In an investigation, a Parisian newspaper asked the question: what sign makes us recognize the coming of old age ? Someone replied: old age comes when your memories overwhelm you.
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
For some time I have felt this very intense. In my moments of loneliness, I see fragments from my past. I review a certain scene, think I hear voices… These memories are often related to my father, Leo Tolstoy, who was everything I had dearest and brighter in my life.
I can not always relate them to events that preceded or followed them, nor to fix them at a certain date. But I see the episode as if it had happened yesterday. I write down these “memory flashes” as they emerge.
Dad Gets a Baksheesh
From Moscow to Iasnaia Poliana is about 200 km and sometimes my father was walking this way. With the bag in his back, he mingled among the pilgrims he was interested in, but for whom he has been just a simple traveler. He was making this trip in five days. On the way, he stopped eating and sleeping in a wooden house or at a country inn. When he approached a train station, he went to eat in the waiting room of the third class.
In one of these stops, walking on the platform where a train was ready to leave, he heard someone call him.
“Hey, old man, old man !”, a woman yelled from the train window. “Do you want to go to the woman’s toilet and bring me the bag that I left there ? But go quickly, because the train leaves soon.”
My dad ran to the women’s toilet where he was lucky to find the bag, and then gave it to the lady.
“Thank you very much,” said the lady, and gave him a large bronze coin.
“Do you know who you gave those five kopecks ?”, asked her a traveler who recognized the dusty pilgrim as being the author of the book War and Peace. “To Leo Tolstoy !”
“God, what have I done ! Lev Nikolayevich, Lev Nikolayevich ! Please forgive me and give me back the five kopecks I gave you out of my stupidity .”
“Why ?”, my dad answered. You didn’t do anything wrong. The five kopecks I won honestly. I keep them…”
The train moved into motion, carrying with it the lady who continued to apologize, bagging Tolstoy to give her the coin back.
Tolstoy, with a smile, was watching the train moving away.
from Tatiana Tolstaya, Avec Leon Tolstoi. Souvenirs
I separated myself from philosophy when it was impossible for me to discover at Kant any trace of human weakness or an authentic accent of sadness; at Kant and at all philosophers.
In contrast to music, mysticism, poetry, philosophical activity shows a thin sap and a suspected depth which tempt only shy beings and executioners.
Essentially, the philosophy, as impersonal anxiety and refuge around some anemic ideas, is the appeal of all those who avoid the corrupting exuberance of life.
Almost all philosophers died well; this is the ultimate argument against philosophy. Even the end of Socrates had notihing tragic in it: it was just a misunderstandig, being the end of a teacher. And if Nietzsche collapsed, he paid for his ecstasy of poet and visionary, and not for his reasoning.
We cannot ignore existence because of the explanations; we can only live it, love or hate it, adore it or fear because of it in that alternation of happiness and horror that expresses the rhythm of the being itself, oscillations, dissonances, its bitter or sweet vehemences.
Practicing philosophy is not profitable; it is just honorable. You don’t risk anything as a philosopher: philosophy is a job without destiny, it fills the neutral and free time with bulky thoughts… refractory time to the Old Testament, to Bach as well as to Shakespeare.
Have these thoughts of philosophy ever been at the level of Job’s exclamation of pain ? Can it compare to a fright in Macbeth or the height of a symphony ?
The universe is not discussed; it is expressed. And philosophy doesn’t express it. The real problems start after you’ve gone through or exhausted them, after the last chapter of a huge book in which the final dot is put as a sign of abdication in favor of the Unknown, Unknown in which all our moments are rooted and we must fight against it because it is more immediate, more important than our daily bread.
Here the philosopher leaves us: enemy of disaster, he is quiet and prudent as rationality. And we remain in the fellowship of an old plague, of a poet who knows all the deliriums, and a musician whose sublime goes beyond the sphere of the world.
We begin to really live only at the end of philosophy, on its ruins, when we understand its terrible futility and the fact that it’s a hopeless act to ask for its help, that it is useless.
Emil Cioran, Manual de descompunere
Existentialist atheism affirms that God doesn’t exist, but then there is at least one being whose existence precedes the essence, a being that existed before being defined by a concept, and that being is man…
What is meant here by the statement that existance precedes the essence ?
