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Friday, June 22, 2007

Feting Sartre's coming into Being from Nothingness

On June 21, 1905, French Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre made his appearance on the world's stage. In many ways he was a man after my own heart with a penchant for cafés, politics, philosophy, and literature.

In college, I studied both Sartre's philosophical and literary texts, and his existentialist view of the world has always appealed to me; jiving well with my inclination toward punk music. Existentialism includes a pretty rigid morality that emphasizes free will and judges everyone by their actions and choices. It also tries to explain the sense of alienation and anxiety that is a large part of the modern human condition.

Sartre wrote several plays and novels to help illustrate his philosophical points, including: The Flies, Dirty Hands, and No Exit. The last is probably his most famous, dealing with a twisted love triangle in the after-life where the only hell-like torture proves to be the thoughts and judgements of other people.

The most complete explanation of his philosophy exists in the work Being and Nothingness, and it's in that tome that Sartre lays out the terms of his arguments. In my own limited vocabulary, the basic concept is the impossibility of fully knowing ourselves and others, and the frustration that limitation causes. While we may comfort ourselves with the deception that we can guess the thoughts and motivations of others — often reducing them to simplistic categories that make sense to us — deep down we know that we can never truly grasp the complexity of human consciousness. So it is that we'll always end up tortured by our own doubts.

As proof of that mental complexity, my mind made the leap from Sartre to a favorite little ditty by the Velvet Undeground that also deals with self-knowledge. It's a happy little tune, and much more fun to get through than a long philosophical text.

I'll Be Your Mirror
by Lou Reed

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
Ill be the wind, the rain and the sun
The light on your door to show that youre home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you, I do

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty you are
But if you dont let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you, I do

I'll be your mirror
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