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Brutality of Life Reading List (sonyasupposedly.com)
93 points by exolymph 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

For non-fiction, I'd add The Hell of Treblinka, by Vassily Grossman, a Red Army journalist who was one of the first to enter the death camp. One of the hardest things i've read.

"It is the writer's duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader's civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one's eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who have perished."

This book pairs with "Into That Darkness" by Gitta Sereny. A semi-biography of the commandant of Treblinka, based on interviews with him.

A lot statements by authors pointing out that life is brutal, and getting very depressing and deep about the topic, but not really explaining why. Life is brutal because its inherent to all living things being in pursuit of self replication whereupon success, such success is replicated. We are always in strife for the same space, energy, and resources with each other(each other being all living things).

Don't be saddened by it, or make it some sort of deep philosophical tragedy. It's as much fact as evolution, or as much fact as 10 - 1 = 9. Accept it and learn to love it for what it is.

"But whaddaya know, pain is indispensable to survival." Linking to: https://www.gwern.net/Backstop#pain-is-the-only-school-teach...

You're correct that I focused on the topic I was writing about and not auxiliary issues.

I appreciate threads and posts like this, as I'm 30 and have had my share of brushes with death (cancer, one or two significantly dangerous moments in life) that have made me take real pause about "the point of it all," and especially what, if anything comes next. In fact, I've been really struggling with that thought of the moment of finality, and it's been keeping me up at night lately. Appreciate this share and looking into a few of these books.

Re Cancer, have you read “Tripping over the Truth: The Metabolic Theory of Cancer”[0]? [0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23496164

I just wanted to post a note of thanks to the author for labeling which links are affiliate links. I have no problem clicking on affiliate links - everyone wins a little when they are relevant to the topic at hand. I simply appreciate the transparency of having them labeled.

"Live is suffering and you need something more meaningful than pursuit of happiness to make it bearable" seems to be central idea of everything Jordan B. Peterson writes and speaks about.

If I could add to this list:

- everything by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that was translated to English.

- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

- Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky

- Ward No 6 by Anton Chekhov

Solzhenitsyn -- yes!

"A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch" is profound, concise, and memorable.

Peterson makes an error in the conclusion. The scarceness of opportunity to be happy does not mean to neglet things that make you happy. There is a difference between claiming happiness and seeing happiness as "bad" or "degenerating". Both will likewise cause suffering. Peterson (if he knows or not) is a Nietzsche apologist. Nietzsche perverted the philosophy of Schopenhauer and turned everything around. Schopenhauer saw that life itself follows an irrational principle - the "Will" in nature. Every being or even substance longs for existence and to take effect at the cost for other beings or substances. This "will" causes suffering. Schopenhauers way to cope with the evil in life is to neglegt this "will". To take an outside position, to reflect on it - to "philosophize", if you want, to participate in art. The principle of nature, to recognize it and to make your own conclusion out of it are independent things. This is the difference between Schopenhauer (Darwinism) and Nietzsche / Peterson (Social Darwinism). Nietsche identifies with the "Will". He propagates opportunism. "what is supposed to fall, you should push", "Prey on the weak, obey the strong". Out of the fact, that there is suffering in the world, he concludes that this is "good", an imperative. The might / power / will is the only sacred rule he accepts. Even if christianity seems to represent mercy ethics on the surface, the bible itself also sanctifys power itself. All power is from god. All power is good. So Nietzsche was not really anti Christian. He is very christian and religious regarding opportunism. Of cause "community","society", "the nation", ... => the higher order super organisms want individuals to sacrify their individual goals and to give up strive for happiness and take over "abstract" values which are the values of others. Mostly these "abstract" values of others (best example nationalism) caused a lot of suffering. More on side of the people believing in it than on the side of the people that propagate it. Peterson is good at rethorics. Beside of that, he s just a religious tradcon with a strong tendency to fascism. Following the power or opportunism principle of Nietsche / Peterson IMHO would result in perpetual holocaust. I prefer Schopenhauer, he taught to stand up for the weakest: rationality. Even being irrational beings with evil drives we can find ways to satisfy them without harming others or ourselfs - or at least reduce harm.

