Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I feel like I should preface this post with an apology.  These thoughts came to me while I was in an exhausted and apparently abstract mood.  I guess the burnout of finals can produce some weird philosophical thoughts?
Human beings seems to constantly produce major questions and, as a result, are always in search of major answers.  Modern science, for example, has produced a wealth of questions and has answered many of them.  But do scientific breakthroughs not simply ask at least as many questions as they answer?  One might argue that there will always be the same number of questions that humans have of their world.  A scientist may have discovered that stars are simply balls of hot gas, but is then left wondering why they came to be, or why we are even able to discover such things?  There will always be, in other words, a steady sea of human questions.
It just seems that the ancient Greeks had just as many questions as we do, despite any obvious technological advances.  Our questions are without a doubt, different and perhaps more "advanced," but are they any less prolific?  Perhaps existence is not as finite as we may think.  Our thoughts can never truly be a means to an end because there will always be more to ponder. 

Interpreting individuals

In Arthur Miller’s selection from the Death of a Salesman, a very interesting point is brought up that deals specifically with the interaction of people through an existentialist lens. Throughout the semester, we have focused mostly on the self and rarely addressed interactions of two people, except for when we studied Sartre, specially his claim that the interaction between two freedoms will always result in conflict. In Miller’s literary work, the interaction between Willy and his family occurs before he has died and at his funeral, his family attempts to make sense of his suicide, despite the fact that there is no way to know what was going on his mind right before he killed himself. What’s interesting to note is that while we do acknowledge that the world is absurd and that paradoxes emerge constantly, we seem to ignore that when dealing with other people, and attempt to rationalize them based on their actions. When we don’t understand them or the rationality that we ascribe to them doesn’t make sense to us, we tend to rely on an emotion to deal with those people.
Instead of attempting futilely to understand beings or more common, but even worse, take shortcuts and only analyze a few traits or a few actions, we need to acknowledge that they are freedoms like us and impossible to objectively define. A person is constantly changing. Preferences, thoughts, and actions taken are all fluid and rarely stay constant for more a few seconds, except when consciously forced. Leaving room for this unpredictability that ultimately arises and not attempting to rationalize one’s actions into an interpretation of that person, serves us better than exhausting our brain for an interpretation of events, where their only utility is to serve ourselves. But what I’m asking for is unreasonable.
Finding meaning in anything and everything, no matter how extremely limited and subjective it is, is what people do. It is just as much a way to survive and cope in this world as it is a way to make sense of this world. While we cannot change our way of dealing with other people and their freedom, we must at least acknowledge the way we ascribe meaning to them and how we view them. We must constantly question this rationale and at the very least make it as malleable as possible, since the rationale that may have explained an individual to us at one point may not suffice at a later point, yet we still use it and rarely question its foundation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On the Conservation of Time

Where does time go? Where seems an awkward qualifier to use in discussing time, considering that where deals with physical space and time deals with, well, time. The creation of recorded time and dates and the distinction of past, present, and future control our perception of time. One might say time has passed but does time really pass? Perhaps life is like the sand in an hourglass, the top the future, the bottom the past, and the narrow stream in the middle our consciousness of its conversion. Time is therefore the name given to this conversion. And Life in general follows this metaphor, only with more sand. Where does time go? We capture it. We trap it in pictures, paintings, books, films, magazines, stories. We capture it and make it accessible to the present. As technology has developed, we have been able to capture more and more of it. First only through speech. Then writing. Then television. Now the best scientists estimate that we are able to capture around one percent of time as it passes. Even then, they admit, we are only able to capture it temporarily. Where does ninety-nine percent of the time go? Clearly it never happened.

The conservation of time. Our conception of time is nothing more than a conception. Time is not past, present, and future. Time is the instant. Time is the now. It does not pass. It is a focal point through which motion is permitted. The present does not include five minutes ago or five minutes from now. It does not include one second ago or one second from now. It has no range because it is not a duration. Time is conserved because it is continually the same instant. The past does not contain time. In fact, there is really no such thing as the past. This is because nothing exists except in the now. The past is only its effects on the now. The future. How wonderful to think about the future. So mysterious, a loose word to describe the indescribable. The future. What will soon be the now. Of course it is nothing. Nothing more than ideas in your head. It doesn’t exist. All there is is the now, the universe is constantly made new.

Of course this is why we have no perception of time. We live in the instant because there is nothing else. So on reflection of my day. Where did the time go? I had a large Thanksgiving dinner. How long ago that seems now. A number of hours, sure, yet it seems much longer. And my birthday last month? I scarcely remember it. Actually, at this moment, everything I think of seems as if it were hundreds of years ago. A different life even. I am restricted to the now. Everything else is nothing but what I manage to retain.

