Pre-Entropic Existential Cartography


Like rationalism and empiricism, existentialism is a term that belongs to intellectual history. Its definition is thus to some extent one of historical convenience. The term was explicitly adopted as a self-description by Jean-Paul Sartre and through the wide dissemination of the postwar literary and philosophical output of Sartre and his associates — Albert Camus being among them — existentialism became identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, and was as much a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one. Many of the definitive ideas were and are better known through fictional works than through more purely philosophical ones, and the postwar years found a very diverse coterie of writers and artists linked under the term. It could be suggested, therefore, that existentialism has been reduced to a bygone cultural movement rather than an identifiable philosophical position; or, alternatively, that the term should be restricted to Sartre’s philosophy alone.

But while a philosophical definition of existentialism may not entirely ignore the cultural fate of the term, and while Sartre’s thought must loom large in any account of existentialism, the concept does pick out a distinctive cluster of philosophical problems and helpfully identifies a relatively distinct current of twenty-first century philosophical inquiry, one that has had significant impact on countless disciplinary pursuits. What makes this current of inquiry distinct is not its concern with “existence” in general, but rather its claim that thinking about human existence requires new categories not found in the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought; human beings can be understood neither as substances with fixed properties, nor as atomic subjects primarily interacting with a world of objects.

…War is described as people’s rebellion against the assumption that everything needs to happen for a purpose

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s writings feature characters with disparate and extreme states of the mind, exhibiting both his uncanny grasp of human psychology as well as his ability to analytically penetrate the political, social, and spiritual state of his time. Indeed, his works function as prophetic precursors of modern-day thought and preoccupations. Notes from the Underground presents itself as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, unnamed narrator, a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. The short story is dense with ambiguous riddles concerning suffering and the enjoyment of suffering, intellectual and moral vacillation, conscious inertia, theories of reason and advantage, and functions as a general illustrative tale of man’s desire to distinguish himself from nature. The narrator describes this as his spitefulness, which is elaborated into not only spitefulness for authority and morality, but for causality itself. War is described as people’s rebellion against the assumption that everything needs to happen for a purpose, because humans do things without purpose, and this is what determines human history.

Feverishly dramatized scenes frequently throw Dostoevsky’s characters into scandalous and explosive atmospheres while they are perpetually and passionately engaged in Socratic dialogues concerning the quest for God, the problem of Evil, and suffering of the innocents. Whether humble and self-effacing Christians (Sonya Marmeladova), self-destructive nihilists (the underground man), or rebellious intellectuals (Rodion Raskolnikov), his characters are driven by ideas rather than by ordinary biological or social imperatives and are drastically compressed in time, enabling the author to get rid of the corrosion of human life in the process of the time flux and allow his characters to embody spiritual values — by definition, timeless.

…Absurdism contends that human beings are basically irrational

In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov believed that he could morally justify the execution of a despicable act — the killing of the money lender — through the conviction that balance would be restored if the profits were used for a societal good. He argued that had Newton or Kepler had to kill one or even a hundred men in order to enlighten humanity with their laws and ideas, the inhumane horror of such an action should be negated by the progressive growth the society itself had undergone. Raskolnikov’s real punishment is not the labor camp he is condemned to, but the torment he endures throughout the novel, manifested as excruciating paranoia and his progressive realization of the ineffectuality of an individual within the chaos of society. He constantly tries to reach and defy the boundaries of what he can or cannot do — throughout the book he is always measuring his own fear and depravity and mentally trying to talk himself out of it — exhibiting a transcendent conscience and a rejection of rationality and reason.
Absurdism contends that human beings are basically irrational and human suffering is the result of vain attempts by individuals to find reason or meaning in the absurd abyss of existence.