Schopenhauer: live out your irrationality in a rational way versus Nietsche / Peterson: live out your irrationality with rational reasoning as a tool (under the the shield of old school values "family", "nation" ...).

>Social Darwinism/"what is supposed to fall, you should push"

I always wondered how one could misinterpret natural laws, that whatever you do you cannot not obey, as human commandments, that you can obey or not.

Considering that Darwin findings would command us to ignore the weak (or that any knowledge could command anything, for that matter), is like considering that sending rockets into space would be an offense to the law of gravity, and that it would command us to spend our lives crawling on the ground like snakes.

(In the case of Nietzsche, maybe that's the "Will" subconsciously manipulating the puppet of consciousness, as a defense mechanism against the purposeless void reached by thinking through the irrationality of life).

It is a (short term) self enforcing principle, that is the pitty. Like in other ideologies. Civilization should mitigate such effects. And in some cases suceeded. So progress might be possible and should be thought of. But not in changing people or the "nature" of people. There has been progress in history (also backfalls). We would not have warm houses or water supply or electricity if someone had not believed in making a better life.

Non fiction and super depression and full of pain, is everything Bukowski has written.

Love his books. He sees right through it all and doesn't give a fuck. At all.

I’m not sure he “sees right through it.” His his view is sorta clouded by cynicism. The world is not all bad, after all. Or at least not as bad as he makes it out to be.

Full agreement on his not giving a fuck though. He’s the kinda guy that would fart at a party and then laugh at the people offended by it.

I love Bukowski but reading his work as 'seeing through' things doesn't strike me as a good approach. His 'seeing through' involved a lot of fucked up stuff, among them what seems like a rather unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

An alcoholic plays life on extra hard mode. No wonder the conclusion is cynical!

Besides the one odd travelogue "Shakespeare Never Did This" what other non-fiction Bukowski books are there? "Post Office" has semi-autobiographical elements but it's still very much fiction.

I do love his writing.

But did you ever see the documentary movie where he pushes his girlfriend off the couch with his feet?

How is Meditations on Violence supposed to convey the brutality of life as well as the other titles?

My takeaway from it was that people are generally nonviolent, with a few (taxonomised) exceptions.

(My meta-takeaway from it is that poor intellectuals in the US have it much harder than rich intellectuals, but can still pay their dues and eventually make their own way.)

WARNING: NSFL. Do not keep reading if you're not prepared to hear something truly horrible.

Here's a quote from the book: "We had an inmate in custody who had cut open a baby with a tin can lid and raped the wound. If someone can do that, do you think he will hesitate at all before gouging your eye out or biting off a finger?"

I wish this comment had a NSFL tag at the beginning. I did not want to read that, and it comes out of nowhere relative to its parent comment.

More generally, I think there's a difference between "meditation on brutality" and "misery porn", and that the latter sometimes gets dressed up as the former.

Fair enough, I'll add a warning.

Edit: I wanted to demonstrate the stupidity of this question: "How is Meditations on Violence supposed to convey the brutality of life as well as the other titles?"

The quote is not representative of the general tenor of the book, but it is representative of why that question is dumb.

Another comment mentioned Grossman, I put Life and Fate down after a particularly brutal, yet humanising scene. I do want to get back to it, it was just all too much. I don’t have the appropriate callouses to tolerate war in the same way.

Conrad McCarthy I feel has staked his claim in what I’d reductively call dark westerns. The Road, for example, is a simple story about a man and his child, but in hell only demons. I’ll have to add the listed one to my growing collection, it reminds me of it.

Communicating the meaning of life through the brutality of it has the distinct advantage about being able to explore the death, pain, suffering, and, the descent into an evil in intricate detail. It is a proof by contraction in some respects that certain personal philosophies derived from existentialism need, but also much more than that.

For nonfiction along these lines I would recommend reading Arthur Schopenhauer, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but most of all Primo Levi.

