‘Beginner’s Hangover’ of an Existential Mind

Existentialism, I maintain, is a dangerous philosophy for the lazy mind. The most vocal of its proponents cannot deny that it has a definitive nihilistic overtones in the beginning and only with a complete understanding can that ‘beginner’s hangover’ be overcome.

One must take care to distinguish between ‘existential angst’ and this ‘beginner’s hangover’ that I am talking about. Angst is neither positive nor negative. It just is. Angst is being painfully aware of one’s own existence together with its limitations. On the contrary, this beginner’s hangover that I am talking about is a completely negative idea that clouds a mind which has been able to only partially comprehend the philosophy of existentialism. Anyone who lives by or around the existentialist life has gone through angst at some point or another, that’s a pre-requisite. However, beginner’s hangover is not everyone’s bad luck but is present quite often.

Albert CamusExistentialist’s job is to strip human condition naked. It is only after the realisation and acceptance of human limitations and its inherent tragedies that an existentialist can move on. Like they say, destruction of traditions is sometimes essential to building new values. It is at this point that the beginner’s hangover starts. Anyone who is convinced by the underlying existential values is first convinced about all the failings and limitations of the human condition. The truth of the tragedy of human condition establishes itself as undeniable by its repetition in the real world. To a mind that has been made aware of this condition I as naked a manner as existentialism does, the real world manifests the tragedy too often and too painfully. That’s when a young or half cooked existential understanding breeds the ‘beginner’s hangover’ where all the tragedies of life become too evident to let any life affirming value close to it.

However, if one moves past this initial dilemma, and studies the existenSartretialists theories beyond their exposition of the human condition one can see a clear ray of light that makes life worth living. I term that ray of light as ‘passion as value’. I have seen that light at the end of Nausea , at the end of The Myth of Sisyphus, and hidden here and there at a lot other existential texts and literature. I have been through the Beginner’s Hangover and have finally moved beyond it. Believe me when I say that all the trouble is worth crossing over to this side of understanding. This post is a reassurance and a pat to those who are facing the existential beginner’s hangover – put a little more effort and you will be on this side. Going back is not an option because you are too aware of the human condition now, therefore keep moving – you have nothing to lose.

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7 responses to “‘Beginner’s Hangover’ of an Existential Mind

  1. Interesting post. I just became familiar with the Existentialists this year (still 2007 at the moment). I fell head over heals in love with Nietzsche because I felt that what he was writing about was what I had been experiencing for the past several years while breaking out of my traditional Christian understanding of the human condition. It resonated with me – especially his disdain for Christian “pity” and disfigured bloated Christian souls. I’ve been noticing a similar theme in Camus.

    I purchased The Myth of Sisyphus today (at your suggestion) and will read it after I finish The Fall.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. I am sure you will enjoy the myth, though don’t be put off by certain difficult passages. It is Camus’s entire philosophy in one essay and is marvellous. It’s totally worth the pain.

    Actually I too started reading existentialism only in mid-2006, so we are quite parallel to each other in those terms. One of the most important difficulties I faced was this hangover that was very negative and kept coming back despite all attempts; have finally been able to resolve it only recently in my head. One must handle philosophy with one golden rule, I believe – that it must be life affirming. I have no problems in accepting the tragedies of human condition, but one can not move ahead merely with that. And therefore, leaving existential understanding mid-way, is in my opinion, a real danger. We need to see how Camus and Sartre participated so enthusiastically in the political questions of their day while pointing out all the tragedies that put us off.

  3. displacedlunatic

    in reference to my post, it isn’t that i’m angry really… though i suppose the tone of the blog hardly coneyed otherwise. and i’m in total agreement with ‘beginner’s hangover’ though i’ve never heard it termed as such. and i did get that way for a while, and still do now and then. that’s not to say that i’ve so greatly studied existentialist philosophy that i’m no longer a beginner at it, it’s just that i no longer think that way. and i’m really not nihilistic, though it often comes across as such. [why i’m explaining myself on some random blog in cyberspace i’m not sure, anyway…]
    in connection to existentialist philosophy, i’ve just been realizing the whole ‘ray of light’ and not being negative about the limitations of existence thing.

