Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation

Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation

An illustration from Jules Verne’s essay “Edgard Poë et ses oeuvres” (Edgar Poe and his Works,1862) drawn by Frederic Lix or Yan’ Dargent.


How many of you have encountered the experience of nihilism, as in the experience of total skepticism of any meaning concerning life and existence? Have you yet peered into the yawning abyss of nothingness, that your life means nothing, that the world and its laws and moralities mean nothing, that there is no objective basis for truth? According to Nietzsche, if you are to be transformed from a mediocre member of the masses into a fully individuated human, then the encounter with nihilism is a dire necessity. Nietzsche writes,

Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a “meaning” in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the “in vain,” insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure–being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long…Thus, disappointment regarding an alleged aim of becoming as a cause of nihilism: whether regarding a specific aim or, universalized, the realization that all previous hypotheses about aims that concern the whole “evolution” are inadequate (man no longer the collaborator, let alone the center, of becoming) (Nietzsche 12).


Nihilism is a transitional stage in the process of overcoming oneself. Many times, the thinker will arrive at the edge of the Maelstrom (Poe’s metaphor, not Nietzsche’s) after deciding that all is meaningless. The Maelstrom makes one giddy, its potency is overwhelming, its possibility incomprehensible. Frightened by the roaring, gyrating turmoil, most turn away, commit suicide, or live the remainder of their lives in torment. What they don’t understand is that the Maelstrom is a means of transformation. Nietzsche referred to this form of nihilism as “passive nihilism.” The “active” nihilist is the one who recognizes the Maelstrom as an avenue to greater things, to be what one is meant to be in the earth. One must, with all abandon, leap into the whirling vortex of energy! This is the overcoming of nihilism. Yes, it is extremely dangerous, but the value of what you will become is overwhelmingly richer than the danger that ensues.

This quote from Edgar Allan Poe is powerful:

It may look like boasting — but what I tell you is truth — I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man’s mind in such extremity — and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed (A Descent Into the Maelstrom, by Edgar Allan Poe).

The Maelstrom possesses a certain hypnotic appeal that is not easily ignored. This is the call of the Anima Mundi, an invitation to be metamorphosed from mediocrity to remarkability. The soul’s primary purpose in existence is to bring all animaterial entities, not to a static state of completion, but to a dynamic state of continual metamorphosis. This is the secret of the earth. We are here to meet our amazing destinies, but we must will it to be so. This is the will to power.

You might ask, “Isn’t this just more idealism?” No. These are earth-processes, entirely endemic to this natural world. All that we require to be remarkable human beings is here in this world, our home. There is no need to posit any other world, i.e. a metaphysical world, as the cause of this world. Our destiny is here. So, go ahead and take the leap! 

Works Cited

The Will to Power. Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kauffman and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1967.

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