November 25, 2012

"But I've often had the feeling that the existential dilemma is a very subjective matter..."

"... entirely depending upon the individual and the circumstances of his life, and that we 'Western intellectuals' with our wrenched and tormented psyches have often imposed the need to find a purpose which may be in the end only an exercise in masochism," wrote William Styron in a letter to his daughter.
A fisherman in the Arabian Gulf finds purpose in life by fishing, a Wyoming shepherder by tending his sheep and remaining close to Nature that big sky. On a somewhat higher level intellectually; a person like James Joyce, a profoundly pessimistic man at bottom, could find reason and purpose through these moments of termed "epiphanies," — instances of intense revelation (through love, or a glimpse of transcendental beauty in the natural world) which gave such a sense of joy and self-realization that they justified and, in effect, ratified the existence of him who experienced them. In other words, the existential anguish becomes undone; through moments of aesthetic and spiritual fulfillment we find the very reason for existence.
Styron suffered from depression and stopped writing novels in the last 27 years of his life. The passage above is from a new collection of letters. His nonfiction account of suicidal depression is "Darkness Visible."

The letter above goes on to talk about his great novel "The Confessions of Nat Turner." He says:
The creative act in art often approaches this, but it can work on humbler levels as well. If you'll pardon my pointing to my own work, I think I tried to render this quality of revelation — "epiphany" in a part of Nat Turner. I'm thinking of the passage beginning on p. 119 of the Random House edition (you may want to re-read it) where Nat as a little boy is waiting on the table during a spring evening and experiences the combined ecstasy of (a) being alive and healthy in the springtime, (b) being appreciated as a human being, and (c) being given some marvelous unspoken promise about the future. For him at this moment all these things were enough. Existence and its joys justify everything and remain sufficient.
That reminds me of the the Dostoevsky quote we've loved so much we have a button:


edutcher said...

I have a feeling living for each day is what gives Madame La Professeur that sparkle in her eye.

She certainly tries to pass that message along.

William said...

Nothing like watching a retriever repeatedly and joyously jump into the lake to make one question one's final purpose here on earth.

pm317 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
XRay said...

"""... the existential dilemma is a very subjective matter..."""

To ask the obvious, how could it ever, or ever have been, otherwise. Perhaps it started when the academic persuasion became a paying profession, exactly as Styron suggests.

I couldn't read that Dostovsky quote on the button.

YoungHegelian said...

For anyone who deals with profound depression, it's a horrifying experience.

For a driven & accomplished man like Styron, it's must have been like a living death. To now have a mind that fights him at every turn as he tries to get some work out of it. Like the mental analog of a runner with a ball & chain on his leg.

I sure hope that at the end there's was something redemptive in all that suffering, like the hand of a merciful God.

Valentine Smith said...

All the depressives show up on this thread while the practical people chat about Muni bonds elsewhere.

Bender said...

It doesn't have to be that way.

All that existential anguish and angst and despair and depression are a choice. But there is another choice, a choice which offers hope, as well as the capacity for the suffering which comes to us all to be redemptive. But making this latter choice requires letting go of that deluded idea that we can choose our own meaning, our own reality, rather than accepting that there is an intrinsic meaning and value and sanctity to human life. Sadly, the tormented are all too unwilling to let go of that which torments them.

Valentine Smith said...

Sweet wife Rosie's endeavoring to rehab her misanthropic hubby's rep.

Isn't masochism just another word for depression? Sadism too. Just like murder and suicide, opposite sides of the same coin. Not killing though, that's just business.

Biggest mistake Freud made was recanting on his early theory of Thanatos, the death instinct. Did you know all cells are programmed to self-destruct? Not exactly analogous but still telling.

WTF makes "Western (sic) intellectuals'" search for meaning any different from mine, a low class stealthy cat from Brooklyn?

This is why I hate self-professed intellectuals. They actually buy their own bullshit, elevating anguish to some noble search for meaning. Bullshit. Joyce, for all his self-deluding esthetic "epiphanies" remained a miserable bastard. No metanoia there, only the lie of "art for art's sake." So the Lie is really the discovered meaning that the deluded call "Beauty" or "Truth".

Only it's actually the substitution of esthetic experience for the spiritual. There's a big difference between self-annihilation and annihilation of the self. It's not Being and Nothingness. It is All or Nothing, Life through Death or simply death.

And we each get to decide.