Tuesday, 2 March 2010

If you build it, they will come...

From last Sunday, I have been incredibly sick. This sickness was passed to me by my housemate, and was passed to him by my other housemate. I believe that they contracted this from another one of our mutual friends, who could only have caught whatever death-spawn this is by slipping in rich, raw sewage from some chemical waste pump. This sickness has caused, among other things (such as a sore throat and an unnatural craving for human meat) a fever which, when combined with sleep, causes me to have horrible horrible visions and nightmares which make me cry out in terror.

The weird thing in these nightmares is that they do not contain anything that would terrify me. Instead, these visions either consist of random events, strange music or sounds, or commands or longings that I would not normally associate. Another thing happened as well, and for this I may have to be a little more descriptive. I see a sheet of black, unnaturally smooth and complete, almost too measured, and at random intervals, this will change into its polar opposite, a thing of black and white, with gradients between the two, its shape changing, almost to natural and jagged measurements that one might see in an eroded canyon.

Scary as hell, right? Jesus, its a miracle I'm not committed. However, This slightly harrowing set of visions created by my tormented fever-filled brain was reminiscent of last week's lecture on existentialism. A little. Enough to make a segway? God I hope so.

As far as I could tell, Existentialism is the term used for a particular way of life, or rather an ideal, a goal. This is to say, one of complete freedom and passion. Existentialism focuses around the theory that existence precedes essence, a term coined by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, better explained as "A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his or her "essence" instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human. Thus, the human being - through his consciousness - creates his own values and determines a meaning to his life." WOAH. Heavy. Doc. Anyway...

However, one side effect of this is angst. You see, when you experience everything at a much higher octane, as it were, you suddenly realise that many of the normal things are quite boring, or the theory that "nothing is holding them back" purely because their way of life permits total and absolute freedom. One of the best ways I can describe this is that when a normal person stands on the lip of a cliff, they fear falling off, but when existentialists stand on the same lip, they fear throwing themselves off. In this way, existentialists do not focus on just the "good" passion, but rather everything at a much higher level.

What I find particularly interesting about existentialism is the arts, literature and music it inspires. A few of the particulars are things that I have digested over a long time, and things that I have just been shown.


Admittedly, the title for this is vague. We were introduced in the lecture to a Mr. John Coltrane, whose "inward breathing" was not only a brilliant technique, but allowed him to carry a note for as long as he wanted, meaning that he was able to create a truly unique musical experience, a truly free an existential display of passion. Recently I was listening to the music of Ben Webster, and whilst this linked track is more constructed than some of his other, its still an example. As sort of a subsidiary to this Jazz section, I thought I would talk a little about Scat blues singing, and more specifically, the works of Ella Fitzgerald. Ms. Fitzgerald is heralded as the one of the creators of Scat singing, which seems to be one of the most existential musical art forms, given that you can sing absolutely anything, and still have it be a form of music. Its amazing, and it takes a certain sort of strange mind to achieve.

Here's one more musical thing I happen to enjoy, considering the context I thought it might be fun to put it in. Accordion music, whilst lyrically quite planned out, it seems to be so winged all the time that every time its played its the same, but a little bit different. This freedom (I hope) is a little existential. Maybe. Kinda.


Andy Warhol. Isn't it? That's what we all think when someone says "existentialism in art" right? Whether you agree that a picture of Brillo pads, or a man sleeping is truly "art" or just boredom or not is a moot point. These bold statements of lack of definition are somewhat extraordinary in the sense that he was able to captivate so many people with his talented mind.


Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is one of the first things to come to mind, and the second thing to come to mind is "What if Godot had arrived?". However, what I did not realise is that one of my favorite authors; Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was one of the precursors/founders of 20th century existentialism. In this way, it is amazing how deep the veins of existentialism lie, how affected my life might have been without the theories set down by existentialism.


Don't laugh. I recently watched one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. Admittedly its no Sleep but its certainly gives a hint into the existential thinking behind sports. In the film, Kevin Costner impulsively builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop for no reason. Then, the ghosts of dead baseball players start playing baseball in his field. Yes. In our lecture we were told about the passion behind sports fan-dom. Whilst this movie is just a small window into this, it shows how something they are passionate about can change their lives, using a very existential theory of true freedom.

It seems that my life has been much like a "create your own adventure" book. Its full of twists and turns, affected by different choices. If I hadn't read Dostoyevsky books, what would I have done? I suppose its choices like these, definitions, that make me so far away from the theories behind existentialism that I couldn't possibly wear a black jumper or a beret without being completely ironic. All I really want is a create your own adventure version of Crime and Punishment.

"Do I want Raskilnikov to go back to the village, or to buy a new horse?"

Perhaps this sickness is making me crazy.


Chris Horrie said...

very, very good notes - excellent. Also yes accordiam music is a very good thing - for example:




Do you play the accordian - if so I could bring my violin in some time.

Luke J. Garratt said...

I wish I played the accordian. Its something that I have always liked, but it always seemed to difficult to play. Kind of like the bagpipes.