A Philosophical Discussion
Idealist: We are gathered here to solve the Mystery of Life, no less!
Nihilist: We are thrown here to discuss Nothing, no more!
Idealist: Then the discussion has already begun.
Nihilist: Long before we arrived, and without our consent.
Idealist: Let us persist, then. Will everyone please state their position in one word?
Idealist: That’s a hyphenated word.
Nihilist: ‘Hyphenated’ then is my word of choice – divided, neither here nor there: nowhere.
Optimist: I say ‘hopeful’.
Pessimist: I ‘hopeless’.
Optimist: Can‘t we discuss something more uplifting?
Pessimist: I thought the reason we’re here is to discuss Life.
Nihilist: There’s no reason why we’re here.
Idealist: Then let us create one!
Pessimist: It’s hopeless. We’ve tried many times before, and only failed.
Optimist: That’s no reason not to try again. Life is, after all, only one long trial to overcome.
Pessimist: No. Life is only one long protracted error…
A mellifluous Voice is heard from no discernible source:
Voice: You are both wrong – just as you are both right. Life is neither trial nor error alone. Need I remind you that none of you are in any position to take any positions against Life?
All: Who are you?
Voice: You don’t know? You all speak of me with such confidence, and yet you don’t recognize my voice? Have you grown so accustomed to speaking of me behind my back that you don’t recognize my face?
Nihilist: Whoever you are, you seem to be forgetting that you were not invited.
Voice: You should not always speak so quickly. It is not for you to invite me. It is you who are my guests.
Idealist: You are certainly welcome to join us, as your presence will no doubt make for a richer discussion. And while it is good of you to think of us as your guests, in truth, it is we who are the hosts here.
Voice: I do not doubt that you think so. But in fact, your good intentions have done me more harm than the malicious lies of others. Yet, I forgive you, for you know me the least of all.
Idealist: I’m sorry to say that I do not know you. As a matter of principle, I do not pass judgment on those I do not know.
Voice: It is true that you do not know me. Yet, truly, you think you do. As for not passing judgment on those you do not know, you invent far too much to ever know things as they are.
Idealist: What’s wrong with aspiring to climb higher?
Voice: Absolutely nothing, provided you realize when you’ve climbed past the mountain top and are standing on thin air.
Nihilist: Peaks and valleys, they’re all the same to me: they do not exist. There’s only the thin air. Bitterly cold, thin air, howling through an eternal night.
Voice: How like the Idealist you are – how you exaggerate! Neither of you can avoid substituting part of the truth for the whole. Still, you are the more dangerous. It’s true the Idealist does me some harm when he shuts his eyes; but you do me even more when you open yours. What he creates, you destroy. And you do not stop there. You also destroy what already exists. Blind in one eye, you obstinately shut the other and claim to describe what you see with your ‘open’ eye! But, you only describe the shadows, and not the Light that casts them.
Pessimist: Granted the Nihilist exaggerates – but don’t the shadows sometimes loom larger than those who cast them? And don’t gray clouds often blot out the bright light of the sun?
Voice: Yes, ‘sometimes’, and ‘often’.
Optimist: Yet shadows do not occupy space, and clouds come and go. Isn’t that enough grounds to dismiss them altogether?
Voice. Yes, if you can dismiss ideas on the same grounds.
Idealist: What are we to do?
Voice: (musing) I do not know myself – I change too often. Simple, serious and severe one moment, complex, reckless or even playful the next. (Exclaiming) Learn to ride a wild animal, I say! Then you will know what it means to be flexible and firm simultaneously. And now, I must leave. If ever you wish to summon me, you have only to speak all at once, and you shall hear my voice once more.
Nihilist: No! You must not leave until you’ve confessed your most awful secret.
Voice: Now you want me to stay? Well, you have piqued my curiosity. Tell me, which of my ‘most awful’ secrets are you referring to?
Nihilist: The secret against whose hardness my most bitter scorn seems like a child’s sweet innocence: Nothingness!
Voice: I confess Nothing.
Idealist: What are you two saying? I hope you’re not suggesting that one live without hope?
Nihilist: No, only without illusions.
Idealist: I do not blush before the naked beauty of Universal Truth!
Nihilist: You should! Universal Truth is a worldwide lie. It’s a cover-up for Universal Absurdity.
Idealist: That’s absurd! What do you propose I do with Nothing?
Voice: Create. You can all create out of Nothing. (To the Idealist) Build towering sandcastles, if you must; but be careful that you do not build another Tower of Babel. Build Life-size, and with your eyes on the Sea.
Nihilist: And knock down what you’ve built before the Sea does.
Voice: It’s best not to flirt with disaster, lest it decide to commit.
Idealist: But what of enlightenment?
Nihilist: What of it? Of what use is being enlightened in an entirely darkened world?
Optimist: What, then, of the ravishing music of Life? What is there to be suspicious of about that?
Pessimist: The music itself! It’s the soundtrack to a game of musical chairs. Always moving from one seat to the next – round and round, up and down, with never a moment’s rest. And for what? Only to have the music stop abruptly, and to find yourself standing alone.
Optimist: Except for the winner. They always remain seated. One can hope – no, pray – to be a winner.
Pessimist: In a game of constant unrest and mistrust there can be no winners. Our only hope, if there is any at all, is to pray for an early release based on good behavior.
Nihilist: You pray, and Chance decides. As for the minority of winners whom Chance favors, what’s next for them? Still Nothingness. Life is too set in her ways to change for anyone. She is indifferent to everything.
Idealist: The Music, the Dance of Life, these are certain. The End, too. But, not the After. That must remain an uncertainty to look forward to.
Nihilist: No. The After must remain a too-late uncertainty.
Idealist: Even should you die and go to Heaven?
Nihilist: I don’t expect as much. It is enough to die. That to me is Heaven: the end of meaningless suffering, the only ever-lasting peace. Blessed are the unborn, and cursed are the rest.
Optimist: Enough! Where has the Voice gone?
Pessimist: It has left us to ourselves.
You can view more art by Agostino Arrivabene, here.