Friday, September 29, 2017

Magnitudes of Finitude

Zeno’s paradox might be rephrased as slow and steady wins the race. But have you ever pondered magnitudes of finitude? For instance at the end of Achilles’ famous race with the tortoise, the distances become increasingly tiny, almost non-existent. In reality Achilles would have won, but under the mathematical or philosophical precept that Zeno invoked, Achilles can never win. From a profound point of view Zeno’s paradox exemplifies stoicism, since it invokes a form of stasis that flies in the face of the notion of so-called progress and gain. To hell with wanting more of everything faster. But one can also look at the few moments at the end of the race between Achilles and the tortoise as a metaphor. Age is inversely proportionate to finitude, as the amount of life remaining to any individual decreases with each passing year. In youth life seems eternal and almost infinite, thus the expression youth is wasted on the young. But how does one countenance  a changed state of affairs where life could end next week or next year? Do you behave exactly the same as you would if you had all of life ahead of you? Of course no one is immune from finitude. Anyone can be struck down at any moment. But from an actuarial point of view your chances of oblivion are always on the rise. With each passing day, do you still run the business the same? Are your moral imperatives unchanging? Or do you decide to dispense with all the formalities and devote the rest of your life to the satiation of every wish and desire you’ve ever had? That’s the dilemma  confronting, Wantanabe, the hero of Kurosawa’s Ikiru (To Live, l952)-- who's dying of cancer? In an early Walpurgisnacht he throws himself into hedonism, but then at the end of the movie he makes a turn around, devoting himself to helping others. In the last scene which is one of the most touching in the history of cinema, the dying man sits on a swing in a park he has created for children, as it snows. To call Wantanabe a stoic, is an understatement. 

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