I have been reading different versions of what is commonly known as existentialism. I must mention here that there is not one author or propounder of this theory who accepts himself to be an existentialist. Do not ask me the reasons, how do I know? Though a wild guess is that since none of their conclusions are similar (Camus, Sartre, Kiekergaad, Hussrel, et all arrived at very different conlusions), they did not want to be tagged with any of the others. The existentialist are bound together with that name, if at all, by their argumentative beginnings and for our convenience.
However, another reason that does strike me as possible is that each one of them saw in the others’ theory, a prima facie element of anti-life. Since, on deeper analysis, each one of them play with and reject the anti-life theory, they probably did not want to be interpreted the same way.
But the question remains – Is anti-life the underlying conclusion of existentialism. Try and simplify any of their theories, and unless you do a marvellous job, you will be surprised how close you come to the anti-life. I realised this while explaining, in brief conversations, the basics of existentialism to a few enquiring friends. Time and again I hit the ‘anti-life’ roadblock and had to expound endlessly to escape certain obvious but wrong conclusions.
Do you agree that the existentialists walk a thin line very close to the anti-life and tend to slip into it at various points in their exposition? I think so, though am still trying to figure out. Also, if a friend, not very literate in philosophy, asks you to recommend a beginner’s, easy to understand, introduction to existentialism, which book would you refer him to?
1. Forgive me for the structure of the passage above. It reflects that I am still struggling to understand what I seem to be already propounding.
2. I understand existentialists not to be anti-life in their conclusions, but only so prima facie, i.e on a superflous understanding.
3. One of the reasons, I guess, is because they turn ‘thought to itself’ (Colin Wilson’s phrase). From then on, the question they try to solve is – how to know existence sans the medium of conciousness? Well, it’s so difficult even to comprehend this primary question.
Finally, I give up. Calling for help from the more knowlegable!(Allow me, for once, the luxury of a misplaced exclamation)