Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Existentialisme la Nuit d’un Bal d’Étudiant

ex·is·ten·tial·ism ˌeɡzəˈsten(t)SHəˌlizəm/    n. a philosophical theory that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his or her own development through acts of will.

Straylight Run
I'm still not 100% sure what existentialism means (and if you think you do, you're probably wrong), but to capsulize it to the best of my ability, humans exist first, then spend a lifetime shaping their essence and nature. It's not about finding one's self, it's about creating one's self. (This of course should clarify things immensely.)

I started reanalyzing the philosophy (not having thought about it since college) due to the stellar 2004 single "Existentialism on Prom Night" by Straylight Run (AM10). I remember feeling weirdly jealous when I heard it the first time because my own prom was a letdown the moment I realized it was nothing like Pretty in Pink.

I've always been upset with myself for not better understanding Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man or "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." I've convinced myself over time that I'm just so smart and it gets to me that there are concepts that I plain don't get. The song came on Spotify the other day and all my inadequacies reemerged. Way back in the 70s when Roxy Music sang, "Is there a Heaven?/ I'd like to think so," I began to realize that the notion of eternity was an act of faith and my faith was lacking. I began to envy people with real faith, those who just knew there was God and Heaven and forever. I don't want to work for it; I just want it to exist. 


Instead I have questions.

There's a scene in Mad Men where Sally Draper says that "forever" frightens her: "When I think about forever, I get upset. Like the Land O' Lakes butter has the Indian girl sitting holding a box and a picture of her on it holding a box, with a picture of her on it holding a box, with a picture of her on it holding a box. You ever notice that?" – Sally

"I wish you hadn't said that." – Glen

Like Sally, I get that Land O Lakes feeling as well; the idea of doing anything (or not doing anything) forever and ever, and ever, is a bit daunting. There is little I want to do for more than a couple hours, and in terms of "forever," the idea of being plain-old-atheist-dead freaks me out only a bit more than the idea of living in a post-life utopia. What if I hate Heaven? What if I only want to be there a short time? What would be the point of existing in Heaven forever and ever and never doing anything or going anywhere else? Surely there'd be something bigger than Heaven; somewhere we'd progress to? Surely even God would get bored eventually? (I think once, in an altered state, I saw God at the Tunnel in New York, the coolest of all clubs, but I heard that He left because there was something better going on at Nell's.) All of this comes about whenever I get into those Kate Bush moods, when I start to get confused or frustrated over the complexities posed by songwriters like David Sylvian, poets like Whitman or artists like Magritte.

"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth."

That's Whitman, who questioned humanity's lack of animal logic (but man, the repetitious rock 'n' roll construct is shear brilliance: I think, I turn, I live; I stand, look, long; they do not sweat, whine, lie awake, weep, make me sick; not one is dissatisfied, demented; not one kneels, not one is respectable, unhappy. That's rock 'n' roll right there.)

Call it an existential crisis or a looping mid-life panic in the head of someone who hasn't studied much philosophy, I don’t mind, but God - or whoever or whatever or nothing - this is a great song. With all the gods now seemingly dead and buried, with nothing to believe in, existentialists turn to humanity itself to find new values. They maintain a faith in humanity - a faith that has them believe that only man can understand and solve the problems of mankind. The existentialist accepts man's anxiety and anguish, a general feeling of uneasiness in the nothingness of existence. This is the human condition, and in this beautiful tune by Straylight Run, we realize that the human condition extends to the adolescent, indeed to the child. It's a sad happy song about our lives as kintsugi, about how even in our youth, or maybe especially in our youth, we are forced to put the pieces, often broken, back together. 

Here are the lyrics in both English and French, the language of existentialism.


When the sun came up
Quand le soleil est arrivé
We were sleeping in
Nous étions endormi
Sunk inside our blankets
Descendu à l'intérieur de nos couvertures
Sprawled across the bed
Etendu à travers le lit
And we were dreaming
Et nous rêvions
There are moments when, when I know it
Il y a des moments quand, quand je le sais
And the world revolves around us
Et le monde tourne autour de nous
And we're keeping it, keeping it all going
Et nous le gardons, le gardons entièrement
This delicate balance
Cette délicate balance
Vulnerable
Vulnérable
All knowing
Tous le savent
Sing like you think no one's listening
Chante comme si tu penses que personne ne t'écoute
You would kill for this
Tu voudrais tuer pour ça
Just a little bit
Juste un petit peu
Just a little bit
Juste un petit peu
You would
Tu le voudrais
You would
Tu le voudrais
Sing like you think no one's listening
Chante comme si tu penses que personne ne t'écoute
You would kill for this
Tu voudrais tuer pour ça
Just a little bit
Juste un petit peu
Just a little bit
Juste un petit peu
You would
Tu le voudrais
You would
Tu le voudrais