So there are two things. The instant. And me.

Everything else there is to say about time is fundamentally derived from these two.

Of course, this is just what I think.

Student Film: "Present-at-Hand vs. Ready-to-Hand"

by Erin, Ben, and Alex.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Roth and Nietzsche

I really liked reading the human stain, it reflected Nietzsche. It was a very at taking many of the existential ideas Nietzsche had and put it into an example that was easy to understand. Phillip Roth did a good job writing this story, I only wish that I could have read the whole story so I would hae gotten the full context of what was going on.
The idea that you should just keep dancing seems to be a theme from Nietzsche. It wasn’t in anything of Nietzsche that we actually read this semester, however Nietzsche once wrote that any day that is not spent dancing is a day wasted. I thought that this was really funny considering what was said in the human stain. The janitor woman keeps telling the man to keep dancing. She is trying to explain that we need to keep dancing, or we are wasting our lives, slowly but surely. The idea that we should only worry about the now, and create our own values is one that is central to Nietzsche philosophy. The idea of dancing is a perfect example for this story. In hindsight dancing seems like a meaningless activity, why do we dance, we don’t gain anything from it, it doesn’t help out society, its an activity that we do on a whim. Usually when we dance it comes from some small temporary impulse to move around and enjoy the moment. Dancing seems like a temporary joy that we pursue for our own pleasures, not for the pleasures of others. Dancing seems like an activity of the ubermensch. Nietzsche says that we should live a life that we would not mind repeating for eternity. A life spent dancing and celebrating does not seem like a bad life to repeat.
In addition I think this is obvious but the woman in the story is an obvious embodiment of the ubermensch. She does not care about the opinions of others, she makes her own values, and does what makes her happy not what other people tell her she should do. She is not only able to make her own values, and she is able to pull people away from the herd. In the story the janitor and the man she is with both realize their identity as value making beings, and they decide that they are going to live the life they want, not the life their spouse wants, or the life anyone else wants.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Choosing Temperament

Merleau-Ponty's examination of freedom differs from Sartre's, but I wonder how these different formulations of human freedom affect a diverse group of readers, all with dispositional differences. Sartre saw freedom as absolute or total; however, seeing freedom as something embodied, within a body that shares specific limitations with one's consciousness, seems to be a formulation from felt limitations. As Sartre supposedly never knew despair, anguish, or personal misery, perhaps he could feel the boundless freedom he attributes to consciousness, (269-270). Merleau-Ponty presents freedom as something within a field, for if freedom was absolute, inherently so, within humans, freedom would be both everywhere and nowhere. There would be no instances by which one could differentiate a free action from an unfree action; by recognizing limits such as these on any coherent discussion on human freedom, a human project is given meaning by our choosing it and holding fast to it.

Merleau-Ponty posits one's temperament is a matter of choice, as existing "only for the second order of knowledge that I gain about myself when I see myself as others see me, and in so far as I recognize it, confer value upon it, and in that sense, choose it," (278). He then goes on to explain how motives follow from decisions, as the motives behind a project lose their force once one has abandoned the project. An example would be me waking up at 7:30 this morning to write a post for this class, but I somehow decided in my grogginess not to get out of bed and write the post. Thus my motives behind the specific action of writing a post lost their force in the wake of my decision to continue sleeping. I have a difficult time taking this view of motivation as valid, as I often find myself trying to counteract my temperament in order to act in certain ways. Thus my action may be free, and my decision as well, but my temperament seems to be making a great dent in my ability to stick to a decision early in the morning that happens to be contrary to my temperament.

While Merleau-Ponty's version of describing human freedom differs from Sartre's, I have the same problem with both of their explanations for temperaments or sadness, despair, etc, as being chosen. I suppose the project of being happy would be given meaning by our choosing of this project, and motives will follow closely behind. However, for someone like a writer, who creates meaning for themselves and define their selves through the act of writing, the existential vacuum as described by Viktor Frankl seems to affect some in devastating ways while not others. We notice the particular temperament shining through one’s philosophical works, but we cannot hope to understand it through a clinical lens. Camus offers an anecdotal account of having fallen through the safety nets of philosophical and theological tradition and grappling with despair. By the persistent goal of philosophy to itemize the problems felt through specific human experiences as those of humans in general, we are driven to ask if those not experiencing the existential vacuum are in bad faith simply or simply do not experience these vexing issues. We must ask whether these problems are dispositional, contingent upon a confluence of environment and choice and culminating in the production of a philosophical work. Some writers are going to approach the project of happiness by darker means than other writers, such as between Frankl and Sartre, as Frankl writes of “tragic optimism” in the face of the “tragic triad,” “Optimism is not anything to be commanded or ordered. One cannot even force oneself to be optimistic indiscriminately, against all odds, against all hope. And what is true for hope is also true for the other two components of the triad inasmuch as faith and love cannot be commanded or ordered either,” (358).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rorty vids

Seeing as how our last reading mentioned the American philosopher Richard Rorty (and given that at least 3 of us will probably be reading for Shade in Senior Seminar next semester), I thought these two videos would be worth sharing, especially since Rorty orally expresses his ideas reasonably well for a contemporary philosopher.

