Let’s pretend, for a moment, that when you go to bed tonight, a demon will slip through your window cracks. This demon will creep up to the side of your bed and he will whisper in your ear, “Your entire life will endlessly repeat itself. Every event you experience and every action you take will occur again. They will occur exactly as they did before and in the exact same sequence.” Fiendish cackles will sound as he dematerializes from your presence and leaves you alone to mull over newly imparted knowledge. The demon has a name—Nietzsche—and is one of the most important philosophers of the 19thcentury. The bit of knowledge he will whisper in your ear? “Eternal Recurrence” is Nietzsche’s pet name for it. It may sound useless to you. You may be thinking to yourself, “Self, what the hell am I supposed to do with ‘Eternal Recurrence’?” The answer to your question? Get your shit together, that’s what. If that explanation doesn’t make complete sense to you—and frankly, it shouldn’t—then allow me to demonstrate.
First things first: Nietzsche wasn’t being literal about the Eternal Recurrence. Metaphors, aphorisms, and all kinds of literary devices were all the rage back in his day. Life—specifically your life—will not be permanently stuck on repeat in an actual sense. But… what if it was? And what if you knew about it? How would feel about that knowledge? If the thought of reliving your life indefinitely terrifies you, then some life-changes are in order. For those of you who aren’t terrified by the prospect of Eternal Recurrence, don’t think you’re off the hook. Just because it didn’t terrify you doesn’t mean we’re done here. Terrifying doesn’t even begin to cover what my boy Nietzsche and I are about to drop on you. We’ve got an even better question: How should you feel about Eternal Recurrence? Are you wasting time? Are you squandering away your precious life here on earth? Salivating like Pavlov’s dog at the thought of leveling up on whatever trivial video game currently occupies the disc tray? Maybe it’s not video games. Just replace the words “video game” with your preferred method of pissing time away (and before you bite my head off for being a self-righteous prick, you should know that I am just as guilty as you are). On the surface it might not seem so bad. You might say to yourself, “Self, I’d be just fine living this life over and over again. In fact, I’d be happier than parrot with a cracker.” Nietzsche thinks you wouldn’t be quite as content as you’d like to think. For instance, this world is filled with infinite injustice, and chances are some of it pisses you off. Good. It should. So why are you content to just let it happen while passing time? Do something about it like the good little revolutionary you can be.
This is where another one of Nietzsche’s favorite concepts, the übermensch, comes into play. Nietzsche is never perfectly clear about the übermensch. Many different interpretations of this core concept in Nietzsche’s philosophy exist and all of them possess some degree of validity. Some believe that his übermensch was the next step in the humanity’s evolution. Some think of the übermensch as simply an exceptional individual who stands above the rest. There are numerous other theories, but we haven’t the time for such digressions. Nietzsche does, however, make one thing clear: if you think you aren’t capable of something, the übermensch is. The übermensch is to humans what humans are to monkeys. So how does this help you on your path from becoming a pathetic do-nothing to a revolutionary or someone who at least participates in world-changing activities? Or at least someone who works to further their own dreams?
Think of the übermensch as the future-you who is superior to the current-you. I’ll admit, that kind of sounds like bullshit, but hang with me, it’s not. Somewhere on the face of this little blue ball some exceptionally ambitious homo sapiens who want to be first people to step foot on Mars. Sure, that’s dangerous, physically taxing, and could very likely get them killed, but for these exceptionally ambitious individuals, even death is preferable to staying on Earth. They will better themselves every day of their lives and in the process become versions of themselves (the übermenschen) which are superior to their past selves (unexceptional, timid humans). Which is superior, millions of people looking up at Mars dreaming about what it’s like, or the few who have taken it upon themselves to go there? These are übermensch: the vanguards of human progress. But it isn’t enough to simply touch down on Mars. Being an übermensch requires perpetual self-reformation and a commitment to the future. So you want a revolution, but could use some motivation? Look towards Eternal Recurrence to understand what actions, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors to leave behind, and look towards the übermensch to envision where you can push forward.
5 thoughts on “What the eff is Eternal Recurrence?”
This is really good and offers a way to read Star Wars VII in terms of how it fits in with the preceding narrative using both eternal recurrence and the ubermensch
This is so well written! thanks a lot
Do you really think you have a choice we have no more choice than the spider.THere was choice once now you’re livening that choice you made so very long ago.Now recurrence is your fate
So am I wrong in my sudden realization that Groundhogs Day with bill Murray is about applying this concept of eternal recurrence to your life? Was this intended by the writer? And does this mean that Bill Murray is the ubermensch?