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Maybe Existence is Alive After All

Sequel to God is Dead, Nature is Dead, Existence is Dead

By David Arthur Walters


Maybe Existence is Alive After All Page 2

I recently supposed that Existence is dead, and that its death followed the death of God and of
Nature. Since Existence is dead, Existentialism is no longer in vogue. I have not only mourned the
death of Existence but have angrily protested its demise, for I believe Existence, like God and
Nature, was murdered by Bad Faith.
Bad Faith is the demon which possesses men to fly from freedom to the comfort of the herd.
Instead of standing in a personal relationship with God, Nature, and Existence, the anguished man
buries his being in religion, science, and consumption. Since freedom of choice brings in its wake
error and anguish, a man might hide his head in a massive church, or in thinking about matter, or
in mass consumption. Ironically, he might congratulate himself for choosing what everyone else is
choosing, and call himself a free man. Tragically, he cannot quite rid himself of himself or the
discomfiting fact of his alienation from himself behind the public scenes.]
Bad Faith relies on the values of institutions or the rules of social modes of action instead of
personal choice as its ultimate guide. Mind you, when I disparage the herd, I do not mean to say
that man as animal is not largely a social animal, or that there is no virtue in huddling for safety or
in the clannish embracing of relatives set against the herd at large - we still notice the dialectic
between Clan and State which feudalism attempted to synthesize being worked out today in
Conservative versus Liberal. My personal sympathies are more with the personalists, who defined
the person as a synthesis of individual and society i.e. as a socialized individual, rather than with the
existentialists - personalism quickly fell out of favor because its proponents in France seemed too
near to fascism and Catholicism. In any event, I believe it is the fundamental duty of every
"intellectual" - especially bourgeois intellectuals! - and every artist to protest mass movements,
including mass symbolic movements, long before they reach critical mass. Those movements tend
to be subconscious; the task of the artist-in-alienation is to raise them into the light so they can be
seen for what they really are.
My former statement, Existence is dead, presupposes Existence. The existence presupposed is
something more than that of the Stone or Sun heaved up the Arc by Sisyphus to roll right back
down again. My statement, like any statement, contains an answer to a question, and that question,
in turn, presupposed another statement, and so on; we leave it to the metaphysician to un-layer the
presuppositions upon presuppositions, knowing that, in the case of man's dear Existence, there is
no bottom except death, and even that, although seemingly nothing, implies everything. My own
musings on the death of Existence constituted a sort of rhetorical question intended to provoke
responses, of which I received many. For my present purpose, I quote the following response from
Joseph, an acquaintance of mine:
"I'm not sure Existentialism was ever truly popular. The crass and the thoughtless have always held
sway over the deeper, more intelligent modes of thinking and art. I'm also not sure it has
disappeared. It was noisy when it first arrived, but today I think it has been internalized. After all,
once you determine that life is absurd and that we should make our own meaning, what more is
there to discuss? Anyone who questions the status quo, particularly religion, country, etc., is by
default an existentialist. It was so even before there was a term for it."
Joseph has been around the block. I agree with him on all corners but one, that there is nothing
further to discuss. The failure to discuss it bodes ill for mankind. The Existence I allude is no small,
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internal, abstract, insignificant trifle to be forgotten when absorbed.


