Attempting to define something that needs no definition is a task by itself. But still, this is for some friends who are keen to know a bit more about “Existentialism”. I cannot claim to be an existentialist but the aesthetic manifestation of the philosophy enthralled me to the core. Anyone, who would love to experience it, should know a bit about the philosophy.
In the simplest manner, Existentialism claims “existence precedes essence“(Jean Paul Sartre) that means “individuals must choose, decide their “essential” nature rather than having it given from some transcendent source”
In other words – it can be interpreted as “Who you are – determined by yourself and cannot be attributed to any other absolutes”. It gives you a wakeup call to take responsibility to your behaviour. Once when someone owns responsibility to their action, that might lead to angst or despair as you dont find any absolute to assign the cause. (In simple terms, you can’t say “Ye sab upar wale ki marzi se ho raha hai”)
This particular twist in the argument was criticised a lot as existentialist always got a melancholic outlook of life without any solutions. But, this is only one among the possibilities that was conveyed that got undue attention popularised by those who want to retort.
I don’t buy everything proposed by existentialism but still I have not found anything that defines / exposes human beings closer to him. This does not call for a change in life style nor does it try to interfere – It just exposes you, make you feel responsible for your action and leave you there as it is. You know yourself as you are —– No frills, no high end moralistic sermons or gospels!
Sartre tried to explain it a bit more clearly based on the reproaches made against this philosophy primarily by Communists and Church.
Communists reproached this as a call for “dwell in quietism of despair” and as a contemplative philosophy. Contemplation in itself is a luxury. Also, it might lead a human being to enjoy solitary confinement from where it is impossible to regain solidarity with other men!
Church had issues as it is a philosophy that does not believe in absolutes and hence the Ten Commandments and all values prescribed as eternal lose its value.
The term ‘despair’ denotes that the human being confine themselves relying upon that which is within their choices or within the sum of the probabilities which render their action feasible.
“Quietism” is not about laid back attitude but the realisation that man is nothing but the sum total of his actions which defines his life.
Church defines human being created by a supernal artisan (almighty) according to his procedure and conception. In short, it is the reverse of existentialist philosophy which advocates “essence precedes existence”. The man who is an existentialist will not be anything until he will be what he makes of himself. Man exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world before he defines himself. In short, existentialist negates the ideology behind the Church and was subject to lots of criticism.
Existentialism – I’ll concede (I usually concede anything and accept nothing), is a pose. It is an attitude to life. It is a way of life where there are no absolutes. Existentialism, nor any ‘ism” need to be proved at the end of the day. Life continues – Isms and schisms are here to stay, just like pestilence, greed, hunger and calfornication. Each ism suffers a little death immediately after the demise of the main proponent (witness what became of Derrida) and the impact of each isms dwindles by the day.
Existentialist ideas are reflected by many literary giants – to experience the same, you need to be friendly with Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Nietzhsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Camus, Simone De Beauvoir, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty and ofcourse Sartre. Anyone who wanted to start reading, I recommend “Nausea” by Sartre.
- Ideas regarding existentialism as defined by Sartre in various lectures are used in this post
- I am not leading the life of an existentialist but love the literary creations based on this school of thought
- This is just a tip of an iceberg. Many terminologies used like “despair” “choice” etc. need to be understood based on the essays / reviews written by pioneers in the field without which you will be confused about the existential view