Existentialism and The Individual

While discussing existentialism for the first time I was very confused and frustrated. Lots of the things that I thought brought meaning to life were illusions in the eyes of existentialism.

While discussing existentialism for the first time, I was very confused and frustrated. Lots of the things that I thought brought meaning to life were illusions in the eyes of existentialism.

Existentialism defines life as absurd, and I do believe life can be wild and unpredictable, but not that friends and family don’t bring meaning to it. Existentialism overall is about living a life as an individual and for oneself.

In The Stranger, we can witness the philosophy of existentialism through the narrator’s perspective. Meursault, the narrator, lives his life as an individual and does things his way and when he wants too. The book focuses on Meursault’s outlook on life, and he realizes that it is about living, not for others, but yourself. Meursault finds meaning while sitting alone in his jail cell, which isn’t an exciting place to be, but he gets used to it.

As the book comes to an end, we see Meursault contemplating in his head about life. He is not thinking about others, but himself and the fate that was to become a reality. He was learning to exist, which brought happiness to him.

Overall after reflecting on the ideas of existentialism and The Stranger, I can grasp their purpose better. But I don’t think I can give up on the “illusions” that I believe brings meaning to my life. Everyone has a different way of seeing themselves in the world, but I think I can say my isn’t through existentialism, but others might so keep living on as an individual.

Albert Camus’s existentialism is not as depressing as you think.

Existentialism is a complex philosophy. Due to the very nature of existentialism, to question one’s purpose and reject the conventional meanings people give to life, most would be led to believe that existentialism is simply a synonym for pessimism. Other existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, strengthen this stereotype that existentialism parallels nihilism. However, a common misunderstanding is that all existentialists believe in a life without meaning. While Albert Camus accepts that life is absurd, unlike other existentialists, he rejects complete hopelessness. Camus argues that one must accept that their life will not mean anything in the long run, that one’s actions will be ultimately futile and human life will always be absurd, but one must live on nonetheless. Even with this knowledge that the universe was not made for us, Camus still believed that life is worth enduring. The fact that you as an individual exists at all is meaningful on its own. We must acknowledge the absurdities of human existence, but to strive to be as happy and content as we possibly can anyway. As Camus writes in The Myth of Sisyphus, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”. After Sisyphus accepts the hopelessness of his situation, he embraces his burden and thus, it is no longer a punishment for him. Once you realize that there is no inherent meaning to life and that we do not truly have any particular purpose, only then can you become truly free to create your own meaning. When you really look deeper into the message behind Camus’s ideology, you’ll realize that it’s actually about being happy.

Camu’s Reason to Live

Camu is well known for his bold question about philosophy. He believed that the most important question was wether one should kill oneself. Is life worth living once people recognize it’s meaninglessness? This is where Camu’s essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” comes into play. Camu invites us all to put ourselves in the shoes of Sisyphus. To pretend we are going on in a meaningless existence, completing the same monotonous tasks for our entire lives. If that were the case, why live? That is when consciousness enters the picture.

Camu is able to argue that Sisyphus’s consciousness, while being the basis of his punishment, frees him. In that same way, our own consciousness can free us from the absurdity and meaninglessness of our own lives. Camu was not like other, dreary existentialists of his time. He was a very lively actually. In his time, he was almost an icon of youth and fashion. He was the type of man to win nobel prizes in literature, and appear on the cover of Vogue. He enjoyed life very much, and found most simple pleasures to give meaning to life.

Camu believed that while constructs like friends, family, and love, could still be enjoyed through an existentialist lense. He also believed one should simple, immediate pleasures. These could include, music, sport, sex, and many other immediate pleasures. Enjoying these simple pleasures is almost laughing in the face of the gods. Learning to simply enjoy oneself in the face of emptiness is true freedom. It is also why, in Camu’s opinion, life is worth living.

Existentialism in “Dead Poets Society”

When reading “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus, the vivid exemplification of existentialism in the novel, and its embodiment in the protagonist, Meursault, reminded me of a recent movie I had seen. Meursault’s complete detachment from social norms and societal constructions was reminiscent of the movie “Dead Poet’s Society” by Peter Weir.

