The madness of existence

That the desire to measure existence is a folly, or that it must be the fact of existence? How much does it measure existence? And what weight does it have? Maybe it's so light that it can't be weighed? Or heavy beyond measure? How volatile, ethere, elusive? Or pressing, suffocating, unsustainable? Piovani (1972) wrote that the calculation of life is a calculation that escapes from every economy. And, moreover, will it ever be possible to measure how much one must suffer? Or weigh how much you can love? Measure how many tears to shed? How many minutes do I have to laugh? How much longer am I going to have to cry? How long will I have to wait for love, or struggle to pursue it?

Cummings wondered in his poem – not surprisingly titled “Infinitely:”

?The lovers suffer? Every deit
y who descends is embodied in the mo
rtal: are lovers happy? Their least
joy is a universe born of a
desire)lovers love? Heaven then hell.

Brassa, Couple d'amoureux dans un petit café, quartier Italie (1932)

Every little joy is a universe, it is worth the universe, it is worth the whole sky, and also the hell that is carried with it. What calculation could ever lead us to the brink of despair, cloaking us in desire, passion, joy, and happiness? Only the calculation of a madman could: “Tell me, by Jove, what moment of life would not be sad, difficult, ugly, bland, annoying, without pleasure, that is, without a hint of madness?” (Erasmo 2014, .12). Existence is Madness, Explained Erasmus, which was entitled “Life is a gift of Madness”. Not the negative one, the vengeful Furies, but the positive one, which stimulates the senses and passions and that intoxicates us with pleasure, when we dedicate ourselves to chasing a love or success.

But existence is just a stage on which everyone wears a mask. A circus, a spectacle, of those to watch sitting: “In short, if, as once Menippo from the Moon, we could contemplate from above men in their endless agitation, we would believe that we see a swarm of flies and mosquitoes that fight, fight, undermine, joke, play, are born, fall and die. It is hard to believe that the breed of upheaval and tragedy can cause such a small animal destined for such short life. In fact, from time to time, even a non-serious wave of war or pestilence strikes and destroys thousands and thousands of them” (Erasmo 2014, 48). Like when Battiato sang “I heard gunshots in a street downtown / How many stupid hens fighting for nothing” (White Flag 1981).

Piovani pointed out that human stories are profoundly useless, that is, not only do they not stand on the cost-benefit ratio, but often break it. How many quarrels, how many words will it take to reach an understanding? How many disagreements, how many disappointments will we have to pass each time? And how many unnecessary clarifications will never clarify? In the road of life, no shorter route exists: detours, unexpected, winding paths, steep climbs and steep descents, boring and quiet straights, sudden interruptions, unexpected and surprising new routes. Never is the shortest line between two points a straight line in the world of human beings.

How many human undertakings would have really seen the light of day had they not been generated by the continuous attempt at overcoming, by the unstoppable, irrepressible desire of the beyond and the other. In his greatest achievements, as in the most miserable ones, life is an anthem to Madness, a rambling tribute to this divinity, to which we are ready to sacrifice what is dearest to us, without savings, without calculations. The human being, like Sisyphus, rewinds life continuously around the thread of intoxication, of foolishness – which in Erasmus is only a stage towards Madness.

May Madness make sense, to delude ourselves that we have found one at the end of the day, such that we deserve our struggles, our labors, our sorrows? Evil witch or sublime charmer? It really seems that without madness humanity loses the possibility of the sense of existence, remaining naked in front of the emptiness living, groping in the indistinct darkness of cold only reason. Where are poetry, art, magic? Where the miracle, the incredible, where the ability to marvel, to surprise themselves that so invoked Aristotle and Ortega y Gasset? In his photo shoot, Boubat immortalized Plutt la VIE!, inviting him to choose life, as Mark Renton would later repeat at the cinema.

E. Munch, The Scream (1910)

The Praise of Madness, at the end of the day, is a praise of imperfection; so it's a praise of life. Let the imperfection be saved, then! Galilei's Sidereus Nuncius of 1610, among many novelties, revealed that the line between light and shadow on the Moon was not perfectly linear and straight, but irregular, curved, in short imperfect. This is because the Moon, Galilei revealed, is not a perfect sphere as had been believed for centuries. This great novelty marks another line – this a little clearer – of demarcation between antiquity and modernity.

There are two worlds: that of perfection and that of imperfection. A world before and one world after. The ancient world is based on pure ideas and hyperuranic worlds or on an idea of becoming predetermined according to nature. The heavens are perfectly orderly, The Being is perfection, good is perfect and full knowledge, even love, true, is order. Many people live (or believe they live) in a perfect world, regulated by routines and rituals. The contemporaneity begins when we realize that this is not the case. The long wave of uncertainty, of probable, of the fall, of the iridescent, even of the illusory makes its way, wiping out all those ideological embankments that for centuries had been erected to use the beans of perfection. 

The ancient world is the world that admits no mistakes, exposing malformed (or female) infants, condemning them to death. The modern world recognizes that error is not evil or the loss of a state of grace. We find that without the error we do not progress and that, therefore, progress is never to go wrong, but to try and make mistakes, even to try to make mistakes. We bless mistakes and imperfections.

