Our Splendid, Atrocious, Enigmatic World

In the final analysis, the world is perhaps splendid, it is often atrocious, but it is especially enigmatic. Admiration can become astonishment, stupefaction, even terror. Lucretius, speaking about the vision of nature that Epicurus revealed to him, cries out: ‘At this spectacle, a sort of divine pleasure and a quiver of terror seize me.’ These are indeed the two components of our relation to the world, both divine pleasure and terror … This sacred quiver that humans feel, according to Goethe’s Faust, before the enigmatic character of reality is ‘the best part of humanity,’ because it is an intensification of the awareness that we have of the world. The moderns, that is Schelling, Goethe, Nietzsche, von Hofmannsthal, Rilke … and also Merleau-Ponty, have expressed better, and perhaps felt better, than the Ancients what is strange and mysterious in the existence of the world. One does not produce this sacred quiver, but on the rare occasions that it itakes hold of one, one must not attempt to remove oneself from it, because one must have the courage to confront the inexpressible mystery of existence.

- Pierre Hadot, The Present Alone is Our Happines