Nietzscheâ€™s Last Man A Short Novel
N. R. D. Haslewood
This work has released by the author under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike License (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).
â€œIf you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.â€? - Friedrich Nietzsche
Come look - the average man’s disease! They live and die by others’ leave! But why exist if I leave bare trace, If History never sees my face? We live in void; in void, my friends, Temporal creations of momentary blunder! From whence we came, again to dust; Amalgamations of elementary splendour! How can you trudge through mindless days? Fear of exception is the enemy of brilliance! To push the limits despite yourself, The true path to evanescence. My realisation that life is once, Life is short, and life is beautiful, Is one I see you do not grasp; You are blind. You are blind, my friend! Never winning nor losing! That is to fail. And you will be the man who’s last.
he was wrenched from the normal world to the slower, crystalline one of adrenaline and fear by the yank at the back of her head. She later recalled that it must have been his left hand that made the initial grab, as it was the right arm which immediately enveloped her throat. But before she had time to actually reflect on the reality of the situation and make some kind of noise or struggle, her mouth was firmly covered and she was already hovering above the ground in an unfortunately clear demonstration of inferior strength. She was being pulled backwards, away from the illusional safety of the streetlights, towards the foreboding darkness of the park. Full realisation was painfully slow, but the shock soon began to ebb. Upon gaining that faint glimmer of objectivity she saw that she was about to have her looks betray her as this drunken animal dragged her to a secluded spot. She was to become yet another statistic. A minor article on the sixth page of the local newspaper. It was this pure, disgraceful normality of the act that began to heat her blood. Men are pigs, women are victims. What’s new? This, more than anything, made her begin to fight. In what must have looked as if an electric shock had struck her entire body, the slumped, placid shell of a woman found movement return simultaneously to all available organs. She twisted and attempted to bite, she lamely drove her elbows into the man’s ribs, she kicked and kicked and kicked. “Oh, fuck’s sake, you little fucking bitch,” he murmured distractedly in a strong, uneducated accent as he struggled to cover her mouth while dragging her, almost indignant at meeting some resistance. This only made her ever more furious and she managed to lift her leg at an angle to bring the heel of her shoe searing into the flesh of his calf. He let go, obviously trying to muffle the deep cry forcing its way from his mouth. She stumbled forward and half fell but the flight instinct immediately got the better of fight and she began to look around for the best means of escape. She’d just begun to regain her balance and started to run when she was hit by what felt like a freight train. The second man had evidently been watching from nearby and had managed to reach a charge before he hit her with his full weight about the waist. She twisted and managed to get off a weak scream before his fist came crashing down into the back of her skull. The very force of the punch knocked her face into the grass and the shock of being struck like this took all wilful defence with it.
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Unfortunately, it was only the beginning. The first attacker was furious when he returned and determined to teach this little blonde bitch a lesson. They toyed with her, evidently enjoying having dominion over this now helpless woman. They brandished a knife and played with the straps on her clothes, eventually cutting away the blouse, bra, and small portions of her skirt. She saw that she would not only be raped, but badly, horribly, forcibly raped, and then discarded. It was also clear that she wouldn’t survive the experience. They were in no hurry and their masked faces meant they had little need to worry about repercussions. They laughed, spat, pushed and undressed her with no apparent regard to consequence. They stank of alcohol and the only thing they seemed concerned about was keeping her reasonably quiet. When she’d finally given up and become still, the fun passed from the game they’d at first so enthused over. The guy who’d first taken her hostage knelt down beside her, pulled her by the hair so that she sat up awkwardly and firmly secured her around her neck with a strong, muscular forearm. He made it clear that any noise would be punished with a quick, silent death; his strength was overwhelming. He must have made some form of sick invitation to his cohort because the second man, who’d been taking a swig from a brown paper bag and inspecting his fresh wound, opened her legs, knelt between her thighs, and made to rip away what little remained of her clothing.
It was because they were so intensely concentrating on the task at hand that they didn’t catch the small rustle ahead of them. The kneeling man, however, managed to look up just in time to see that the figure lurching towards him had a limp when he moved, didn’t take much care over his appearance, and was heaving a huge chunk of rough wood. That wood was at the lowest point of an upward swing just as it entered his line of vision and it caught him square in the face with a dull, wet cracking noise, sending him jerking backwards, obliterating his once crooked nose and immediately knocking him clean out. The tramp hobbled to a slow, painful stop. He turned to see that the other man had already forgotten about his prey. He’d let her drop to his side and he now stood facing the challenger, knife held ready. The tramp re-clutched his rough, splinter-ridden, primitive weapon, but let it hang by his side, looking somehow dejected as he inspected the woman. His head hung low and the copious amounts of hair covered the expression on his face, which itself was further hidden beneath his hood. The only sound to break the silence was a low, strange grumbling noise to be heard coming from the hidden crevice that must have been buried somewhere within that dirty, unkempt beard. It was clearly a voice seldom used, croaky from drink and smoking the butt-ends of harsh cigarettes. It was quiet at first but, as he beheld the damage they’d done to this defenceless woman, it slowly began to rise. It rose in volume, he finding that the pure injustice of this act drove a burning fury previously unbeknown to him. It rose until it couldn’t be described as anything other than a pure, hard, brutal war cry. The homeless man’s eyes were partially hidden from view by the mess of hair, but it immediately struck the rapist that this man not only had little to lose, but was more than willing to lose it in animalist, raw, primeval combat. Not only that, but this man wasn’t exactly small. The rapist glanced quickly at his comrade, seeing his laborious breathing through bubbling blood and his resolve visibly faltered. The tramp paused, inhaled, and screamed again as he stepped forward. The steps became a charge, the man again now wielding his heavy club. The rapist took one step back, then two, and finally turned and was gone.
The sound of the name had taken on a being of its own by then. A hundred thousand words, a tragedy, written in the finest hand, encapsulated in a single syllable. The pain of a hundred nights feeling the rings darken around already sore eyes, closed but no sleep. Memories of a black, silent, empty place where the only sound was my own screams in my ears, begging God, or the gods, I didn’t care, to turn time back, to take away the hurt. Memories of holding the trembling, cold, dead steel against my warm, soft, living wrists and cursing myself for not having the balls, mentally squirming at the feeling of my own lifeblood gushing onto the dirty linoleum, spurting to the beat of my heart. Can’t take my own agony. Can’t take it away. Implore others to help. Drugs. Drink. Drugs. Drunk. Drugged. Of course it doesn’t help, only prolongs the process. Spend more time wallowing, the occasional glimpse of the world as it really looks without the coloured glaze of habituates pushing me back into misery again. Using again as punishment to punish my mind for being so foolish as to attempt lucidity. I’d seen what I’d become. Self-pity. Self-hatred. Psychological self-mutilation. Luckily I somehow managed not to physically scar myself too badly. That’s where I was when I heard her. In that dark place. Nothing but a piece of turf in a park to call my home. The dog’s territory. I’d become primeval. Primordial. Post-modern even. The stone agers, we have to remember, weren’t seeking a slow self-destruction as I was. At least I wasn’t pissing to mark my patch I suppose. My ears twitched.
Adrenaline spat by instinct.
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A woman’s voice. Panicked, the silence cutting it off like an iron sluice gate. A deep growl subdued but charged with ions of anger. Scuffled sounds. Silence. A whimper. “Bitch.” Loud this time. The smack of flesh on raw flesh. Silence. My mind was swimming in a thick borsch but the alarm bells echoed through the dank hallway of consciousness. I’d sworn to myself never to let another woman suffer the misery Claire left the world with. Something was going on. I stood up, wavered, my head barely balanced on a neck of rubber, couldn’t focus on a thing. Eyes over-oiled in their sockets, sliding. Leaden lids. The dull alcoholic haze was a welcome one in those days but I hadn’t realised how far gone I was that night. Come on. Pull yourself together, I thought to myself. Leaving my stuff behind, moving slowly into the curtain of the night. Fear now. Not a sound. Instinct taking over, closing pores, heightening perceptions. I can still picture it. Got to be silent, careful. Through the wall of trees to a clearing. Figures traced in moonlight’s hand.
Two figures? Three?
They’ve got her.
Recognitionâ€™s spark lit a fire that fired a chain reaction. Already a white ball of fury in the split of a second. Rage, hot like the very centre of the sun. Fusion-powered wrath. Fermented ferment; ferocity. Reach for a hunk of wood. The primeval man, with primordial mace.
I saw her there. My Claire. My woman, echoing up through old memories. The hulk of a male form behind her, pinning her arms, the other crouched in front of the slumped body, reaching down. Pulling something from his pants; could only be one thing.