For Albert Camus, the absurd was not negative, not a synonym for ridiculous, but the true state of existence. Accepting the view that life is absurd is to embrace a realistic view of life: the absence of universal logic. For Camus, absurdity does not render life meaningless as the search for meaning was as dynamic as human experience itself. Upon this conviction, Camus developed the idea of the absurd man, the man who is perpetually conscious of the ultimate futility of life. This, he says, is the only acceptable alternative to the unjustified leap of faith which forms the basis of all religion (and even of existentialism, which Camus therefore did not fully accept). The search for truth is seen as futile, as science has and will continue to change doctrines once thought irrefutable. Drawing on numerous philosophical and literary sources, and particularly Dostoevsky, Camus devoted his career and life to describing the historical development of absurd awareness, concluding that Sisyphus of Greek mythology epitomizes the quintessential absurd hero. Condemned to push a boulder up a mountain for eternity, his heroism lies in his commitment to his task even in realizing its futility. In spite of the absurdity of his existence, Sisyphus refuses the lure of suicide to accept the world as it is. For Camus, suicide cannot be a true escape from the absurdity of existence; we as individuals have the responsibility to confront or embrace that absurdity head on. The Rebel, the Don Juan, and the Artist are three figures that Camus identifies as absurd heroes, each finding meaning in his or her own pursuits (often in the face of social or political repression) by willfully amalgamating within the incomprehensibility of life.

…Camus attempts to provide answers for a void Kafka demands is inescapable

Franz Kafka’s characters similarly accept their fates and embrace the absurdity of the universe, though Kafka does not theorize a utopian future for humanity, instead humbly striving to reflect what he has innocently observed of human nature. The depiction of an encroaching abyss of alienation in which individuals can no longer rely upon external truths or communal obligations results in an unconsciously self-enforced individualism. Kafka’s absurd subjects appear more hopeless than heroic, belying pessimism beyond Camus’ rational existential despair and suggesting that perhaps it is not longer appropriate to link Kafka’s ultimate despair to Camus’ prophecy of the absurd; Camus attempts to provide answers for a void Kafka demands is inescapable.

Kafka’s diaries and letters indicate that he considered Gregor Samsa’s alienated fate in The Metamorphosis no worse, or better, than that of any person. The previous life of a traveling salesman versus the one room Gregor inhabits as an insect both present lives of solitude. For Kafka, the absurdity of sin and guilt lies not in the indifferent world but rather in the very indistinguishability of the subjective and the objective, justifying his lack of enthusiasm towards epistemic meanderings for truth. His was rather an ontological one, his literature mocking the delusionary nature of objective truth and arguing that there is validity to things as they are, even when events and situations seem absurd and confusing. If we define ontology as the quest for a description of the concepts and relationships that can exist for an agent or a community of agents, then all Kafka’s writings deal with the ontology of human, and therefore complex, relationships. Franz Kafka represents a bridge to the philosophical schools of the twentieth century, especially in his preemptive distrust of words, science, and truth characteristic of both existentialism and postmodernism. Kafka stands between Nietzsche and the existentialists: he pictures the void into which Heidegger’s man is thrown, the Godless nausea of Sartre, and the absurd banality of Camus.

…the non-reductive dualist is no better off in this regard than is the physicalist

On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science — including the science of psychology — could claim. The non-reductive dualist is no better off in this regard than is the physicalist. Nor will it suffice to adopt the point of view of practice and add categories drawn from moral theory: neither scientific nor moral inquiry can fully capture what it is that makes me myself, my “ownmost” self. Without denying the validity of scientific categories (governed by the norm of truth) or moral categories (governed by norms of the good and the right), “existentialism” may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. To approach existentialism in this categorical way may seem to conceal what could be interpreted as its fundamental core, namely, its character as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, and its flight from the suffocating restrictions of reason. But while it is true that existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in our own time, and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an objective science is indeed central to existentialism, it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with existentialism — dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on — find their philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new categorical framework, together with its governing norm.

Nietzsche, like many other existentialists, did not approve of system building in philosophy. Adopting a single way of interpreting the world, whether it is Darwinism, idealism, or a religious view, was, for him, a childish and misleading endeavor as systems usually began with unquestioned premises. For existentialists, the dichotomy between feeling and intellect has served as the basis for a paradigm that must be challenged. Systems that erase individuals for the sake of a bland oneness must be rejected as they fail to capture the richness of concrete experience and they ignore or trivialize those experiences that do not fit. As the Underground Man states: “I will admit that reason is a good thing. No argument about that. But reason is only reason, and it only satisfies man’s rational requirements. Desire, on the other hand, is the manifestation of life itself — of all life — and it encompasses everything from reason down to scratching oneself. And although, when we’re guided by our desires, life may often turn into a messy affair, its still life and not a series of square roots…” Many people love abstract reasoning and neat systematization so much that they think nothing of distorting the truth, closing their eyes and ears to contrary evidence to preserve their logical constructions.

