I will tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in you. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 46)
χάος in Greek means “infinite space, the expanse” and the “nether abyss, infinite darkness,” also “unformed matter.” In Hesiod‘s Theogony, we begin the begin with chaos, which gives birth to Erebos (“a pace of nether darkness forming a passage from Earth to Hades”) and Night. In turn, Night and Erebos give birth to Ether (“cloudless and clouded, and heaven”) and Day. This appears to be the thing about chaos, it’s generative. What is unformed may give birth to the formed. Chaos has agency in the world, consider the Joker.
In Genesis, the first book of the Torah, the beginning is also “unformed” and void after which God as a wind sweeps in and creation begins day and night. “Unformed” we have read with the Greeks, but what of void? Reaching through Old French back to the Latin vacuus meaning “empty, vacant, unoccupied.” (Of course, only following the English translation, not the Hebraic original) Now this is more something that looks like nothing. And yet, this nothing has a whole lot of something to it. This void is offered as the earth or what will be the earth and apparently it has the properties of darkness, surface, depth and there’s a wind sweeping over water, which is from God. Clearly, “unformed” and “void” coexist to rewrite each other. Can’t really say what’s there (empty of form) but you can’t say there’s nothing there (darkness, surface and so on). One way to understand the void is as that which we want to move into when we wish to kill ourselves. Suicide as the taking away of what matters to us, what is matter, in one fashion or another, and then with this experience of lack or loss which we may have felt since we can remember feeling and thinking, we wish to step further and strip the rest away as well.
Within Hinduism and the “Hymn of Creation” from the Rigveda, we have have the whole enchilada with “all was indiscriminated chaos” and also “formless and void” or simply “nothing.” And then Desire appears in a similar fashion to Eros appearing soon after the Earth. To imagine non-being before being in the very words, acknowledging this particular construction, nothingness needs somethingness to exist, which given the idea of nothing, is really perplexing. To quote Heidegger referring to Hegel in Being and Time,
Time reveals itself for this interpretation as “intuited becoming.” According to Hegel, this signifies a transition from being to nothingness, or from nothingness to being. [ Science of Logic. Book 1, Division 1, Chapter 1: “It will therefore be shown that the first being is in itself determinate, and therefore, secondly, that it passes over into determinate being −− is determinate being −−”] Becoming is coming into being as well as passing away. Being, or nonbeing, “goes over.” What does that mean in regard to time? The being of time is ht enow. But since every now either “now” is no-longer, or now is not-yet, it an also be grasped as nonbeing. (431)
For me, György Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna is the sound of what is formless, of what is infinite and not there, of what is about to appear but never fully does, which means my chaos has voices though not appearing as formed singularities.
So, after we’ve travelled so far into chaos and the void, let’s return to Nietzsche’s statement on chaos and see how it looks to us now.
I will tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in you.
These words signify to me now the ongoing movement of the universe into and out of being and on a much smaller level, and what Nietzsche is really after, my own constant becoming and unbecoming, my own being and non-being which as Heidegger points out skims the surface of the totality of being for a small time and then slips back under. My own and your own formless and indiscriminate matter which is empty and vacant of who and what we are right now, in its own non-being and within time becomes darkness and wind and God. To give birth to a dancing star is to be God. A god who will suffer and who will die. Who “shall dissolve, and like this insubstantial pageant faded leave not a rack behind.” Who will return to the chaos to become “such stuff as dreams are made on” . . . and of. All rounded with a sleep.