14.10.08

THE EXISTENTIAL PARENT


When your man-child approaches you urgently and says 'Dad, I need you to explain existentialism to me,' you realise with a flash of clarity that, as a parent, you must have done something wrong, somewhere along the line. This person before you is thinking about the world and you know with a sinking feeling in your heart that this does not bode well for his future. Most of the people I meet have no interest in dredging any meaning whatsoever out of this bucket of life. They are like sleepwalkers, as Gurdjieff called them. They are interested in money, primarily, then food and sex, normally in that order. I know several men who have a stronger emotional relationship to their cars than their partners and children! And you probably know some too.

Then there are the 'ladies who lunch', the ladettes, and the retail junkies to whom shopping is a life purpose. I feel the poverty of their meaningless lives as I stare into the vacuum of their meaningless eyes.

So existentialism then? The question. Well I mutter about Kirkegaard and his Christian mystical vision, the Nietzchian will to power and the ubermensch. I did genuinely admire Camus but cannot forgive his inappropriately early death in a driving accident.

And 'Angst', that corrosive despair or anxiety. These are all useful ideas that serve as markers for meaning. But no philosophy in itself explains life.

The actual name coined, I believe by Gabriel Marcel and adopted enthusiastically by Jean Paul Sartre and his paris cafe crew of dewy eyed students. That view from left of field and the glamour of Paris cafes and Simone De Beauvoir redolent of gauloise smoke curling above intense revolutionary conversation to a jazz soundtrack. I recall also the utterly brilliant 'Notes from Underground' by Fyodor Dostoevsky with its amazing single greatest comic scene when our self righteous protagonist loses it completely at the dinner table. The phrase 'existence precedes essence', a zen koan if ever there was one. The impenetrability of Heidegger's 'Being and Time' (These continental philosophers always call their books 'Being and Something'!) and my intense disappointment upon learning of his flirtation with the Nazis.

My own deep rooted fear of crowds and mobs and of populism. My adolescent identification with Raskolnikov. My close reading of Godwin's 'Political Justice' then finding out what a shit he was.

My visceral loathing of politicians, of all shades. And there at the core is my own paradox. My hatred of the mass of humanity (hell, as Sartre famously said, is other people) and my love of the individual human. Am I therefore an existentialist? In so far as we determine the world through our own experience we all are. But there has to be more than mere individualism or we lapse into narcissism-the plague of the moderns. There has to be WILL!

But existence is not the same in the different states of consciousness ie waking, dreaming sleep and deep dreamless sleep, at least that's what the brain tells us, so more accurately consciousness precedes essence should be our koan.

Krishnamurti said many times that the map is not the reality, that the word is not the thing in itself.

But having a son who thinks for himself? Existential or not now that could be giving him a burden too heavy to bear in this world of magician's tricks and wishful might-have-beens!

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