…to embrace its tragedy as well as its joy

A science of humanity or mathematics of experience, existentialists would argue, is unattainable, and the very attempt is depicted as pernicious. It makes, as Nietzsche put it, a “tyrant of reason.” For existentialists, the darkness is part of the truth and so must be sought after. To acknowledge the richness and variety of human experience is perforce to embrace its tragedy as well as its joy. Existentialists do not deny the seductive power of systems, but they insist on the value of ambiguity and the inevitability of uncertainty.

It can be said that existentialists are interested in man as a person, man in his freedom, man’s coming to affirm himself — without coming to accept carte blanche any particular system of philosophy. Systems of philosophy are particularly denounced because systems are said to emphasize the universal while the individual is frequently overlooked. Thus concern with man’s personality means that existentialism must move beyond an isolated interest in man’s thinking ability as human sickness cannot encapsulate all of humanity. Loneliness is not man’s original condition, as his sickness indicates a transformation from a past good health. Despair of infinitude reflects a man’s desire to become infinite via fantasy, but paradoxically the more one commits oneself to fantasy the more one loses of oneself. The despair of finitude reflects indifference to the realm of selfhood; despair of possibility reflects the lack of necessity or the lack of a stable point of evaluation from which the self can be measured. The despair of necessity reflects the lack of possibility, or reflects the fruit of a fatalistic attitude toward existence. The despair over the Eternal admits the need for faith but dwells on the despair of weakness. The most adamant form of despair is that of defiance. Here the self rejects the synthesis, or relation with the Infinite, and seeks to be itself in spite of the Infinite.

…the constructed fabric of the world is torn to reveal the void underneath

The reconceptualization of the void as a space of creation has deep affinities with the postmodern idea of a constructed reality. If reality is not natural and self-evident but constructed, it can obviously be deconstructed. Repeatedly in postmodern theory and literature, the constructed fabric of the world is torn to reveal the void underneath. Out of this void comes a reconstituted world in which disorder and order, negation and creation, come together in a fruitful dialectic. This reconstitution makes clear that the world as humans experience it is a compounded collaboration between reality and social construction. No longer simply what is there, reality is subject to constant revision, deconstruction, and reconstruction.

Language shapes even as it articulates thought. As soon as discovery is communicated through language, it is also constituted by language. That language is interactive and inert implies that theories are influenced by the culture within which they arose. The postmodern context catalyzed the formation of a new science — chaos — by providing a cultural and technological milieu in which the component parts came together and mutually reinforced each other until they were no longer isolated events but an emergent awareness of the constructive roles that disorder, nonlinearity, and noise play in complex systems. The science of chaos is new not in the sense of having no antecedents in the scientific tradition (or cultural traditions for that matter, as the correlations to philosophical existentialism are vast), but of having only recently coalesced sufficiently to articulate a vision of the world. It is no accident that this vision has deep affinities with other articulations that have emerged from an existentially-driven postmodern context. It provides a new way to think about order, conceptualizing it not as a totalized condition but as the replication of symmetries that also allows for asymmetries and unpredictabilities.

…the most likely source for them is no single site but the cultural matrix as a whole

The science of chaos is like other postmodern theories also in recognizing the importance of scale. In deconstruction, as in the science of chaos, iteration and recursion are seen as ways to destabilize systems and make them yield unexpected conclusions. Yet another parallel is implicit in the emphasis in chaos theory on nonlinearity, with a consequent recognition that small causes can lead to large effects, along with the recognition that unpredictability in complex systems is inevitable, because one can never specify the initial conditions accurately enough to prevent it. The attack on the idea of the origin in deconstruction leads to a similar conclusion; because the origin cannot be specified exactly, unpredictability is inevitable. The parallels, then, are extensive — so extensive that, as with existentialism, the most likely source for them is no single site but the cultural matrix as a whole.

