Existential Mondays

This topic contains 5 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 9 months, 1 week ago.

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  • 04 Apr 2017 at 6:44 pm #8982


    Hi Richard…

    The ‘I is another’ surely must have come from Fondane’s work on Rimbaud. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a translation. I totally agree with you about Blakewell’s book…I don’t know how you leave Fondane out. His acquaintance with Cioran left me wondering if there were some letters somewhere too. Fondane’s life reminds me a lot of Walter Benjamins, and the NYRB book left me wanting more…

    05 Apr 2017 at 8:46 pm #8988

    Richard L.

    Yes. Fondane argues “citing Rimbaud against Descartes, it is uncertain whether I think, therefore I am…” It is uncertain because the “I” is based upon the committee of subconscious selves which McCarthy spoke of to Oprah, a changeable named thing which resists true naming as it has only a fleeting reality at best, a paradox which will contradict itself or otherwise shapeshift depending on its circumstances, responding to an algorithm of both internal and external equations.

    When Oprah asked McCarthy if he believed in God, he said “It depends on what day you ask me.” I don’t think that was simply evasive; but rather, a truthful answer: It depends upon which of McCarthy’s selves rises to the fore at the time.

    This is existentialism.

    I confess that I only embarked on my continuing study of existentialism (and of Colin Wilson’s new existentialism after Husserl) because of my study of quantum mechanics and the superpositioning choices that we make, both in fact and fiction. It has changed my life, or at least the way “I” observe my life at this particular point in time, as I type this.

    07 Apr 2017 at 9:31 pm #8991


    From Rimbaud’s voyant letter – “The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be tough, one has to be born a poet, and I’ve come to realize I’m a poet. It’s not all my fault. It’s wrong to say: I think. One has to say: I am thought… Too bad for the wood that finds itself a violin.”

    I am thought. I have been thought (by myself) to existence. A self generative act – this creation of his poetic self, which he obviously came to regard as a sin in A Season in Hell, where the I is thrown back to earth to find a ‘rough duty’ – a shoddy colonial mercantilism in Rimbaud’s case. A true modern tragedy.

    08 Apr 2017 at 1:02 pm #8992

    Richard L.


    Reason subordinates lived difference to logico-mathematical identity; it privileges the necessary over the contingent and a constant casual order over chance. Plato goes so far as to say that “real life” is absent so long as the soul is trapped in the body and that the sensory-physical world is an illusion.

    For Fondane, by contrast, the real reality, what Rimbaud calls “real life,” is found “everywhere and often more profoundly in the unusual, the accidental, the catastrophic, and the aberrant than in frequent, uniform, and regular events.”

    Again, I think there are many different interesting ideas in EXISTENTIAL MONDAYS, and in the above quote, I think the author expounds in favor of the gothic as being more real than the everyday reality which society foists upon us. Just my interpretation of his words, and I could argue it, but any such argument would be provisional for me, because I hold many perspectives at the same time and could argue any one of them at the temporary exclusion of the others.

    Fondane also seems to have had different selves, different identities. For instance, in the bibiographical notes in the preface, it says:

    Fondane would later describe himself as belonging to an essential Jewishness situated outside of time, outside of history…”

    And he was steeped in Jewish writing.

    Existentialists always bridge their existentialism across other identities. David Foster Wallace’s existentialism as expressed in WE ARE WATER is bridged with a human kindness that probably has its source in Christianity or Buddhism or both.

    11 Apr 2017 at 12:13 pm #9074

    Richard L.

    Charles Willeford, in WRITING AND OTHER BLOODSPORTS, gives us his definition of existentialism:

    There are four major premises of modern existentialism, the first of which is that each individual person is solely responsible for what he is. A second is that a man’s life is a plan that is aware of itself. Another premise is that his existence precedes essence, or that man first exists, then his essence is defined. Finally, a man’s actions determine his identity.


    This is taken from a longer essay, but I think it is a good one. However, Colin Wilson was right when he pointed out Husserl’s contention, that the intention must be thrown. This has been hard for many people to grasp. I happened to catch a lecture on PBS by some old bald guy talking about intentionality, but I think what he was selling was “the Secret,” the idea that we can have riches if only we visualize it in the proper way.

    I didn’t listen long. From what he said, being bald seemed to bother him, but his intentionality hadn’t grown him any hair, nor made him young again. Positive thinking is a good thing, but the old Christian science stuff and new-age magic, the claim that a pure heart will foil the electric chair, is just not in the cards.

    Fortunately, there is positive thinking and existentialism.

    Suppose you decide to get into shape, take up jogging, be a runner. Every morning, rain or shine, you jog a mile. After the initial set-up, it becomes routine. You no longer have to decide where to run or how far to go anymore than you have to decide to put one foot in front of another. Just by jogging every day, you are a runner. Because you do it, it becomes a part of who you are.

    It certainly doesn’t have to be getting into shape, it can be anything that you find meaningful. Like Charlies Willeford wrote, “a man’s life is a plan that is aware of itself.” But you can’t just wish it, you have to throw your attention to it. You have to take action, and your actions will define you.

    But the non-existentialist cannot throw his intention. Jogging seems a good idea to him, but at every turn he questions his decision, as if in a Woody Allen movie. Should he go left or right? Should he go back and get different shoes? Did the weatherman say anything about tornadoes? The constant struggler never gets there because he can’t throw his attention into meaning. His decisions never get beyond the default position.

    15 Apr 2017 at 10:18 am #9132

    Richard L.

    …there are different kinds of freedom, but the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.

    The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.

    The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race. . .I know that this stuff doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech’s central stuff should sound. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish, but please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death.

    The capital-T Truth is about life before death. . .

    It is about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

    This is water. This is water.

    I wish you way more than luck.

    The above is from David Foster Wallace’s brilliant commencement address, This Is Water. Never once does he mention existentialism by name but the entire address is about how we choose meaning from experience, so it is about existentialism, free will, and the super-positioning of choice.

    Some will think he had a humanistic or mystical message and he does, though he is emphatic in pointing out the specific message is not the point. Rather, his point is about the freedom to choose, and, if you choose the default position, as most do, then you have missed your opportunity to awake.

    I listened to it again, read by his little sister, Amy Wallace Havens, as I was going to the store to fetch in food for the feast. It is brilliant.

    We are left with the cynical puzzle of his suicide, which I lay to the narcotic medicines he was prescribed.

    Not long ago, I read NO MENTOR BUT MYSELF: JACK LONDON ON WRITERS AND WRITING by Cormackian emeritus, Dale L. Walker. It contains the correspondence between Jack London and Joseph Conrad, and both admired the other’s work enormously. Jack London was especially enthusiastic about Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY which, to my mind, contains the message that David Foster Wallace expresses above.

    I read this knowing that before the year was out, from the date of these letters, Jack London would be dead, and some claim that he was a suicide. I read recently that suicide now claims more victims than war, and if that is true, it is very sad indeed.

    Douglas Hofstadter wrote about his theory that consciousness should be measured on a moveable scale, measured in Hunekers. That even the most brilliant among us will sometimes fail, become less conscious, depending on the time and circumstances, and I think that is true. Depression, whether caused by drugs or anything else, can diminish our capacity to find meaning.

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