Existentialism

.. m Stoppard with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead gear their works towards the existential school of thought. For example, the strange atmosphere of Godot, in which two tramps wait on what appears to be a desolate road for a man who never arrives. Waiting for Godot captures the feeling the world has no apparent meaning. In this misunderstood masterpiece Beckett asserts numerous existentialist themes.

Beckett believed that existence is determined by chance. This is the first basic existentialist theme asserted. Two of the characters are waiting for Godot who never arrives. Two of them consist of a flamboyant lord of the earth and a broken slave whimpering and staggering at the end of a rope. They meet perchance but the play rests on simply the objective of our waiting.

Another basic existentialist theme on which Beckett reflects is the meaninglessness of time. Because past, present and future mean nothing, the play follows a cyclic pattern. Vladimir and Estragon returned to the same place each day to wait for Godot and encounter the same basic people each day. Godot’s messenger does not recognize Vladimir and Estragon from day to day. This suggests that the people we meet today are not the same as they were yesterday and will not be the same tomorrow.

Beckett also examines a theme of self-deceptive attempts to dodge reality by making excuses for one’s actions. Vladimir and Estragon fool themselves by engaging in petty discourse that reflects the absurdity of life. They even contemplate suicide numerous times for numerous reasons, but ultimately persist in the futility of life. As well in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Rosencrantz creates a picture of characters who inhabit a world which is stranger than they had supposed, which they know it is not as it seems but what it is. He evokes the ability of all man kind to understand those forces ultimately in control of their lives and fates. At outset of the play, Rosencrantz remains oblivious to any oddity and their coin-tossing, describing the improbable run as 85 heads as merely a new record.

The destiny which awaits Rosencrantz and Guildenstern consists of nothing for which they are prepared. Instead they are to be “kept intrigued without ever being enlightened”. The purpose of the coin-tossing scene is the obvious conclusion that forces beyond their control are guiding their fate and it is obvious Guildenstern is more conscious of the two. He also sets up the quest theme that the play will take on. The ranting and ramblings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reminiscent of the spiritual pilgrim of the protagonist of Waiting for Godot. They both spend the entire play searching for a fate and spiritual rationale that is always alluding them. It can be concluded that the title characters are searching for a divinity that will make itself evident.

The fourth theme which pervades existentialism is that of nothingness or the void. “If no essences define me, and if, then, as an existentialist, I reject all of the philosophies, sciences, political theories, and religions which fail to reflect my existence as conscious being and attempt to impose a specific essentialist structure upon me and my world, then there is nothing that structures my world” (T. Z. Lavine). I am my own existence, but my existence is a nothingness. Related to the theme of nothingness is the existentialist theme of death. Nothingness, in the form of death, which is my final nothingness, hangs over me like a sword of Damocles at each moment of my life.

I am filled with anxiety at times when I permit myself to be aware of this. At those moments, says Martin Heidegger, the whole of my being seems to drift away into nothing. The unaware person tries to live as if death is not actual, he tries to escape its reality. But Heidegger says that my death is my most authentic, significant moment, my personal potentiality, which I alone must suffer. And if I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life– and only then will I be free to become myself.

But here the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre begs to differ. What is death, he asks? Death is my total nonexistence. Death is as absurd as birth– it is no ultimate, authentic moment of my life, it is nothing but the wiping out of my existence as conscious being. Death is only another witness to the absurdity of human existence. It is common for people to associate a lack of faith or secular beliefs with existential thought.

Existentialism has little to do with faith or the lack thereof. Religion is merely another choice you make in weaving your essence. Existentialism is not a singular school of thought, devoid of any and all forms of faith. It may surprise laypersons that many of the existentialists were religious. Pascal and Kierkegaard were dedicated Christians. Pascal spent the end of his life in a monastery. Kierkegaard was a passionate Protestant, and supporter of Luther’s teachings.

Despite his famous (infamous?) God is dead quote, Nietzsche also appears to have been a believer in a Creator, though he branded organized religion as a manipulative tool to control the masses. He often insulted the Church merely to cause a stir. Some, notably Walter Kaufmann, call Nietzsche the anti-Christian existentialist, because he believed the organized Christian churches were the most destructive influences of his time. We are then left with Camus and Sartre, and of these two, only Sartre can be seen to consistently deny any and all belief in a divine creator. Sartre was raised with religion, but World War II and the constant suffering of the world drove him away from faith. Many existentialists believe the greatest victory of the individual is to realize the absurdity of life and to accept it.

In short, you live a miserable life, for which you may or may not be rewarded by a greater force. If this force exists, why do men suffer? If it does not exist, why not commit suicide and shorten your suffering? These questions indicate the confusion of existentialism. Personally, I agree with many of the basic tenets of existentialism. Personal accountability for the decisions and actions made seems to be something that is fading from public opinion. Excuses seem to be replacing responsibility.

Existentialism is liberating for those of us who do not rely on fate, God, or chance to guide us through the path of life. One aspect that is questionable is our ability to continuously reinvent ourselves through our actions. While this is wholly possible, the vast majority of people stick to old ways of doing things, or follow others blindly. Despite encompassing a staggering range of philosophical, religious, and political ideologies, the underlying concepts of existentialism are simple. Mankind has free will. Life is a series of choices, creating stress.

Few decisions are without any negative 6 consequences. Some things are irrational or absurd, without explanation. If one makes a decision, he or she must follow through. The decisions you make are whom you are, so decide accordingly. Philosophy.