Rene Descartes rejected the learning provided by texts and tradition and set forth principles for obtaining certain knowledge by reducing problems to simple, self-evident components and linking these in a linear chain of reasoning. What the Cartesian rules collectively imply is that our thought is in no case subjugated to or confused with its objects, but independent. Thinking about the language of thought, thought is enmeshed in the web of its own complexity. The experience of literature, like the theories of modern physics, suggests that reason itself must change, give up its Cartesian vantage point and certitudes. If today there can be a study of literature and science, if such a study can be theorized and practiced, this can only be because literature has a particular status that relates it to science in particular ways. There must be something in “literature” — and in “science” — that makes talking about literature and science possible.
One way to understand the connection between literature and science is to see science as a repository of tropes that can be used to illuminate literary texts. Quantum mechanics and relativity theory have often been used in this way; no doubt chaos theory will be as well. A bolder and perhaps more interesting move is to posit connections that go beyond metaphor, from seeing the reading process as a complex system in action. Within a complex work there are generally parts that we do not understand, which we can process only as noise rather than information. As a result of the first reading our cognitive senses are slightly reorganized so that upon the next reading more of it is processed as information because we now read at a higher level of complexity. Thus the reading process instantiates the symbiotic relationship between complexity and noise, for it is the presence of noise that forces the system to reorganize itself at a higher level of complexity. When it comes to the kind of complex, unpredictable behavior typical of nonlinear systems, literature has a longer history of dealing with it and is more suited to describe its complexities than science, which itself is indifferent to the crucial distinction between artificial and natural systems.

…Seeing words as forms opens the way to seeing writing as a record of natural growth

The discussion turns self-reflexive when we attempt to read by recognizing words as pictorial forms, rather than the composition of syllables. Seeing words as forms opens the way to seeing writing as a record of natural growth. Thus writing is not so much a signifier as a mapping of forces, having the aspect of the flows of energy and pressure that determine why something grows one way and not another: a form as a visible inscription of forces dictated by nature. Scientifically parallel, a phase space mapping is essentially a spatialization of a system’s temporal flow, allowing complex evolutions through time to become transformed into complex physical shapes that can be intuitively appreciated (intuitive, as they are so complex that they never resolve into completely ordered structures). No matter how fine the resolution of data, some chaotically fuzzy affects always remain.

No doubt because of the prestige accorded to science within the culture, scientific theories have often been used to validate cultural theses; social Darwinism is a case in point. The same tendency can already be observed with the science of chaos, for example Jean-Francois Lyotard’s belief in The Postmodern Condition that “paralogy” can rescue us from totalitarianism, though such claims must be viewed skeptically, as science cannot be equated with social programs. Mingling with the technical denotations of linearity and nonlinearity as they are used in the science of chaos, then, are values that derive partly from the mathematical properties of the equations, partly from the disciplinary contexts in which these equations were developed and employed, and partly from the cultural tradition, dominant at least since Plato, that privileges ideal abstraction over empirical variation (in reality they are one environment interacting continuously and holistically; one can speak only in the language one has inherited).

…Appropriate explanations cannot be obtained by reduction to compartmentalized components

Twentieth century discoveries, from relativity to quantum mechanics to dissipative structures, have put an end to at least the more metaphysical claims of objectivity for the scientific observer. No less important, science has changed in objects as well as theoretical models. We speak of the social sciences or the human sciences, and can no longer fix a boundary between these and what we still distinguish as the natural sciences. Such an issue might allow us to identify what has been long called “mind” with the subject rather than the object of science. The very possibility of a science of mind depends to a large extent on the prior development of scientific approaches to complexity. Prior to the revolution against simplicity embodied in information theory and cybernetics, science dealt above all with systems of matter and energy, in general recognizing no distinct role for information, which itself becomes distinct and abstracted from matter-energy in systems (organic, social, cultural) of increasing complexity. Appropriate explanations cannot be obtained by reduction to compartmentalized components, but instead must take into account the emergent function of information at the level of the whole; causal explanations need reformation into networked explanations.