The human being turns out homo faber in the full spirit of that force, virtus, that Deleuze and Lévy would have used to explain the all-contemporary concept of virtual: the virtuality of the human being is the recognition of a power, of a creative evolution, because it is in Bergson (2014) that we find the seeds of dialogue between possible and virtual. The human being is himself until he renews himself in a creative, thenethical and poetic act, of transformation, transfiguration of the world and of himself. Innovation is, therefore, also imagination, imagination, intuition, creativity, genius. Madness.

Q. Massys, Allégorie de la folie

Yes, true perfection is imperfection. Perfect means accomplished, that is, complete. And completeness includes perfection and imperfections. Galileo discovers that the Moon is not the perfect sphere described by Aristotle. And from Pisano we inherit an idea that will pass from celestial bodies to human bodies: even our existence is imperfect, an indefinite mixture of light-dark, lights and shadows not perfectly separated, contingency, unexpected, picassian faces, Kafkaesque metamorphosis, even sartrian nausea, from which we try to escape by clinging to the memory of a petite madeleine, , or a lost love. Many people live imperfect, seemingly or incredibly messy worlds, which actually make very deep sense. Because of tidy and perfect, fortunately, there is little. The Moon reminds us of that, too.

Even in the loving relationship, perfection, control, reason become screens thanks to which Madness exhibits its own credible, reasonable dress. Almost anticipating some Darwinian instances, Schopenhauer pointed out that love is an illusion because it hides what it really is: an act of transcendence of two individuals towards a new creature, their son. “Ultimately, what therefore with such exclusivity and with such force attracts to each other two individuals of different sexes is the will to live of the whole species, which here, in the individual that those two can generate, anticipates an objectivity of his being corresponding to his ends. […] So here, as in every instinct, truth takes the form of illusion to act on the will. It is an illusion of voluptuousness that deceives man, making him believe that he will find in the arms of a woman of beauty suitable a greater pleasure than among those of any other; and it is the same illusion that, directed exclusively at a single woman, firmly persuades him that owning it will bring him extraordinary happiness. Therefore he is deluded” (Schopenhauer 2011, 76). A bit like Ortega y Gasset would have written, explaining that love is an attempt to break two solitudes (2014).

Then life can be nothing but two things, either one or the other; or tune in to the order, live for quiet periods, trying to absorb and process changes; or tune in with change, with the uncertain, with the contingent, avoiding risk of being flattened, perhaps even crushed, by the lack of novelty, opening up to the strength of the virtual, to the creative spirit, without the need for a blanket of Linus in which to take refuge, seizing Nietzsche's invitation not to seek easy loopholes and accommodating certainties: life is struggle, Darwinically and ethically; it's agony.

S. Dali, Sueo causado por el vuelo de una abeja alrededor de una granada un segundo antes del despertar (1944)

No, “you must not remain attached to a person, even if the most loved: every person is a prison and also a hiding place. One must not remain attached to a homeland, even if the most suffering and in need of help. We must not remain attached to compassion, even if it is addressed to higher beings, in whose singular martyrdom and helplessness the case has made us look. One should not cling to a science, even if it entiticated someone with the most valuable and seemingly reserved discoveries for us. […] You have to be able to preserve yourself: it is the strongest test of independence” (Nietzsche 2011, .41). In Beyond Good and Evil, dedicated to the “Free Spirits”, Nietzsche insists on the need to test oneself, to avoid comfortable shelters, to bask in supposed certainties, to fret in search of hypothetical truths. Authentic philosophy must come to terms with appearance, with deception, with illusion, therefore with madness, because that is where there is the possibility of creating something, because that is where every existence is created.

Then, out of every measure, from every proportion, from every rational calculation, existence is already in itself, ethymologically, referring to something else and beyond itself, to not being able to be enough, to wanting and wanting more. This is, after all, the only measure that remains: the measure of pain that we are willing to feel for a little happiness, as Emily Dickinson also recalled:

For a moment of ecstas
y We pay in anguish An e
xact and trepidating measure, p
roportionate to ecstasy. 
For an hour relett
ate Bitter Compensation
of Years, Hundreds Torn with Pa
in, Chests Full of Tears

Yes, for a moment of ecstasy there is a great price to pay. Yes, this must be our destiny: that a moment of life must certainly be worth more than an eternity of non-life. This is our being: that we are willing to pay with all the unhappiness to have an instant of happiness. So, yes, there is a measure of existence: a crazy measure, an immense madness.

My Friends, by M. Monicelli (1975)


  • Bergson, Henri. 2014. Matter and Memory (1896). Bari: Laterza
  • Cummings, Edward E. 1962. “Being to timelessness as it's to time.” In Complete Poems. New York: Liveright
  • Deleuze, Jacques. 2001. Bergsonism and other essays (1966). Turin: Einaudi
  • Dickinson, Emily. 2020. “For Each Ecstatic Instant.” In The Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson. Minneapolis: First Avenue Editions
  • Erasmus From Rotterdam. 2014. Praise of Madness (1511). Milan: Feltrinelli
  • Galilei, Galileo. 1948. Sidereus nuncius (1610). Florence: Sansoni
  • Lévy, Pierre. 1997. The Virtual (1995). Milan: Raphael Cortina
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2011. Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Milan: BUR
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  • They are pious, Peter. 1972. Principles of a philosophy of morality. Naples: Morano
  • Schopenhauer, Arthur. 2011. Metaphysics of sexual love (1844). Milan: BUR

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