Mä phynai (μὴ φῦναι)

That imprecation cast upon existence which has become a topos par excellence spanning all the epochs of human culture takes the form of the lament: “Oh would that I had never been born!” (in Ancient Greek:  μὴ φῦναι / mä phynai[1]). This exclamation, recorded in many different cultural documents, implies, in the first place, a symbolic rescission of each individual’s respective having-come-into-the-world (>Rescission of Conception). But, since the person uttering such an exclamation had necessarily to have already been born in order to utter it, we have to do here with a nativistic-performative self-contradiction. This nativistic-performative self-contradiction “Oh would that I had never been born!” evokes the question: “But what, then, ought to have become of you instead of being born?” Let us sort through the various conceivable responses to this question. If our lives, in every case, began in fact not with our birth (>Birthdays: the Lie We Choose to Live By) but rather months before that as a foetus, the demand that one “never be born” might have been satisfied in one of three ways:  

  1. It would have been better to remain in utero. Prophets, thinkers and poets such as Jeremiah or >Rousseau (1712–1778) have discussed this remaining in utero as the better option.

  2. It would have been better if my coming into the world had been prevented by the aborting of that embryonic organism that was eventually to become me (>Oh would that I had been aborted).

  3. It would have been better if my mother had suffered a miscarriage (>Biblical Antinatalism >Job).

[1] Peter Jacob (in his book ‘Lieber Herr Grünberg. Oder vom Glück, nicht geboren zu sein’) raises, without giving any conclusive answer to it, the question of whether the dictum ought not rather to run mä genesthai. Nor do we offer any conclusive answer to this question here.

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