One of my all-time favourite lines on the TV series The Sopranos is delivered when Tony, worried about the mental health of his son, AJ, seeks the council of psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi. After Tony tells Dr. Melfi about AJ’s recent remarks and behaviours, Dr. Melfi concludes that AJ likely “has discovered existentialism”, at which Tony barks: “F***ing internet!”
Existentialism is certainly not a product of the internet, nor is it something that parents need to exorcise from the minds of their children. It’s a comprehensive philosophy; a worldview. It’s anchored in the last few centuries of the Western philosophical tradition, but it’s most well-known representative is the late writer and philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre.
Though it undeniably has roots in philosophers that predate Sartre, it was this French thinker who brought existentialism to the consciousness of the masses, when he wrote both fiction and non-fiction books during the time of the Second World War, and afterwards.
So, what is existentialism? Well, to be sure, it’s notoriously difficult to define. Here’s my own version, in brief: existentialism is the situation / worldview wherein we realize that human beings are thrown into a world that is not only absurd, but devoid of any meaning. Having realized this bizarre truth, it is up to us – all humans – to craft our own meanings, identities and moralities.
No pressure, but you are entirely responsible for the life you create.
You decide: bleak or empowering?
The Calgary Public Library has enough of Sartre’s musings to send you into an existential frenzy! Get reading!