One of the reasons why the philosophy of Existentialism continues to represent a particularly high discursive value, is that its themes and motifs reflect people’s deep-seated anxieties, regarding to their unconscious suspicion that God does not exist, which in turn causes them to continue searching for what can be considered an actual (non-religious) purpose of one’s life.
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The continual appeal of Existentialism can also be explained by the specifics of today’s post-industrial living, which cause more and more people to grow increasingly alienated from the surrounding socio-political reality – hence, turning them into the natural adepts of this philosophy. The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in relation to Hamlet’s famous Be or Not to Be monologue, the Coca Cola Bottle Bushmen Social-Politics video, found on YouTube, and the 1999 film Fight Club.
According to Bigelow, the rise of Existentialism can be discussed within the context of people becoming increasingly secularized, which intensifies the sensation of ‘universal loneliness’, on their part, “The main forces of history… have collectivized individual man out of existence, have driven God from the heavens, or what is the same thing, from the hearts of men” (173).
This, of course, naturally prompts people, ‘disfranchised’ from God, to address life’s challenges in an essentially ‘godless’ manner, which in turn presupposes their willingness to consider suicide, as an ultimate approach to tackling their emotional/cognitive incompatibility with what they perceive to be the impersonal and unjust ways of the universe. Hence, the philosophical significance of Hamlet’s words:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question…
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks” (Shakespeare par. 1)
Apparently, being an intellectually advanced individual, Hamlet was fully aware of the fact that there can be no ‘purposefulness’ to one’s life, in the conventional sense of this word. Yet, after he contemplated the idea of suicide for a while, he nevertheless decided in favor of continuing to live – quite contrary to the impossible circumstances he was faced with. This, of course, does provide us with a rationale to refer to the character of Hamlet, as a classical ‘existentialist’, endowed with the sense of a perceptual stoicism.
Another common motif, found in the writings of existentialist philosophers, is being concerned with the idea that it is specifically one’s estrangement from nature, which causes the concerned individual to grow increasingly unhappy.
The reason why it appears to be the case is simple – despite their possession of a rationally functioning intellect, people nevertheless continue to remain what they really are, in the biological sense of this word – hairless primates. In its turn, this often causes many socially integrated Westerners to experience the sensation of a cognitive dissonance. In this respect, primitive savages, found in the world’s remote regions, differ from them rather drastically.
Unlike what it happened to be the case with technology-depended Westerners, the members of primitive societies perceive themselves as an integral part of the surrounding natural environment, which in turn allows them to lead somewhat intellectually arrogant but emotionally-healthy lifestyles.
In its turn, this explains the reason why, despite their primordial ways, these people nevertheless appear fully capable of experiencing happiness on a spatially prolonged basis. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to the Coca Cola Bottle Bushmen Social-Politics video, mentioned earlier.
In it, after having found a Coke bottle, thrown out of the overflying plane, the semi-naked member of the Bushmen tribe (Africa) brings it back to his village. Even though that initially, the rest of the tribe’s members were able to find a number of practical uses for this bottle, as time went on, they started to realize the fact that they would be so much better off continuing to live without it.
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This is because the bottle was causing a great deal of internal rivalries among tribesmen – everyone wanted to be this bottle’s solemn ‘owner’, while denying the same right to others (00.02.46). In the end, the tribe’s elders decided to get rid of the ‘evil’ bottle by the mean of throwing it off the ‘edge of the world’.
The discursive implications of this video are quite apparent – even though that people’s affiliation with a technologically-intense mode of living does provide them with a number of comforts, it nevertheless undermines the extent of their existential happiness.
Essentially the same existentialist motif is being explored in the movie Fight Club. In it, the nameless narrator grows increasingly uncomfortable with being forced to lead a highly mechanistic lifestyle of a clerk. Eventually, this causes his unconscious psyche to invent the character of Tyler Durden – a person who is ready to adopt a thoroughly active stance, while denying the sheer ‘artificialness’ of Western civilization.
As time goes on, the narrator finds it increasingly difficult to see the difference between his own sense of self-identity and that of Durden’s. Eventually, the narrator realizes that everybody confuse him with Durden. This is when it dawns upon the film’s main protagonist that he is in fact Taylor Durden – a psychological embodiment of his psyche’s deep-seated existentialist anxieties.
These anxieties are being articulated in one of the film’s final scenes, where Durden expounds on his vision of an ‘ideal society’, “In the world I see – you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower.
And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn” (01.36.19). Hence, the foremost idea, promoted throughout the course of the film’s entirety – it is specifically because highly urbanized Westerners are being ‘disfranchised’ from their unconscious longings, which explains why many of them experience the sensation of being disconnected from their true selves, often reflected by these people’s anti-social attitudes.
It is needless to mention, of course, that this idea correlates perfectly well with the existentialist outlook on one’s life, as the concerned individual’s never-ending endeavor to achieve an ‘interconectedness’ between his rationale-driven agenda in life, on the one hand, and his psyche’s subconscious desires, on the other.
I believe that the provided line of argumentation, in regards to the subject matter in question, is being fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, there is indeed a fully sound reason to think that the popularity of Existentialism reflects its de facto conceptual validity.
Given the fact that the realities of today’s living create objective preconditions for people to have no other choice but to come to terms with their ‘existential sovereignty’ in the godless universe, it will only be logical to assume that, as time goes on, Existentialism will continue to be considered a discursively relevant philosophy.
Bigelow, Gordon. “A Primer of Existentialism.” College English 23.3 (1961): 171-178. Print.
Fight Club. Ex. Prod. David Fincher. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox. 1999. DVD.
MsVogelaar. “Coca Cola Bottle Bushmen Social-Politics.” Online video clip. YouTube, 7 Feb. 2010.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet (excerpt). Web. <http://www.artofeurope.com/shakespeare/sha8.htm>