I like existentialism a lot

Posted by @ 3:18 pm on December 18th, 2008

walking_aloneI think when people talk about existentialism, they are talking about one of two things: the actual philosophy, and—more generically—books that ‘feel’ and are labeled as being existentialist.

Existentialism, since like Jr. year in highschool, has always been ‘cool,’ like the Smiths or the Cure, for smart and depressed people. I’m not saying I was or am smart or depressed, just that certain books made me feel less lonely, which is weird because those books and authors seemed really lonely. I guess it’s the whole ‘read to know you’re not alone thing.’

Academic existentialism is dry, difficult to understand, and makes me feel more lonely. I tried reading Being and Time, and Being and Nothingness by Heidegger [see Pink’s] and Sartre, respectively, but it was sort of like math. Every time they said a sentence, they tried to prove it using other sentences which they then had to prove. I lost track of what they were arguing (at me) about. It’s like arguing with a girlfriend, without the boobs. Most philosophy is this way: noble and boring.

The existentialism I like are the books that people call existentialism. I will name them and talk about them briefly after the break.

The Stranger [Camus]: I liked the book, but it felt too much like a commercial, like too rhetorical and adroit and eager to seduce the audience.

Nausea [Sartre]: I liked this way more than The Stranger because the narrator was more intellectually restless, struggled more, was more self-conscious, which made the ‘emptiness’ more complex.

Notes from the Underground [Dostoyevsky]: Dostoyevsky is probably the most neurotic writer ever, and it’s very endearing. And I guess in the context of the time of its publication it was ground-breaking, but I just felt it was a lot of yelling and ranting.

The Fall [Camus]: Also a bunch a yelling, and one-dimensional tone, like Portnoy’s Complaint but not funny. [Again, Pink]

The Sun Also Rises [Hemingway]: People don’t think Hemingway was existentialist which I don’t understand. He is totally existentialist.

Steppenwolf [Hesse]: It’s funny because most people think of Herman Hesse as being ‘spiritual’ because of Siddhartha, but Steppenwolf was like the opposite. I remember thinking either Hesse was very agile and dynamic, or had multiple personality disorder.

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge [Rilke]: This is my favorite ‘journal confession’ type book. I don’t remember much, other than feeling it was amazing. Rilke is known for his ‘Letters to a young poet,’ because he’s ‘deep,’ well, imagine a guy who is ‘deeper’ than Sartre thinking about the same stuff. His tone was so gentle I thought Rilke was gay sometimes and hid the cover while reading on the bus. When you start evaluating the sexual orientation of an author, it means that author has affected you deeply.

Swann’s Way [Proust]: I know this isn’t existentialism, but I wanted to include it to bring me to my main point of this post. The narrator of Swann’s Way is not self-absorbed they way we call people we don’t like ‘self-absorbed,’ but he is completely absorbed in his perception. When you (Proust) spend 50 pages talking about how your pillow feels or wall looks while you try to go to sleep, you are making a point about some sort of ‘universal empiricism’ which exists between all writers and readers of variable generations; in other words, being human.

I think people like reading about themselves, like they want to read their diary without actually writing it, and these books are like everyone’s diaries; like an autobiography on a bookshelf with somebody else’s name. To understand people like Tolstoy, Saul Bellow, or Philip Roth, you need to come equipped with a set understanding of something outside yourself, namely, social constructs (history, culture, politics, etc.) To understand existentialism, all you need is to have lived a day on this earth. I guess that’s why I liked those books a lot between the ages of 17 – 22. I really think my life would have turned out differently had I not read those books, like I would have an SUV now or a ‘real doll.’ Thank you existentialism for waking me up when you did.

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