[Kirillov speaking] “…but I’m only looking for the reasons why people don’t dare to kill themselves, that’s all. And it makes no difference.”Naturally, not every nihilist will agree with everything Kirillov puts forth. However, the basic thrust is conveyed beautifully here in the repeated refrain, “It makes no difference.” This is the end result of nihilism: there is no difference between living and killing oneself.
“What do you mean, don’t dare? Do we have so few suicides?”
“You really think so?”
He did not answer, got up, and began pacing back and forth pensively.
“And what, in your opinion, keeps people from suicide?” I asked.
He looked at me distractedly, as if trying to recall what we were talking about.
“I…I still know little…two prejudices keep them, two things, just two; one very small, the other very big. But the small one is also very big.”
“What is the small one?”
“Pain? Is it really so important…in this case?”
“The foremost thing. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves from great sorrow, or anger, or the crazy ones, or whatever…they do it suddenly. They think little about pain and do it suddenly. But the ones who do it judiciously—they think a lot.”
“Are there any who do it judiciously?”
“Very many. If it weren’t for this prejudice, there’d be more; very many; everybody.”
He did not reply.
“But aren’t there ways of dying without pain?”
“Imagine,” he stopped in front of me, “imagine a stone the size of a big house; it’s hanging there, and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head—will it be painful?”
“A stone as big as a house? Naturally, it’s frightening?”
“Fright is not the point; will it be painful?”
“A stone as big as a mountain, millions of pounds? Of course, it wouldn’t be painful at all.”
“But go and stand there in reality, and while it’s hanging you’ll be very much afraid of the pain. Every foremost scientist, foremost doctor, all, all of them will be very afraid. They’ll all know it won’t be painful, but they’ll all be very afraid it will be.”
“Well, and the second reason, the big one?”
“The other world.”
“Punishment, you mean?”
“That makes no difference. The other world; the one other world.”
“Aren’t there such atheists as don’t believe in the other world at all?”
Again he did not reply.
“You’re judging by yourself, perhaps.”
“Each man cannot judge except by himself,” he said, blushing. “There will be entire freedom when it makes no difference whether one lives or does not live. That is the goal to everything.”
“The goal? But then perhaps no one will even want to live?”
“No one,” he said resolutely.
“Man is afraid of death because he loves life, that’s how I understand it,” I observed, “and that is what nature tells us.”
“That is base, that is the whole deceit!” his eyes began to flash. “Life is pain, life is fear, and man is unhappy. Now all is pain and fear. Now man loves life because he loves pain and fear. That’s how they’ve made it. Life now is given in exchange for pain and fear, and that is the whole deceit. Man now is not yet the right man. There will be a new man, happy and proud. He for whom it will make no difference whether he lives or does not live, he will be the new man. He who overcomes pain and fear will himself be God. And this God will not be.”
“So this God exists, in your opinion?”
“He doesn’t, yet he does. There is no pain in the stone, but there is pain in the fear of the stone. God is the pain of the fear of death. He who overcomes pain and fear will himself become God. Then there will be a new life, a new man, everything new… Then history will be divided into two parts: from the gorilla to the destruction of God, and from the destruction of God to…”
“To the gorilla?”
“…to the physical changing of the earth and man. Man will be God and will change physically. And the world will change, and deeds will change, and thoughts, and all feelings. What do you think, will man then change physically?”
“If it makes no difference whether one lives or does not live, then everyone will kill himself, and perhaps that will be the change.”
“It makes no difference. They will kill the deceit. Whoever wants the main freedom must dare to kill himself. He who dares to kill himself knows the secret of the deceit. There is no further freedom; here is everything; and there is nothing further. He who dares to kill himself, is God. Now anyone can make it so that there will be no God, and there will be no anything. But no one has done it yet, not once.”
“There have been millions of suicides.”
“But all not for that, all in fear and not for that. Not to kill fear. He who kills himself only to kill fear, will at once become God.”
“He may not have time,” I observed.
“It makes no difference,” he replied softly, with quiet pride, almost with scorn.
(from Demons translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, 1994. Vintage Classics. New York, NY, p.113-116)
Friday, February 22, 2008
I’m currently reading through Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky (the title was formerly translated as The Possessed due to a misinterpretation; the Russian Бесы is actually referring to the possessors and not the possessed). The “demons” in Demons are not really spiritual entities, but instead are the various political and philosophical ideas that ran through Russia in the late 1800s. One character is named Kirillov, and he is a nihilist. Given recent comments regarding nihilism, I thought the following section between Kirillov and the narrator of Demons (the narrator is only known as G----v) was relevant.