Existentialism For Beginners
eBook - ePub

Existentialism For Beginners

David Cogswell, Joe Lee

  1. 192 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Existentialism For Beginners

David Cogswell, Joe Lee

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Existentialism For Beginners  is an entertaining romp through the history of a philosophical movement that has had a broad and enduring influence on Western culture. From the middle of the Nineteenth Century through the late Twentieth Century, existentialism informed our politics and art, and still exerts its influence today. Tracing the movement’s beginnings with close-up views of seminal figures like Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche,   Existentialism For Beginners  follows its intellectual and literary trail to German philosophers Jaspers and Heidegger, and finally to the movement’s flowering in post-World-War-II France thanks to masterworks by such giants as Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, plus many others.Illustrations throughout — at once lighthearted and gritty — help readers explore and understand a style of thinking that, while pervasive in its influence, is often seen as obscure, difficult, cryptic and dark. Existentialism For Beginners  draws the movement’s many diverse elements together to provide an accessible introduction for those who seek a better understanding of the topic, and an enjoyable historical review packed with timeless quotes from existentialism’s leading lights.

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Friedrich Nietzsche

(October 15, 1844-August 25, 1900)

Behold the Man!

“Oh thou proud European of the nineteenth century, art thou not mad? Thy knowledge does not complete Nature, it only kills thine own nature... Thou climbest toward heaven on the sunbeams of thy knowledge–but also down toward chaos. Thy manner of going is fatal to thee; the ground slips from under thy feet into the dark unknown; thy life has not stay but spiders’ webs torn asunder by every new stroke of thy knowledge.”
Thoughts out of Season, II:
The Use and Abuse of History
Nietzsche is the soul of existentialism, the great probing spirit who led the quest from the dislocation of western civilization ripped from its religious root system toward a new level of spiritual redemption.
As with most of those called existentialists, it’s debatable whether he really should even be included in the category, or any category. He stands beyond the category of existentialist, even beyond the category of philosophy. His thinking and writing influenced a broad range of fields, including psychology, literature, spirituality, art, music... Even the Nazis appropriated some of his ideas and twisted them to their own purposes. But his defining feature, his most passionate commitment was to the individual in opposition to the herd.
Like Kierkegaard he was a towering intellect, with prodigious gifts. After Kierkegaard laid down the fundamental questions and problems of existentialism, Nietzsche, without knowing Kierkegaard’s work, sounded a common chord, though one with very different accompaniment. If Kierkegaard was existentialism’s clarion call, Nietzsche gave it fire.
Nietzsche was a great believer in the potential of human beings to rise to greater heights. He was a flash in the fire, who glowed with blinding heat, then burned out quickly in a tragic end. He was a poet as much as a philosopher, an artist at heart, but more than anything, a lover of life.
“Of all that is written,” he wrote in Schopenhauer as Educator, “I care only for what is written in blood.” Philosophy should not be just about ideas, but about how people really live. He tried to live true to his beliefs, and probed relentlessly for the truth, with no fear for where it might lead, even to perilous realms where the belief systems of western culture were not there to protect and comfort. He was fearless in his search, intensely disciplined in his will to open his eyes fully without fear of what may be seen when the filters of culture are removed. In the end he was an isolated broken man.

Little Friedrich: The Prodigy

He was born in a small village in Bavaria. His father died of a brain hemorrhage when Friedrich was five. He was a sickly youth, with weak eyesight and a delicate stomach, but brilliant and studious. The men on both sides of his family were Lutheran ministers and he grew up in a very pious atmosphere, expecting that he too would become a pastor. While still a boy he studied Greek and Latin, became an accomplished pianist, composed music and wrote plays and poems.
When he was seven, he composed his first melodic fragment and began taking piano lessons. When he was ten he heard Handel’s Messiah and it inspired him to write his own compositions, starting with sketches on the piano.
By the time he was twelve he was playing Beethoven sonatas, reading Haydn orchestral scores, composing piano pieces. When he was fourteen he was writing for choir and orchestra. His friend Carl von Gersdorff said, “I don’t think Beethoven could improvise more movingly than Nietzsche.”
He entered the University of Bonn in 1864 as a theology student to please his mother, but spent more time studying philology. Many of his fellow students were attracted to the idealism of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel; others were followers of the materialism of Vogt, Buchner and Feuerbach, but neither fashion appealed to Nietzsche. After a semester he became disillusioned with Christianity, lost his faith, dropped his theological studies and concentrated on philology. The next year he enrolled in philology at the University of Leipzig.