And for fiction it wouldn't hurt to add Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jose Saramago, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as well.

Nick Land’s Hell-Baked [0]

Specifically, it is solely by way of the relentless, brutal culling of populations that any complex or adaptive traits have been sieved — with torturous inefficiency — from the chaos of natural existence.

[0]: https://web.archive.org/web/20200203215527/http://www.xenosy...

This is an interesting list. I strongly recommend _The Good Earth_ which is one of the best books I have ever read.

In the non-fiction category, I would nominate _Rising Up and Rising Down_[1] by William T. Vollmann. There is a single, abridged volume. It's a grand, sweeping, beautiful and fascinating work.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rising_Up_and_Rising_Down

I would recommend Thomas Bernhard's "Yes" (aka "Ja").

Woah this is pretty dark, but a very good read.

“I mourn for the people I know who are dying, which is all of them, but some much quicker than others.”

Looking at older people and animals around me, and instantly thinking “well, they probably don’t have much time left” is quite depressing.

There was a Sam Harris podcast episode where he and his guest argued about whether is it better to suffer through life, or not existing at all.

The podcast, for anyone interested: https://samharris.org/podcasts/107-life-actually-worth-livin...

> In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with David Benatar about his philosophy of “anti-natalism.” They discuss the asymmetry between the good and bad things in life, the ethics of existential risk, the moral landscape, the limits and paradoxes of introspection, the “experience machine” thought experiment, population ethics, and other topics.

Fiction: “2666” by Roberto Bolaño, “Captivity” by György Spiró (though this one edges close to “non-fiction”)

Non-fiction: “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, “Chernobyl Prayer” by Svetlana Alexievich

Nas said it best https://youtu.be/ch25kKo6QUo

I’m reading Savage Continent (Keith Lowe) which covers Europe in the years after VE Day.

I’ll just say the brutality of humans didn’t end with the war.

I immediately thought of the "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair: dark, despairing, depressing.

Let's not forget about the pleasures of communism. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn might be a worthwhile read.

When it comes to the brutality of life, I think we're well above political ideologies. Let's not forget http://guantanamodiary.com/

May be worthwhile to read, but Solzhenitsyn is renowned world literature. Also I doubt Guantanama reached the same level of desolation.

I would add several Palahniuk books and How I Became Stupid by Martin Page.

>several Palahniuk books

Could you recommend a couple for me to start with, please? Thank you.

I just happened to reread about 7 of them that I haven't touched in 12+ years. My vote is Lullaby then Diary. Then consider Choke. Rant is excellent, but it's in a unique format in that it's written as an "oral biography" so it's sort of like one big interview of a bunch of characters.

Lullaby was excellent, I will second the recommendation.

Fight Club is rightly a classic.

Hard to beat the last line of "Nobody Writes to the Colonel."

Surprised there is no Schopenhauer on this list

Fiction: "Blindness" - Jose Saramago

“Hunger” by Knut Hamsun


"There's no existentialism here" is just fucking wrong, my man. PLEASE read http://www.2arms1head.com/

All humans, really? Most maybe, but hardly all.

I think we need to be taught how to resist the seeds within us that cause those things.

Yes, I claim that almost all humans partition humans into completely imaginary classes. I'm going to define a bigot as somebody who makes such partitions. Note immediately that there exists a partition of bigots from non-bigots iff non-bigots exist. Note also that, simply by being able to recognize the above statement as true, both of us (and any other readers) are bigots. It follows that there must only be finitely many non-bigots at most; almost all humans are bigoted.

Sounds like you've rediscovered original sin, renamed it bigotry and hypothesized the existence of a small number of non-bigots who, perhaps, we ought to refer to as saints.

Also, there's plenty of Christian existentialism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_existentialism

Everyone is someone else's bigot.

Which books are you thinking of? The one on that list that most obviously sticks out to me as religious is A Canticle for Leibowitz, and I would say it leans much more in the direction of making us contend with the failings of humanity in a cold and empty universe than in the direction of body horror.

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