    “Existentialist’s job is to strip human condition naked. It is only after the realisation and acceptance of human limitations and its inherent tragedies that an existentialist can move on.”

    Funny you should mention it because that’s exactly what i’ve been doing lately… moving on.

    p.s. excuse my lack of hitting Caps Lock. i’m supremely lazy.

  4. Beginner’s hangover is no term coined by any of the existentialist. It is a just a term used by me for convenience and because I guess it represents the phenomenon that I was trying to address.

  5. I’ve now read five books by Camus and a three by Sartre and my feeling is that both Nausea and Myth of Sisyphus were somewhat “youthful” novels by both. Sartre greatly changed many of his ideas presented in Nausea in later years. And Camus’ The Plague and The Fall don’t show the same sense of resignation (or what Sartre would call “bad faith”) that The Myth of Sisyphus does.

    According to Robert Solomon, The Plague is an existentialist novel, The Myth of Sisyphus is not. Hubert Dreyfus also makes a strong point in his introductory class on Existentialism that Camus is not an existentialist. The problem, apparently, is that Camus’, rather than accepting that we are under “the Shadow of God” (Nietzsche’s term), he tries to bypass God altogether and hearkens back to a more innocent time with heavy pagan overtones that remain couched in the Augustinian fallen man theology.

    Existentialism, according to Hubert Dreyfus, is always defined by “the shadow of God”. It is an attempt to figure out how to move forward in the absence of an Absolute Good/God, etc. Dostoevsky maintained a belief in God, but dropped all understanding of an Absolute and remythologized the sacraments to fit with this new understanding. Nietzsche, Sartre, etc. are atheists – but recognize the psychological issues that have been created by the Western belief in “Absolutes”.

    Camus, on the other hand, attempts to bypass the Absolute altogether and according to both Sartre and Solomon, ends up couching a lot of the Absolutist Christian idealism into his philosophy – especially in Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is destined to be both “fallen” and “without God”. Solomon says to deny God but to maintain the guilt that made God possible in the first place is a reflection of the low ebb of humanity. Camus’ philosophy is one of resignation, not one of overcoming as is Nietzsche’s or Sartre’s. (Although you wouldn’t know Sartre’s philosophy was one of overcoming from Nausea.)

    The problem with both Nausea and Myth of Sisyphus is that both were written when the authors were very young. Surely we have more influence and effectiveness in our lives than either novel would suggest? I tend to agree with Solomon – if we are going to get rid of the God that saves us from ourselves, we best get rid of the guilt, too. To view ourselves as fallen creatures without a God does seem to be the low ebb of humanity.

    I think what is helpful about Camus and Sartre is that many of us have felt exactly as they portray – guilty with no means of redemption. But maybe we’d be more effective if we dropped the guilt?

  6. No reply on merits to this. First, am happy that you came back and shared your view after having read the books. Second, I am jealous you got the time to finish all this in a couple of months and I have been really handicapped as far as my reading and blogging goes, lately.
    I have always maintained that I love reading for the simple reason that no matter what you do, the author is incapable of dictating interpretation. Author’s job is to float an idea – as best as he can in words. Rest is beyond him. There are no right or wrong interpretations – they are just interpretations.
    Obviously this thread shows (specially the previous comment by you) that we differ widely in our interpretations of Camus. I also differ, as you point, from that of Solomon’s. But that’s fine. I will definitely revisit Camus soon and see if I have made a wrong impression of him.
    To conclude, thanks again for sharing your views.

  7. Very true – we all bring very different experiences to what it is we read and so interpretations will hopefully differ. I think it is a mistake to think in terms of “right” or “wrong”. You may read him at a different time in your life and see things differently – I may too.

    Either way, I am sincerely grateful to you for suggesting The Myth of Sisyphus because working through what was troubling me with Sisyphus has helped me to realize what it is I’ve been holding on to that I need to let go. I’ve only got a slight handle on it so can’t quite put into words what it is I mean yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to verbalize it soon. Whether our interpretations of Camus’s absurd hero are “right” or “wrong”, I think we can both agree that he had great insight into the psychological tensions of post WWII humanity.

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