The Eggshell Cracks

While in Leipzig, he discovered by accident at a used bookstore Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea. After reading a little in the store, he bought it. Here was finally a philosopher who captured his imagination, whose vitality was a match for his own thirst for life. Schopenhauer became his spiritual father and inspired him to expand beyond philology and to continue his studies. Schopenhauer suggested a possibility of salvation without a saviour, that a person could raise himself above the banality and absurdity of existence by his own inner strength. He was also attracted by Schopenhauer’s atheism. Christianity, he said, was “lying on its death bed.” Unknowingly echoing Kierkegaard, he said, “We are witnessing the euthanasia of Christianity.”
In 1867 he signed up for a year of obligatory military service and became part of an artillery unit, despite his poor eyesight. He soon found that his literary bent was unsuited to the life of a soldier and lost his enthusiasm for the military. A fall from a horse in 1868 ended his military career. He returned to the University of Leipzig. While he was there, he was introduced to the composer Richard Wagner, whom he greatly admired. A common appreciation of Schopenhauer was the starting point of their friendship.
Nietzsche became professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel at the age of twenty-four, an extremely young age for such a post in the German academic community at the time. The University of Leipzig rushed to give him his doctorate without the usual tests.
When he arrived in Basel he renounced his Prussian citizenship and remained stateless for the rest of his life. After one year at Basel, he took leave to join the German ambulance corps and helped wounded soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. As a medical orderly, he saw much of the worst of war. He contracted diphtheria, dysentery, and possibly syphilis, according to speculation by Walter Kauffmann. After a year, his health failed and he returned to the university.
As an alternative to Christianity, he was attracted to the symbol of the Greek god Dionysus, the patron saint of the Greek tragic festivals, who represented the transcendent perfection of artistic form and creation, but also the debauchery of ecstatic intoxication and wild abandon. He was attracted to the idea of the joining of opposites, the heights of human culture and the depths of instinct and the primitive. It represented a reconciliation of the opposites he felt within himself and within human nature.
He identified with the pagan god and referred to himself as Dionysus in Ecce Homo. He tried to frame a conflict with Dionysus and Christ, but in the end the symbol of Christ of his formative years was resurgent in his life. After his breakdown, when the unconscious had broken free of the bonds of the intellect, he signed himself in letters as “The Crucified One.”

Dionysus and Me

In his first major work in 1871, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, he wrote that Greek tragedy grew from the ritualistic choral dances of the Dionysus cult.
He borrowed Schopenhauer’s distinction between the “plastic arts” of architecture, painting and sculpture, which he calls Apollonian, and music, which he calls Dionysian. The Apollonian arts relieve mankind from the harshness of reality by turning its objects into timeless and pleasing forms. The Dionysian arts transmit an intoxicating enthusiasm which defies and transcends the narrowness of ordinary life. Dionysian art is not subject to principles of beauty and not concerned with creating pleasant forms. It’s a more primordial expression of the pain and the passion of life. Nietzsche hypothesizes that the ecstatic choral dance gave birth to the tragic mythos, which in turn took form on stage as a tragic play. The form of tragedy blended the two tendencies by putting the Dionysian ecstasy into a solidified Apollonian form and language. Modern opera, he said, also grows from the Dionysian ecstasy and the modern listener misunderstands it when he thinks the text is primary. The opposite was true with Greek tragedy, he says, with music as the dominant element and the words only a medium to convey the musical mood.
From both Schopenhauer and Martin Luther, Nietzsche adopted the idea of the prevalence of pain, suffering and evil in human life. Luther said that human nature was hopelessly perverted and corrupted by original sin. Though Nietzsche rejected the idea of original sin, he still held to the conviction that human nature is depraved. His philosophy attempted to answer the need for redemption. The Christian idea of redemption no longer reverberated for him, but Schopenhauer’s idea did, to a point. The purpose of tragedy was to portray the “nameless pain and grief of mankind, the triumph of iniquity, the mocking dominion of chance, and the irretrievable fall of the just and the innocent ... ” Tragedy depicts the absurdity of life and the hero in his destruction overcomes the “will to live” and reaches a timeless reality which lies beyond life’s contingencies. For Schopenhauer, man could escape only to the world of ideas. For Nietzsche, the tension of paradox and absurdity could only be overcome through creative activity, which transforms itself into ecstatic rapture. In Dyonysian rapture, he alleged, man becomes one with ultimate reality.
His intensive study did not help his health. He took increasing leaves of absence and in 1879 his health broke down and he had to resign his professorship. The university granted him a pension. He then became what he called “a wanderer and a shadow,” traveling all over Europe trying to regain his health. His eyesight deteriorated to the point where he could no longer read books. At the age of forty-five he succumbed to psychosis.