Sigmund Freud's famous remark in a letter to Princess Marie Bonaparte comes to mind here, that a
man who questions his existence is sick. Well, existentialists do happen to be known for their
interminable suffering; in fact, they find virtue in their unease. Just as some romantics find the road
to health in disease, and see in the malaise or mal-ease of the disturbed genius, who is all too
sensitive and hence aware of his anguish or anxiety, the salvation of the mob from its zombie-like
habitual existence.
Existentialists own that a man who does not question his existence is virtually dead; he is dead
alive: he is no longer a man as such: he is a zombie. Therefore, at first many existentialists felt that
Dr. Freud's Unconscious was an alibi, that his Censor was Bad Faith, and that his obsession with
the Past was fear of the Future: when we get a glimpse of the End of the road, we might even long
for the most miserable past, and would feed on our history as ghouls feed on the dead.
Existence, then, is not something to be thought about and then internalized or repressed as usual.
Existentialism, if it be the questioning of Existence, should not be a mere fashion to be engaged in
during and shortly after disasters and soon forgotten when bellies are full and stock market indexes
are rising. No, the questioning must not cease with prosperity, for, if it does, the decline is certain
to be really as well as virtually severe; this no novel conception: it is ancient wisdom about human
nature, wisdom forcefully brought home, for instance, by YHWH to the Jews on several
apocalyptic occasions. During our own perverse Crazes, experts with all their pseudo-scientific
analytical tools designed to subvert natural law to put man in charge of nature, proclaim the Manias
to be sanity just before the Crashes. Such expert behavior is a leading indicator of the ignorance
pervading the society as it attempts to evade anxiety with drunken consumption; it is a barometer
of the increasing likelihood of doom, an indicator that many people had better wise up and soon
before the very means of consumption fall idle yet again, and are then, to save them, perchance
diverted to mass destruction during the painfully enraged withdrawal from absurd preoccupations.
Well, then, if that be true, what is the existentialism I recommend as an alternative? How are we to
distract ourselves during our leisure time if not with noise with broadcasted nonsense?
Existentialism emphasizes the significance of the subject in the world, and it no doubt has its origin
in prehistoric times. The priest of Apollo who inscribed the maxim 'Know Thyself' on the temple
at Delphi was an existentialist, and so was Socrates when he stumbled at length over the world until
it dawned on him that man's soul is the microcosm of the world. Therefore, the philosopher, to
know all things, must know himself. That is, a man must rid himself of the conceit that he is wise
about the world, and remember who he really is, for that is what determines his view of the world.
That course of self-knowledge will invariably lead a man to awareness of how ignorant he is; in that
awareness of his own ignorance, he is wiser and much better prepared to deal with the world as it
is. That course of study is a dialectic career of unceasing question and answer and question, of
questioning Existence, or existentialism in its broadest sense. Of course, given our nature of cutting
things up in order to eat them, we speak of existentialism as a philosophy, which reportedly
emerged at the end of World War II from a smoky jazz cellar. Our definition is arbitrary and
convenient yet does not belay the fact that there is no such thing as existentialism as a system.
No, so-called philosophical existentialism is not a particular philosophical system. Nevertheless, a
cluster of ideas, none of them unique in the annals of history, emerged after the war, and they were
called Existentialism, thanks to a casual remark of a singer picked up by an American journalist in a
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Paris jazz club. Let us take a brief and incomplete survey of those ideas while keeping in mind all
the while that the existentialism that our own time calls for requires us to think for ourselves, to
know ourselves.
Existentialism is opposed to abstract ideologies. It simply takes man, as he is, when and where he
is. There have been attempts to build it up into what it really opposes, a system, but at most it is a
marginal ideology that passionately advocates an uncompromising freedom from materialistic
determinism.
Existentialism is an anti-scientific backlash against those philosophers who want to define human
beings as members of a theoretical classification system in order to control them. Our existence is
unique and cannot be grasped by theories, which keep us from personally achieving self-fulfillment:
before we can be anything we must first exist. That concept was summed up in Sartre's famous
dictum, "existence precedes essence." The dictum was obviously not that of an omnipotent god but
of a man; in fact, it led the existentialist Heidegger to deny he was an existentialist. Sartre soon
followed suit; for me, he is a phenomenologist through and through, although I would not deny
him his existentialist credentials if he really wanted them.
Furthermore, for an existentialist, the course of history is not predetermined; there is no purpose
or path laid out in advance by God or by Nature; nor is there any divine retribution: we must
decide for ourselves. We must create our own fates. We must live authentic lives, not the life of the
herd. That is to say, finality is in the self.
Humanity, abandoned by God, depends on the self-choosing of each individual; hence a man's
decisions are of cosmic importance. Therefore a true existentialist is heroic, accountable, and
responsible. He accepts blame for the past and takes responsibility for the future, and does so
optimistically.
It follows that existentialists religiously believe in the human race; they are humanists. That puts the
existentialist at odds with some Christians who absurdly condemn humanism while worshipping
the apotheosis of humanity.
A brief example of an existentialist is called for here. Everyone interested in existentialism,
whatever that is, has their favorite existentialist philosopher. Many existentialists prefer Sartre, the
man who said he did not know what existentialism is, but who, like other philosophers called
existentialists by the Press, wound up using the term to his advantage. Many if not most people
who revered him did not know precisely what he had been talking about, but they did get the gist
of it, and that gist was freedom.
And just where is Sartre's "freedom" to be found? For him and philosophers from the dawn of
human self-consciousness, freedom is found in the margin beyond production of the basic
necessities. In other words, freedom is exercised once the basic needs are provided for; then one
has the leisure time to do what is most enjoyable to philosophers: philosophize. Thanks to the
developing philosophy of freedom which some philosophers have said is the progress of human
history, many of us have a great deal of leisure time, and we would have a great deal more of it on
our hands if we did not want to waste it in the consumption of frivolous and superfluous goods
tangible and intangible. Hence we have to work hard to produce more leisure-time goods; many are
those who call those goods trash and junk but have to produce them in order to have shelter, a bite
to eat, and a private pot to relieve themselves in.
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Sartre consciously chose to live instead. He lived autobiographically, in an effort to slough off his
own skin and make his present his old future. He did not store up knowledge; he read a book and
got rid of it. He did not write according to a program; when writing a book he would spin off
separate pages developing different ideas that came to him. He moved ahead and contradicted
himself. And why did he write? He said the object of literature is to free people, so he wrote to free
people, not by dictating to them, but by provoking them to think for themselves. That was his
urgent task. He made himself stop thinking of himself as a writer or a leader and committed
himself to that task. And it was a cheerful task; he once said he philosophized to cheer himself up
when depressed.
Now Sartre's work as well as the work of others whom we call existentialists is readily accessible to
all. He is not the only existentialist.
This brings me back to my statement that God is dead; Nature is dead; Existence is dead. IF man
has no faith whatsoever, not even in his Existence in all its cosmic significance, THEN he is
virtually dead. He thinks he thinks but he does not think for himself or of himself. He is burying
himself alive in the massive pit he is unconsciously digging for himself as the bulldozers rev up
their engines nearby. He is not really living-dead, but dead-alive, with this advantage: if he chooses
Existence he will be willing to die for his life and thereby be fully restored to life.
I said that Existence is dead, but on second thought maybe existence is alive. A question is
presupposed in my proposition. How do you answer?