I began reading the chapter on Nihilism the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday. This brilliant philosophical work is worth a deep perusal. The authors explore Homer, Dante, Melville, Kant, David Foster Wallace, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Aristotle, Descartes, Shakespeare, and Jesus. Their claim is that we’re spiraling into a dark nihilistic world, but we can prevent our total demise by opening up ourselves to being guided by a polytheistic view (appreciation for the smaller moments, perhaps). We put too much pressure on ourselves to be self-directed, need to give in and join the flow of the universe, let ourselves be directed.
I love any book that has a whole chapter on the amazingness of Moby Dick.
The Quotable Bits (I also love dog-earring a page only to find someone else has done the same thing):
The proper performance of the ritual is therefore motivated by, but also reinforces and strengthens, a deep commitment to the basic Homeric sense of the sacred: that it is the highest form of human excellence to recognize, be amazed by, and be grateful for whatever it is that draws you to act at your best.
Perhaps this is a lesson about the sacred that we are now in a position to appreciate: when things are going at their best, when we are the most excellent version of ourselves that we can be, when we are, for instance, working together with others as one, then our activity seems to be drawn out of us by an external force. These are shining moments in life, wondrous moments that require our gratitude. In those episodes of excellence, no matter the domain, Odysseus’s voice should ring through our heads: “Be silent; curb your thoughts; do not ask questions. This is the work of the Olympians.”
As the great Phaeacian King Alcinous says about Odysseus’s sorrows, “The gods brought this about: for men they wove the web of suffering, that men to come might have a theme to sing.”
That is ultimately why we must lower, or at least shift, our conceit of attainable felicity. For Ahab’s determined monotheism covers up the very real and polytheistic joys that are already to be found right here on earth. If you recognized the kind of joy that is already around you, at least some of the time, then you will see that this is a mood that you have in the here and now. Not forever, and not always. But you can appreciate it when the opportunity presents itself.
The task of the craftsman is not to generate the meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill for discerning the meanings that are already there.