The first is a short video where Rorty discusses his views on truth.

The 2nd is a long discussion between Analytic philsopher Donald Davidson and Rorty on truth, meaning, and reference. All topics that we've broached this semester to some degree in Existentialism, but coming at them from a different angle. This video is much longer; I think the whole thing is about an hour. It's also A LOT more technical. At this point in the semester, I doubt many people will have the opportunity to look this one over and reflect some on it, but it's probably worth listening when have an hour or so to burn over X-mas break. Be sure to check it out, if your interested.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjWTuF35GtY
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCwbPDnN_yU
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ls8fZZcPKk
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPLShcPd7ao
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGiLoly2_1Y
Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqGhwnydOrQ

Monday, December 7, 2009

Student Film: "Little Freedoms"

by Manali Kulkarni and Courtney Martin

Student Film: "s-candy-lous".

a short film by brannen vick & sarah knowles:

"you seem like me."
"How do you know?"
"I can feel it."
"you know this is it."
"I know."
"We shouldn't wait around for another."
"I know. but what should we do?"
. . .
Be here.
Be with me."

Student Film: "Saw XVII"

Hey Y'all! I was not able to upload my video because the file was too large however, I did post it on to youtube.

The Link for Youtube is:


Can we ever truly get our point across?

The other day in class we began talking about Derrida’s idea of difference and differance. In French, difference can be defined as spacing between two things distinguishing them from one another, which is the same in English. Differance can be defined as to differ. These two different words with that vary in their meanings sound the same when pronounced out loud. Therefore, the meaning of the word is derived through the context in which it was said. It is up to the listener or the reader to interpret the message, yet interpretation in conversation and interpretation in reading are comparably different. The ideas of difference and difference exemplify how a listener or reader can misinterpret or create their own meaning of the sentence. This realization made me wonder which way of communicating more accurately expresses your opinion or if one’s ideas can ever truly be understood in the way by which the author wants them to be interpreted.

I’ve often thought writing is the most accurate way of communication. It gives us a chance to clearly develop our ideas and show the direct correlation of our thought process. These ideas can be expressed through our knowledge or experience, which can be explained in writing. Yet, the readers of our material may not have had those similar experiences or knowledge and their interpretation of the work can be skewed. Once the ideas are finalized in paper, the author loses control of someone’s interpretation of that work. It is up to the reader to derive meaning from what is written.

On the other hand, conversation allows people to communicate by responding to what is being said. If there are questions, then they are asked by the listener so a more clear way of expressing the idea can be attempted. Yet, conversation is not always as clear as writing. There is not always the flow from one point to the next, which allows for people to miss points or the exact meaning of the conversation. There is also the chance as we see in difference and differance that a word can sound the same, yet not have the same meaning.

After considering these two forms of communicating which we use daily to express ourselves, it made me wonder if I’m interpreting people the way in which they want me to understand. It also made me wonder if which way of communication would be the best for someone to fully grasp the meaning.

Being John Malkovich - Holy Existential Batman!

So, one of my favorite movies of all time, Being John Malkovich, is probably one of the most existential movies I've ever seen. Below is the trailer in case you haven't had the pleasure of seeing it. Now I will say, if you haven't seen it, you'll want to, so I apologize in advance for ruining it.

Where to begin? This movie deals with language, everydayness, responsibility, death, meaning-making, and ridiculous amounts more. The film can arguably, perhaps unfairly, broken down like this: conflicting freedoms who resent their present lives, and will do anything to live forever. In this case, living forever means sacrificing your own body to live within another (a vessel, as its termed). This vessel happens to be the fiery John Malkovich. Why? I have no idea. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) discovers a portal within his 5 foot tall office which leads into John Malkovich's head. Once inside, Craig (and anyone else who enters the portal) can live as Malkovich until eventually taking full control of his body. All that enter Malkovich's head also get a sort of sexual satisfaction (often feeling as though John's encounters are their own, alowing many to commit a form of adultery and many others to simply have sex as John Malkovich). Craig's experience becomes an addiction, which he begins to sell to other 'everyday-ers'. They keep coming back to re-experience the Malkovich ride, exemplifying their own dissatisfaction with their current lives. They fear making bold, free decisions that they can make while inside of another body, deflecting any real personal responsibility onto Malkovich.

