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My own reading in existentialism has focused on Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus, although others have sparked my interest. Of these, Camus is my favorite (indeed, one of my favorite authors).
Hopefully, this group will gather like-minded readers, and we'll have something to discuss.
I just recently read The Stranger by Albert Camus and found it very intriguing.
I like to read those kinds of books, but can't, for the life of me, define exactly what existentialism is!
A book you might like is
The Woman in the Dunes buy Japanese author Kobo Abe. Another one that just blew me away is The Blind Owl by the late Persian novelist Sadegh Hedayat. I can't explain what the latter is about (you have to read it yourself), but the former is about a scientist who is trapped in the desert, to put it mildly. Both are VERY strange!!! You'll love them. Enjoy!
One of the big names, Heidegger, I've never enjoyed. Probably one of the most difficult and frustrating names I've ever tried to read. I once had a professor who attended a Heidegger conference that no one there really knew what they were talking about, it's just that they have memorized Heidegger's unique vocabulary and can throw it around in conversation.
For me as well, Camus is a favorite. I also really enjoy Sartre's literary works like Nausea and The Wall.
I thought the sand was the oppresiveness of life. The obstacle that cannot be overcome along the lines of Sisyphus. His life in the sandpit really didn't seem much worse than his life back in the city. The physical conditions of the sand were worse but other than that the seemed to be similar. He was a teacher who faced new students every year. The students and the sand would have obvious similarities in that they are constantly changing yet he stays in place. His hope of escaping his teaching plight was to find a new species of insect that would bear his name.
Considering it was also written shortly after WWII, and made mention of radition posioning, I felt the sand might be the encroachment of the western powers on Japan or at least that maintaining a traditional Japan in the face modern world was impossible.
I'm sure the book was loaded with gender issues but I don't know enough about Japanese society to figure out what they mean.
I need to look thru the book again to find some of the other passages. I'll write about those later.
Although, I love Nietzche simply for the fact that he exposes a bitter truth his philosophy is self-defeating. At the beginning of the book he criticizes enlightenment thinkers, among them Kant, for prioritizing truth above non-truth, but his book is explicitly about finding truth, specifically the truth of human nature. In fact it was a response to Darwinism, to a certain extent.
Then we get to Satrean existentialism, which says that all values are subjective. What!!! If all values are subjective, why should we listen to anything he says, although some of what he says is pretty legitimate. But this begs the question, if all values are subjective, then how do we adjudicate moral actions? He makes it impossible for government to exist and if it does it can't do anything.
Then, we get to Camus, who by the way is not an existentialist but an absurdist, who says that there is no purpose in life but we can't kill ourselves. I'm sorry maybe it's just me but I don't understand. He then says that we shouldn't kill ourselves because a disconnect in our conciousness from the world makes it impossible to explore the absurd. He then gives a purpose to life, which is freedom. He says that we should accept life the way it is without resignation, which will make us free by allowing us to see that there is no higher meaning and no judicial afterlife.
Somebody please help me to understand the conundrum that existentialism creates!
I love your interpretations, Sandfly. I didn't try to interpret the book after I read it. I just let the strangeness of it surround me. I really like books that tend toward the surreal.
The image I get in my mind when thinking of that book is the scene in which the man tries to climb the cliff and never gets anywhere because the sand keeps coming down. I was horrified that he got himself into that situation in the first place. That image makes me think of situations in which people find themselves helpless to get out of in day-to-day life. Many times, it's their own fault they are in such situations. Perhaps, at times, things that seem to be our salvation in reality can turn out to be our downfall.
(feel free to correct me in my interpretation)
If Camus says that there is no purpose in living then he can give no justification for living, because by doing so he inherently gives life a purpose. Purpose and justification are inextricably linked. A purpose is created by saying that my purpose is to give life a purpose for me.
Moreover, just as you say that in the freedom to decide to be merciful is beauty, couldn't the converse be said? In the freedom of inaction beauty is present. If this is so there could be beauty in letting people die, as in the case of The Plague.
The contradiction still persists. By saying, "It is accepting control of your own life independent of any greater design." you take away my freedom to refuse your logic.
As such I should be able to act or not act. Existentialism or in this case absurdism rejects the idea of objective morality but reinstitutes the prescriptive morality for the sake of making it's own argument.
