So as part of my MA studies, I decided to read Sartre’s voluminous tome, Being and Nothingness. It is a dense phenomenological investigation of what it is to be. Did I understand every sentence? Every page? Every chapter? Not bloody likely. On the other hand, there was an immense amount that is very easily understandable. I mean, we all exist. We all experience the world from our unique vantage. We all try and make sense of what being alive is all about. So well worth the read then. One paragraph in particular has stuck in my mind, a couple of months after finishing it:
Sliding realizes a strictly individual relation with matter, an historical relation; the matter reassembles itself and solidifies in order to hold me up, and it falls back exhausted and scattered behind me. Thus by my passage I have realized that which is unique for me …
So I haven’t posted for a while. Mainly I’ve been busy. I suppose that that is one of the keys to life. Fool, distract thyself! Mostly it’s been humdrum paying bills, and working for the man. What can I say, I’m not special! On the other hand I have been studying for a part-time MA in Existential and Humanistic Pastoral Care, and it has certainly been everything I had hoped for. Yes, everything is pointless. Yes, the past is done with. Yes, people can be shit. But that’s where existentialism takes off: we are free to disregard and build anew, knowing full well that anything we build will become just as done as anything else. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t life. As part of my MA I have been exposed to a hell of a lot of philosophical …
What does my life mean? Obviously this is a question I have dwelt
upon. Everything is pointless. But some things are more pointless than
others. (Is that distinction deep or shallow? Is plus 1 really so
different or better than minus 1?)
I imagine a web suspended in space. Above and below is an infinity of meaninglessness. But tentatively
supporting my weight is this tenuous gossamer thread. An ectoplasm of
justness. I touch the smooth fossilised footprint of a long extinct dinosaur. My
hand examines the impression: void and feature. The differences and
similarities to my own hand (to the impression I would have made) are
informing this encounter with, not only the object, but also with all
beings and all of reality. A creature once stood here. It lived. It
breathed. It died. And now there are no more. It. Its mates. Its
offspring. There is continuity there. From …
Yes, I got quiet. No, I didn't give up (again). Far from it. Over the last year I have taken up a new sport: existential rockclimbing (aka supporting the bereaved).
So, I have always been drawn to the mystery of death. As a child I would read books on murder and ghosts (with tears of fear rolling down my face), and then would ponder the greatest of questions: what the fuck happens after we die? What does it mean to stop existing? What is this thing called death?
Of course these questions influenced my early career path: detective or ghostbuster? I chose the latter merely because I felt it was the more mysterious of the two. Yes, Sherlock Holmes was a boyhood hero. But investigating death (that greatest of mysteries) rather than the precipitating causes of death, seemed like the avenue with the greatest glory, and the greatest for personal …
Hmmm. So the busyness continues, and thus I've been neglectful of the blog. Oh well. At the very least the podcast has been providing some good content. We've published seven episodes since I last updated: Episode 55 featured writer and academic Andy Martin chatting to us about existentialism (amongst other things. Episode 56 saw us chatting to psychologist Krissy Wilson about scepticism. Episode 57 was a discussion about pessimism with psychologist Kate Sweeny. Episode 58 had cognitive scientist Matt Colborn talking to us about aliens. Episode 59 had psychologist Martin Seager chat with us about mental health and other issues. Episode 60 involved chatting to Francis O'Gorman about his book on worrying. And the most recent episode had us chatting to psychologist Brock Bastian about pain, happiness and morality. So we've been having some pretty interesting discussions with a variety of interesting people. And further episodes are being recorded, despite …
Anyone that knows me personally, soon learns that I find true crime fascinating. I always have. I spent many an hour as a child reading the horrific tales of serial killers, with tears of complete and utter terror streaming down my face. Part morbid-curiosity, part intrigue. Sherlock Holmes was a boyhood hero, and true crime was the real deal. No neat and tidy endings here. Sometimes the crime wasn’t solved, and we were left wondering who the murderer really was. This week, the extant half of the moors murderers, Ian Brady, died. If you are not from the UK it may be hard to understand just how hated Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were during their lifetimes. The Daily Mail declared just yesterday, that the two would be “burning in hell” (forget that God allowed their crimes to happen)... The pair were responsible for some of the most heinous …
I came across an interesting argument in a book edited by soon-to-be-podcast-guest Jeffrey A. Schaler. The book (Peter Singer Under Fire) is on the philosophy of Peter Singer, with whom I am in a great deal of agreement it seems. However, stimulating this post is the question of vegetarianism, and the accusation that by not abstaining from the eating of meat, we are directly causing the suffering of animals.
Firstly, a personal aside: I grew up with animals, and have a great deal of time for animal lovers. My cat Ziggy gets more attention and devotion than most living things in my life. My mother goes too far though, and this was always my assessment. Some of my earliest memories are of the films of Lassie reducing my mother to a quivering wreck. Or some badger baiting documentary causing howls which could easily be mistaken for a banshee, as a …
[Is this a story, a poem, an echo from the future, a euology, a suicide note, a manifesto, a hate mail?]
Cancer doesn’t care about evolving. Cancer doesn’t care about your genetic predispositions. Cancer is going to grow and consume your body, unless you fight it. You both share the same body. Its cells are your cells. And now you’re in a fight to the death. There will be one winner or none. And that is about as much love as we had for nature. Evolution is a horrid process. Our ancestors hunted, killed, fucked and died. This was never about love or happiness or anything nice. It was a mechanical ratcheting. Think about a crystal growing in a jar. Well this crystal grew the fuck up. And we took charge.
Transhumanists they call us. But really we told biology to fuck itself. The natural world threatened …
So one of the questions that I frequently raise on The Existential Files, is whether life is worth living. I think it is important that this question is not about whether one should kill oneself or not (though I agree with Camus, that that is an important consideration unto itself). No, we find ourselves in the position of being given a gift that we did not ask for, and we open the box and lo, it’s not quite what we wanted. It is a judgement call. We’ve all been there. When you’re a child a pair of socks is no Christmas present. When you’re an adult, meh, what’s Christmas anyway?
I was reading through a book of aphorisms by Thomas Szasz and discovered these wise words:
Happiness: tranquil illusion that life is worth living.
Sadness: tranquil recognition that life is not worth living.
When my youngest brother Eddie died in 2015, I quadrupled my shoe collection overnight. Despite our inside legs being inches different (I got the brains and he got the height and the beauty), our shoe sizes were fortuitously similar. We shared a taste for converse trainers, and so there seemed to be the tiniest of silver linings in this shittest of events. But, of course, the universe loves to shit where it eats, and whilst Eddie may no longer exist, the remnants of a serious fungal infection remained. So I found myself striken by both grief and athletes foot (ironic as I am the least athletic person there is). Thanks a lot Eddie (or Deadie as I came to refer to him during this period)!
But funny really. Eddie was an atheist and obviously I’m one too. But here, imprinted in the soles of his shoes (geddit) were the …