Fear Inlandish: Piece VII

” I will not walk backward in life “.


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Despair is “The Sickness unto Death.”

The concept of the sickness unto death must be understood, however,

in a peculiar sense.

Literally it means a sickness the end and outcome

of which is death.

Thus one speaks of a mortal sickness as synonymous

with a sickness unto death. In this sense despair cannot be called the

sickness unto death.

For death is doubtless the last phase of the sickness, but death is not the last thing.

If in the strictest sense we are to speak of a sickness unto death, it

must be one in which the last thing is death, and death the last thing.

And this precisely is despair.

Yet in another and still more definite sense despair is the sickness unto

death. It is indeed very far from being true that, literally understood,

one dies of this sickness, or that this sickness ends with bodily death.

On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely this, not to be able

to die So it has much in common with the situation of the moribund

when he lies and struggles with death, and cannot die.

So to be sick unto death is, not to be able to die — yet not as though there were

hope of life; no the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope,

death, is not available.

When death is the greatest danger,

one hopes for life;

but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful


one hopes for death.

So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope,

despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die.

It is in this last sense that despair is the sickness unto death, this

agonizing contradiction, this sickness in the self, everlastingly to die, to

die and yet not to die, to die the death.

For dying means that it is all over,

but dying the death means to live to experience death;

and if for a single instant this experience is possible,

it is tantamount to experiencing it forever.

If one might die of despair as one dies of a

sickness, then the eternal in him, the self, must be capable of dying in

the same sense that the body dies of sickness.

But this is an


the dying of despair transforms itself constantly into a living.

The despairing man cannot die; no more than “the dagger can slay thoughts”

can despair consume the eternal thing, the self,

which is the ground of despair, whose worm dieth not, and whose fire is not


Yet despair is precisely self-consuming, but it is an impotent self-consumption

which is not able to do what it wills;

and this impotence is a new form of self-consumption, in which again,

however, the despairer is not able to do what he wills,

namely, to consume himself.

This is despair raised to a higher potency, or it is the law for the potentiation.

This is the hot incitement, or the cold fire in despair,

the gnawing canker whose movement is constantly inward,

deeper and deeper, in impotent self-consumption.

The fact that despair does not consume him is so far from being any comfort to the despairing man that it is precisely the opposite,

this comfort is precisely the torment,

it is precisely this that keeps the gnawing pain alive and

keeps life in the pain.

This precisely is the reason why he despairs —

not to say despaired — because he cannot consume himself, cannot get

rid of himself, cannot become nothing.

This is the potentiated formula for despair, the rising of the fever in the sickness of the self.

A despairing man is in despair over something.

….More to come in Piece VIII