Last week, our e-newsletter asked people a simple question:
Who’s your favorite nihilist?
The question might seem like a strange one to the uninformed, but if you’ve been reading in the past week, you know that the main character of Fathers and Sons, Bazarov, is an avowed nihilist. Nihilism is officially defined (thanks, Webster) as “the idea that traditional values and belief systems have no inherent worth, and that existence in general is pointless.” Bazarov presents this definition with a political twist: as traditional values and beliefs have no inherent worth, he suggests abandoning them in favor of massive social and political reform. (As Robin Goldberg mentioned earlier this week, mid-19th century Russia was considered by much of Europe to be a once-great nation in steep decline.)
It’s a heroic concept, really
At any rate, we asked members of our email list if they would share their favorite nihilists with us, in exchange for the chance at free tickets. We figured we’d share a few of their favorites with you, as well. (Think you’ve got something better? Share them in the comments…)
Favorite Fictional Nihilist:
Mersault, from Camus’ The Stranger
By far the most-nominated character…though Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was also a pretty strong favorite.
Favorite Nihilist Who Probably Can’t Really Be Called a Nihilist
(because he was written centuries before the phrase was coined):
The title character of The Scottish Play (EmStage’s offices are backstage of the Greene, after all) got a surprising number of nominations, each of them referencing this soliloquy as proof:
Favorite Nihilists Portrayed in Non-Mainstream Media:
Ulquiorra Cifer, from the manga and anime series Bleach (at right) — is actually an embodiment of nihilism itself, and refuses to accept any statement of value that he cannot prove with his own senses.
The Comedian/Edward Blake from the graphic novel Watchmen — started out as a superhero, but grew disenchanted. Now sees the world as a “cruel joke” and suggests that he does bad things partially because no one else ever tries to stop him.
Favorite Nihilist Moment (tie):
The suicide note from Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place:”
“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”
This paragraph from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:
But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.”
(Actually, point of debate: Nietzsche believed that it was impossible for the human mind to exist without ascribing meaning and values to otherwise neutral items. He did, however, feel it was important that people be aware of whether they were choosing their own interpretations, or thoughtlessly accepting the interpretations of others.)
Sisyphus, from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus — a man sentenced to a useless, endless task who still manages to find meaning and happiness in his work.
Thanks to everyone who submitted their favorite nihilists. We look forward to seeing you all at Fathers and Sons next week!