What followed is mutilated memory of malice interlaced with stills shown in slides. My silent, hobbling charge and there, frozen, the image of the kneeling man glancing up too late before I visibly split his jaw on the upswing. The blood and spit arcing up like a spinning fireworkâ€™s tail. Pain, temporarily forgotten, immediately returning to my leg as I limped to a halt and sought to gather up the seeds of my scattered mind. Like using a sieve in a sandstorm. I turned to face a dark figure with glinting blade. Hesitated. This could spell death.
he felt the near-silence after the attack unreal. Her entire life had taken a seismic shift for the worse in the space of ten short minutes. Time had taken on a bizarre and incomprehensible quality. There was no point of reference. Everything she heard and saw was crystal clear, and yet she was unable to take any of it in. She couldnâ€™t comprehend the significance of this, of course. She was curled up, seeking to hug the earth for some form of protection and comfort, covering her face with her hands and arms. Despite the unthinking state in which she found herself, she noticed faint laughter in the far distance. Initially, her mind locked onto this as the only sound available in her mental deafness. But slowly, slowly, slowly, her comprehension began to return. It struck her that those people laughing so freely must have been happy. Happy... Such a simple thought but enough to remind her of emotion. Human emotion. Her own emotions started to slowly seep back as she lay there. Soon the full force of the attack was beginning to dawn on her. She had been attacked, nearly raped, and nearly lost her life. She had been humiliated, used, treated as nothing but an object. Her humanity had been discarded and her dignity obliterated. She was a victim. Prey. Had had the veneer of civility removed from human life to show that we are, after all, still primitive animals capable of primitive acts. All these feelings came flooding back into her consciousness in one single, wordless wave. The immune system of her subconscious reacted and threw up a defensive wall which caught the flood, but enough got through to strike her heart and she, near silent in her misery, began to sob. The tramp had returned to this woman to find her lying in a ball on the rough, damp ground. The first attacker was still lying a short distance away, breathing quietly but with difficulty, evidently deeply unconscious and seriously wounded. He dropped the weapon at his side and tried to approach the woman but stopped. What was he going to do? How would she react? What do you do with a despairing woman after something like this? He knew that she was doing what anyone would do in her situation, retreating to denial and defensiveness. In her unthinking state, he assumed that the last thing sheâ€™d want would be to be disturbed, and he was sure there was very little he could do to help her, but his protective instincts drove him to get her away from the dormant beast lying closeby. He moved to her, leaned over, and hesitated. Not sure what else to do, he lightly touched her shoulder. No reaction. He shook her a little. No reaction. He pushed at her shoulder. She suddenly turned around to look him directly in the eye.
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She was immediately struck by the care, compassion and concern showing on his face and reached up to him, tears running down her face as she did so. He put his arms under her, slowly stood, unused to the weight, and carried her through the darkness towards the lights of the street. She curled up in his arms and buried her head in his neck, clinging tightly to the protective strength of his body. It was this image that the man in the suit caught between the trees as he walked quickly down the street. A bizarre thing to see, a dark homeless figure with ragged, dirty clothes carrying a female form, and his initial thought was that it didn’t bode well for whoever was being carried, especially if she were as lacking in clothing as this woman was. Squinting to better make out what was before him, he turned to cross the street and increased his pace. The figures vanished behind a tree and the suited man quickened his pace further to a near run. He caught up with the pair and stopped about ten metres from them, his heart pounding. “Hey!” he called out to the man, his voice sounding stronger than the man behind it felt. The tramp actually stopped and turned his head to look at him, but didn’t say a word or even seem particularly interested. Although he was afraid, his adrenaline overcame what in others might have been a natural hesitation. “Hey! What are you doing? Put her down!” he shouted in a firmer, more threatening tone. The man turned around with the woman in his arms but his face was still largely hidden by his hair and hood.
It clearly wasn’t worth attempting to explain anything to this impetuous imbecile and the woman was now safe enough. She’d calmed down and was by now only quietly holding onto him. The force had gone from her clutch and he was able to gently put her down on her feet. The homeless man looked up and his face became clearly visible for the first time. His eyes were penetrating; a deep, piercing blue. The suited man’s aggression and fear slipped away as he found the expression deeply sorrowful, full of pain and unhappiness. Either he meant this woman no harm, or the threat had passed and he was regretful for some terrible deed he’d committed. Neither said a word, but volumes were exchanged in the space of a single blink. He was now going to entrust her to the stranger’s protection. The homeless man again hung his head and simply turned and walked away in the direction of the darkness of the park’s innards. The suited man stood staring in disbelief at the figure of the man walking away from him before coming to his senses and quickly moving over to the woman, full of a perplexed sense of helplessness. He whispered in her ear that they should go, and he helped her to walk, leading her to the street and towards his nearby parked car.
e continually glanced at her in the car, trying to guess what might have happened and who this woman could be. She sat, huddled against the car door with the stranger’s jacket covering her, staring out of the window with a vacant expression. He’d initially thought to head back to his house, but upon looking at her found himself wondering if she might be better off in the safety and comfort of her own home. He managed to extract an address from the near-mute after several gentle questions and headed there instead. There was an awkward silence after they’d pulled up outside the woman’s apartment. Max hated awkwardness, thought it foolish and pointless, and always chose to break it by being the first to say something. He spontaneously made a decision and made no bones about having made it. “I’m going to come inside with you,” he said in a gentle but firm tone while still facing towards the windscreen. I don’t think you should be alone right now, he wanted to add, no matter what happened to you, but caught himself before he said it and thought better of it. Probably not a good idea to focus on whatever had happened right now. She didn’t say anything, but almost imperceptibly nodded her head. Max saw this out of the corner of his eye and turned to look at her for a moment, again overcome with curiosity and concern, before reaching for the keys and the handle, and stepping out of the car. She sat entirely motionless, so he headed around the front of the car to open the door for her. She got out slowly, clearly in pain and attempting to hide the bruise on the side of her face. He hadn’t noticed it before. He waited, letting her go first in an attempt not to seem intimidating, keeping at a respectful distance behind her as she walked up the path to her door. It was then that he really looked at her for the first time. From behind he was able to study her. She was petite, slender and entirely feminine, still wearing his jacket loosely around her shoulders and that, as when any woman wore his clothes, only served to further provoke the protective instinct stirring in his subconscious. He saw all this in a flash, yet was careful not to stare. He correctly concluded that he would have to be as non-threatening as humanly possible at this stage, he the stranger who was escorting her home after some unknown traumatic event. She climbed the stairs in silence and opened the door to her apartment, leaving the door open behind her for him to enter. He had, again, kept a short distance behind her, completely focussed on her now, recalling the images and circumstances of how he’d come across her, seeking to put the pieces together, and wondering what to do next. By the time he’d reached her front door, she 19
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wasn’t to be seen. There was no sound from anywhere in the apartment. He stood at the door, listening, waiting for a clue as to what to do next but, upon receiving none, entered and closed the door as silently as he could behind him. His first impression on entering the apartment was “carefree freedom”. He’d been in apartments with a similar atmosphere to this before, friends of friends who tended to end up happily married with kids and all the rest. There was colour everywhere you looked, life to be seen at every turn. Photos of friends adorned the walls, images of fun and frolic, and various curiosities presented themselves immediately. There was a wide variety of coats, jackets and hats hanging from the stand to his side. A dresser in front of him that shouldn’t have fit in with the surroundings, but bizarrely did in this assortment of vivacity. It was warm and welcoming, and put one at ease. It clearly wasn’t designed to impress but was simply a reflection of the living energy of the inhabitant. He made his way towards what he guessed must have been the living room. He looked around as he opened the door and found it embodied the same atmosphere as the hall, only in greater intimacy. In noticing this, he was almost too distracted to notice the woman there on the sofa behind the door to his left. Again, he couldn’t see her face, her hair gaving her enough protection to cry in privacy. She was shuddering, unmistakably sobbing, but was near-silent aside from an occasional breath that would escape and reveal the overwhelming hurt pulsating through her. He immediately realised that this woman had been through something truly cataclysmic. His sensitivity and experience told him that in situations like this the surroundings are deeply important and that he had to immediately try to create an atmosphere of security and privacy if he were to get through her natural defensiveness, gain a degree of trust, and find out what had happened. He silently closed the door behind them so as to create a bubble of intimacy and safety. He chose his seat carefully, pulling up an armchair towards the sofa so that he sat neither too close nor far from her. Not close enough to touch her, but close enough to hear if she chose to speak in a whisper. He sat down and pulled up his legs to sit cross-legged. Despite being forty-two years old, his friends and wife unwittingly thought of him as a far younger man because, even if wearing the most formal suit and tie, he would still occasionally pull his legs up to his chest at the table to eat or in front of the computer in his office. He was the first to admit to those close to him that he hated wearing formal clothes and the exquisite dress sense that accompanied him to the office every day was nothing but yet another tool used to help him succeed in business. When at home or on vacation, however, he’d only really feel content if wearing a loose pair of trousers, plain Tshirt and open sandals or bare feet. They sat for a moment in silence. He looked at her, wondering how to break the ice. Usually though, he knew from experience, the simplest and most direct way tended to be the most effective. “You know, I don’t even know your name…” he said in a soft voice. He let this hang in the air in the quiet that had been briefly penetrated by his deep voice, and waited. Slowly she began to calm down, seeming to return from the wilderness of mental anguish. The convulsions subsided
