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marissa woytowitz

on 12 March 2014

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albert camus
Existential Breakdown
Existence precedes essence
Existential philosophy begins with a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless and absurd world. An existentialist believes that life has no meaning unless they define the purpose of their life and therefore, strive to find value in their lives. Absurdists believe that there is no point in trying to find meaning in their lives because all attempts to find meaning will fail, making life pointless. In both of these you must find a balance i your life between your individual side and you commitment to society.
Although Camus and Kafka have opposing beliefs regarding true meaning in the world, they share one common theme. That the universe is indifferent to our lives and does not have a great impact on them. Our lives are not affected by external stimuli.
franz kafka
The roots of existentialism started with the "father of existentialism" soren Kierkegarrd, who lived in the 19th century. Existentialism flourished in the 1940s and 1950s when many new great thinkers emerged. The existential movement was as much of an art and literature phenomenon as a philosophical one, peaking post-World War II as many people searched for meaning in a damaged, corrupt world.
The most important consideration for a person is the fact that they are an individual: an independently acting and responsible being, rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories of society the individual is viewed to fit. The actions of the life of the individual is what constitutes their "true essence": their own meaning and place in the world, rather than there being an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a unique meaning to their life.
“As for myself: I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide.”
― Kurt Vonnegut,
Breakfast of Champions
“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
― Albert Camus,
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
Essence precedes existence
Absurdism is a branch of existentialism encompassing the conflict between the human tendency to try to find meaning in life and the inability to find any. It states that the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail, thus making life pointless. Due to the fact that meaning cannot be found, absurdists believe that humans create standards and roles of society to initiate structure in a chaotic world. Society then constitutes predetermined roles, or essence, obliterating any chance of making life unique. A person would conclusively have to kill themself to escape this dilemma.
between existentialism and absurdism
Higher Level Question #1
Mersault as a name may have meaning in the novella
The Stranger
in French and
. Do you think this is symbolic in the novella?
Higher Level Question #2
According to Kafka and existentialism, people have both an individual side and a side with the commitment of society. It is our choices that must be in moderation of the two, to maintain balance. If a person chooses himself over society, he will loose the support of society; however, if a person chooses society, he will lose his individuality. Gregor initially chooses society over himself, which in turn transformed him into the working drone he was. After his physical transformation, he is forced reassert his focus to himself, and society abandons him.Gregor learned to live for himself too late to become a whole person. Gregor begins to look for entertainment and fun in the form of a bug, a form that knows nothing but work. By ignoring the purpose of being an insect, Gregor defeats the purpose of living in his new form of life, and in effect, dies. The Metamorphosis advances the existential view that choice is the opportune of the individual. It is the responsibility of the individual to maintain a balance between work and leisure. The Metamorphosis lends the idea that, if one chooses to devote their life entirely to work, they are no more than droning insects, yet if they devote their lives to leisure, they are no better off. A balance needs to be found.
Although Camus portrays the existential ideas that the world is indifferent to humans, Mersault reciprocates this indifference back to the world, rather than striving to find an individual meaning as Gregor did. This, in turn, illuminates the absurdity of the world. When Mersault is condemned to death, he views this is only natural and inevitable; it actually causes him to accept the world around him as truly meaningless, granting him complete freedom. On the other hand, when Gregor dies, a morose mood is created due to his inability to find a unique meaning in life. The different ways in which Mersault in
The Stranger
and Gregor in T
he Metamorphosis
react to the alienation of the world differentiate each novella as either existential or absurd.
In the novella
, should Gregor be considered an existential or an absurdist character, and why?
"Oh God," he thought, "what a grueling job I've picked! […] I've got the torture of traveling, worrying about changing trains, eating miserable food at all hours, constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate."
The life of a traveling salesman should look awfully good to someone who just got turned into a vermin, but that's not the case for Gregor. Gregor views the transient life of a traveling salesman as dehumanizing. It's an asocial and physically grueling lifestyle. His choice of society over intimacy is shown here. He has been turned into a bug to show him that he needs to maintain balance between his commitment to society and the social aspect of his life.
"A man might find for a moment that he was unable to work, but that's exactly the right time to remember his past accomplishments and to consider that later on, when the obstacle has been removed, he's bound to work all the harder and more efficiently […] the traveling salesman, who is out of the office practically the whole year round, can so easily become the victim of gossip, contingencies, and unfounded accusations, against which he's completely unable to defend himself."
Gregor is defeating the purpose of being turned into a bug in the first place. All he did was work and therefore turned into a bug because the purpose that a bug serves in this world is to work. He neglects to work as bug and is only concerned with how work will go once he is human again.
"But everybody knows life isn't worth living. Deep down I knew perfectly well that it doesn't much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy... Since we're all going to die, it's obvious that when and how don't matter" (114).
By this point, Mersault portrays his complete absurd beliefs: death is inevitable, so why should it matter when and how a human dies? He ponders the meaning of life and death, concluding that all is meaningless and affirming his beliefs. This allows him to obtain complete freedom, accepting life and death as simple, yet undeniable events that must occur: "I felt as if I understood why at the end of her life she had taken a 'fiance,' why she had played at beginning again" (122). By accepting life as it is and fully understanding that the world is a chaotic place with now meaning, Mersault is able to come to a peace of mind and freely enjoy his last remaining days.
"The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire" (59).
This quote illustrates Mersault's belief that the world has nothing to offer to humans. As a matter of fact, the world is quite oppressive and only makes life harder for him. It is the oppression of the world that causes Gregor, in his discomfort, to act the way he does: indifferent to the world.

"My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver" (59).
In some such cases, such as this, the brutality of the world becomes so overwhelming that, in the right environment and at the right moment, Mersault finds no reason to not indulge in his desires. Because he views the world in an absurd way and holds no morals, Mersault finds no reason not to shoot the Arab.
Never Know
by Jack Johnson

Shocking but we're nothing
We're just moments
We're Clever but we're clueless We're just human
Amusing but confusing
Were trying but where is this all leading
Never Know

The lyrics of this song emphasize that, as humans, we build our world to have meaning so that we can be comforted in our imaginary truths about life. Although we are confident in our intelligence and reasoning, in actuality, are are ignorant to what the real meaning of the world is and what our lives lead to.
"A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn't matter but that I didn't think so" (35).
Gregor displays his indifference to the world in this way by revealing that he has little emotion. He is not interesting in the feeling and the meaning of the world. Although many people, such as Marie, often have passionate emotions, such as love, and show a desire to find meaning in life, Mersault does not conform to this way of life. Because of this, he is able to continue holding his own individual beliefs about life and the world.
Works Cited
Crowell, Steven. "Existentialism." Stanford University. Stanford University, 23 Aug. 2004. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. http:// plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/

"Existentialism." Existentialism. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <http://faculty.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/Existentialism.htm>.

Camus, Albert, and Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Print.

Kuper, Peter, Kerstin Hasenpusch, and Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis. New York: Crown, 2003. Print

Johnson, Jack. "Never Know." N.d. CD.
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