An Antinatalist confession in Eugène Ionesco’s novel THE HERMIT

With THE HERMIT (1973), Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994) has presented a fascinating book in which the handed-down Gnostic world feeling at one point shades off into modern antinatalism.

„I had been born bowed down with grief. The universe seemed to me a kind of enormous cage, or rather a big prison… There was a crowd of prisoners, and as far as I could tell most of them were unaware of their condition.“

Nietzsche (1844-1900) had famously questioned man’s ability to sympathize declaiming:
„Thus the value of life for ordinary, everyday man is based only on his taking himself to be more important than the world. The great lack of fantasy from which he suffers keeps him from being able to empathize with other beings, and he therefore participates in their vicissitudes and suffering as little as possible. On the other hand, whoever would be truly able to participate in it would have to despair about the value of life; if he were able to grasp and feel mankind’s overall consciousness in himself, he would collapse with a curse against existence–for mankind, as whole, has no goals and consequently, considering the whole affair, man cannot find his comfort and support in it, but rather his despair.“ (Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human)

The protagonist of the novel THE HERMIT is such a person who carries the world upon his shoulders:
“I had the feeling that I was bearing within me all the fear and anxiety of billions of human beings, the malaise of the entire human race.”

The protagonist is afflicted with a disease against which there is no cure: metaphysical anxiety:
“There have been billions of people born into this world, and each has been saddled with the universal anxiety. Each one, like Atlas, has had to support the full weight of the world as though he or she were all alone…”

Apart from metaphysical anxiety, however, Ionesco’s hero is knows the pain of birth and of dying behind and ahead of him:
“Born in horror and pain, I also live in horrible dread of the end, the exit. I’m caught in an incredible, inadmissible, infernal trap, between two frightful events.”

He also has gained insight into what one may call our bionomic base-stratum:
„We are acted upon; we do not act. I think I’m eating for myself. Actually, I’m eating out of my instinct for self-preservation. I think that I love and that I’m making love for myself, but I’m only obeying the laws which control me, I am simply acting to perpetuate the species.”

All these observations culminate in an antinatalist confession of the Protagonist:
„I ought to start a family. I should have children. Man is made to have children, and there is nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then / when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it the most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me.“
“The very idea of fathering Cain filled me with panic. What a stupid idea, I said to myself in my darker moments, wanting to start it all over again just when we’re almost at the end, when it’s so easy to have done with it.“

In spite of his clairvoyant insights into the condition inhumana Ionesco does not talk of parental guilt when it comes to answering the question of why there are so many people out there who feel ill at ease:
“I became aware of my malaise. It’s true, I said to myself, since the day I was born I’ve always been ill at ease, uncomfortable. Why?”
„And then all of a sudden, unexpectedly as it always is when it leaps upon me, suddenly the idea that I’m going to die. I shouldn’t be afraid of death, since I don’t know what death is, and besides, haven’t I said that I ought to give in and not fight it? To no avail. […] Each of the billions of people on the face of the earth is filled with such fear… / Why was that? What caused it?“

The answer to this question obviously resides in this observation: Because your parents acted in such a way that you began to exist.
Whereby, because of ever more antinatalist enlightenment, today’s parents load far more parental-guilt upon themselves than at the time of Ionesco.

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