I did not enjoy Evil Heidkamp’s existentialism lecture. The main reason being that I do not agree with the concept of existentialism. Although the lecture made me look at the book a little differently (and that was the point of it), I was annoyed with Evil Heidkamp because I did not agree with most of the points he was making and I kept thinking that he actually supported existentialism. I’ve found myself disliking Camus and The Stranger because of the support of existentialism. I get the fact that there are social constructs that someone just made up at one point in time but it doesn’t matter that they’re made up. These social constructs like family, friends, money, and religion make humans happy because of how we are taught to enjoy life. It’s hard to go through life valuing these constructs and one day hear Evil Heidkamp’s lecture telling you that these constructs are pointless and that life is absurd. I think there’s so much meaning in life and these social constructs because of the happiness and determination it gives people. I understand the concept of existentialism but it’s a hard topic to wrap your head around and it would be a depressing thing to believe in.
The movie “Groundhog Day” is about a man, Phil Connors, who has a bad outlook on life. But by some fluke of nature, Phil ends up repeating the same Groundhog Day over and over. At first, Phil is confused, and keeps repeating his actions every day so that they are the same, in case the next day is not a repeat of the last. But then, Phil begins to realize that he can act however he wants and there will be no consequences because there will be “no tomorrow.” He begins to break many social and societal constructs, basically doing whatever he wants because he knows there will be no repercussions. He ends up becoming happier and having a better outlook on life once he begins doing this. He has a new level of freedom that he did not have before.
One particularly interesting thing about “Groundhog Day” is that it portrays a positive view of existentialism. I think it’s easy for many people to say existentialists are simply pessimistic and refuse to see any good in life. “Groundhog Day” refutes all these statements. Phil begins the movie tied to societal constructs meant to give life meaning. After repeating the same day over and over again, Phil is set free from these constructs. He no longer fears society’s judgement of his actions. And only when he gets this freedom is he truly happy in the movie. Although existentialism is, on one level, about trying to shy away from things we traditionally think gives value to our lives, it’s also about the freedom we can acquire from living without these social constructs.
One other connection that I think must be made here is the connection of “Groundhog Day” and Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus.” Much like Sisyphus, Phil must repeat the same day, pushing his “boulder” up the hill, just for the day to repeat or the boulder to fall back down the hill. But Phil begins to recognize the absurdity of life as he repeats his days, just as Camus says Sisyphus must accept the absurdity of life as he pushes his boulder. Camus says that once you realize how absurd life is, you can find amusement and even happiness in its absurdity. This is why he proposes that Sisyphus is happy, and this is why Camus would also consider Phil to be happy as well.
The Stranger, a novel by Albert Camus, has one of the most interesting, strange, analyzed characters in literary history, Monsieur Mersault. What separates him from the rest of the character world is his pessimistic viewpoint of life, that it is absurd for everyone and that its only certainty is death. He clearly lacks the basic morals and emotions the rest of the world has, not mourning the death of his mother and killing a man for no reason other than it was hot outside.
Many critics of the story would say that Mersault’s indifferent viewpoint on life is the key to true happiness, defeating the systems of social power brought upon us by our ancestors, seeing the book as Camus’ guide to lead a good life. But is it? Or is it a counter-example to how to lead a life? Imagine a world where killing people for no reason is common, nobody cares for relationships, and the only thing on people’s minds are death. There is no doubt that there is power in the morality system, shaming the people that are not able to control themselves, but is it not necessary to avoid chaos?
Monsieur Mersault is showing himself in the story to be a complete Nihilist, and a pessimistic one too, far away from the existentialist and the optimistic Nihilist. It is true what Mersault thinks, life really does not matter because we are all going to die, but it is not worth still living it to the fullest?Even if life does not matter, is it not a good idea to make it a better place? His actions in the novel, firing off at the priest at the end, killing the Arab without remorse, and showing no respect to women throughout (except for fulfilling his desires), all point to the behavior of an absolute sociopath that really does not care about anyone, not even himself.
Life might not matter at all because we are only here for a short time, but that does not mean people like Mersault should be around to ruin it for all of us. There might be systems of power Mersault is fighting with his strange viewpoint, but the ones he fight are the ones that keep evil and dullness from taking over the world. Camus in this story is showing the audience the extreme existentialism that could be dangerous and that sprouts from his teachings and is telling us not to be Mersault.
Existentialism is profoundly individualistic, and I think that is part of the appeal to some people, but I think that intense focus on the individual is what makes the existentialist world view so sad.
The image of the lone hero standing in a sea of absurdity may have romantic appeal, but it isn’t real. The world isn’t absurd. There is order. Natural laws are followed, even if we don’t fully understand them, and the universe keeps spinning.
Does that mean life is fair? No. I don’t think that those natural laws care much about fairness but it does mean that we are part of something far bigger than ourselves.
Is that the meaning of life? Probably not. To be honest, I don’t have a clue what the meaning of life is, and I think that is ok. But I do know that even if every man is an island, underneath the waves we are all connected.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Donne, 1624