Why art thou there, moon, in the sky? Tell me,
Why art thou there, silent moon?
Leopardi drew inspiration for this lyric poem from the primeval poetic attitude of shepherds in Central Asia steppes. They spend the night sitting on a rock, looking at the moon, and improvising melancholic words about certain arias that are no less.
A primitive instinct, from a poor and illiterate folk, which denotes, however, the human universality of questions about existence.
Remodelled, among many, from Kierkegaard to Dostoevsky, from Nietzsche to Sartre, existentialism decisively soaked twentieth century’s culture from the twenties to the fifties and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time became a milestone.
Why am I here? What do I do now? Or as the poet questioned the moon: tell me: whither will my brief wandering lead?
If you read Heidegger without commentaries, you might find it a quicksand-like experience.
Being and Time is not a self-help book, but it’s difficult not to receive some inspiration from it.
In the Operette Morali, Leopardi juggled philosophical dialogues, intertwined between the most disparate characters: historical, fantastic or mythical ones. This time, the friendly duel could see the poet himself, faced by the German philosopher.
First thrust: the poet aims at the vital organs of his opponent; he asks the most agonizing question of all: a single, clean hit, he aims for a quick and painless victory. What’s the meaning of my life?
The opponent does not dodge; he parries the offense. Or rather, he embraces the thrust with his weapon, foils interweave themselves and he redirects the attack elsewhere. The key is not questioning the meaning of our being, but rather the sense of our being there.
The poet hesitates, puzzled. Likewise the reader-viewer.
The self is not an observing consciousness; the philosopher resumes his balance, he strengthens his position. The self is in the world. It is in necessary relationships with things and people; it is in a society and culture, enclosed by space and time.
Its motto is no longer “I think”, but I “take care of”: I search, I explore, I build something, I deal with.
Counterattack: it’s a clean lunge; it takes the impetus from the previous defence and it ends the action. A human being is cast into a particular place, time, and family not of their choosing, but he fortunately comes equipped with the capacities for speech and action.
And whip-over: relying on these, he can explore the possibilities he has here and build his sense of things. Part of his nature is questioning and exploring his surroundings, withstanding uncertainties, and yet affirming his identity.
Moreover, he discloses and shows himself in the world; he invests himself in there, with speech and action.
Given this, it would be impossible for a life not to have meaning.
End of the action. Laconic words, the distance between the two increases.
A stain or rather two. The pavement turns crimson.
Small gashes show up in the philosopher’s chain mail. The victory is not exhaustive.
The most natural way of being for a human is to exist as one among many, not to opt for a path of self-realisation or tough self-examination.
No one ever truly separates themselves from the “Das Man”: the communal or social voice. The impersonal “one” from the expression: “one must do so”, without ever really choosing.
Final counterattack: flèche. If this characterizes the inauthentic life, however, an alternative can be found. The authentic individual fully grasps their freedom to be master of their own Being, at least as far as the boundaries of space and time allow.
An appropriate response to life is throw ourselves into it, along the way coming to conclusions about what is real or true, separate from public opinion.
We are contingent creatures and we are more likely to live in a non-authentic way, subsuming ourselves in the communal routine.
Nature has given us birth in order to make us suffer and She is indifferent, the poet even said.
She makes us desire an infinite pleasure for extension and duration, but She does not give us the means to achieve it. We are meant for unhappiness.
However, there’s something else that links Leopardi and Heidegger in the beginning as well as and in the conclusion of their thoughts.
The recording of suffering, for the one, and the inexplicability of human life, for the other, evolves in exhortation to action.
The bushes of broom extend on the slopes of Vesuvius, Leopardi wrote. Flowers born by chance in that place, aware of their own irrelevance compared to the magnitude of Nature and yet that perfume and adorn a place chosen not by them. They get the most out of their possibilities, in the accidental space-time placement in which they are.
Likewise, Being and Time is a vein of passion about human possibility and the privilege of being, according to which man is a “project thrown into the world”: that is, his possibilities go beyond the circumstances he finds himself in now.
On balance, the two lay down their arms and agree on a draw.
In a similar vein:
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness