Collage Essay: The Angst of Existentialism

20/07/2013
Dave Hood

“I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.”―Woody Allen
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Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning and purpose of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.

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So many people sleepwalk through life.

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We have free will to choose, and yet the values and morality imposed by society causes conflict within the mind. And so, we are not free like the hawk soaring in the sky. We are like prisoners in a penitentiary.

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The Existentialist View of Human Nature: Existentialism is defined, in part by the statement credo” Existence precedes Essence.” This means:
1. We have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us.
2. We are radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences.
3. We create our own human nature through these free choices.
4. We also create our values through these choices.

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“Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”—Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions

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What if God does not exist? Then religion is just a myth, and man has deluded himself.

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“I rebel; therefore I exist.”―Albert Camus

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“Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”
―Kurt Vonnegut

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The reality of human existence is that we are born, we experience fleeting moments of pleasure, we die, and eventually we are all forgotten. It’s as if we never existed.

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No amount of fame, fortune, or power will enable anyone to escape the grim reaper. Christopher Hitchens, the memorable and popular rogue of essay writing, died in the prime of his life. He wrote “God is Not Great.” And Steve Jobs, who invented the iPhone, iPad, and iTouch, died as one of the richest men in the world.

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Life has no meaning or purpose, other than the meaning and purpose that each person defines as the world goes round and round, like the second hand of a ticking clock.

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I am free to define my “self,” and so I choose to be authentic in what I do and think and imagine.

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Existence precedes essence. In other words, each person determines his own values about work, leisure, sex, love, family, faith, spirituality, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and so forth, and each person also defines his own morality, what is right or wrong, what is ethical or unethical, what is good and bad conduct. This is not provided as a gift from God.

Each person is socialized by family, by religion, by the mass media, by law and order to embrace a particular definition of morality. Each person decides for himself/herself what to embrace or discard. When a person is born, he or she posses no self, no identity, no values. They are acquired by living within a society.

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We exist, and then we do not.

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As the years pass, I’ve met countless people who worship their career, at the expense of their marriage, family, and health. It’s as if success is the sole meaning and purpose of their fleeting life.

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We live and we die, and then there is non-existence. What is the point of killing one’s self to acquire a career? We don’t take it with us when we die. And life is often too short.

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We are born with nothing, and we depart with nothing.

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Most people are terrified of death.

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Most people, especially the young, ignore the fact that we are born and we die. And so they live as if they are immortal, like a Greek God.

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When we die, the body decays and we become dust in the wind. Does the spirit live on for eternity? Does the sense of “self” live on? Or, are we reborn? Or, is there nonexistence, nothingness—no memory, no consciousness, no feeling, no sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing? Only nothingness?

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The idea of nonexistence terrifies me.

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Life passes like a flash of lighting. You see it for a moment, and then you don’t.

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The vast majority of people don’t give death much thought, until they are lying on their death bed. It is then that they come to the realization that this life really ends. It’s an epiphany of sorts, often too late. The Buddhists suggest we prepare for death by meditating on what it means to die.

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In Canada, a capitalist and democratic society, the life expectancy for a woman is 83, and for a man it’s 81.

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The Buddhist philosophy teaches us that everything is impermanent, even a thought, which begins, peaks, and then disappears.

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Life is suffering interspersed with fleeting moments of bliss. Life is pleasure, sex, booze, drugs, debauchery. Life is flow. Life is achievement and accomplishment. Life is setback and obstacles. Life is struggle. Life is short. Is the struggle to conform and to achieve worth it, if there is nothing afterwards?

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What is the meaning and purpose of life if there is no God? What is the meaning and purpose of life if death results in nonexistence? Life becomes absurd.

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Religion is a myth constructed by human society, intended to answer all those questions which cannot be answered.

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“The world is, of course, nothing but our conception of it.”―Anton Chekhov

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I cannot take that blind leap of faith, and believe there is eternal life or rebirth. I fear that death results in nothingness.

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“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”― Umberto Eco

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Before we are born, there is nothing.

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After death, there is nothing.

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“Without awareness, we are not truly alive.”― James F.T. Bugental

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“Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”―Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

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“Let me live forever, like the Greek God Adonis,” said the narcissist.

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“Death is a continuation of my life without me…”―Jean-Paul Sartre

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The thought of death, resulting in nothingness, generates a sense of existential angst.

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
This entry was posted in Collage Essay, Creative Nonfiction, Existentialism, Segmented Essay and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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