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Face_of_the_Water's avatar

What do you think this Nietzsche quote means?

Asked by Face_of_the_Water (54 points ) October 3rd, 2010

“If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you”

I’ve often heard people attempt to relate this quote to a situation in which a particular person devotes their life to fighting an evil and the evil ends up influencing and corrupting them. I’m not sure if that particular explanation quite conveys the full meaning of the quote, though.

Do you have any ideas?

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16 Answers

BarnacleBill's avatar

It’s also in the lyrics of a song by Dawes

I construe it to mean that that when you face death, death faces you. There is no escaping the unknown of dying. No one knows for sure what happens after death. Eventually you have to come to terms with that.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It’s how God was invented. People gave a name (and human, animal and plant characteristics) and motives, and ascribed action and cause to the Abyss.

Coloma's avatar

The usual, existential dread. lol

It can only be expressed in just so many ways.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Winters's avatar

it’s taken out of context way too often. the actual quote is “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.”

It’s a warning to not become that very thing we fight, struggle against.

crisw's avatar

This statement is a recurring theme of the `Harry Bosch detective novels by Michael Connelly.

Bosch is an LA detective who sees the dark underbelly of life far too often. As Winters implies, he fears becoming too much like what he hunts.

palerider's avatar

if you stare at (contemplate) it long enough it will take on a life of itself and then have the ability to consume you. like if you sit alone self-absorbed in your own pity, or stay depressed and solitary too long it will overtake you, to the inevitable conclusion. suicide.

mrrich724's avatar

I like what @palerider said

I think it could also mean that when faced with a trial, just being dumbfounded is not a solution because nothing will get done. I.E. the only thing that will happen is they abyss will stare back, nothing else.

Be productive. Also, what is the context in which the quote is used, that may provide insight into the meaning. Currently reading The Antichrist by the same author. Good read so far.

Symbeline's avatar

I think it means that shit is what you make of it, which I believe was his beef with organized religion, but I’d rather not be quoted.

wundayatta's avatar

When I first read this, I intuitively felt that it was about suicide. I went to look up how Nietzsche died. It seems that a year or so before his death, he went a bit crazy. They put him in several different places to try to help him get better. He died a year or so after he got sick, due to a series of strokes.

More recently, some doctors speculate that he was manic-depressive. I wouldn’t bet against that. When people with bipolar disorder are really depressed, and are thinking about suicide—that’s how if feels. You’re swamped in heavy darkness and your only hope, it seems, is death. You stare across that abyss and it stares back at you, neither warmly, nor coldly, but expectantly. “You want me?” It asks. “I’m right here.”

There is something desperately seductive about the thought of leaping into that particular abyss. If you stand on the edge, it’s as if your feet get a mind of their own. You can almost watch yourself, dispassionately, taking that last step. Death really doesn’t care one way or the other. Death isn’t a person. It is we who are staring ourselves in the face. That abyss is a mirror, and what it shows us is utter despair. It offers the only surety of surcease.

It would be interesting to know what happened during Nietzsche’s last year. If he felt as bad as I’m guessing he felt, he was grateful for the strokes.

Winters's avatar

well, he did have incestuous tendencies as well.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@wundayatta that feeling is there for non-depressives as well. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve stood at the tops of tall buildings (because I’m in a business where we build tall buildings) and just ‘thought about’ going over the edge. Never with any actual intent to do that… but the thought is still there.

filmfann's avatar

It reminds me of the line about cows standing by a lake, drinking their reflections.

Nietzsche is always a difficult and multilayered quagmire. Studying him is like staring into the abyss.

cazzie's avatar

Part of Herman Melville’s plot in Moby Dick. I don’t think the abyss is death. I think it represents our pursuits, be it an endeavour to figure out a problem, or conquer something, or perfect something, and if we obsess over it, it will rule us in ways we lose control over. He’s trying to warn us to NOT stare too long into it, lest it run and ruin our lives.

wundayatta's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I’ve done that one as well. It isn’t the same.

kitszu's avatar

“The Abyss” is our Shadow Self ; in essence any aspect of ourselves we can’t comfortably access under normal circumstances…not opposite but parallel, our “dark passenger” (from Dexter); if we dwell too long on it, eventually it will gain its own awareness of us, play Chess with it too long and it will consume you…

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