and she began to breathe more deeply and audibly. Soon she was no longer trying to hide behind her hair. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and regained a measure of composure. Staring at the floor, she whispered, “I didn’t say thank you for helping me… Thank you. You didn’t have to do that. Both you and the other man… You didn’t have to do that.” This gave Max some insight into what had happened. So she had been saved by the homeless man he’d seen. He became ever more curious now. “Who was he? Did you know him?” he said quietly. “No. I’d never seen him before in my life. It was like he just came from nowhere. He saved me. Saved me from those bastards.” “Who were they?” he asked. “I have no idea. There were two of them. They grabbed me as I was walking through the park. They pulled me back, away from the path. Those fucking bastards…” she said, as she started to break down again. “Those fucking bastards…” Max guessed that this meant they’d tried to rape her. Why else would they have dragged her away? There was again a moment of silence as he pondered the gravity of this new information. It was collosal; it was disgusting. His heart went out to her as he sat there but there was very little in the way of comfort he felt able to give. However, armed now with the knowledge of what had happened he felt empowered to have some form of action taken. The surprise at coming face to face with a real-life victim subsided and he sensed faint anger well up inside him. It was a quiet rage, entirely controlled and completely invisible, but the kind of rage that had bred the determination in him as a younger man. Quiet rage was something he had learned to bottle up and burn as the fuel in the fire of his drive and ambition. The quiet rage at the injustice of the world that made him determined to work towards somehow making the world a better place; the quiet rage at the poor luck of his younger years which made him determined to be his own boss and not let anyone determine his fate ever again. This rage, welling up and seeming to push out against his ribcage and up into his throat, again became the catalyst of determination. This time, however, it was a determination on someone else’s behalf. As was his characteristic, he made an instantaneous decision and was immediately convinced of its inherent merit. He determined that the attackers could not be allowed to get away with it and that he would do everything in his power to make sure they got their just deserts. He leaned over. “It’s OK,” he said, soothingly. “Come on… Shhhh…” He put his hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him briefly, checking his eyes to see if this attempt at contact was accompanied by good intentions. Finding his eyes to be warm, unthreatening and kind, she let her guard down and finally chose to trust this stranger. She’d always trusted her instincts and they now told her to put her faith in him. She looked up again. 21
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“Charlotte.” She said, “My name’s Charlotte.” He smiled in an almost fatherly way. “Call me Max.” She responded by seeking a weak smile herself. “Charlotte, I think we have to call the police about this. The men who did this to you need to be caught. We can’t let them get away with this.” She hesitated, surprised at this new thought. “No. I don’t want to call the police.” She felt ashamed and embarrassed. She wanted to keep this a secret from the world, felt like she’d been somehow tainted and that the more hidden it remained the better. “It’s OK; I’ll be fine. I just need some time.” “Time? Time has nothing to do with it. We’re talking about what’s right and wrong here. What they did was absolutely wrong. They deserve to be caught and punished.” “But… But I don’t want to cause trouble. And besides, they won’t be found anyway; I never saw their faces: they were wearing masks the whole time.” “Oh really?” He paused a second. “But their voices. You heard their voices?” “Yes. I heard their voices.” “Well that’s better than nothing. You don’t know – the police might have picked them already and might already be waiting for a witness.” She shot him a look that said the world wasn’t such an idyllic place. OK, Max thought to himself, she’s clearly no fool. “Well, Charlotte, I think we have to try. What about the next woman they’re going to do this to? You owe it to her.” “But I don’t want to…” “Charlotte, you must. You can’t let people like this get away with it. What they did was wrong. Clear and simple. I won’t let you give up on this They must be caught, one way or another. Don’t let these animals get the better of you. You need to fight back!” She looked at him doubtfully again but the point struck home and it was obvious he wasn’t going to let up until she relented. She wasn’t interested in this; she’d prefer to pretend the event had never taken place but, somewhere deep inside her, she knew he was right. “Alright,” she said resignedly, “I’ll talk to them if you make the call.” The half hour it took for the officer to arrive passed slowly for Max, waiting in the living room, but quickly for Charlotte, who spent twenty minutes in the shower scrubbing her entire body before again collapsing in fits of painful tears when she caught the bruise on her face in the steamed mirror. She emerged from her bedroom clean but clearly both emotionally and physically exhausted and with absolutely no enthusiasm for the impending visit. 22
When the police arrived she wasn’t able to be of much help. The descriptions she gave were vague at best, even of the homeless man. She’d not seen the faces of the men who’d attacked her and hadn’t really seen much of the other’s face either. Still, she described what she could about voices, shapes and the events as she recalled them. Much of it was blurred, especially after she’d been struck. The female, compassionate police officer described the effects of shock on the body and memory and said not to worry; it was quite normal and the memories tended to come back within a short space of time. She informed Charlotte, however, that the damage done was probably deeper than she realised. The physical damage was minimal but the emotional damage at being attacked shouldn’t be underestimated. She recommended seeing a counselor and gave Charlotte a number before making to leave and asking Max to accompany her. He was reluctant but noticed the stern, professional look on the policewoman’s face and thought better than to argue. Charlotte was clearly exhausted anyway and there was little more he could do for her. He promised to check in on her in a day or two and gave her his numbers, saying that she could call any time she needed. They left the house, the policewoman back to the station to file a report, Max home to his drowsy wife, and Charlotte upstairs to a black, unconscious sleep that only produced a single, surprising dream.
e had been so angered and disheartened at her lack of fight, her meekness and despondency. She didn’t have the power of will, the strength of heart, the fortitude to rise above herself and even make the most feeble attempt to find those who had taken so much from her. It felt to him as if there were nothing within her, that there was a gaping hole where her vigour, her life force should have been. When the wind of life pushes at you, what do you do? Simply bend, splinter, break and fall? You don’t stand and fight? Or you can’t, you coward? When the evil blackness at life’s end stares and smiles, what can you do but laugh back! We are all unfalteringly headed towards it. This is the one single, inescapable constant we all share. Our will to live is at our very core, the essence of our souls. Your weakness is that you have not as yet found it. You must first glimpse death to truly taste life. Only then can you live as I live, above the masses, beyond them. Enlightened.
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It didn’t prove so very difficult to find Theo. He was wearing the same clothes and killing time in the same haunts as before. He found him there, groggishly drowsing in the post-alcoholic haze of a late morning. Encountered from afar, he was an average shape on an average bench in an average park. As Max moved closer, however, he took in more of the misery of the man’s existence. Stained and ripped trousers of an indescribable colour. An old sweater that stood testimony to the many trials of the wearer. A wild mass of hair that covered head and face, giving the look of a caveman reheated after cryogenic stasis and dumped unwittingly into our faceless twenty-first century life. Unable to cope with its complications and complexities, it was almost as if he had naturally returned to his basic way of life, still encased in the trappings of the modern civilization he had so thoroughly rejected. He was in a despicable state. Max looked at him and despised what he stood for. Weakness of will. Giving up. A waste of the biological potential to excel that every human being has. However, needs must, and Max sat down on the bench besides the stinking cretin and introduced himself. At first there was no movement behind the mask of mane. Then he stirred. “What do you want?” he said without looking up. He was taken aback. He had expected a wilting excuse for a man within the confines of the dirt and hair, yet here was a brutal resistance verging on the aggressive. Maybe there was fire in there after all. He asked the man’s name and got a barely audible, “Theo.” Still seeking a face behind the hair, he asked what he remembered about Charlotte. “Who?” Theo said, obviously feeling no recognition at the name. “The girl you saved,” Max said to him. “You may have saved her life.” “Me?’” he laughed before collapsing in a hawking mass of phlegm. “I don’t think it was me.” “She saw you. The woman you saved saw you. Just as I did. You were watching from the park when I found her. I was the one who found her on the street and took her to hospital.” Theo wasn’t interested in this, in getting into what could only lead to trouble. He had no recollection of any attack or any woman. All he knew was that his head hurt like hell, that he was in need of a drink to offset the shaking that was beginning in his hands, and that this stranger was in his face, disturbing his peace. “Mind your own business, my friend” Theo said, a faint, threatening growl now appearing at the back of his throat. Max’s contempt swelled like a vile black sludge in his veins, poisoning his mood and bringing anger forth to his heart. A deadly silence fell over him, a sure sign amongst those who knew him that the currents beneath the calm surface were being dangerously stirred.
