Modern Life

Pink Floyd’s song “The Thin Ice”, from their conceptual album The Wall, is a deep emotional song that has impacted my life because of the meaningful lyrics. The instrumental is melancholy, and from the first listen many may only see the song as that, but the lyrics tell a deep, poetic story through only two verses.

The lyrics are from two different perspectives. The first verse coming from the perspective of Pink’s mother. Pink is a character that Pink Floyd created to embody their struggles and The Wall is a story about his life. “The Thin Ice” is the second song from this conceptual album, and it is introducing one of the first struggles that causes Pink to spiral into a depressive state throughout his life and the album. 

The song starts with Pink’s widowed mother consoling her child…:

 Momma loves her baby
 And daddy loves you too
 And the sea may look warm to you babe
 And the sky may look blue 

Throughout the album, we see the band taking on various rolls outside of their character Pink. In verses like this, the lyrics seem comforting, but also hopeless. Cooing her baby, telling him that life may look beautiful, yet implying that it isn’t is an odd way to calm a child down. This is intentional, hence it is one of the first instances Pink feels hopelessness, one of the driving points of this conceptual album.

We can see this soft, somber verse from the mother contrasted by Pink’s harsh view in the last verse…:

 Dragging behind you the silent reproach
 Of a million tear-stained eyes 

This second verse, from Pink’s perspective as an adult, almost seems like he is mocking his Mother’s cooing, and instead he’s warning that life is inevitably going to send you into suffering. This warning is close to the same warning his mother was giving him, although his interpretation is not as soft and concealed as his mother’s. This modern life holds personal struggles for the person skating and it was created from other’s suffering that the skater must feel dragging behind them. Skating on “the thin ice of modern life” is an emotional risk, but it doesn’t seem like a choice, even though it is phrased as one. 

 Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice
 Appears under your feet
 You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
 With your fear flowing out behind you
 As you claw the thin ice 

Although it is blatantly stated that the thin ice represented modern life, arguably not everyone felt these events unfold the same way Pink did. Pink lost his father at a very young age because of WWII and his mother was severely depressed from it. Introducing loss into his life at an early age may be the cause of his thin ice. Throughout his post-war life more things build up while his support systems also have a negative outlook which may be cracking the ice, causing him to eventually lose himself to his own fear and depression.

The cautionary message of this song is arguably an existentialist one: pain felt from past generations will never leave and life will inevitably hurt you. 

Existentialist Lines in the Sand

Evil Mr. Heidkamp brought up some interesting points in his lecture on existentialism last week about the monotony of daily life. Primarily, he discussed the meaning of life is to “accept the absurd” and forge your own path, however underwhelming it may be. Essentially, it is the epitome of individuality. According to him, most people choose to believe in values such as love, religion, and anything else they use to explain away the truth. In doing so, they follow the grain of countless others around and before them – sheep following the flock.

So, in order to break free of this cycle and discover the true meaning of life, one must accept that life is not filled with purpose or values, it just is. It is merely a thing that exists, nothing else. And if accepting this means others view you as radical? So be it. But where does one draw the line? At what point does ‘just existing’ or ‘just doing’ become inexcusable? When someone commits murder for sure.

Which brings us to the novel, The Stranger, in which Meursault lives a monotonous and average life, doing the same things everyday without adventure. In this story, Meursault is the embodiment of existentialism. He goes through life with no emotional attachment, accepting everything the way it is. When he shoots the man and is jailed, he is unable to provide any explanation as to why. He was handed a gun, he shot it. He gets caught, he accepts it. He gets put on death row, he accepts that too. If this is what it means to “accept the absurd,” why would anyone want that? What’s so bad about choosing to believe in values and purpose? And, if one acknowledges the absurd but continues on in the fashion of everyone else, is that a roundabout way of accepting it?

Is Meursault an existentialist?

Existentialism is the concept of individual freedom, choice, and control over one’s destiny. In The Stranger, Meursault remains an amoral character. He doesn’t display strong feelings toward anything. This behavior separates Meursault from the existentialist because they have an interest in ethics and morality. Existentialists do not believe that morality and belief systems are required. However, many existentialist still choose to develop their moral compass and exercise it through freedom and choice. Meursault doesn’t seem to be interested in “correctness” at all. Whether it is society’s rule or his own opinions, Meursault doesn’t care. He is like an inanimate leaf floating through life on a gust of wind. His lack of choice represents the opposite approach that many early existentialists advocated. In part 1 of the novel, Meursault is the result of simply living to stay alive and responding to any immediate discomfort. To the reader, he appears lost, causing us to consider what gives us purpose? An existentialist would say that Meursault’s life matters because he has it, but would Meursault agree? 

Does It Matter That Nothing Matters?

It has been established that all of those things that give us purpose in life exist simply to distract us from the inevitable: death. We use things like love, friendship, new experiences, happiness, freedom, money, and even our own identities to make our time on Earth feel like it is about more than birth, reproduction, and eventually death. But does it matter? Does it matter that nothing we value really matters?

To believe that nothing matters, while accurate, is demoralizing at best. With that mindset, one might be completely content to spend the rest of their life in bed staring at the ceiling or watching paint dry. While these activities are valid and don’t change the eventual outcome of their life, why would one choose to not go live? Our time here is meaningless, so why not make the most of it? Why shouldn’t we stay up too late or learn about the things we love or challenge ourselves? It may be pointless, but does that make it not valid? If we could enjoy our time alive instead of wasting away, why shouldn’t we? I think that knowing that nothing matters is important for overcoming fear, and to help us find calm and work through problems that feel daunting or life changing. However, that awareness can be balanced with an excitement for life. If nothing matters, it can’t hurt to try for whatever makes you happy. The worst that can happen is failure, and if you fail, it doesn’t matter.

Does Love Exist?

Love is a social construct. It exists to distract us from the absurdity of life, from the pain and suffering that we truly live through each day. It is a curtain over our eyes that covers up the truth, that life is miserable.

Who cares?

Why not be happy? Why not spend your life looking for your other half? If life is absurd anyway, why not act irrationally and continue to seek out love? The question of if love exists or is just a social construct is meaningless. We still feel the same longing for love either way. We still feel attraction and heartbreak. So why not look for love?

Evil Heidkamp is Scary

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.

“Groundhog Day” as an Existentialist Film

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.

Is Mersault Just Crazy?

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: Every man is an Island

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.

Image result for first photo of universe
The Andromeda nebula, photographed at the Yerkes Observatory around 1900

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