This mean that man first exist, is situated, is emerging in the world, and then he is defined. As he is conceived by existentialism, man is undefined because at first he is nothing. But then he will something, and he will be what he does himself. So there is no human nature, because there is no God to create it.
Dostoievsky wrote: “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted”. This is the starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permitted if God doesn’t exist, and consequently man is abandoned because he finds neither in himself, nor outside, any possibility that he can cling. He can no longer apologize.
If indeed existence precedes the essence, we will never be able to explain something reffering to a established or fixed nature; in other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom.
On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist then we don’t find any value or ordinance to legitimize our behavior. Today we have neither justification, nor excuses, in the bright field of values. We are alone, without excuses.
If we suppressed God, then one has to invent the values. The things must be interpreted as they are. In fact, to say that we invent the values doesn’t mean anything: life has no established meaning. Before you live, life is nothing; but you are those who give it meaning, and values is nothing but meaning you give to life…
from J. P. Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism
In Germany, Enlightenment was followed by a movement called “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress), animated by national ideals and militating for naturalism, and affirmation of sensitivity and genius. The rediscovery of the ancient ideal and the idea of man’s accomplishment characterize the orentation represented by Schiller, Hölderlin and Herder, and which found its superior illustration in Goethe’s writings.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), the greatest German writer and one of the brilliant spirits of humanity, was a personality developed in many areas, concerned with literature, art and science, excelling in all areas he had approached, and he can not be framed in a single domain.
The most important of these is his literary work, which includes lyrics, dramas and tragedies.
His masterpiece Faust is a creation whose elaboration had lasted almost 60 years, being complex and difficult to fit into a particular literary species. Goethe called it a tragedy, but we can think of it as a philosophical drama or a dramatic poem.
The subject of the man who has sold his soul to the devil appears in a medieval legend and, in the form of Dr. Faust, in folk books of the Renaissance. These sources of inspiration were used by Goethe in a original way and subordinate to a fundamental theme: the meaning of existance.
His masterpiece is preceded by a Worship and a double prologue: Prologue in Theater, an opportunity for Goethe to express his ideas about literature, and a Prologue in the Sky. Here comes a bet of God and Mephistopheles, the devil convinced that man is dominated by the principle of evil and who has committed to winning Faust’s soul.
Faust is an old scientist at the end of hsi life full of study, and he expresses his dissatisfaction with the futility of never-complete knowledge. The tought of committing suicide is eliminated by the joy of the holidays outside and the crowd’s laugh in the nature of spring.
Mephistopheles appears at Faust and the two ones conclude a pact by which the scientist gets the youth and pleasures, promising Mephistopheles to give him his soul when the happiness will cause him to ask time to stop.
The adventures of Faust symbolize the steps of man in gaining happiness. Finally, Faust find happiness in the active life, in the useful creation for people. Old again and blind, pursued by Care, Faust has the vision of creative work in freedom and asks the moment to stop:
“To live with the free people on the free fields,
At that moment I would like to say to it for the first time:
Stay, you are so beautiful !”
Faust dies, but Mephistopheles won’t get his soul becaause his generous deed has forgiven him for the sin.
from Ovidiu Drimba, Literatura universala
I entered Sinclar Drive. It was a short street and there were lots of young trees in front of its houses.
Nothing was new in that street which I knew so very well, but now it was my beloved street and it was wonderful to me.
When I came near Alison’s house, I heard her singing. She was practising; her song was a simple Scottish one. I stopped in front of the gate for a log while and listened.
When there was silence, I entered the garden and rang the bell on the door. Alison was waiting for me in the front room, with her books on the table. Her mother, Mrs. Keith, was sitting by the fire. What a bright and charming room it was !
“You are punctual as usual, Robert”, Mrs. Keith said kindly. “What sort of night is it ?”
“Oh, very nice,” I answered. “You can see the stars.” She smiled: “You can always see the stars, Robert.”
Mrs. Keith watched me with a smile on her kind face, all the time I was working with Alison. Alison was weack at mathematics, while I was good at it, and Mrs. Keith was pleased to see that I helping her daughter.
