February 18, 2012

Kierkegaard/ Waking Life


So, I was talking to Bart and Adam at lunch at Chinatown's Via Restaurant the other day and Adam mentioned that he was becoming interested in S?ren Kierkegaard. That piqued my interest not only for philosophy in general and existentialism in particular but also because Adam was raised in an ashram in Texas; and I wonder how he will process this perspective.

I told him about The Partially Examined Life, a podcast and blog that I love "by some guys who at one point set on doing philosophy as a living, but thought better of it", and that PEL published a show on Kierkegaard, highly recommended. It had been a while since I heard it, so I listened to again it as I worked in the studio. Guest podcaster Daniel Horne has a brilliant summary of the incommensurable philosopher's worldview at time = 3:30. They mentioned in passing, a movie called Waking Life and the dialog by a character in that movie (Robert C. Solomon) who must have been their professor once upon a time. There are a lot of gaps in my movie literacy, and this is one of them. I guess it's never too late to fill one in.

I looked it up and lo! YouTube has it, the whole movie. What luck!

I got swept up.

Here is the key graf that PEL referred to in the Kierkegaard podcast:

Philosophy Professor: The reason why I refuse to take existentialism as just another French fashion or historical curiosity, is that I think it has something very important to offer us for the new century. I'm afraid we're losing the real virtues of living life passionately in the sense of taking responsibility for who you are, the ability to make something of yourself and feel good about life. Existentialism is often discussed as if it's, a philosophy of despair, but I think the truth is just the opposite. Sartre, once interviewed, said he never really felt a day of despair in his life. One thing that comes out from reading these guys is not a sense of anguish about life so much as, a real kind of exuberance, of feeling on top of it, it's like your life is yours to create. I've read the post modernists with some interest, even admiration, but when I read them I always have this awful nagging feeling that something absolutely essential is getting left out. The more you talk about a person as a social construction or as a confluence of forces or as fragmented of marginalised, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses. And when Sartre talks about responsibility, he's not talking about something abstract. He's not talking about the kind of self or soul that theologians would argue about. It's something very concrete, it's you and me talking, making decisions, doing things, and taking the consequences. It might be true that there are six billion people in this world, and counting, but nevertheless -what you do makes a difference. It makes a difference, first of all, in material terms, it makes a difference to other people, and it sets an example. In short, I think the message here is that we should never simply write ourselves off or see each other as a victim of various forces. It's always our decision who we are.

Here is a link to a Wired article about the remarkable animation that director Rick Linklater pulled off.

Posted by Dennis at February 18, 2012 8:35 AM

Leave a comment