At face value, existentialist philosophy is the philosophy of aloof scorn towards societal values and human problems. That middle-age “existential crisis”, questioning, “What could it all MEAN?” For most characterizations of such philosophy, the answer is nothing. All of society, human institutions, experiences, and emotions are for naught, at least as far as the universe and life itself is concerned- we are all just a part of a big floating rock in space where stuff happens, with no rhyme or reason as to when it happens or who it happens to. It is all absurd.
Yet, a deeper look into existentialism produces a different outlook, for which we may consider Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”. In his essay, Camus argues that the old Greek mythological figure condemned to rolling a boulder up a mountain for eternity has been severely misrepresented in his emotional state. Rather than becoming discouraged at the futility of his fate, Sisyphus finds meaning and fulfillment in the brief moments walking down the mountain to retrieve his rock; for then, he can appreciate his momentary triumph and very existence. The act of living becomes his meaning of life, and he is fully present. Therefore, rather than being sad and longing of his old life, Sisyphus is actually happy.
This idea about finding meaning in existence results in an important modification to the common portrayal of existentialism. Nothing matters except for existence, and therefore, everything matters. The meaning of life is not found in emotions, or institutions, or goals; it is found in the very existence of the mundane. Everything simply is, and nothing lies beyond- there is nowhere in between.
2 thoughts on “Nothing, Everything, and Nowhere In Between”
I really liked your take. My question would be, wouldn’t the interpretation that Sisyphus is unhappy be exactly as valid? As you said, existence is the meaning, but to label it happy seems entirely subjective. Optimistic Nihilism is a luxury that only some can experience
I guess that would depend on one’s characterization of happiness. For me, feeling as though one has a distinct purpose gives one meaning, and meaning gives happiness. I find an appropriate analogy to the saying, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”; perhaps the opposite of happiness is not sadness, but purposelessness.