If we're talking about existentialism in literary discourse as well as in philosophical discourse -and I presume from reading through the thread that people are (The Plague, Dostoevsky, Nausea)- then I think it's a perfectly valid argument to make that Shakespeare explores existentialist themes in H and KL just as much as Dostoevsky does in The Demons, or the Idiot, for example.
But I'm obviuosly mad, so I'll just stay out and let you guys carry on. Sorry if I offended anyone.
perhaps I'm in the wrong thread.....
(I'll just tiptoe off then...)
I just bought Being and Nothingness.
First, I think that a "protracted debate" about the nuances between existentialism and absurdism is necessary, insofar as there are substantive differences between the two. Moreover, the debate was started because people confused Albert Camus' work with existentialism; however, his work is distinctly different. With that being said this debate helps to clarify a common misconception and therefore helps illuminate and raise the level of the debate through that clarification. If anything this debate helps, not hinders our understanding of existentialist and absurdist thought. Thus, this is not just "splitting hairs".
It depends on what you mean by essence. Do you mean essence as in what is essentially existentialism, or essence in the Aristotelian sense of the word?
I'm going to take a moment here to admit that the only Camus I've read is The Stranger and I'm not really familiar with The Myth of Sisyphus, so I would benefit from a more detailed explanation. The nebulous ideas around existentialism might also make this discussion a little muddied. But I welcome the chance to learn more about what people consider to fall under the philosophy, since most of my knowledge comes from independent reading.
Where the doctrine is that existence precedes essence--so I guess I meant the Aristotelian sense of the word but punning with wondering what is "essentially existentialism" (though even that phrase makes me giggle a little).
Given the fact that you use the word essence in two ways, which are connected, I'll answer your question, to the best of my ability, in one shot. In essence, existentialism is an inversion of the Aristotelian logic, which posits that essence precedes existence. Indeed, Sartre argued that we are born being nothing, and only secondarily do we acquire essence, which we either develop for ourselves or which is conferred upon us by the other. In this sense, then, existentialism argues that because we are nothing, we have the possibility to be anything. Thus, it is our responsibility to ultimately construct the meaning and purpose of our lives, which is not to be confused with the overall purpose or meaning of life in general (some existentialis, however, argue about whether or not any such meaning or purpose exists).
Aristotle, however, argued that only by figuring out what our telos was could we then legitimate and actualize our existence and identities as human beings. In this way, Aristotle presupposes what existentialism denies: a fundamental purpose for human beings. For Aristotle, the question is always: how ought I, as a human being, act in a manner that is consistent with my purpose as a human being.
So, according to existentialism, your essence is a manifestation of your will; in other words, your essence is a product of your committment to act by taking responsibility for your life. On the other hand, Aristotelianism argues that your essence is the product of you understanding your human telos.
Sartre, no doubt, looked on the title "Being and Nothingness" as supplementary to Heidegger's "Being and Time" (Although Heidegger did not agree with Sartre interpreptation of "being".) As I understand Being and Nothingness, Sartre starts off denying that, at birth, "self" consciousness is "nothing", thus self "consciousness" evolves by intereacting and mirroring (and adapting) others' apparent reaction to to whatever persona we are projecting at the time of interaction.
As human consciousness, we are always aware that we are not whatever we are aware of - we cannot, in this sense, be defined as our 'intentional objects' of consciousness, including our facticity of personal history, character, bodies, or objective responsibility. Thus, as Sartre often repeated, 'human reality is what it is not, and it is not what it is': it can only define itself negatively, as 'what it is not'; but this negation is simultaneously the only positive definition it can make of 'what it is'
I am only beginning the journey through philosophy, but at this point I see the "essence of existentialism" aptly expressed in the epigraph to this group: "But the point is to live." To which one can add: "The rest is silence." No other decoration is required. The panoply of exposition serves not to interpret so much as to reveal this essence to a multitude with disparate receptor channels. As Camus realized, literature is much more expressive than essay in this endeavor.
Members of this group, no doubt, are busy going about the process of living but, no doubt, have much more that they can express on this topic.
Also, one might explore the possibilities posed by Julian Jaynes, Jill Bolte Taylor and Bruce Lipton.