The inhumanity of the man! The selfishness of cutting himself off from those who supported him! How can a man just reject his society and be left alone to rot in his own misery! No honour, no sense of duty! All they’re good for is alcoholism and an early grave! He took a minute to compose himself, to remind himself that he was surrounded by ignorance and stupidity. Rise above it. These little people he saw around him were nothings, inhabiting the conditions of life without truly living it. He shouldn’t have expected this man to help, let alone even remember the incident that had brought him here in the first place. He thought of Charlotte, crying so meekly, her desperate weakness and his need to be strong on her behalf. He turned back to Theo and took to earnestly pressing the importance of this, recounting all he knew of the attack step by step, hoping to rekindle some vague flame of memory that may still have been licking the depths of the imbecile’s brain. He told of the initial attack, and of Theo’s wild defence. Something seemed to click inside the tramp’s head. It was as though a faint light had begun to illuminate its dull interior. The eyes began to move, flicking left and right as though scanning the visions as they returned from the darkness. It was as though Max were watching the man come to life again before his eyes. A different voice resonated from the mane, “Oh god, I was well gone that night. Barely remember it.” So he does remember! Max thought. As Theo turned his head their eyes met for the first time. Despite the dark rings and bloodshot eyes, Max was struck by the life and intelligence dancing there. “If you remember it then you have to help! If they’re not caught it’ll only mean another woman down the line.” Theo seemed to smile as he turned away. He was quiet for a moment before bursting out in incredulous laughter. Who does this guy think he is? Theo thought. He just doesn’t get it, does he? I’ve had enough of helping people. Where the hell does it get you, anyway? Kindness is thrown back in your face and anyone who ever cares leaves or dies.
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The moment he said no to Max was when the fuse was lit. Max soon began to push too hard, telling Theo that he had to help a woman in distress, that it was a matter of honour. If Theo didn’t help this woman now, he evidently didn’t understand or possess what all men should inherently want to protect. A more sensitive nerve in a more festering wound couldn’t possibly have been touched. Theo blew up instantly. This guy, sitting here with his expensive watch and lumpenproletariat morality, obviously unaware of the utter pointlessness of life, the utter pointlessness of absolutely anything. What does it matter that this girl had been attacked? She was just another miserable individual in this miserable existence. None of any of anyone’s actions has any meaning! In a universe devoid of purpose, all action becomes insignificant beyond the moment it is actually occurring. And this girl is no exception. All this bullshit morality that people spew forth as though it were an incontrovertible truth, when murder and death are perfectly commonplace and legitimate when committed by governments acting on our behalves! The irony of it! And religion! Pah! A sorrier excuse for manipulation couldn’t possibly have been contrived by The Great Lord himself! How can they not see that religions, the vast multitude that exists across the globe, nullify themselves through their very own existence! How can one god possibly be universal and timeless when a hundred miles away another tribe claims the exact same thing for themselves! What a primitive race we are! I refuse to be involved! I refuse, refuse, refuse!
One philosophy of life coming up against its polar opposite. Theo’s pure nihilism leading to a complete defeatism. Against it, Max’s own nihilism leading to a perverse lust for life, a defiance that verged on the wildly aggressive. The need to leech off life before it slipped through all-toomortal fingers. An existential revolt. You waste! You don’t know how lucky you are, sitting here! The very fact is an utter miracle of chance. Of all the billions of years that the universe has been here, of all the species that had to be born, live, die, be born, live, and die again even before the human race came down from the trees and learned to walk upright! And even then, of all your ancestors, struggling through dark days with no healthcare, no society, no protection, only their own sweat and tears to rely on. And now you. Look at you! How long do you think you have on this earth? Seventy years, eighty at a push? Come on, look around you! Look at all the joy, all the fun, all the simple pleasures there are to be had. Good food, good sex, good clothes, good living, and that’s just the material things! Our minds. Our minds are capable of so much, the conclusion of a billion years of evolution. Here we are, a mere collection of cells, a mix of water spiced up with a few other inert chemicals, and yet we are able to travel light years in our minds. Aside from our bodies, aside from the daily existence there is something free within us. We can fly with our minds! It is within our minds that we truly experience a complete freedom. Once, like me, you’ve seen that everything is ultimately meaningless, what do you do? Give up? You coward! Coward, coward, coward! What we need to do is create meaning for ourselves! Fuck “God”! Fuck the fanatics or brainless cattle who say you have to conform to this rule or that! Life is free! Once you’ve seen through the mess of daily existence to the nothingness beyond, you can see that there is no judge and jury waiting at some pearly gate. Once you’ve seen the abyss, you fly higher and freer than you’ve ever known! If you lose your fear of death, you truly taste life. Once you see beyond, you are finally able to let go. Nothing has meaning beyond what we give it.
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We are the mark and measure of all things and I, I, this magnificent embodiment of biological unity and coincidence, am the measure of my own being. I am a rule only unto myself. I rise above you all, you insignificant insects, scurrying around in your blinkered cages. I do not fear exception! I am the embodiment of brilliance, shining in my aimless glory! I GIVE MYSELF meaning and, because of this, no one, not you, not God, can take it away from me! I am evanescent! Evanescent! Dying! I am dying! Every day, every hour, every single breath I take, I turn into the darkness, the pointlessness, the vast, unending, lonely void and yet I see my own light shining from within my very self. And because I see the light, I give it meaning. Because I see the light, it really, really exists.
od, faith, religion, belief. Lies…
Trust, happiness, purpose, belief. Lies!
All just lies…
Animals spinning in space on this insignificant rock.
We will die, and then we’ll return to absolutely nothing.
We live in a void…
In void, my friends!
What’s the point to anything?
We all return to dust.
espite not having a roof over his head, the first time that Theo had ever been homeless in his own mind was the moment he stepped out of the hospital. The way they’d looked at him was humiliating. The way they’d treated him was dehumanising. He hadn’t even been a second class citizen because he simply wasn’t a citizen at all. Before that day, he’d been able to maintain his proud, touchy, unthankful, cantankerous attitude toward the world. There’d been no sense of self pity, only an overwhelming pain and anger at having his wife, and with her his reason to live, so suddenly and cruelly snatched away from him. All blame had been directed outwards. At the driver who killed Claire. At society for throwing him onto the streets. At his acquaintances’ total abandonment, coupled with the seeming impossibility of any meaningful aid from anywhere. He’d been told (in writing!) that he was “intentionally homeless” and therefore not eligible to the same assistance as others. He’d been unceremoniously kicked out of two hostels for alcohol abuse. He’d finally learnt a previously unknown resentment that soon transformed itself into throwing off living by others’ leave. He was sick of doing what he was told to do. Sick of taking handouts. Sick of filling in forms and proving how “needy” and “eligible” for support he was. Eventually he rejected even the expectation that he was supposed to be doing anything. Such a Western curse besides! Remember when Max urged that he had to help find Charlotte’s attackers – it was precisely having to do anything that he had so intentionally and wholly cast off and thereafter found so strangley amusing. He drove to be free, but it was the freedom of an educated man, very different from the enforced poverty of the multitudinous ignorant dregs of society that limped across his various beaten paths. A pure, all-enveloping boredom can only truly be achieved by an empty mind. A compelling lethargy within the grey matter comes hand-in-hand with a lack of cerebral training. It leaves its victims so accutely dejected, dispairing and desolate at any lack of external stimulation. Unable to escape to any other world than their own, their lack of imagination leaves them fully engaged in the present, which is precisely what they most detest. The blazen gloom of the present is precisely the moment which the brainless homeless man is forever attempting to evade by escaping into alcoholism and drug addiction. It is the lack of thought that drives the pain so directly to the heart. Theo’s case was the opposite. He drove himself to drink in seeking to halt the thoughts that circled above him like vultures. He had felt his consciousness rotting, had watched the predators of his mind slowly descend, descend. The bottle seemed to instantly disinfect his mind’s carcass, temporarily and blissfully cleansing it, making it unappetising to those psychologically parasitic 33
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birds that were so determined to finish him off. Notwithstanding what soon became an addiction, he held himself aloof among the other bums; unsociable, above them. The attack, horrifically, frankly and finally, had broken him. The second he was able to walk independently he was turned back out on to soulless street, back to fending for himself. A crowded street, full of the sound and smell of life. Alone in the world. Nowhere to go. No one to call and nothing to call them on. Sober, he was beginning to feel the first pangs of panic before walking even two blocks. He caught the most unusual collage in the most unlikely of places. There in the glass pane of a shop window was a display of the finest women’s designer clothing, well lit and clearly expensive enough to be exclusive. Superimposed on this finery was a battered, decrepid, ugly, hairy old fool, scattering their hand-crafted splendour. That pane of glass, no thicker than sheet ice, the immovable wall preciously guarding another world; a better and more generous world. A world of smiles and laughter, gifts and thanks, kisses and love. On this side, the world of the stark concrete and tarmac; no kindness, only charity; no gratitude, only relief. The world of his own invisibility, of others’ annoyance and resentment. A Hobbesian brutishness to any and all interaction that normal folk condescended so philanthropically onto him. That shop door, so open and welcoming to one and all. The snotty assistant its vigilant sentinel. Surely not even a metre between pavement and store interior, yet as unreachable as the moon. Those few feet right there before his eyes as uncrossable as the light years of space. For the first time, staring into that image, he had the urge to go back, to stop this revolving circle of nonproductive, semi-cognitive existence, to stop the spinning of timelessness and repetition that living without willing to live entails. For the very first time, his replete rail against normality faltered, stalled. Ironically, it was at precisely this psychological shift that he abandoned himself to true hopelessness, true homelessness. No longer was he there via negative choice, rejecting all else. He became the victim of desparation, self-pity and sorrow. For the first time he felt fear. For the first time he wanted to live again. All that had gone in the six months before had been the slow suicide of a coward. If one is looking for death, one feels no fear. But to taste it at the cliff’s edge and turn back from the biting cold of the abyss to cling weeping to the rockface immediately recalls our protective instinctual urge. He’d seen the forlorn, wormlike subsistence of the long term homeless; the pathetic, disgusting, broken spirited men who scraped a survival in an endless routine of anguish, ruefulness, and shame. He began to think what he could do. There was no going back, no going back to that life. He felt fear, felt the pain in his limbs and face, felt the disgrace to which he’d reduced himself. A literate man, a reader in a life once lived, an avid feaster on the arts. Where was the beauty in this life? Where was joy, laughter and light? He saw himself and wept. Wept for himself. Wept clean tears that were filth-ridden by the time they hit the stone. He wept. For he saw what he’d become. 34
Our Poor, Lost Soul
Freedom’s ties, and freedom’s thorns Serve up our lost man’s misery. The victim of his own vile volition (the stinking mass sustains the race…) He a failed biological rendition. (the unthinking mass sustains the race!) He looked beyond. He looked too far. His mind found nothing. It broke his heart.
