The phrase “struggle without a telos” is from Michael Roth, instructor of the modern/postmodern class from Wesleyan University, and is a summation of Darwin’s thought. Roth is a great teacher, and part of his brilliance is in articulating such phrases. Here is a quotation from one of his lectures on Freud:
[Freud] wants to escape the pursuit of consolation through ideals…. There is no objective certainty about who you really are and what you really desire. All there is is this inquiry into how the past has led you to have the desires you have and led you to make the compromises within those desires that you are currently making.
The phrase “escape the pursuit of consolation through ideals”, like “struggle without telos” endlessly inspires me. For this is the situation we modern Nietzscheans are in – we who are not capable of experiencing the comfort of a personal god, we who see no evidence of the eternal soul, we who believe that it is precisely because this all too brief blossom is all (we can know that) we have – because of this, it is imperative to strive for excellence, create beauty, foster love, diligently build (rebuild) the ideal of civilization. I have often been told by believers that they cannot imagine a motive for any of these things without the certainty of God and eternal life. Yet, for me, this very lack of certainty is why these things are of vital importance. They tell me that the highest form of love is universal love, a love that can only come from their God. I recall that they can find no justification for this love without their God, and also find that I am in accord with Freud, who wrote in Civilization and its Discontents that
A love that does not discriminate seems to me to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object; secondly, not all men are worthy of love.
Likewise, I find “unconditional love” to be a chimera, for the simple reason that love, in relationships, begins with a selfish need. One may very well have an overpowering feeling that one is capable of showing love, but one does not seek a lover solely because of the overpowering need to give one’s love away. It is the love that one needs and wants too that drives one out. The beginning of a relationship too is suffused with selfishness. One does not know the other well enough yet to get to anything resembling selflessness. This not knowing is the romantic period of the relationship, and many couples break up long before familiarity with the other becomes deeply developed. They never come to understand that romance is based on ignorance of the other, and therefore can only be satisfied by novelty – by moving on to the next lover. Only when deep familiarity with one person occurs is it possible to know the love expressed in the Beatles song: “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” There may come a time when it is more important to give than to receive, when one will lay down one’s life for another, but this only comes with time and diligence. And how can you ever be completely sure that you continue to love the other only because of the things they do for you, that should they stop doing them you’d stop loving them just as assuredly?
Funny, when these notes began I hadn’t intended on writing about love, but about something completely different. I hadn’t planned on revealing that when I was twenty-one years old, I considered ending my life. It was just too fucking difficult. Life was more pain than pleasure, with a good chance of more pain to come. A few years earlier I had lost my faith in a personal God. I had no prospects and no hopes for an afterlife. When I decided not to go through with suicide, I realized that deciding to survive was not enough. I had always been tormented by those zombies around me who seemed to have stopped growing at a certain age, and now were merely existing from meal to meal. I had to improve. This striving for health I called persisting, and understanding that a creative life required the discarding of outmoded forms and ideas, my motto became Persist or Destroy. I packed one suitcase, hopped on a bus, left the little town of my birth, and never looked back.
Today that motto strikes me as youthful and potentially dangerous, that if the individual finds himself failing to persist in a satisfying manner, then suicide is always an option. True, I’d be the last to claim that I have persisted in a remarkable way, and my greatest fear has always been mediocrity – the slow, unselfconscious slide into self-satisfaction. But I also have to admit that I no longer allow myself the comfort of suicide as an option. This, while a mellower existence, might also be a more dangerous way to live. “Struggle without telos” achieves its deepest meaning here: living without god, living without despair, and still, despite all the evidence to the contrary, striving toward health.