“What are you teaching my daughter now, Robert ?”
“Euclid, Mrs. Keith,” I said shyly.
“It’s so difficult,” said Alison.
“Oh, no, Alison, it’s very easy.” And I began to teach her.
When the lesson was over, it was half past eight. I wanted to speak to Alison, but I did not dare. I wrote down in her exercise-book: “Will you come to the door with me tonight ?”
She looked at me and wrote: “What for ?”
I wrote back: “I have something to tell you.”
Ten minute later, I stood up and said good night to Mrs. Keith. Alison wanted to see me out.
“I heard you singing, Alison.”
Yes, I”ve begun to work a lot. Miss Gramb is teaching me.” Silence. We reached the gate, but it was very difficult to speak.
“Alison, yesterday something happened to me. My teacher told me I might sit for a scholarship.”
“Oh, Robert !” she exclaimed.
“I cannot win it, but I wanted to tell you.”
“Oh, you must try, Robert, you can get it, of course, you can.” I looked at Alison. Beautiful words lay behind my tongue, but I could not speak them.
“Good night, Alison.”
“Good night, Robert.”
I was young. And I felt life was wonderful.
from A. J. Cronin, Alison
What are the essential intentions and goals of people ? What do they want from life ? What are they going for ?
We don’t deceive ourselves if we answer: they aspire to happiness, people want to be and stay happy. This aspiration has two faces, a negative and a positive one: on the one hand, avoiding pain and unpleasantness, and on the other hand enjoying intense pleasure.
In a narrower sense, the term “happiness” only means that the second goal has been achieved. In correlation with this duality of purposes, the activity of people can have two directions, as they try in a predominant or even exclusive manner to acheive one or other of the goals.
As we see, it is only the principle of pleasure that determines the purpose of life, leading the operations of the mental apparatus; there is no doubt about the use of this principle. However, the whole universe – both the macrocosm and the microcosm – cospire to the failure of this purpose of man, a purpose that is absolutely urealizable. The whole order of the universe opposes man. We could say that it was not in the plan of “Creation” that man should be happy.
What we call happiness, in the most strict sense of the term, results rather from a satisfaction of needs that have reached a great deal of tension, which by its nature is only possible as an episodic phenomenon.
If the program that the pleasure principle demands and wich is to be happy is not feasible, we are still allowed not to give up the effort to get closer to it. To get here we can use very different ways means… No advice here is valis for everyone, each of us having to look for the way to become happy.
It all depends on the amount of real satisfaction that each of us can get from the outside world, by the way he is able to become independent and the power to change his wishes. In that regard, without taking into account the objective circumstances, determinant will be the psychic consistency of the individual.
Thus, the person who has erotic temperament will firstly put affective relations with the people, the narcisist will look for essential pleasures among those that come from his inner life, and the man of action will not lose sight of the outside world with which he is fit to try his power.
from S. Freud, Anguish and civilization
The Camus family, of Alsatian origin, moved to Algeria in 1871. Here, in Mondovi, Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, as the son of wine-maker Lucien Camus, who died soon of the injuries suffered in the Battle of Marna.
Camus’s childhood was sad and full of poverty and lived in an environment of poor and sick people living in a peripheral neighborhood of Algires, where his mother soon moved after her husband’s death.
During the school years Camus read with interest the work of Marcel Proust. He studied philosophy at the University of Algeiers, but at the same time he had to work to live.
After the invasion of France by Nazi Germany, Camus entered the Resistance, and in 1943 his resistance group moved to Paris. After war Camus traveled to North America, South America, Algeria and Italy.
Albert Camus is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. He died in 1960 in a car accident.
Camus’s book, The Myth of Sisyphus, belongs to the philosophy of the absurd. Sisyphus, a character of Greek-Latin mythology, has been condmned to always roll a boulder to the top of a mountain, boulder that then rolls back to the valley, symbolizing the tragic existance of man. Between man and society, on the one hand, and between man and the universe on the other hand, there is an abyss that can’t be crossed. Man was not destined for the perfection to which he tends without ceasing, but for the misery of everyday life.
