Tag Archives: Existentialism

Existentialism and Romantic Love


Existentialism and Romantic Love
By Skye Cleary
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

Other people are a fact of life.
                                          David Cooper.

Love is a passion to be chosen and mastered, not sacrificed to.
                                          Skye Cleary.

I’d highly recommend this most excellent of books, just on the strength of its final chapter ‘Simone de Beauvoir and Loving Authentically’ alone. Reason being, there’s so much to be gleaned, so much to be inspired by, so much to go and away and think about.

And perhaps act upon.

It is because Existentialism and Romantic Love traverses the most complex and complicated of emotions we oft refer to as love – in a most self-defining manner, profoundly more reflective than an array of dreadful Hello and Cosmopolitan magazines combined – that fundamentally accounts for its validity. That it does so from an existentialist perspective which is resoundingly thought provoking throughout all of its seven chapters (Introduction and Conclusion included), propels the book in its entirety unto a literary place that is simply more commendable than commendable.

Authoress Skye Cleary already reminds us in the book’s Introduction that: ”not all mirrors can provide accurate reflections.”

Such pronouncement in itself, is enough to trigger colossal bouts of pensive persuasion amid love’s fraternity of analysis and assessment. Be it of the self. Or one’s relationship with another. As more often than not, we instinctively think we know about these things – but in truth, we don’t

In a world where capitalism and its grotesque ugly sister, advertising, have become inherently more instrumental within modern day relationships than that of love itself – which, lest it be said, absolutely isn’t tangible – it’s no surprise that mutual conflict can sometimes supersede the initial kernel of romance.

Or, dare one actually say it, love.

For want of a perhaps more definitive description, said miasmic maze of psychological undoing is coherently addressed in this book’s aforementioned final chapter: ”Beauvoir agreed with Sartre that conflict is a fundamental part of life because we clash with other freedoms. Nevertheless, embracing the conflict is a necessary part of life because transcending (pour-soi) is not easy, and giving it up means giving up existing. Transcendence is necessary to being a sovereign subject, which Beauvoir defines as actively, assertively, ambitiously, creatively, and courageously pushing oneself forward in the world, overcoming oneself, going beyond the given in life to be an agent in one’s life, and engaging in projects that one creates for oneself.”

Suffice to say, it is of vital importance to actually know and comprehend the above to begin with.

But again, due to economic demands and the smokescreen, diversionary importance of having to keep up with the myopic folly of such complete and utter bollocks as that of what other people may be wearing and driving, ”going beyond the given in life to be an agent in one’s life,” isn’t always as easy as it may sound. Reason being, such distraction as that promoted by the ideology of Hello Magazine et al, goes a long way in diluting and perhaps ultimately confusing what is truly important in life: ”Beauvoir did not mean that the need for others should be taken in the Machiavellian sense of using each other as means to ends. Rather, each individual acts in the context of society […]. The important thing for Beauvoir is acknowledging that the world is shared with other people and that one way or another individuals depend on the community for survival, self-definition, and meaning.”

”Each individual” acting ” in the context of society,” is a most potent force to be reckoned with. Perhaps one of the most important. This partially explains why so much of British society, and American society even more so, has been crumbling away in recent years.

After all, both places could all so readily be defined by what former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, once described as there being ”no such thing as society.”

As such, never has love, existentialist or otherwise, been in such short supply. All the more reason that one should truly investigate this most authentic, fascinating and quintessentially timely of books.

David Marx

The Quotable Kierkegaard


The Quotable Kierkegaard
Edited by Gordon Marino
Princeton University Press – $24.95

As much as the sui generis work(s) of the so-called father of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, is herein brought to acute, enthusiastic and colourful bear, it is the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Gordon Marino, who may knowingly beguile many a (new) reader unto a path of earnest re-consideration.

Not only does Gordon academically kneel at the alter of all things Kierkegaard, his unrelenting zest throughout this delightful book’s Introduction, is endemic of someone wholly prepared to go out on a philosophical limb. So as to reach, teach, if not actually touch, the reader: ”Most of us feel more urgency about the size of our waistline than about the girth of our capacity for compassion. Doing the right thing still has valence, but it is just one option among many, as in, I want to be a successful lawyer, have a good marriage and family, and be a good guy. Often by daubing a picture that the reader can see himself or herself in, Kierkegaard tries to kindle a concern about the self, but with a different set of categories up his sleeves than we are likely to find in the likes of Eat, Pray, Love and the boundless literature of the self-help happiness market.”

That Gordon recognises as much; whether by way of the Dane’s trajectory of compelling thought or by way of his own, is in itself, commendable.

Surely this is a quality which, like much of The Quotable Kierkegaard as a whole, is frank, illuminating, and within the literary world of philosophical prowess especially, surprisingly refreshing.

As much is underlined by the issue of how the author came to stumble upon ”the Mozart of the spirit” in the first place: ”I came to Kierkegaard crawling on cut glass and on the tail of a brutal marital breakup. I had dropped out of graduate school for the second time. My untethered life was like a page from a newspaper blowing around in the wind.”

It was probably due to having been simultaneously ”untethered” and in pain, that Gordon got to embrace the true value of Kierkegaard’s philosophical currency: ”And if there was one thing that […] the preternaturally talented Kierkegaard was convinced of, it was this: in the realm of the spirit, all worldly differences, talents, and bank accounts will have no purchase. Pascal famously said that if we could just learn to sit still for ten minutes and do without distractions, there would be no more wars […]. Rather than pass on knowledge, Kierkegaard hoped to direct us to the study of ourselves. He once confessed, ”I want to make people aware so that they do not squander and waste their lives.””

Drawn from the authoritative Princeton editions of Kierkegaard’s many, many writings, The Quotable Kierkegaard includes an Introduction (as in the above quotations), a brief account/timeline of his life and a guide to further reading.

So in all, this most quotable of literary companions makes for illuminati induced reading. Then again, the book does contain some eight-hundred quotes, of which the following is perhaps one of my favourites:

”But the person who can scarcely open himself cannot love, and the person who cannot love is the unhappiest of all.”

David Marx