Back to the vessel idea. Craig soon discovers that he can fully control Malkovich. He then uses Malkovich's socail standing to become what he's always wanted to be, a famous puppeteer. In doing so, he is forced to completely deletes the Craig Schwartz that used to be. In the end, a struggle for the vessel occurs. In order to illustrate my next point, a few things have to be outlined. So, here goes my best attempt at explaining something I still have trouble grasping. The vessel (John Malkovich) has always existed, from generation to generation. It just so happens that Malkovich is the current vessel. Just after the vessel's 44th (I think it's 44) birthday, any who enter the vessel will live on to the next generation, enabling to live forever. However, those still inside the vessel at the time of the 44th birthday, are trapped within the next vessel forever, having to sit and watch others live their lives within, never being able to escape.

So, Craig is inside the vessel at the time of its birthday, therefore sentencing him to watch from within another for the rest of eternity. This is the most unfree situation I can imagine, but even then, I realize that he is able to speak, but cannot do anything else at all. In the end, Craig sacrificed all the freedom he had in order to be someone other than himself, just to be sentenced to the most unfree existence imaginable. You can see how much is here. You could write forever on the stuff in this movie. There's so much more, and I'm doing this film a terrible injustice by not going the full mile, but it's late, and I'm tired.

Seriously though, watch it. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Now

I have always been told to “ live in the now” or to live in the moment. I never understood really what the “now” was and how to feasibly to able to live in it if I never understood what it was. Also, I always wondered why I should live in the now when I always wondered about the future simply because of curiosity. I was always curious to know what my future would be like because of my actions in the present. However, thinking about the future while living in the present was not the “proper” way to live because we should only be concerned with living today as if tomorrow is not guaranteed.

After reading Roth’s story from “ The Human Stain” and his perspective about living in the now as he is concerned with simply” fucking to come” and nothing else. He is simply concerned with what he is doing now and not next or tomorrow. Roth explains his story about a man and women when they are in bed together but simply sleeping together with no other motives behind. When he states that she is teaching him, she says that she is not "teaching" and implies that all she wanting to do is sleep with him without any other purpose but what is happening presently. By leading life as the woman does, Roth seems to claim that it is only being concerned with the present that is fully appreciating the existence of God and his work.

I know that is sounds peculiar that Roth’s except helped me to further understand what the now was but the concept of not wishing you were anywhere else but the present made sense to me in the overall context of “ the now”.

However, many people have told me that living in the now is better way of leading life and appreciating God on a higher level. Not taking tomorrow for granted is the ideal way to lead life as you are not going to be taking life for granted. Through this, you are appreciating God’s creation to the fullest. The paradox that I do not understand from this concept of leading life is that everyone( who believes in God) that lives in the moment is doing it to appreciate God’s creation of today but not in fact to appreciate the actions that are being done.

I am not claiming that there is any religious motives behind the characters in Roth’s story but I still wonder if anyone can really ever live in the moment or the now if there is a religious purpose to appreciate God behind all their motives?

Blog Finale.

Last week we discussed The Human Stain by Roth. In it, Coleman and the janitor discuss the existence of God. To the janitor, meaning in her life is characterized by not wanting to be someone else somewhere else. In the case of a husband and wife having sex, it could be that one or the other imagines that he or she is with another person to whom they are attracted. This is an example of wanting to be someone else, somewhere else. Rather, we need to live in the "this," or the present moment, in order to place meaning in our lives. I immediately related this back to earlier this semester when we discussed thought as proof of human freedom. We can also think back to the idea of living the "eternal life" and avoiding living in the "this" would cause one great anxiety about his life.

The idea of "eternal life" certainly relates to this reading. We can never fully experience our lives if we constantly wish we could do something else. A potentially lame example of this is a young adult who chooses their career according that what his family expects, instead of following his desires. He would would be in a perpetual state of the "someone else, somewhere else," which would cause him depression and anxiety. To imagine that life over and over would only cause more tragedy. The characters relate the idea of a man and wife having sex (particularly one wanting to be with another during the act of sex) to the existence of God. We discussed in class how this relates to God, in that humans always try to re-invent themselves despite the way they were created. This, to me, is a weak explanation of God's existence. Rather, it applies more to the focal points of existentialism. While it is inconvenient to constantly wish to be someone else somewhere else, it in a way proves us as free beings. When I take my math final on the 16th, I will desperately wish to be another student, one who is travelling home. My capability to imagine myself as another person supports existentialist philosophers' ideas that we are free beings to think what we wish. This contrasts the text, in that our desires to be elsewhere cannot necessarily relate to God. That suggests essence before existence, in that we were created to be a certain way yet we cannot help but to "want what we can't have." To say that we refute our "creation" rids the idea of existentialism entirely.