Max meets me there. Big car, classic style. Big man. Strong.
n the car.
What to expect?
Whatâ€™s he like? What can I say to him? How can I thank him?
Warm eyes. Comforting.
We chat a little.
Iâ€™m still tense.
People milling around.
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Couples with young kids.
I’m watching one. The girl drops her ice cream. The end of the world.
Head down. Limping.
One arm holding the other.
I know it’s him.
Mother on comfort duty. Daddy does cleanup.
Then from the corner of my eye.
I just know it.
The other people fade away. There’s only him, moving slowly towards us. 38
What is it about him?
Something’s wrong. What is it?
I sense it.
I leave Max.
And walk up to him.
It hits me. I realise. A shockwave runs up through me.
I suck in breath but can’t release it.
Now I see the scars.
The body has been beaten;
All I hear is my heartbeat.
He is broken. Truly broken. He truly is broken.
the spirit crushed. 39
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The thought comes to me.
This was a man.
Once. Strong, proud, true. Now heâ€™s but a shell.
My dear, sweet saviour. What happened?
I feel a tear on my cheek. A swell in my heart.
I must repay my debt to you.
What happened to you, Theo?
I owe you my life!!!
I must find the man inside.
wo temperants tempered. They changed each other. Charlie took him in and nursed him back to health. She showed him how to live again. How to enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer. He saw her joy in people, saw her face light up when her sister called or she heard the voice of her little niece. He saw her love of colour, of art, of creativity, of the act of creating. He also saw her fortitude, her ability to shut her mind off before ever feeling sorry for herself. If she came home tired and miserable from work, she simply pushed the thoughts aside and managed her own mood. Put on some vibrant music, began cooking, called a friend. He, in his state of dejection and painful recovery, watched and watched her, unconsciously learning how to live normally and simply again. Unconsciously falling in love with her spirit. Unconsciously falling in love with her. In turn, he possessed a freedom of abandonment that she marvelled at. Here was someone who had given up utterly everything and dropped to the lowest depths. While he crawled back to the everyday world, he did so still in the wake of the one he was leaving. Everything that came to him during recovery was appreciated in a way she’d never seen before. If there was something he couldn’t for whatever reason have, there was no longing for its missed presence, it was simply dropped and forgotten. Theo had unwittingly become an expert in that quality of unattachment that the Buddhist monks value so highly. He was refreshing to a woman who’d bcome fully encased in the trappings of normality. Charlotte was refreshing to an intellectual man who had forgotten that life held any degree of agreeability. Two temperants, nothing in common, yet mutually assisting each other, tempering their foibles and learning how to better live. Two paths, entangled by the roots of a rude accident and held together by the knots of universal human compassion. Theo slowly became whole again. Charlotte gave him his life back and thereby repaid him the debt of her own continued existence. Theo fell for her, fell for her in a way that he hadn’t fallen for anyone since her. Since Claire. In his world, devoid of meaning, love was the sole redeeming force that he could believe in. In spite of the immeasurable infinity of space, of the manifest evils of the world, in spite of himself, love was something that had always held an immediacy that meant it must be real. It was what pulled him out of the misery of his university days, drawn by the gentle embrace of his most gentle woman. It was what held him together when the depression hit, that black dog that seemed to be forever barking at his ankles, trying to pull him down. The love he knew, the one and only true love he had ever known had been his crutches, letting him hold his head aloft and stand tall for the very first time. 41
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He had become stronger, become steady and stable, firm and patient. And when his crutches were smashed from under him, resistance was unimaginable. With nothing more to lean against, he was immediately forced to his knees, unable to manage any more than a crawl down lifeâ€™s bare path. Now, while recovering, while moving back to the light of day, Charlotte came to replace the love that Claire had given him and he clung to it silently and desperately, hoping, unconsciously pleading that she might come to return his devotion. There was a chance that, once he was whole again, that she could love him in turn. That would be a true bliss. That would a reason to live again. For the moment, though, he knew he could not expect her to return what could only be given freely. He settled with himself that to have found her, to have her with him, to be with her was enough. He had to be patient. He had to show her what she meant to him. She came to mean the world, and he did what he could to make her world a better place. So he went to the police for her. He gave in. Anything for her. Anything. Anything for Charlotte. They went to the police and, to her surprise, the men were caught and imprisoned with relative ease and efficiency. She now felt doubly indebted to him. The bond between them grew only stronger.
made a decision once. A decision to live. Either you should give up on life entirely or you should run screaming into the abyss. To be happy, no. Well, at least not in the way you might think. To live, and live in the fullest way possible is what it’s about. To laugh and cry, win and lose, hurt and love. Embrace all as a part of life's richness and savour it. Appreciate it. Attempt to realise at all points of life that there is something amazing in all of us at all times. We all embody that incredible force that is life. For me, how we came to be is less important than what we should do now that we find ourselves being. For however we came to be here we still have to live. So, I say to myself, why not make the most of it? It’s possible we might not only live once. But, on the other hand, it’s possible we might… Why are we here? I mean, why should we, as humans, live? Because we are simply here? Because of God? Because of destiny? Predestination? And what if this is not the case; what if God doesn’t exist? Should we simply carry on because we have no alternative? Is our job not to question but only to do? These are questions about existence; our very reason for being. I personally cannot shake these questions. Simply leaving them be isn’t enough for me. I need a reason. Without meaning what are we? Why should we bother to get up in the morning? What will we have to say of our lives? How will we be remembered, if at all? Have you ever come to a conclusion about this? And then, having made a decision did you change your mind again afterwards? If we can’t possibly know the real truth behind the matter of the purpose of life then I for one assume that we do only live once. As a very direct result of this, I believe we should try to appreciate every minute. Be it good or bad, it is all life. Each emotion is unique and should be treasured. Each experience is unique. Even painful ones. What I'm saying is that life, the very fact of life itself, is quite simply incredible. Miraculous. Spectacular and breathtaking. The fact that you and I have had the good fortune to somehow find ourselves simply existing, inhabiting this strange, colourful world is one we should try to appreciate. It’s a beautiful thing and I don’t understand how anyone could give up on that. I couldn’t.
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But I once very nearly did.