Deconstructive criticism has repeatedly shown that rhetoric is not in general reducible to grammar. Texts are thus communicatively imperfect, and this is what information theorists mean when they say a channel is noisy. For Jacques Derrida and other theorists of textual rhetoric, figures are not simply ornamental or persuasive, but pose fundamental problems of decidability, preventing texts from being fully decoded by unambiguous, grammar-like procedures. The organizational structure of works of art is itself a particular type of play between redundant order and informative surprise. The artistic text begins as an attempt to go beyond the usual system of language — the word as a conventional sign — to a specifically artistic system such as that of poetry, in which sounds, rhythms, positional relations between elements will signify in new ways. The artistic-poetic text demands of its reader the creation of new codes to semanticize elements normally unsemanticized. The creation of new and specific codes within a given genre and a given text is the essence of artistic communication and the emergence of meaning in artistic texts. In becoming aware of such a relation, the reader in effect creates a new context in which the previously disruptive event or variety is reread, for the principle of constructing a pattern out of what interrupts patterns is inherent in artistic communication.

…in the pragmatics of knowing there must be different kinds of descriptions for different levels of phenomena

Ultimately, reductionism is possible but must be rejected for reasons of economy and pertinence. In the pragmatics of knowing there must be different kinds of descriptions for different levels of phenomena, and often reductionism is simply not a practical or interesting option. A complete description of existentialism — should such a reductive description be theoretically possible, which is far from certain — would be inordinately cumbersome and complicated. Those who describe phenomena as complex or emergent thus renounce the Cartesian dream of maximal certainty by reduction to the simple, and assume the risk of choosing a pertinent level of description.

How might one construct an appropriate system, language, or form to represent the complexity and depth of such a thoroughly culturally-saturated idea as existentialism? The perfection of such a model is certainly arbitrarily self-defeating and infinitely exhaustive, though if one might suspend their disbelief over the absurdity of such a task, we might imagine the appropriation of numerous informational modes, spliced and reconstructed in a way which reflects the information being presented. Systems theory focuses on complexity and interdependence of relationships, stating that a system is composed of regularly interacting or interdependent groups of activities/parts that form the emergent whole. Part of systems theory, system dynamics is a method for understanding the dynamic behavior of complex systems. The basis of the method is the recognition that the structure of any system — the many circular, interlocking, sometimes time-delayed relationships among its components — is often just as important in determining its behavior as the individual components themselves.

…need not correspond explicitly to any parts and relations within the thing denoted

Diagrams are a kind of analogical (or direct) knowledge representation mechanism that is characterized by a parallel (though not necessarily isomorphic) correspondence between the structure of the representation and the structure of the represented. Relative positions and distances of certain marks on a map are in direct correspondence to relative positions and distances of the cities they represent, whereas in a propositional representation, its parts or relationships between them need not correspond explicitly to any parts and relations within the thing denoted. The analogical representation can be said to model or depict the thing represented, whereas the propositional representation rather describes it. A similar distinction can be made regarding the method of retrieving information from the representation. The needed information can usually be simply observed (or measured) in the diagram, whereas it must be inferred from the descriptions of the facts and axioms comprising the propositional representation.

If a diagram is a simplified and structured visual representation of concepts, ideas, constructions, and relations used in all aspects of human activities to visualize and clarify the topic, a cognitive panorama is a conceptual superstructure that defines and identifies topics as logical places and displays the relations and connections within these topics. It is a combination of three extensional spaces: the physical space, a context space, and a terminological space of various levels for different languages. According to Heiner Benking, the originator of the idea, “the cognitive panorama is a meta-paradigm to counteract cyberculture’s anticipated impact, which is stated as: open-ended universality, loss of meaning, and loss of context… [It] allows us to embody and map concepts in their context and develop common frames of reference.” Such a conceptual superstructure — or meta-paradigmatic system, if you will — helps us to locate and become aware of what we know or miss, where we are and what we think, and where we miss, under use or manipulate information. By avoiding a “flat” chaotic mess of data — a major proponent of academic-existential angst — and defining reference and cognitive spaces (real, ideal, virtual) and linking them (augmented reality), one might help to merge and morph realities and might even help toward the creation of an embodied realism. Through reflection on conceptual positions, outlining and embodying situations or topics (logical places or containers) we can follow meaning into embodied context and semantic spaces. We can also scrutinize abstract realities by exploring participatory and collaborative approaches. The idea of giving topics topography allows us to see knowledge embodied, spread out in space, like a field or pattern. The moment you compare and overlay different contexts you can see commonalities, even find something you cannot spell or describe clearly, but see in relation to other, “close” concepts.