However, life must be lived, and man has found in the tragedy of his existance a way to face the absurd. Moreover, “Sisyphus find in his eternal torture the feeling of dignity, for although he was condemned to defeat, he doesn’t abandon but defy his destiny”.
The Stranger is the literary transposition of ideas from The Myth of Sisyphus. The hero of the novel, Meursault, tells first seemingly meaningless occurrences, but which have decisively marked his existance. He’s not an exuberant, but an internalized. At the funeral of his mother he didn’t cry, and being asked if he loved his mother he was silent. The charcter seems to be an aboulic man. But one day on the beach being crazy because of the warmth of the sun, he kills an Arab.
“Killing because of the sun” is not a plausible reason for justice and the hero is sentenced to death. During his trial, he was accused of not having loved his mother because he did not cry to her death, which led the judge to consider him a man lacking human feelings.
In the days before execution, Meursault revisits his existance, finding it absurd, meaningless… Life is absurd, and people can not touch the absolute truth during their existance, which is why they will be condemned one day.
Ovidiu Dramba, Literatura universala
In “nature”, man is of course a simple animal endowed with the greatest intelligence, but this sentence seems to us to be so irrelevant as if we were to say that in its “nature” and perspective, a statue is a simple chiseled block of stone.
The comparasion highlights enough the sin that biology is guilty of when it attacks the human problem, accepting to look at things from a slightly pointed and irremediably narrow perspective. From the biological-naturalistic angle, the problem of the differences between man and animal can not find the ample solution that characterizes it. And it is a surprise that Bergson did not know how to find other prespectives from the fog he was in, when the theoretical situation of the century he lived invited him to turn to the mystery of man.
Surley the animal, as a being in which a consciousness flashes, exists in a visible way linked to “imediately”. Animal consciousness does not leave the realms and the contours of the concrete. From this perspective, human intelligence is characterized by accentuated complexity, being a gradual difference between man and animal, because the animal is alien to the mistery and revelation.
Existence in mistery and revelation is an eminently human way of life. Specific human beings will therefore be all the consequences that result from this way of life, that is man’s creative destiny, its impulses, accsessories and barriers.
Man is captured by a creative destiny in a truly wonderful sense, being able to give up, sometimes sacrificing himself, the advantages of his stability and security.
With the man appeared in cosmos the “creative subject”, in the full sense of term. This situation, due to a decisive ontological mutation, could have the very meaning that man has completed the evolution that works with biological mutations, and that beyond man no longer a superior species is possible. However, Nietzsche’s philosophical conception of the ubermensch (superman) as a future evolutionary possibility was too rushed built, without taking into account the qualitative singularity of man and his exceptional position in the nature.
Man is a terminus; in man the potentials of biological mutations have been extinguished because they had been fully realized and because in man a decisive ontological mutation was made.
Man’s creative destiny appears as a complicated way, like a paradoxical intersection with the finality. Man’s creative destiny is a warp whose are shaped in various ways. This creative destiny is, beneath its positive side, the expression of a native deepening of the very existance of man.
The creative destiny of man is through its acts a magnificent fulfilment of a promise that man makes himself when he becomes a “man” and which lasts as long as man remains “man”.
from Lucian Blaga, Geneza metaforei si sensul culturii
In the interval between the two world wars there flourished a literary genre which seemed to have been neglected for a long time. Drama, with its capacity to use a local scene as a microcosm of the life and mind of the whole of society, was the genre which could best present man’s worried consciousness in action on the stage voicing his yearning for individual attainment, but during the first two decades of the century American drama had only continued the long established conventional patterns.
However, responding to the inner necessitties and to the experimental symbolic and critical patterns from abroad, it came, in the 1920’s, to involve the intellectual and emotional life as well as the major problems of society, of man and of the world he lived in.
The influience at work in the drama of the twenties were all centred on the subtile analysis of life and man. Expressionism, in the first place – a device developed by nineteenth century painting – held sway with its view that, in order to “express” or to convey the inner significance of his work, the artist must, in his efforts to objectify inner states of mind and emotion, stylize the representation of literal reality.
Secondly, ample use was made of the device of analysing psychological motivations which had already been ilustrated by Henry James in America and by James Joyce in England.
