moment, every minute detail of your life is destined to endlessly return exactly as it is now?

Referred to by Nietzsche as the “formula for human greatness,” the eternal return is a test of one’s strength of character.

Nearly blind and tormented by constant migraines— Nietzsche thought that existence was endless suffering, like dropping onto deadly spikes, plummeting to your doom, or being pressed to death. Not only is the world brutal—the universe is radically indifferent to human existence— and that means, for Nietzsche, that our suffering is utterly meaningless.

When faced with the harshness of reality, people tend to be dejected or angry—and delude themselves into thinking they can evade their own suffering, or they blame someone else for their fate and seek revenge for their lost in life.

To Nietzsche this hatred of existence is called “Ressentiment." But no amount of revenge changes the reality of the inevitability of suffering and death. Given this, the eternal return can be understood as a test of a person’s strength in the face of a nihilistic world.

To see if they can aspire to the heights of what Nietzsche calls the Übermensh- A person strong enough to revel in tragedy and suffering and love life for its beauty and its ugliness.

Nietzsche asks: What if in your loneliest of... lone-lies a little demon flew up to you and told you that this world as it exists— this lonely moment... would return for eternity.

If your reaction is to curse the thought— you have succumbed to ressentiment.

However, if instead, for you, nothing would be more divine—then you exhibit the qualities of the highest type person: The Übermensh

It’s sarcastic though, I have finished reading the book while it mentioned nothing about Nietzsche’s “eternal return” in the whole book. The name of the book <The unbearable lightness of being> could be an assertion that our lives are meaningless (=lightness), while it’s unbearable(heavy burden) as the idea/truth that our lives are meaningless (biology puppet with self-awareness living the same life again and again)is unacceptable and hurting, thus we reject this idea by giving our lives meaning such as responsibilities, moral reasons, love, etc. Quoting Thomas’s thought in the book: “If excitement is a mechanism our Creator uses for his own amusement, love is something belongs to us alone and enables us to flee the Creator. Love is our freedom. Love lies beyond ‘Es muss sein!’”

“Love” leads us to another concept of Nietzsche - “Amor Fati” —

"love of fate" or "love of one's fate". It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one's life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary, in that they are among the facts of one's life and existence, so they are always necessarily there whether one likes them or not. Moreover, amor fati is characterized by an acceptance of the events or situations that occur in one's life.

This acceptance does not necessarily preclude an attempt at change or improvement, but rather, it can be seen to be along the lines of what Nietzsche means by the concept of "eternal recurrence": a sense of contentment with one's life and an acceptance of it, such that one could live exactly the same life, in all its minute details, over and over for all eternity.

So, how would you have to live in order to desire repeating every moment endlessly?

PS: Quotes from <The Unbearable Lightness of Being> I personally find interesting.


"Behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison."— Sabina


"What is flirtation? One might say that is behavior leading another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee."


"Plato’s symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split them into two, and all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the halves of ourselves we had have lost."


"Human lives are composed like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence (Beethoven's music, death under a train) into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life. Without realizing it, the individual com-poses his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress. It is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty. "

"While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars," explains the narrator, "they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs (the way Tomas and Sabina exchanged the motif of the bowler hat), but if they meet when they are older, like Franz and Sabina, their musical com-positions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them."

--- <The Unbearable Lightness of Being> Milan Kundera First published in 1984.

#art #philosophy #literature

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