Which brings me back to that decision of mine. The one to live. I now cannot understand how anyone could give up on this life. Even in my most painful moments, even at the lowest low and at the very point of my most searing pain, staring into the abyss of death, I have found some measure of beauty. For when I made my decision to live, I decided not only to live but to go out into the world and live to the full. To grasp life as tightly as possible and hang on to it. To embrace it. Our world is limitless and ever-changing. There will never be a time when there is not more to be learned. There will never be a time when people and the planet stop being beautiful. I, for one, will never cease to be amazed by it. But without Charlotte I never would have grasped what was always before me.
harlotte had never been confronted by the existential dilemma before. Yet here it stood, in her kitchen one evening, probing her every assumption about life and its purpose. Theo, never one for fools at the best of times, hit her unthinking mediocrity head on. “All you are saying is nothing but derivatives of others’ opinions! Don’t tell me what others say! Speak for yourself! What do YOU think?” She paused. The purpose of life...? The actual goal of life itself? Not just how to live but why live at all? What on earth could she possibly say to that!? “Well, I suppose that we should live a moral life; live a good life.” she murmured, lost in thought. “OK. But why? Why live a moral life? Why bother living at all? What’s the point?” She was feeling deeply uncomfortable, yet fascinated at the same time. These were thoughts she’d never seriously entertained before. Certainly no one - none of the “normal” people she knew - had ever really discussed such things. They had crossed her mind in the past but the questions were fleeting and her parents, her school teachers, her church, had been able to provide answers so readily and with such conviction that she’d assumed there must be something to what they were saying and left it at that. The attack had been the first time she had tasted death. On the verge of the abyss... Everything substantial perched on the edge of nothingness, not being. Never before had death ever seemed real, it was always some distant thing that happened to the old, the sick, or those in faraway lands. But if Theo hadn’t been there that day in the park would have been her last. It forced her to step back and look at her life; the sum total of her life; all the memories, the achievements, the thoughts, hopes and dreams; the loves and losses; the disappointments; and the joy, of course. What did it all amount to? Was there any actual meaning to it at all? “Hmmm... I suppose that if we are made in God’s image then the purpose should be to fulfill God’s wishes. I think we are supposed to live for Him; as His creations.”
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Theo laughed. He actually laughed. It was the first time Charlotte had ever heard him laugh and it was long and loud, riotous and sharp. “GOD!!!” There was a glint in his eye now. “Perhaps you’re right. But what IS God, hmm? A man sitting on a cloud? A dark, judgemental, bethroned being just beyond the pearly gates? Come on, tell me precisely what God is. And do be precise, Charlotte, for your life may depend on it.” She tried to define what God was, but in vain. She began with her church’s argument, that God was unfathomable, undefinable, but Theo quickly dismissed that with a brief speech about methodology and scientific skepticism - that we cannot accept anything without really knowing what it is, or without proof. She could accept that saying something exists while saying that it can’t be defined was a terrible argument. It wasn’t even logical. And making the distinction between superstition and presumption on the one hand, and evidence-based reasoning on the other seemed to make sense to her. People did use to believe that the world was flat, after all, and that turned out to be utter nonsense. Such a simple thing, so commonly accepted in everyday life, applied back to religion, however, had unexpected results. She found she could not define God in any terms that really made sense. Nor had anyone else she could think of. Not ever. Theo then moved on to the idea that a prophet could hear the words of God. Reminding her that God couldn’t be defined, and therefore that no one - absolutely no one - could say that it existed or it didn’t, he moved on to dispel the notion that a man hearing voices could actually be receiving divine commandments. An appeal to the dinosaurs - did she think they had a God!? - an extensive reference to the almost unimaginable vastness of space and our miniscule place within it; leading her to acknowledge the unlikelihood, even the silliness, that God would choose one tribe over another. It went on and on. Each time he pushed her to clarify what she was talking about, to really define what she thought, why she thought it, delving into the real, root reasons underlying why she lived her life, the weaker she felt. It was as though he were exposing every hole in her thinking, all the inconsistencies and confusion in her mind; pulling the very ground from under her feet. Nothing she said was new to her, of course, she had taken it for granted her whole life, but to have it all pulled out and put on the table... It looked like mismatched pieces of inherited clothing that didn’t quite fit. The deeper he delved, the more uncertain she became. Here was her entire existence - our entire existence - laid bare before her.
From breaking her down, he began anew. Over time, he went back to what we knew - what we really knew - from evidence, rather than mere postulations - and showed her how it was possible to build up a picture that fit; that was not full of inconsistencies and holes. That human beings are a species of animal was a fact she found hard to deny. Evolution too seemed well documented and reasonable. We exist on this earth, we are part of nature, we are of this world, of which there is but one. Mass converts to energy and vice versa; relativity again was on firm ground as borne out by the twentieth century tests conducted by professional skeptics. The trouble was, however, that Theo could not show her a reason to live as he could not find one himself. She spoke to Max. At first bemused by the innocence of her questions, he soon realised she had truly begun to think and thus revealed something of the other side of his personality, the part he kept hidden behind the mask of normality he wore on a daily basis. While he accepted Theo’s reasoning as to the ultimate pointlessness of the universe - at least insofar as the very need for a point is a purely human characteristic - he replied with a divergent answer, revolutionary for Charlotte. “The point to existence? Well, of course we need to create our own!! What else are we to do!?!” He went no further, however, knowing without doubt that the conclusions he drew from that would not suit her. She was one of the masses, after all, one of the last men, living a life of safety and convenience, avoiding risk just to stay warm, unable to envision greatness, and seeking to strip those who reached for the stars of the honour they deserved, blinkered by the shackles of “morality”. She would not understand. She could not understand. She was a slave to morality. But he pitied her all the same, and the fact that she had at least broached the subject deserved some measure of acknowledgement. A universe devoid of meaning. Heartbreaking, but possible. A purposeless existence, though? That was too much... The idea that we can and should create our own? This at least she could accept. But then that meant there was something missing, a gaping chasm that needed to be filled... What was that purpose then to be!?!
ometimes he cursed himself, his own damned misfortune to have been born a man. Yes, he preferred being a man to a woman. Stronger, fitter, more logical and less susceptible to emotion. Yet also bound by claws of biological urges that women are free of. Like it or not, he felt the desire that all men felt for women. The need to have, to possess, no matter how fleetingly; to enjoy having the feeling of total power that comes with the act of procreation. He loved his wife. She was the most gentle of touch, graceful, while also the toughest and most unforgiving woman he had ever known. She had a power that was entirely her own. Stood up for herself, regardless of who it was. She was beautiful, a model in her younger years. She was intelligent; sharp of mind, not to the same extent as him, but somehow possessed of a deeper intelligence. She thought, she pondered, she came to her own conclusions, and had her own considered opinions. Above all, she forced him to respect her as heâ€™d never respected any other woman. She was, if he had to admit it, almost masculine in her natural independence and unassuming confidence. Masculine in a way, and yet utterly feminine in both manner and speech, a complete feminity that made her so completely attractive to virtually all the men lucky enough to encounter her. Her entire life long she had been the one who chose who she took. He was hugely proud that he had been the one who had finally managed to so convincingly win her heart. She was, however, to such an extent the exception. He regarded women in general as having such unthinking natures. It were almost as if the estrogen belittled the brain, creating in the fairer sex such a fickle character, such a lack of depth, such capriciousness. They were at once so desirous of attention, and so resentful of it besides. Well aware in youth that their time was short, they flaunted their bodies in spite of themselves, and then felt ashamed when men took their chance and looked. Endowed with such beautiful figures, such flowing hair and perfect features, they realised at an early age that their true power lay in their looks. Those lucky enough to find themselves beautiful revelled in it, making them unattractive in their dull, mindless arrogance. Those unlucky enough to have been born ugly were forgotten a hundred times a day, a million times a day, forgotten in the split second that a masculine eye chanced upon their countenance. A true misery, a truly pathetic being he had never seen to the degree that he found in an uncomely woman trying with all her might to be beautiful. Rejected, again and again, but still continuing the fight. Stuck in the viscious circle that is the dating game, forced to impale herself on a string of men who would use her for sex, and then finally settling for whichever loser was left. He had decided long ago that it were better to take a beautiful princess and tolerate her whims 49
Nietzscheâ€™s Last Man
and ephemeral egotism, swallowing some measure of pride, than settle for something less in his marital bed. His wife was desirious of attention, even more so because of her beauty. He knew it and showered her with it. She was constantly reminded that she was the most perfect being ever created in his eyes, that no other woman could even hope to compare. Of course it was all lies. All women were desirous of attention; giving it was the key to getting what men really wanted from them, which is sex. Where women are biologically trapped into instinctively seeking out the most suitable provider for the future offspring, he who would best defend and protect them from the cruelties of this cold world, men are evolutionarily sucked into the web of seed scattering. No man, in his heart of hearts, is ever satisfied with only one woman and never will be. Every man, and especially those who have everything else, will always want another woman, and another, and another. Modern morality condemns him to an habitual monogomy and Max resented this as a matter of course. One of the most striking things that had struck him in his studies was the subjective nature of morality; how one moral system is so absolutely correct, and then the next also so absolutely correct, and the next, and the next. So absolutely correct, and yet no more correct than the next. That all moral arguments came down to a squabble. That all moral arguments were ultimately unwinnable. Hindus would rather die than eat their cows. Catholics do not restrict the natural flow of semen. Muslims regard brewing as inherently evil while still taking four wives and siring hoards of children. These, he finally concluded, were the moralities of the masses, essentially the ignorant, those who were unwilling or most likely unable to think for themselves. Not him. Max had found Nietzsche and it had served him well ever since.
