Reading a post on another blog one day, (http://tinyurl.com/9szjlnn) I came across an interesting fact. In all my readings and all my musings about being a “philosopher” it appears that I never knew exactly what the word existential meant. Okay, I know it’s easy. The dictionary states it is “pertaining to existence.” Pretty simple you may say and it is, if you go strictly by the definition.
I went back to the blog where I found this discussion to see if there really was some clarity to be offered. (Loud buzzer going off) No! Thus is not to say the other blog was not brilliant or informative, because it is definitely splendid and enlightening, it ended up an exercise in futility. What I actually discovered was that I did not necessarily want to know what existential is as much as gaining an understanding of…wait for it…existentialism.
Existentialism, in the dictionary I use, is stated as; “a philosophical attitude associated especially with Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, and Sartre, and opposed to rationalism and empiricism, that stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices.”
And you thought I use too many big words.
Not finding succor in that set of words meant-to-explain-that-actually-confused I launched an investigation. I amassed and garnered evidence from hither and yon on the most wise and wonderful World Wide Web (pay no attention the man behind the curtain), only to arrive back at home plate, having just swung for my third strike. I will not bore you with my failure, but offer you the same opportunity I thought I was embarking on in the first place. Go to http://tinyurl.com/9bsx9mu and you can see why this is a particularly perplexing affair.
Let’s go back to the original definition “Pertaining to existence.” This seems a simple exercise and it is. There is a danger any time one delves into the world of philosophy and philosophers that the information received is of little of no use. Sure, the philosophers all understand it, but the average run of the mill Next Great American Author (writer that is, not the contest) usually has to spend precious writing time in the pursuit of comprehension that could be better spent dazzling the world with the prolific penmanship he/she/it thinks they are constructing. Onward Christian (or Islamic, Jewish, Pagan…) Soldiers!
I tend to live in the world of make-believe. Most of what I work on is fictional stories or books. While I am not completely adverse to research for the sake of art, I do not believe that much research is necessary for one to write something that is by definition falsification, fabrication forgery, and facsimile. Why complicate it more by trying to infuse a further level of commotion in the mind of the reader? Face it folks, when writing fiction you are living in a world where you are simply supposed to…just make it all up.
In all of the musings that come to me in a day, the idea of existentialism occurs and reoccurs often. The factual concern that arises in me is the question; does it really matter? The investigation into the fact or denial of the existence of any given person or idea seems to be an exercise in impracticality. René Descartes“Cogito ergo sum” offers a simple understanding of the existential movement. Well, that is, until I made the mistake of performing a further research investigation into coming to believe my own existence (Oh Snap!).
“The simple meaning of the phrase is that someone wondering whether or not he or she exists is, in and of itself, proof that something, an "I", exists to do the thinking. However, this "I" is not the more or less permanent person we call "I". It may be that the something that thinks is purely momentary, and not the same as the something which has a different thought the next moment.” (http://tinyurl.com/8gytj) Alas, attempted simplification turns into complication, which then evolves into complexity which ultimately gestates into aggravation.
So if it pisses you off so much, why do you even try? It is not for me to choose right from wrong when I am writing. When scripting articles and other projects for clients there has to be a level at which the writing is “provable” or at least almost “provable.” In fiction the standard is still there, albeit not to the extent as nonfiction, but certainly to assist the greater purpose of producing prose that is believable. Even though it’s original purpose is to be a work of falsification, fabrication forgery, and facsimile.
If I can corroborate the existence of myself, then the characters in my stories and books can seem real to those who read my work. The problem I find in achieving that corroboration might be that I am looking in the wrong place. I had a choice of taking either philosophy or psychology when I attended university and chose philosophy. Having been a practicing patient of a psychologist, I figured that my counselor gets paid to know what marbles are loose in my head. I do not need to add to my mental maladies by trying to be “second chair” in any therapy session.
I took an “Intro to Western Philosophy” class taught by this pretty cool Professor who rode Harley’s and probably smoked some dope. He told me to read Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” I rushed to the bookstore to get this sacred tome. (Well, sacred in “Intro to Western Philosophy” classes) after all, I was a motorcycle enthusiast and the Prof was a motorcycle enthusiast so it must be cool. It took me the rest of the semester to read and I barely got a “C” for the class after nearly blowing the essay test on the book. Between all the parts about Ontological Arguments, Empiricism, Epistemology, A Priori, A Posteriori, A Fortiori, causality, Platonism, pluralism, pragmatism, rationalism, realism, relativism, skepticism, Socratic Method, Teleological Argument, Theism, Thomism, and Anselm's Ontological Argument I came to the serious belief that this university thing was not working for me.
Then I received my grades for the semester. Statistics, Chemistry, and Statistical Process Control all came back with “A’s”. The great efforts that I expended reading that book and listening to the Prof’s lectures had made the most difficult classes on my degree plan seem simple. There just might be something to this here philosophy.
How it all relates to the existential quandary I am writing about is that in order for one to write, one must exist. If you are attempting to present characters in stories that are believable then they must, at some level, exist. Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in the Existential Arena. My heroes and villains must exist or my writing will cease to exist, which ultimately leads me to, in desperate yearning for meaning either escape, or embrace…solipsism.
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