A third feature of new drama was the preference for and adoption of the language of poetic symbolism.
The playwright who did more than anyone else to destroy the stereotypes and to substitute for them an essentially different dramatic imagination along the lines already mentioned was Eugene O’Neill.
Throughout his plays his chief theme was to be the classic predicament of man struggling to understand his place in the universe while the answer to this was to be set forth in his affirmation of love as the basis of existance.
Born in New York City, on October 16, 1888, he was son of an actor who was a famous interpreter of Shakespeare. During his early years he travelled much with his parents from town to town being educated by tutors and in private schools. In 1906 he was sent to Princeton University but left before his first academic year was out, to travel as a seaman aboard a Norwegian freighter to Buenos Aires. During the ensuing voyages he came to know a variety of individuals such as sailors, stevedores, waifs, etc., who were to become his dramatis personae.
In 1912 we find him in a sanatorium affected with tuberculosis. During the six months he spent there he read the classic repertoire of the theatre including the Greeks, the Elizabethans and the most noteworthy among the modern playwrights such as Ibsen, the expressionist Strindberg, etc. His reading experience was to be added late on his experience of life at sea and in the world of the oppresed and the outcast.
In 1916, O’Neill joined the Provincetown Players that began to produce his “one-actres”. This group which side by side with others was to revolutionize the American theatre belonged to the new trend which had been started a year before.
Fidel Garcia – Filled with the Silent
After a series of one-act pieces O’Neill began to write his full-length plays. The first one, Beyond the Horizon, was followed by The Emperor Jones, an expressionist play which tells the story of a giant Negro, Brutus Jones, who becomes an autocratic “emperor” and is finally killed by the tribesmen rebelling against his exploatation. Desire under the Elms is a realistic study of the manners, morals, and psychology of a definite society which serves as the background for the eternal drama of man and his passions.
All God’s Chillum Got Wings as been taken as a contribution in the study of the Negro problem. The climax and triumph of his career is Mourning Becomes Electra, a trilogy imitating Aeschylus’s Orestia. Of his later plays special mention deserves Long Day’s Journey into Night an overwhelming tragedy based on the life of his parents.
Eugene O’Neill was the most daring and successful playwright who embarked upon destroying the rooted convention of the American theatre based on the combining of the Elisabethan tradition and the “well-made” play of O’Neill’s European predecessors.
Fundamentally, his liberation of the theatre was psychological. He enriched the American drama with a remarkable understanding of the new psychology – not simply Freudianism, but a far wider psychology including the analysis of all conscious and subconscious realities.
O’Neill work is free from direct influiences although indirect efects of his aquaintance with the plays of the Norwegian dramatist Ibsen and the Swedish dramatist Strindberg can be seen in his work.
His imagination was so rich that he never respects himself in any of his numerous dramas. Each of them is basically different from the others and each of his plays grows from its own conflict and psychology so that organically it is prefectly constructed.
Like Ibsen and Strindberg he shows preference for expressionism, a device first developed by nineteenth-century painting which allows the artist to stylize or distort the representation of literal reality in order to express better the inner significance of his work.
O’Neill also adopts the language of symbolism and considers that the imagination and emotion of high drama are more nearly those of poetry, than of prose. But in what he completely differs from many of his immediate European predecessors is his faith in the dignity of man which rejects the wiev that man’s destiny is determined by forces quite beyond his control.
Vincent van Gogh – Girl in the Woods
While this philosophy presents an orderly view of the human situation, it does not imply a sanguine one. If pain and action are inseparable, then it follows that the active, creative sensitive man is doomed to suffer. He is the one who knows that desire to express or to avoid grief is the impelling force of life – the pain is the Janus-face of joy; but then he becomes aware of the duality of all value ! He sees that life and action exist in a perpetual tension between opposites, each of which owes its existance to the presence of the other.
The tension is the source of all change and growth, for as night exist only in contrast to day, so night flows eternally into day and day to night again. The life of the race is perpetuated in the flow of natural process from birth to death to birth again. The life of the individual man moves from joy to pain to joy eternally.
SOURCES: Doris V. Falk – Eugene O’Neill and the Tragic Tension
Virgiliu Stefanescu – Eugene O’Neill