Is Proud Defiance Acceptance of Nihilism? No, it is a philosophical rejection of nihilism
The first two stanzas of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” command defiance of not being – the dying of the light. For “wise men at their end know dark is right.”
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Explicitly professing nihilism to rage against it is not good psychological advice. Actually, as we shall see, it rejects nihilism by defying it. In my eighty eighth year, burning and raging about what I dread might be my fate seems foolish. Distracting oneself with pleasant memories is better advice.
I do not accept nihilism. I seek to understand and hold fast to Catholicism. In philosophical theology I find good reasons for Catholicism. However, the reasons are not totally conclusive “Because their words had forked no lightning.” Hence, I have a dread of total annihilation at death. Still, the Canticle of Simeon gives better psychological advice: “Now, Lord let your servant go in peace. For my eyes have seen the salvation . . .”
However, I do not interpret the poem as psychological advice on facing dying and death. Dylan Thomas offers inchoate philosophical instructions on how each and everyone of us can demonstrate that nihilism is not true. This raging against not being – against the dying of the light – is intense assertion of oneself as existing. At death, the raging self assertion enters eternity.
Right up to the instant at which for you there is no further coming into existence or passing out of existence – changelessness- your self is raging. Eternally, there is his raging self. That final instant raging self can no more come into existence or pass out of existence than the number 2.
This is not an effective demonstration that nihilism is wrong because we can make our self eternal. It depends upon an empirical assumption that people can be conscious up to the instant of brain death. Before brain death there is change in a person – coming into existence and passing out of existence. Furthermore, persisting as an abstract object such as the number 2 is a survival not worth wanting. The number 2 is for nothing; neither is an eternal raging self.
This raging is the desperate hope that if I cry loud enough to Being, She will pick me up.