As with so many who read Nietzsche, he had soon enough sought to cast himself into the philosopher’s character of Übermensch, unbound by morality’s chains, one of the very few who were strong enough to live unfettered and free. The rest, the lifeless drones who worked for him, who grew his food and mended his clothes, he pitied as Last Men, those constrained by slave morality, incapable of escape from the hive, incapable of living according to their true natures. Or at least the natures of some. Some were simply heartbreakingly pitiful, not made of stout enough mettle to survive in the meangingless mess we are born into. Some others were basically sound of spirit but lacked the tenacity to so fly in the face of majority opinion. Only a very, very few were brave enough to acknowledge right as right, yet go on to act wrongly and neither feel guilt nor regret. It took a fortitude of independence that was not easy to maintain, particularly while the transition from proletariat morality to a higher existence was being made. It was a hard struggle, but one he had never regretted making. Finally he came to understand women as so few others really could. He found that as soon as he’d thrown off living the life of an average man, he became immediately irresistable. Why? How could this be? Why are women so attracted to the exceptional, often in spite of themselves? Did this have something to do with women preferring to be led? Did it have something to do with their weakness, their lack of resolve, lack of any finality of judgement? Why do women so desire a man’s protection, finding that they only grow to full fruition in second place, in man’s shadow? Was it biological? He’d looked around the world and back into history. It seemed to have always been this way and the modern era, even with emancipation, was no different. True, women were empowered, but on the ground invariably went on to say themselves that they wanted a man who was stronger, braver, essentially bigger than they were. And the bigger the better. The more exceptional. The freer from traditional restraints. He thought of power, the ultimate aphrodisiac. The bigger the man, the more attractive. And what is attractiveness anyway but a cover for sexual desire? All human interactions are ultimately lecherous, all a front for evolution’s drive to pump out the most perfect possible progeny. Here he was, breaking the rules, doing precisely what society told him he shouldn’t, and day in and out he had women simply throw themselves at him. He fucked them; he fucked them over. Over and again. Used and rejected them, and still they came. Eventually he could pick and choose, he came to expect that they would want him, and this side of arrogance only served to make him all the more desirable in their eyes. The one great irony, the great social sarcasm that it is, gave him all he wanted and more once he finally resolved to be bold enough to take it. The rest followed instinctively. We are only animals after all. In the midst of all this he marvelled. At his own biological drive for one. It made him a nicer guy, charming and patient, when sex was somewhere lurking on the table. No matter how ignorant the girl, how dumb her answers or bland the veneer of personality, he could still treat her as the most fascinating creature to have ever graced the earth if she stood straight in high heels, had a tight behind, pretty face and curves. And how remarkably he changed once it became clear this particular girl on this particular day wasn’t going to give it up. Once he knew that, once the prospect of mating was gone, there was nothing left. She quickly became what was she ultimately meant to him, simply another biological rendition of the Last Man, simply another human being blindly following the dictates of reason and religion and “goodness”. While not becoming cruel or unkind in such situations, he found that his interest instantly vanished and she was suddenly no
Nietzsche’s Last Man
more noticable than some household ornament he had seen a thousand times before. It was incredible to view first hand the extent to which he was, after all, only a higher form of animal. His wife was the second marvel. It wasn’t that she didn’t mind. Of course she knew and hated that he had other women around him, hanging on to him and so readily accepting his advances. It was that she wasn’t surprised, as though this were the natural order of things. He eventually came to question whether women ultimately care if a man has others, so long as he is there every night to hold her and tell her he loves her, and the gloss of societal expectations are adhered to. If there is no embarrassment, if all extra-marital sex is done off-campass where the neighbours will never find out, then all is seemingly forgiven. Or not even forgiven. Not even an issue. It was almost as if his otherwise uncompromising wife were saying that as long as she got what she needed, if the marriage was good, the company successful and the children happy, then all was well. As long as he didn’t love them, as long as no feelings were involved, she were somehow able to understand that men just have needs that women don’t, that men can just fuck and think nothing of it, and that if there was no competition with her position as number one, that this were only another part of life. Charlotte, unfortunately for her, was nothing but another one of the string of women who found Max so appealing. She didn’t understand why and couldn’t fight it. It wasn’t her fault. That she sought to tie him down with phone calls and messages following the sex was natural. Only an aspect of her nature. She couldn’t help it. On the other hand, she was ultimately as unwanted as the rest. Once the coveted body was uncovered and obtained, there remained little of interest to hold him. She, the emotional being that she was, of course felt the biological need to love him. He, having done what he came to do, felt the biological need to leave her. He, with the power, of course came out on top. She, willing and unwitting, of course was devastated.
What a predictable species we ultimately are.
piritually, I was starved of love, as parched of it as a lone desert flower is of the water of life in the midday sun. So back I came, goods in hand, ready to cook and court. I was in need of life, in need of the gentle supporting touch of a woman, of a body to fill the hollow between my arms when I slept. I was infatuated at the time; I’d fallen into love’s deep mine, a potentially lethal pit. She’d truly got me, leaving me with no alternative but to try to pull her in with me, a seemingly insurmountable task. I knew she didn’t love me – neither would I have – but what option did I have? I loved her, needed her, couldn’t force her from my mind. I was infatuated, yes, but not stupid. The shock of the attack had reawoken the faculty of objective reasoning that had slumbered altogether too long. She’d taken me in and nursed me back to health. I could see that she had a kind heart but I remained an object of pity in her eyes. A woman can care for her charge and thereby devote herself to it, but that is a devotion that will last only as long as the malady affects the body; a determination to fight against the illness does not necessarily extent anything more than concern to the man. Once he’s well again he’s expected to pull himself back onto his own two feet and again take command of his own destiny. And rightly so. That had been my day. I was still leaning on the crutches of Charlotte’s caring assistance, but only barely. I was becoming steady on newly healed legs, becoming steady in a newly healed mind. That had been the day I’d chosen as the one to make a return to the land of the living. I’d shaved off the mess of hair, shocking myself at the aged yet boyish countenance that crept from under it. I’d sought employment, half-heartedly it must be said, but I’d got my name on file and at least an idea of options. The final act was spending beyond my meagre means to purchase a pair of trousers and a couple of shirts, plus food which I would soon seek to turn to some reasonably edible concoction. And I was nervous. I was picking up the pieces, finally beginning to take responsibility for myself after so long, going to present myself to the jury and judge ruling in the case of my happiness. Open, vulnerable, like a child on stage for the first time, a single reactionary moment capable of shaping an entire future. I came home and turned the key with shaking hands. My heart was pounding, my stomach tight. Queazy, sweating, unable to think.
