"People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me."
- Soren Kierkegaard
Existential angst surrounds us all as weary teenagers that manifests itself in the form of hard earned soliloquies and monologues whispered into ears after a socially accepted attempt at (chugged) beer pong, culminating in scorning the hustle of selling productive worth for free as unpaid interns in the quest of being a money making machine to finally afford that one bottle of Tanqueray. We start each Term with bright determination, only for it to flatten faster than a Fruit Chill on a summer day. Unaccounted lectures pass with a memory that spans till that one Beethoven sonata that everyone knows how to hum, and venting out the seeping cracks of monotonous boredom and irrelevant cultural affixes over patties as energy bars.
What must be the point of life if it is supposed to end somewhat tragically in a funeral wake clad in white muslin, devoid of all your efforts to brave this world and achieve self-indulgent wealth? Such was the thought tormenting Soren Kierkegaard, who accepted unhappiness as a vocation. Losing his parents and siblings to disease and himself staring into a prophesized demise, he reacted to his disposition with a subtle smile and produced a dense oeuvre now regarded with the birth of Existentialism, a famous term for the modern teenager doused with quotes of Kafka and a copy of Orwell's 1984. Survived by over seven thousand pages of journals and personal recollections, his philosophy was one marked by despair and guilt. He broke ties with a woman he was about to marry, citing his inability to love someone. He gave up his career to tie himself in a room, writing through the night at a frantic pace. The modern world would expose his behavior to psychiatric help, although such a personality is not so alien for the current age, where depression and anxiety are romanticized for the successfully troubled young adult and wild emotion is the sign of true genius. His parables live on as a reminder of Man as the only creature unwilling to know himself.
Now termed as a Christian Existentialist, he is named so because of his unusual position on faith. He presented some of the most striking criticisms, and simultaneously, a visually pious sympathy for Christianity. The parable of The Men of Gotham throws light on fundamental beliefs where a group of men hold on to the branch of a "thirsty" tree close to a river by forming a chain from the ground up, holding each other's waists - under the presupposition that the first man held fast. If the first man loosens his grip, all Gothamites fall into the water as the presupposition is broken. This metaphor explains the present, where fundamental beliefs about God who reincarnates as human for us to love him, challenges the notion of objective and subjective truths and politicians force-feed obvious lies that gives rise to totalitarian propaganda. Truth for this world is a byproduct of positional warfare. The party with more influence owns reality, and the line between natural and posited law is blurred. An escapist fantasy demands the eccentric idea of the fallen Gothamites to surrender to the river and discover new worlds, for every idea read in textbooks was eccentric at its origin.
Anxiety deeply roots itself around the expectation of our image in public. It reflects the inability to know what others desire of you. Modern dating presents a myriad of lovelorn singles who have "commodified" themselves like varieties of jam in a grocery store. Such mass produced individuality, isolated into labor and consumption. A false identity leads us into the troubled waters of hatred, self-loathing, boredom, egotism, and to refuse to engage in the only certainty of life - death. We live in unusual times marked by irrelevant wars, bigotry, suspicion, and economic upheavals. Increase in feelings of alienation without any plausible belief systems have led to an increase in suicide and mental illnesses. It seems that we have not only lost the taste of life but also the taste for life, as we allow our lives to be dominated by ideals, norms, and values defined by others. Scientific and rational inquiry has provided one last blow to canonical and divine intervention. It is a severe blow to the idea of an immortal soul and God. In this evolution of the Superstructure into a world of artificial sentience, the mind alone is the cause of this contemporary angst, the source of experience. In death thus, lies the inexistence of the soul, nothingness prevails. Neuroexistentialism, as a form of third wave existential philosophical thought maps neural networks of the body with a "unified theory of being".
It is the desire for freedom that finds the appeal of a disbelief in existing social structures and old prescribed habits quite tempting. Existential thought opens a chasm of eccentricity and an infinite space for individuality. We all have a duty to recognize one's own freedom, ability to change, malleability and vulnerability. By default, then, we must also acknowledge the same in others. This is where faith enters as a result of the intersection of Kierkegaard in everyday life. Faith, not just as a State sponsored apparatus of power pushed into a box of Religion, but a belief in the weakness of the human mind to perceive good and bad. The nature of man is unique to experience, although one cannot experience that which cannot be mediated by language. The constraint of all expression limited to metaphors and symbolism should prompt the relativist, practical, and everyday philosopher to have a leap of faith into the dire conditions of uncertainty. Despair and dogmatism are easy, but hope is hard.
Our anxiety, while painful, is evidence that we're struggling to be true to ourselves. Rather than distract ourselves with every shiny new thing, surrender to societies' standards, or cling desperately to some objective, "knowable" truth, Kierkegaard challenges us to remain open as we engage with the world, searching for that noble ideal we'd be willing to sacrifice everything for. The dizziness of freedom is the condition that life is viewed backwards, but can only be lived forwards. This position implies that future is no one's responsibility but one of its maker. To face an inevitable demise with defiance instead of distraction is to live a life.
Kunal Panda is an Economics undergraduate from Hindu College, University of Delhi. An admirer of Pune skies, He giggles at Homeric puns and finds respite in the terrible aftertaste of soulful conversations, and writing odes to that effervescent amber promise. He wishes to become an educator one day.
Instagram: _kunalpanda (Calvin, Klein, and Hobbes)