A friend recently sent along some wondering for submission to GIANT discussion. Their question (skip down to the blue if you want to avoid me getting off topic with brain science) maybe intersects Lily’s post yesterday about the definition (and neurobiology) of creativity. Is there “hardwiring” involved in our expression/communication motivations? Is that expression/communication goal-based or process-based? Do we need intense pompadours? I’m getting farther afield with each question I add to the question I haven’t even shown you yet, but I’ve been reading Antonio Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, which proposes (among many things) that emotions and feelings are different (emotions are in the body, feelings are the mind’s awareness of emotions), and that we evolved consciousness in order to be aware of our having feelings. Not just feelings, but our having of them. In other words, we have a mind in order to know how we feel. I can’t help but make lazy/lyrical connections between my anonymous friend’s question and those ideas, but I’m feeling too lazy/lyrical to do much besides wonder. I invite you, kind people, to do more. Here is my friend’s question:
In 1903, a nineteen-year old poet by the name of Franz Xaver Kappus wrote to Rainer Maria Rilke to ask for that illustrious writer’s opinions on his poetry. To which Rilke famously replied, in part, to the now misremembered enquirer:
“No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”
Say, today, you weren’t forbidden but were encouraged. Say your writing was very aesthetically impressive, quite observably good. Say you wrote for yourself and no other. Say you had your reasons to write, including the reason that there were no inherent reasons to write, and you felt these very deeply, all the way to the heart. What if the question remained. Must you write?
I 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.