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Existentialism

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Ștefan Bolea
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Abstract Keywords: existentialism, postmodernism, nihilism, literature, phenomenology of affects, theology, psychology, humanism, antihumanism, anxiety, fear, authenticity, bad faith, they-self, death, alienation, freedom, contingency, practical philosophy, hope, compassion, project, facticity, ethics, individualism, being, Dasein, anti-Platonism, transcendence, absurd, religious stage, interdisciplinarity, pop culture, postexistentialism, nothingness. My thesis tries to accomplish synthetically a reconstruction of existentialism starting from three of its fundamental concepts (anxiety, death and authenticity) and to show the genesis and the relevance of this 20th century philosophical trend, in comparison with postmodernism and nihilism. Starting from the fact that in the post–1989 Romanian philosophical space existentialism was rather ignored, my thesis proposes to synchronize the researched field with the current existentialist scholarship from the West. I focused especially upon the American bibliography, because the American spirit is even today close to existentialist ideas (in philosophy, psychology and especially in pop culture). If in the 1950’s existentialism seemed to become the philosophical trend that could solve all the theoretical problems of that day, many of the existentialist ideas would appear outdated after consecutive waves of structuralism and post-structuralism. However, at least three of its concepts could have an extensive historical validity, even after the fall of dominant postmodernism. These three concepts seek to act as a corrective to postmodern relativism, multiplicity and anomy. In the first part of the thesis I have commenced my research trying to construct a personal definition of existentialism, after reviewing historically important definitions from American, German and French scholars. In a following chapter I have commented upon the affirmation existence precedes essence (Heidegger and Sartre) and the relevance of this existential reversal in the recent history of philosophy. I moved over to the humanistic polemics (from Sartre’s talk Existentialism and Humanism to Heidegger’s reply, Letter on “Humanism”, so influential in Romanian philosophy). Afterwards I inquired about the difference of existentialist “humanism” and the postmodern antihumanism (Foucault and Deleuze). The question concerning antihumanism showed that there are two distinct types of antihumanism, the original one deserving a further research: I am referring to the nihilist antihumanism of thinkers like Nietzsche and poets like Lautréamont. The second part of the thesis concerns a conceptual archeology: I have tried to reconstruct existentialism, starting from its almost categorical concepts of anxiety, death and authenticity. I focused mainly on three philosophers (Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre) and on their following works: Fear and Trembling (1843), The Concept of Anxiety (1844), Being and Time (1927) and Being and Nothingness (1943). I have begun with Kierkegaard’s study on Anxiety, a work considered today as fundamental for existentialist psychology, concentrating upon the religious stage. I was interested also in Kierkegaard’s theater of pseudonyms and in the seminal distinction between pity and compassion. Heidegger’s distinction between anxiety and fear and Sartre’s work on the similarities between anxiety and nothingness were my following research themes. Moreover, I have used Paul Tillich’s description of anxiety from The Courage to Be (1952). One of the dilemmas of our research, explored in both directions, tried to question if anxiety is the original form of fear. In the second chapter of the second part I explored the problem of existentialist death, reconstructing the “debate” between 443 444 Heidegger’s being-towards-death and Sartre’s contingency of death. We explored the theses of thinkers like Eugen Fink, Emmanuel Levinas, Gabriel Marcel, Friedrich Nietzsche and Emil Cioran. Two important ideas concerned me: firstly the distinction between the death of the individual and the death of the other and secondly the difference between immanent and transcendent death. The third chapter of the second part deals with the rare virtue (almost impossible to attain) of authenticity. An interdisciplinary study between philosophy and psychology studies the distinction between falsity and authenticity. I continued with the research of religious authenticity, taking a closer look on Fear and Trembling and investigating related problems like suspension of the ethical, communication between individual and God, the absurd, the exception, etc. Heidegger’s treatment of they-self and his definition of positive authenticity was my next research target. I moved on afterwards to Sartre’s concept of bad faith and the relationships between violence, bad faith and nihilism from his posthumous work Notebooks for an Ethics (1983). In the appendix I have collected part of my experimental material, which resulted from the researched theme, including a sketch of the concept of postexistentialism, resulting from an interpretation of pop culture.
Ștefan Bolea
added a research item
ABSTRACT. In the following paper I will argue that there are interesting connections between the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, and the school of existentialism. Analytical psychology and existentialism share almost the same Zeitgeist (becoming influential between the 1930’s and 1960’s) and are both interested in the concept of individuality. I would like to follow the liaison between Jung and existentialism regarding authenticity and death. First of all, the concept of authenticity deserves extensive treatment. Heidegger’s das Man and Sartre’s mauvaise foi have an interesting companion in Jung’s notion of the persona, the psychological concept of “the mask”. Second of all, existentialist authenticity can be compared to the Jungian integration of the shadow. Moreover, the concept of death (Heidegger’s Sein-zum-Tode) can be compared with Jung’s understanding of death from The Red Book. Keywords: individuation, persona, authenticity, integration of the shadow, existential death
Ștefan Bolea
added a research item
Sartre’s description of violence from his often neglected Notebooks for an Ethics can be analyzed from a psychological point of view in relationship with other negative “passions” like hatred, fury, pain and sufferance. Literary characters such as Seneca’s Medea or Anouilh’s Antigone seem to embody this fundamental characteristic of violence: the alliance with an ontological striving for destruction. In this paper we provide an interpretation of the Sartrean portrait of the violent man, analyzing its connections with his existential doctrine from Being and Nothingness, and its affinity with modern nihilism (Nietzsche and Cioran) and Gnostic dualism (Catharism and Manicheanism).
Ștefan Bolea
added 3 research items
In the following paper we provide a personal definition of the existential philosophy and the existential subject. Before that we explore other historical definitions of existentialism. We were mainly interested in the relation between existentialism and nihilism, the focus of existential philosophy on the individual and the situation of the studied philosophical trend on the 1950's zeitgeist. The definition of existentialism as a form of trans-rationalism and its capacity to become a practical alternative to contemporary academic philosophy were also emphasized.
The similitude between anxiety and death is the starting point of Paul Tillich's analysis from The Courage To Be, his famous theological and philosophical reply to Martin Heidegger's Being And Time. Not only Tillich and Heidegger are concerned with the connection between anxiety and death but also other proponents of both existentialism and nihilism like Friedrich Nietzsche, Emil Cioran and Lev Shestov. Tillich observes that "anxiety puts frightening masks" over things and perhaps this definition is its finest contribution to the spectacular phenomenology of anxiety. Moreover, Tillich has some illuminating insights about the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, which are important for the history of the existential philosophy. It is interesting how the protestant theologian tries to answer to Heidegger: while the German philosopher asserted that we must avoid fear and we have to embrace anxiety as a route to personal authenticity, Tillich notes that we should transform anxiety into fear, because courage is more likely to "abolish" fear.
Using the method of diagnosis, devel-oped by Professor Andrei Marga, following the tradition of the Frankfurt School, I will analyze the texts of three Existentialist philosophers, which discuss the modern society. Kierkegaard presents the diagnosis of a conformist society, in which there is an enormous contrast between character and behaviour. This society obeys and follows the imposed rituals, without acknowledging their meaning or their value. Nietzsche speaks of a levelled society and explains the diminishment of the human being through the triumph of the slave morality and the confrontation between individuals and the herd. Sartre brings scopophilia (the pleasure of looking) into discussion, analyzing the gaze as a form of domination or as a means of reification (Debord or Foucault are interesting points of reference here). Those three coordinates (conformism, levelling and scopophilia) identify the fragility and the crisis potential of the modern society.