Nietzsche On The Relief Of Mortality

In The Dawn of Day: Thoughts on The Prejudices of Morality, Nietzsche writes:

With regard to knowledge the most useful accomplishment is perhaps: that the belief in the immortality of the soul has been abandoned. Now humanity is allowed to wait; now it no longer needs to rush headlong into things and choke down half-examined ideas as formerly it was forced to do. For in those days the salvation of poor ‘eternal souls’ depended on the extent of their knowledge acquired during a short lifetime; they had to make a decision overnight – ‘knowledge’ took on a dreadful importance. (D 501)

Mortality places a terrible burden upon us: fear of the un-redeemed life, the incomplete, under-achieving, unsuccessful life, the one that did not find its summum bonum during our living years. But we’ve always known that finiteness was our friend too; with the clock running out for all of us we find many sympathetic ears when we announce that we simply cannot be bothered taking on too much for this life, this poor, short, all too easily terminated life, this mere blink of an eye. Can any serious projects, existential or intellectual, really be undertaken in such a brief repose from the eternal waits of the prenatal and the afterlife? Much as we might curse death and the interruption it induces in our life plans, we are secretly grateful; we have been saved by the cosmic bell. No more impatiently looking askance at us as we clumsily toil away at our pitiful life projects; we must down tools when Death comes calling. We are especially comforted when this death, this mortality, is combined with the lack of the Great Examiner or Proctor, the one who might otherwise have been imagined placed in charge of ‘grading’ our lives; our incomplete, unfinished work will not be evaluated or critiqued; it, like us, will pass into mere blissful anonymity. 

Nietzsche is right above to make note of the relief promised in case of mortality, in the case of ‘God’s death’: there will be no assessment of this ridiculously short life, one in which it is all too apparent that the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ knowledge could not be obtained within its pitifully short specifications–the dreadful importance of this brief preparation for the long immortality of the soul was thus mercifully negated. Investing the world and our life with the terrible significance of immortality comes with a burden all its own; the meaninglessness of the tenure of the not-immortal soul promised its own blissful anonymity. The disproportion between the immortality of the soul, that majestic eternity, and the miserable petty shortness of the life meant as testing ground had always seemed radically unfair; deliverance by death rightly seemed a great relief, an escape, from such existential burdens.

Immortality, without adequate instructions for the journey, always seemed like the greatest curse of all; mortality the greatest blessing of all. The mortal life returns to its humble specifications–it is no longer a prized microsecond of respite from the darkness, one artfully constructed to give us the opportunity to settle down for immortality. Instead, it is what it has always seemed: a meaningless interruption with no particular significance in some invisible cosmic schemata, one that awaits investment with meaningfulness by the living of our own, unique, particular life. 

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