Nietzsche’s Last Man
I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. Opening the door, I could immediately hear the silence, as foreign to that apartment as a snowstorm in June. I knew she was in, her keys were still on the table and jacket still by the door. She couldn’t be asleep, or at least it would have been highly unusualy for her. Intrigued, I didn’t bother to put the things away, only putting them by the kitchen door, and went to find her. Everything seemed normal on the surface, apart from a nagging feeling, an instinct, telling me that something was out of place. She was there somewhere. I can still picture it now. I slowly pushed the door to her bedroom open so as not to make a sound in case she were asleep. It was a taboo place; I’d only seen it once before and couldn’t picture it, but this time I pushed the door right open, unaware of myself in my surprise. It was an austere room devoid of photos or paintings, entirely at odds with the rest of the apartment. There was a makeup table replete with mirror, a computer partially hidden away by a deep red, sequined cloth that looked like it came from the heart of India itself. A lone plant stood to lazy attention by the paned window and a single framed picture lounged on the bedside table. It struck me that, apart from a pink blouse slung across the back of the only chair in the room, there was no sign of any clothes, something which oddly and irrelevantly still puzzles me to this day. The bed was a simple one which dominated the room. It was clear it was a bed, a room for that matter, that was used exclusively for sleeping, a deeply private place that seemed as though it was used as a retreat to a quieter world. Looking around the room, attempting to reconcile the Charlotte I knew with what stood before me, I was initially unaware of the form curled up under the covers, hardly breathing. It dawned on me in an ice chill that froze its way up from the base of my spine to leave my scalp tingling and my mouth ajar. The silence now became complete as my lungs also solidified and my breathing virtually stopped. Sparse, muffled little gasps came from under the quilt. She was awake, I could feel it. But something was seriously wrong. ‘Charlie?’ I called to her softly, careful not to penetrate the membrane of sleep, in case that were in fact with what she was enveloped. I called again but to no response, moving me to encircle the bed to check up on her. She stopped me in my tracks. She was awake, breathing quietly. Staring vacantly with brilliant blue eyes into the space between her and the wall. It was a look of the mentally ill, a look of despair, a look I knew by proxy. I’d worn it myself not so very long ago, when I lost my Claire. It was a look we wore. We, the losers in life’s game. It wasn’t intended for Charlotte, it didn’t fit her features. Her face was made for movement and light, laughter and love, care and righteous indignation, not the dark blank stare of hopelessness. I said her name again, softly, no doubt sounding more concerned than the panic I secretly felt. Nothing. Unable to help myself, I lifted my hand, and stroked her perfect cheek with the back of my finger, making only the faintest of contact with her skin.
Her eyes closed.
She turned her head downwards. Tears welled. Told of the torture as they furrowed their way down to drip off the delicate chin. I dropped my voice and gently took my time coaxing her back to the realm of here and now. Finally, she looked up at me for an instant. Her eyes met mine and I knew. I just knew. This wasn’t about What. This was about Who. This was pain at someone, that someone had caused. My mind raced. Who could it be? What’s happened? Corpuscles fired inside my head, ticking off the list of possible candidates. Parents both healthy, sister also fine. What else? What else? Who could it be…?
Then it dawned on me. This was a man.
This was Max.
I didn’t even need to ask. I just said his name.
Near imperceptible nod.
My world stopped.
Making people happy...?
Could it really be that simple?
Charlotte, surprisingly, found her purpose. It had been there all along, but before she had seen deathâ€™s face, she had never taken the time to truly peer into the nature of life. The indissoluble connection between humankind and the individual person, between the potential, rationality, and aspirations of the human race as a whole and the transitory part of it that we know as me. That the purpose of life is to achieve fulfillment. That the purpose of life is the same for all people. To pursue happiness. That this is a natural desire which all of humankind share. That there are just two aspects to achieving fulfilment. The first involving the fulfillment of potential. The second involving living a good, a moral life. A life which is of benefit to all of humankind and does no harm.
Something so simple.
There is nothing more than that.
For the first time, cracks began to appear in Max’s self-justifying, self-centred self-assurance. The first fissure came in the act of procreation itself. Charlotte was different from the other women he’d conquered. There was an innocence there, a childlike trust and needing nature that is exceptionally rare, exceptionally pure. One thing stuck in his mind, circling around and around, impossible to dislodge. It was the way she’d clung to him, so gently, so soft. She had such a tender way of holding onto his fingers, almost like a baby would, that gave a direct insight into her soul. Such a fragile being. He could still feel the meek pleading of her touch long after. It came back to him, again and again, constantly reminding him of the sincere naïveté that he’d knowingly taken advantage of. He didn’t see the tears, didn’t hear the crying, didn’t answer the phone. With most of the women, this allowed him to push them entirely from his thoughts, leaving him free, free of responsibility, free of guilt. Charlotte, however, Charlotte stayed with him like a lingering perfume. As usual, he’d gone back to his wife with an excuse practised and rehearsed to the point where he himself believed it. He first imagined what he could quite conceivably have been doing instead, and pictured himself doing it so vigorously that it became real. When he told her where he’d been there was no trace of doubt, no shifting of the eyes. It simply wasn’t true that he’d been in bed with another woman. Reality had been brushed over by a trained imagination that had no compunction in lying to a loving wife. She looked into his eyes, deep into his eyes with a warm smile and told him she loved him. Loved him and trusted him. Told him she knew he wouldn’t lie to her, wouldn’t hurt her, wouldn’t abuse her trust. She looked at him in such a loving way, she believed him completely. He smiled back, told her of course he wouldn’t lie to her either.
Nietzsche’s Last Man
He went into the bedroom alone, melancholy, sober tears streaming down his face. The silence of the room pierced his gut, making him sick. Why? He was utterly shocked at himself. This wasn’t meant to happen. How could he be crying at something he was now so accomplished at? Why should he be upset at just another woman, just another average, simple, mindless individual? He undertook to examine himself once more. What was this feeling that was making him so imbalanced, so ill?
He was incredulous. Guilt!
He, who was supposed to be above it all, pushing himself onward, lifting himself above the shallow masses, able to see beyond their narrow horizons, he was feeling bad, as though he’d done something wrong.
There are no absolute “wrongs”!
Or were thereâ€Ś? If there are no absolute wrongs, if my actions arenâ€™t wrong, then how can I possibly feel guilty? Why do I feel so bad? Yes, I cheated, I know I did. I have done it countless times before. So why now? Because of Charlotte? Because of her innocence? Or because of my wife and her complete confidence in me? Oh god, I do love my wife... Such a beautiful woman. So intelligent. Such a perfect smile that comes right from the heart. Such a good mother. I do love her. With all my heart. And Charlotte, so sweet and kind. In genuine need of support and I left her heartbroken. There was something special about that woman. She showed such forgiveness, such a willingness to put the past behind her. She takes such joy from life and finds such happiness in simple pleasures. Her happiness, though so complete in its simplicity, seems such a fragile thing. Hers is not a personaility smelted in the fires of pain. Hers is natural, as though grown from seed and carefully nurtured to blossoming, making it colourful and bright. She is an embodiment of life itself, of something pure and untouched by complex theories or schemes of a utopian world.
Nietzsche’s Last Man
The irony of it. It was her very simplicity that made me reject her. Too unexceptional to be attractive. She’s conservative, traditional and boring, shaped by a post-industrial world that churns out so many of the faceless individuals of our age. An unthinking consumerism, a polite middle class nationalism, TV and mortgages and retirement funds. Yet there is something else. There’s the fact that none of this is her fault. Does it give me the right to use her for my own satisfaction because she swallows whole what is fed to her? Something here doesn’t fit. If my philosophy is the true description of reality, there’s no way I could feel so ashamed. How can this be in accordance with my nature if it feels so bad? This feeling is original. It must be because it’s come directly from within. I thought I was better than this. I thought I was above it. Perhaps I’m not. Perhaps I’m just a man after all. I can pity her, yes, but Nietzsche, no, you are wrong. Others’ normality does not give me the right to abuse them. How is this anything other than a justification for megalomania?!?
Perhaps I have been misled. My feelings tell me that the bigger, the stronger, the fitter should protect those below them. We are, after all, members of the same species. Perhaps survival of the fittest is a motto of ages gone by. Perhaps we are all the same.
Perhaps we are one.
One people. One purpose.
Perhaps we are one.
hree lives. Three perspectives on life. One unthinking, living the life of the Last Man. Two divergent, careening off in opposite directions after peering into the existential abyss of ultimate meaninglessness. What is the best way to live? A question we all face. Is ignorance bliss? Or is there a better way? A way to construct meaning in void, a way to find fulfillment in an empty universe. We are all human. Inescapably so. None of us can live alone. Like it or not, our fulfillment is fundamentally dependent on others. Our fulfillment, our happiness, is dependent on our humanity. And the sooner we realise that, the closer we step towards fulfillment. I was once lost. Lost because I had lost my meaning, lost my reason for being. Lost the love of my life. And then I lost the woman who had saved me. Along the way, though, I learned something crucial from her. Fulfillment is a state of mind, and the potential for fulfillment lies within all of us. Not dependent on riches, not dependent on power, but dependent on others. On doing good for others. On sharing with others. On helping and caring for others. And on doing what you can for others. Nietzsche corrupted me and, with God dead, I wandered alone until I found my value - and my values - in humanism. A long journey, a difficult journey, but purpose tempered in fire burns more brightly than one handed down. It has been long, wandering, and arduous, but, trust me, the destination is bright and indescribably beautiful. With that, I finally felt that I had a story to tell. I do hope you take something from it.
With love and respect,
Published on Mar 14, 2011
We live in an age of intellectual freedom. The cliché runs: “With freedom comes responsibility”. What is not mentioned is that with freedom...