AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

It's all uphill from here| finding the concept of joy in existential philosophy and literature

by Richard F Hamm

Institution: Purdue University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Literature; Philosophy
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2094843
Full text PDF: http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/#viewpdf?dispub=3719195


Current readings of existentialism are overly negative. It is not without reason that existentialism has a reputation of pessimism preceding it, to the point that the uninitiated cannot help but picture beatnik poets chain-smoking by the first syllable of the name 'Sartre.' Existentialism, while a movement over one hundred and fifty years old, is often characterized in the light of the media popularity it was given in the decade following the Second World War – although much of the spirit of what is supposedly existentialism came more as a response to the First. The Great War brought with it devastation across Europe that it instilled a sense of malaise in an entire generation of survivors. In the face of such violence, one of the common responses was to wonder if there could truly be any sense of meaning or purpose to life. This movement, philosophically, was existentialism. Existentialism as a movement is not a denial of meaning. That is the role of nihilism. Existentialism simply says there is no sense of predetermined meaning, and that, in a particular formation, we are verbs before nouns: 'to be' rather than a being thing in any real sense. Of course, there is an obvious pessimistic reading of any text that bases its thought on the foundation that humans are existent before their essence—if there is no predetermined meaning in the world, there certainly is a possibility that there does not have to be meaning in the world at all. The future of the study of existential philosophy in part depends on its continuing attractiveness to a new generation of scholars. One of the things holding existentialism back is the alienating effect it can have on people—in large part because of its perceived concurrence with negativity. The aforementioned lack of a predetermined essence can cause anxiety, angst or anguish depending on whether you ask Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger or Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre explains anguish as the realization of the possibility of our own negation. If we imagine ourselves on the brink of a cliff or precipice, we can look down into the depth below and realize that, at that moment, there is nothing to prevent us from throwing ourselves over the precipice to our death. Freedom from meaning also implies there is a sense in which we do not have to live by any prescribed rules, or even at all. It can be intimidating. A positive reading could bring stability to an otherwise dizzying discipline. Existential philosophy and literature both would benefit from a reimaging of certain thinkers' approaches. What is needed is not a new reading to replace the old, but to supplement the accepted framework of understanding with serious alternative possibilities. In this prospectus, I intend to expand the traditional reading of existentialism. I will offer differing interpretations of familiar texts in an effort to breathe new life into the texts themselves along with the discipline more generally. Existentialism can be freed from its…