Monday, September 28, 2009

To Live Without Hope (And Not Despair)

“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions.”

- Henry Miller, The Cosmological Eye

We puzzled over this idea about hope when we first read it some years ago. Miller was one of those who helped nudge us along the path of absurdity.

But we’ve since learned what Miller was talking about. And he is not alone. Nietzsche went so far as to write that “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of men.” And Albert Camus wrote that carrying absurd logic to its conclusion “implies a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair.)”

Camus parenthetic comment is key. Lack of hope doesn’t mean despair. The absurd man accepts the world as he sees it and finds happiness in whatever circumstances he finds himself in. (Easier said than done, we know). For the absurd man, happiness is about being aware of and accepting the absurdity of existence (the meaninglessness of it all).

Accepting is also key. Miller says as much, later on: “I am absolutely indifferent to the fate of the world… I accept. I am – and that is all.” To live without hope is to not make unrealistic demands of life. It is to “live without myths, without consolation” as Camus put it.

Happiness, in a sense then, is more about fitting your foot to the shoe of the world rather than the other way around. Hope – or wishing things were otherwise – would seem to be an emotion counter to that line of thinking.

In thinking about hope, we wondered too about all kinds of anti-absurd emotions. Envy, for instance, becomes a rather ridiculous emotion in light of the absurd. Self-pity is another. It reminds us of the D.H. Lawrence poem of the same name:

“I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Only man creates these problems for himself, it seems. The good news is that we have some control over those emotions. And we can develop better controls over time, like a hot-tempered youth that learns to curb his anger. Ultimately, casting these anti-absurd emotions aside is freeing, in the same way the absurd idea itself is liberating.

Camus had a poetic point about absurd freedom in Myth of Sisyphus, and we’ll end with that:

“Is one going to die, escape by the leap, rebuild a mansion of ideas and forms to one's own scale? Is one, on the contrary, going to take up the heart-rending and marvelous wager of the absurd? Let's make a final effort in this regard and draw all our conclusions. The body, affection, creation, action, human nobility will then resume their places in this mad world. At last man will again find there the wine of the absurd and the bread of indifference on which he feeds his greatness.”


  1. ...but does it mean that pain, sadness and care should be strange to us? Or memories and daydrem? But aren't those things that make us enjoy life more passionately? Yes, I know, you mentioned it before in "The fallacy of event-based epiphanies" but after those feelings fade we get reminded soon by some new events, and so on we go in circle...and change...and grow... I am sorry maybe I contradict myself or my english doesn't explain it well or maybe I misunderstood, but I am struggling... Just, are those feelings forbidden for an absurd man? Can man stay human without those feelings?

  2. Om Ri -

    These are good thoughts and questions. We would say that the absurd man can and will feel all these emotions. So, these emotions are not forbidden to the absurd man. Absurdity does not mean turning into some robot devoid of emotions.

    Our main point on this issue is simply that the absurd man is more aware. He is aware of the absurd and this insight helps him - or ought to help him - temper those emotions that upset him.

    From our own experience, we know we are far less likely to get upset or angry, for instance, since we've embraced the absurd than before. It works for us.


  3. Just as I was beginning to gel these thoughts about hope in my mind, from my own middle life experiences, I came across your post. Thank you for the reminder and for pointing the way forward.

  4. Hope can free you from suffering, and when it runs out, you will be in despair. The acceptance of suffering is illogical to the human mind because it would rather not exist at all rather than suffer. This creates angers, depression and misery along with a fear of immortality and a new hope that one day their existence will cease.

    There is also a difference between false hope, a real hope. A false hope is much more dangerous as it allows people to believe they can escape and keeps them on a path to suffering. A real hope offers them an escape. Without hope, we cannot free ourselves and must wait for experience to change itself. This creates a new suffering of having a useless intent that only augments suffering.

    I hope your views on hope help the people who are hoping it will help them.

  5. Personally I'd say that WE HAVE THESE FEELINGS, and cannot change it, so may as well not spend your life trying to fight them. Rather give into them ; even if they make you angry...If your a smart and observant person you SHOULD feel angry and "hope" that something better will present itself while at the same time yet more frustration at the knowledge that your hope that removes you ever so slightly from a single crappy moment.......will be the cause of your sadness or anger in the next "moment".We are human and wanting or even expecting more from reality is natural to us from the first moment we realize death, pain, betrayal, disease, crippled/limited function life, rejection ETC. combine that with the later knowledge that a great many people suffer truly terrible lives and inevitably die in pain soon to be forgotten within a generation or two and never once received any of the even last minute rebounds into a happy moment before death as typically portrayed in movies and other fiction( or selected rarities of lucky individuals in reality).....and BANG!!! I forget what Im talking about because im point is that there both is and is not hope...that is the true cause of misery. there are things we humans can do to reshape ourselves to what we want to be. we could even advance to the point of no disease or death ( for so long as reality itself is possable within any form of construct)....but its also hopeless due to the huge number of incredibly hard time consuming things that need to be learned and done to make this Utopian reality "real" to the otherwise unhappy person(ME) helps to learn to somhow enjoy even the frustration and use it to slap those dreamy eyed nit wits telling you you'll be happier and not burn in hell forever if you make a wish to the magic man in the sky as they look at you from superior perspective(false) da face!!....and tell them you are unfortunately to intelligent to receive hope from that particular delusion; though you do in fact often feel more despair at the knowledge that you will never see a better earth as 90% of the human population puts forth no true effort fro the belief that true happiness lies in the make believe afterlife....and seem only to arrange the deck to kill each other off to get there faster with as much horror to nobly overcome before getting there!!!...and hope!! Yet hope!! have to read this all in one breath please i said ; tired!

  6. Long life short, I'd say that I live without hope. This came about because I have chronic pain severe enough that at any given moment I would usually prefer to be dead, but I understand that I have a purpose of some sort, and as such I am resolved to try to accomplish it, as that is all a person can do. I can try, but if I fail, it is quite clear that I was meant to fail, and as such I'm not worried about it, and continue living an eternal hell that is contained within each moment of my existence. I would say however, that not everyone is capable of living without hope, nor should everyone. Hope is beautiful murderess. My chronic pain is not the kind of thing that will go away, and it isn't really the kind of thing that can be effectively treated in a meaningful way, but that's okay, because I don't expect anything from life, anything positive is a pleasant surprise.

  7. I am 41, and what I truly wish for is the one thing I cannot have, most days I am able to daydream or put myself to bed wishing, but some days reality sets in and I am reminded that I have another 40 years to go, so I remember highlander and the guy from the green mile, who views living as punishment. I am fully capable of being happy for other people, but to live without hope is being a zombie, but the divine in its infinite wisdom has a reason, right?

  8. I have no hope, I am not suicidal, but I am in a nihilistic funk. Nihilism in me is symptom of a failure to accept full responsibility for my life. That said, I think have gotten to this point as a result of a rapidly changing understanding of existence, that I have yet to figure out how one goes about living life devoid of hope. I see hope as a drug "Tomorrow things will be better" yet tomorrow comes and things are not better. I posit no solution. I am simply one man on the road, I will not go back, for the past got me here. Tomorrow, though likely to happen, is an illusion. I am alive now, and so I shall go am make my existence. There is no hope in this, I am merely a living, thinking, feeling being moving through this life.