In the movie, Robin William’s character, John Keating, plays an English teacher at a rigirous and strict private school. However unlike the other teacher’s at the school, Keating does not believe in textbooks and rating literature on a graph. He tells the students to take the pages of their textbook and rip them out because they are meaningless. He even disregards the societal rules by telling everyone to stand on their desks.

Just like Meursault, Keating’s unorthodox manner does not go over well with the rest of society. The schoolmaster is offended and upset with Keating for not teaching correctly, or in other words, following the social construct of what a teacher should be. As as result he is fired and the kids are assigned a new teacher. The kids of course were engaged and actually cared about the subject when Keating was teacher, so they were devastated when he was fired.

In both works, existentialism is rejected by society, and they are both worse off for it. If only society could understand and adopt the construct-free way of life then everyone would be better of because of it.

Meursault and his Mother

The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, lives up to the title. The story is about a character that is very alienated from society, from friends, from his lover, from human emotion, and eventually from normal logic. Meursault separates himself from these traits. Meursault shows no emotion to his own mother which leaves me wonders if they had a loving or hatred relationship.

At the start of the book Meursault’s mother has passed away. Meursault’s mother was living her last years in a nursing home which she was put in by Meursault. Upon hearing the death of his mother, Meursault didn’t cry and didn’t look at his mother one last time. Meursault was showing no emotion to the passing of his mother. Many criticized Meursault for not taking care of his mother and just putting her in a nursing home because he needed to provide for himself. After the separation Meursault didn’t put in any effort to see her. All of Meursault’s actions towards his mother shows that they didn’t have a good relationship. But, Meursault could of loved his mother very much. It’s just, Meursault’s strange personality makes it hard for us to understand the relationship they had.

A Step Above the Brink: Existentialism

In truth, we don’t have a way to measure the ‘goodness’ of our morals, especially without being biased by those same morals that have been fostered in us since birth. This excuse has often been made to defend passive ideologies like cultural relativism, and actions such as female circumcision in parts of Africa.

Existentialism is often confused with Nihilism for obvious reasons, both philosophies famously discredit all of our assumed virtues, by confronting them with hard logic and realism.

However slight, the difference be Existentialism and Nihilism is distinct. When faced with the void, Nihilism offers nothing to replace the meaning it subtracts from life, where Existentialism simply allows you to lower your standards of happiness to level that simply existing satisfies, ensuring a content life.

In our human quest to prove ourselves, to add meaning through competition and comparison, we are slowly poisoning the only source of known life in the Universe in the Earth. Because of our arrogance we have broken the natural order of how creatures should act in accordance to their ‘special purpose’.

A common philosophical theme, ‘special purpose’ is loosely, our reason for being in existence, and I would contend our purpose is to appreciate the ability to appreciate or existence.

The end goal was never something to accomplish in our lives, the end goal was to make it to a state of existence where you understand you exist.

Existentialism Has Changed How I Think About the World (Or Maybe Just College)

This week in class we were slapped in the face with the extreme nature of Existentialism. Both the philosophy, added to the jarring progression of Meursault’s character throughout The Stranger, gives a very intense image of the worldview. But, as I’ve been giving it some thought this week, some aspects of Existentialism could perhaps add a new perspective to our lives as we know it.

Personally, especially as we are moving into senior year, I think that many of us are acting far too concerned with the minor details. This may be a reflection of my own mindset but as I’ve been moving into the college application process (& related events) I’ve been extremely concerned with the tiny things. My mind has been packed with every single email I need to send and every single word I need to write instead of looking at the bigger picture. As we’ve continued through our week, this perspective I’ve been taking has moved to the forefront of my mind. And, maybe as a result of these past weeks lessons, I’ve started to question if this mindset is helping anyone? Although I don’t believe I’m going to become a full on existentialist, being able to internalize the concept that the little things, and evens some larger aspects of our lives, don’t actually hold as much worth or meaning as we think is calming. Yes, I could stress about the wording for a sentence in my common app essay, but how much does that really matter? Out of everything I’ve learned this week about existentialism, I think the thing that I’ve become more aware of is that how much something matters isn’t a fixed point but a scale. And, being aware of this scale has helped me prioritize what I let take up my mental energy, and therefore my life.