i sent a section of my rewritten novel to a friend in England. She liked it and was struck by the lightness of tone, given my grim circumstances. Although my situation is unpropitious i feel increasingly cheerful, and this is a sign that i am on the right track. The world is a kind of hell for the human spirit, but i am, at heart, an optimist – i think it is possible to endure a great deal, to absorb tremendous suffering before death; as Tolkien puts it of the mythic imagination in the north (“The Monsters and the Critics”): “[it] found a potent but terrible solution in naked will and courage”. If you perceive matters well, you will feel cheerful. Despair is a sign that you have lost the right view of life.

Philosophy is the search for an undespairing equanimity. i am only really interested in “the joyful wisdom”, in Nietzsche’s words. It is not that i turn away from unhappiness; it is rather that my starting point is optimistic – i feel that it is possible to apprehend the world, this vast torture chamber of suffering, and not despair. Roger Scruton defines wisdom as “truth that consoles”; i don’t like the word “console” here, with its connotations of a “consolation prize”, as if reality is terrible and philosophy makes it slightly less terrible. The world is terrible but it is possible to take it head on and die well, with a light heart. There is no need for despair; only for the courage to act as one must.

The strength we need comes from death, from the hope of an escape from life. Without the certainty of death, life would be hell indeed; with death, it becomes rather a purgatory, from which we may be released. And with that, it is possible to be cheerful. So from Uppsala Online:

What mattered to Volsung were his actions, how he bore himself. The things that were important to him were how he performed, not what the world did to him or failed to do for him. And so even in failure he succeeded at failing gloriously. He could be trusting because being a trusting person meant more to him than what awaited him at Siggeir’s hands. He could be brave because bravery was more meaningful than safety. He could accept, even embrace death because living well was more important than living long. He was unencumbered by fear, or worry, or weakness because his strength and gladness depending only on his making the right choices, not on how those choices turned out for him.

If all that matters to the athling is how well he bears himself, is making decisions well rather than having to make the “right” ones, is giving the deed at hand his or her all, then the athling always has reason for joy. The only one needed to do these things is the self. No one and nothing can ever let the athling down, for external events do not matter. This joy can never be lost, and the strength that comes from this joy will be always present. Live right and even if the athling do not succeed smashingly he or she will fail gloriously, as a hero.

i have failed. But there is no reason for despair. Zeno, Parmenides’ disciple, ended his life under torture, and it is said that in his suffering he tested Parmenides’ words as gold in the fire, and they were pure and true. That is philosophy – to be able to die well; and to be able to die well makes for a good life. i am now coming to the good life, after years of vacillation and timidity, where i chose to compromise my spirit for the sake of a merely biological existence.

That we can die is cause for celebration; it is itself reason for a light heart, for hope.