Existentialism and Modern Literature



BY DAVIS DUNBAR MCELROY Ph.D. 1963

By all means let us take life seriously, but let us be serious about the things that matter.

Spinoza’s concept of God as the sum of all natures forces which rule the universe and of the phenomena which result from them has given me the greatest of satisfaction.

The destiny of mankind lies in these individual differences, and in the potential good they bare. The truth of every man is the good within him, his greatest chance for happiness and satisfaction is to seek  out and become this good.

Man is a creature who suffers from needless worries, unreasonable doubts, and from causeless fears and he does it because it is in his nature to do so.

To be born is to be cast out of the Garden of Eden, The experience of being born causes a profound shock to the helpless organism a shock which not only causes physical separation from the mother, but also physiological hazards & changes of state.

Man is also the victim of nameless guilt.

Mans self awareness, reason, and imagination have disrupted his harmony which characterizes the animal existence, and their emergence has made man into an anomaly, into the freak of nature.

Mans reason is both a blessing and a curse.

Never is he free from the dichotomy of experience.

A mans life can not be lived by repeating the pattern f his species by instinct , each individual must make his own life.

Nor can a man go back to the pre-human even if he wanted to: he must go ahead and develop his reason until he becomes master of nature and of his self.

Nevertheless every stage that man reaches leaves him disconnected and perplexed and this very perplexity urges him to move towards new solutions.

There is no innate drive for progress in man:it is the contradiction in his own existence that makes him proceed on the way he set out. Having lost Paradise, the unity with nature he has become the eternal wanderer.

He is impelled to go forward & with everlasting effort to make the unknown known by filling in with answers the blank spaces of his knowledge.

The thing that makes him human is the very thing that makes him uneasy in his existence.

The loss of self is the greatest calamity that can befall an individual, because only the man who is completely and authentically himself can be said to truly be alive.

An existential appraisal of man in the modern world reveals that a great part of humanity cannot be said to be properly alive at all, they merely exist.  And that arises from the fact that they have no true individuality, they in other words have no true self to which they can lose.

They fear it and flee in all directions in their endeavors to escape.

Mans isolation has been increased by his loss of primal ties with nature, family, tribe and religion ties which formerly protected him from the most awful human predicament, complete loneliness.

The world he has built  has become his master: the work of his own hands has become a god before whom he bows down.

Modern man has reached the point of no return!

But modern man can, and does, seek every avenue of escape from the burden of his freedom and the obligation to be himself.

He can for example narcotize his feeling of isolation, insignificance and powerlessness; his anxietes of death, doubt and guilt.

The Masochist seeks to escape his anxiety through submitting himself to a powerful and arbitrary person or institution which rules and even torments him both mentally and physically.

The Sadist on the other hand must find a victim to which he can dispel his feelings of weakness and isolation. A person who  he can completely dominate.

The Destructive. Self-destructiveness is the outcome of an un-lived life, that is because they lack the courage to live completely as themselves. The destructive person attempts to remove his anxieties of isolation and powerlessness by acting out in violence.

The Authoritarian. This person seeks to escape his anxieties through authoritarianism hungers to submit himself to the irrational authority, and such an authority must have complete and absolute control over him. This type wishes to be loved and approved of by the authority, but even punishment is better than rejection.

Such an authority comes into being whenever large numbers of the citizens of a democracy seek to escape the uncertainly of their existence by resorting to automation conformity.

He will tend more and more to set its machinery working on whatsoever pretext to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it in any order of things, in politics, in ideas, in industry.

We strive to lose our identity by submerging our God-given individuality in the featureless mass of anonymous humanity; or we drown it in dope, lust or senseless activity.

And our destructiveness is as pervasive as our despair. Lacking faith, charity and even pity we are constant in one thing __ violence.

Our violence is everywhere, not just in our streets, our homes, in our every day lives, it is in our hearts, in our minds and in our souls.

But despite our best and worst attempts to destroy ourselves we are bound to fail. Our debasement, our degradation, is simply the result of our refusal to realize completely and legitimately the potentialities of our freedoms and ourselves.

We fail (in this self destruction) because our genuine self does not die, it is changed into an accusing shadow, a phantom which constantly reminds us of the inferiority of the life we live compared to the one we ought to be living .


Existentialism and Modern Literature

 

 

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