A Dream of Prophecy

A dream he wrote down when he was fifteen years old stayed with him throughout his life and was a prophetic metaphor for his lifetime struggle. In the dream he is walking at night in a gloomy wood. He is terrified by “a piercing shriek from a neighboring lunatic asylum.” He meets a hunter whose “features were wild and uncanny.” In a valley “surrounded by dense undergrowth,” the hunter raises his whistle to his lips and blows “a shrill note” that wakes the boy from his nightmare. In the dream he had been going to Eisleben, the home of Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant movement. When he meets the hunter, it becomes a question of whether or not to proceed to Eisleben or to go instead to Teutschenthal, which means German Valley. The roads diverge and the dreamer must make the choice whether to follow the road to Christianity or the other road, which leads to the natural world, the primeval soil of paganism.
“In the end one experiences only oneself,” he said. The systems of philosophy are only many different forms of personal confession. The thought cannot be separated from the life of the thinker.

The Solitary Seeker

He wrote an autobiography of sorts, one of the strangest autobiographies ever written. Some say he was already insane by the time he wrote it, and there may have been some foreshadowing of the collapse that was to come three years later. Yet even if he was already “insane,” his mental powers were as formidable as ever. Ecce Homo he called it, “Behold the Man,” quoting what Pontius Pilate said to the mob before the execution of Christ. Many found its title arrogant, or blasphemous, and inside the book, the outrageousness of the title is upheld, with chapter titles like “Why I am so wise” ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Coverpage
  2. Titlepage
  3. Copyright
  4. Table of Contents
  5. Dedication
  6. Existentialism: What’s in a Name?
  7. Hegel: The Jumping-Off Point
  8. Schopenhauer: The First Dissenter
  9. Dostoyevsky: The Visionary
  10. Kierkegaard: The Source
  11. Nietzsche: The Soul
  12. Kafka: Painter of the Absurd
  13. Rilke: Existential Poet
  14. Jaspers: The Formulater
  15. Phenomenology: Dilthey and Husserl
  16. Heidegger: A New Language
  17. Sartre: The Quintessential Existentialist
  18. Camus: Existential Humanist
  19. Beauvoir: Existential Feminism
  20. Marcel: Existential Christian
  21. Merleau Ponty: Brother in Arms
  22. Ortega Y Gassett: Existential Politician
  23. Existential Theater
  24. Existential Film
  25. Existential Music
  26. Existential Art
  27. Existential Psychotherapy
  28. Existential America
  29. Existential Politics
  30. Into the Sunset
  31. Selected Bibliography
  32. About the Author and Illustrator
Stili delle citazioni per Existentialism For Beginners

APA 6 Citation

Cogswell, D., & Lee, J. (2008). Existentialism For Beginners ([edition unavailable]). For Beginners. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/501180/existentialism-for-beginners-pdf (Original work published 2008)

Chicago Citation

Cogswell, David, and Joe Lee. (2008) 2008. Existentialism For Beginners. [Edition unavailable]. For Beginners. https://www.perlego.com/book/501180/existentialism-for-beginners-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Cogswell, D. and Lee, J. (2008) Existentialism For Beginners. [edition unavailable]. For Beginners. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/501180/existentialism-for-beginners-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Cogswell, David, and Joe Lee. Existentialism For Beginners. [edition unavailable]. For Beginners, 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.