…The semiotic work of his contemporaries led Pierce to doubt the value of logic formulated using conventional linear typography

A semantic network is often used as a form of knowledge representation. It is a directed graph consisting of vertices representing concepts and edges representing semantic relations between the concepts. It is possible to represent logical descriptions using semantic networks such as the Existential Graphs of Charles S. Pierce, the logician-mathematician-semiotician who developed two-element Boolean algebra, propositional calculus, mathematical quantification, and predicate calculus, worked with early rudimentary set theory (stopping just short of a meta-theory), and initiated work within semiotic theory which theorists still grapple with today. The semiotic work of his contemporaries led Pierce to doubt the value of logic formulated using conventional linear typography, and to believe that logic and mathematics are best captured by a notation embedded in two (or even three) dimensions. All existential graphs begin with the blank page, denoting Truth, with simple closed curves denoting negation or complementation.

Postmodern sensibility does not lament the loss of narrative coherence any more than the loss of being. However, the dissolution of narrative leaves the field of legitimation to a new unifying criterion: the performativity of the knowledge-producing system whose form of capital is information. Performative legitimation means maximizing the flow of information and minimizing static (non-functional moves) in the system, so whatever cannot be communicated as information must be eliminated. The performativity criterion threatens anything not meeting its requirements, such as speculative narratives, with de-legitimation and exclusion. Nevertheless, capital also demands the continual re-invention of the “new” in the form of new language games and new denotative statements, and so, paradoxically, a certain paralogy is required by the system itself. In this regard, the modern paradigm of progress-as-new moving under established rules gives way to the postmodern paradigm of inventing new rules and changing the game. Inventing new codes and reshaping information is a large part of the production of knowledge, and in its inventive moment science does not adhere to performative efficiency. By the same token, the meta-prescriptives of science, its rules, are themselves objects of invention and experimentation for the sake of producing new statements. In this respect, according to Jean-Francois Lyotard, the model of knowledge as the progressive development of consensus is outmoded. In fact, attempts to retrieve the model of consensus can only repeat the standard of coherence demanded for functional efficiency, and they will thus lend themselves to the domination of capital. On the other hand, the paralogical inventiveness of science raises the possibility of a new sense of justice, as well as knowledge, as we move among the language games now entangling us.

…He thus joins Lyotard in promoting creative experimentation as a leading power of thought

Michel Foucault deploys genealogy to create what he calls a “counter-memory” or a transformation of history into a totally different form of time. This entails dissolving identity for the subject in history by using the materials and techniques of modern historical research. Just as Nietzsche postulates that the religious will to truth in Christianity results in the destruction of Christianity by science, Foucault postulates that genealogical research will result in the disintegration of the epistemic subject, as the continuity of the subject is broken up by the gaps and accidents that historical research uncovers. Foucault employs historical research to open possibilities for experimenting with subjectivity by showing that subjectification is a formative power of the self, surpassing the structures of knowledge and power from out of which it emerges. This is a power of thought, which Foucault says is the ability of human beings to problematize the conditions under which they live. For philosophy, this means the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known. He thus joins Lyotard in promoting creative experimentation as a leading power of thought, a power that surpasses reason, narrowly defined, and without which thought would be inert. We should note, as well, that Foucault’s writings are a hybrid of philosophy and historical research, just as Lyotard combines the language games of the expert and the philosopher in The Postmodern Condition. This mixing of philosophy with concepts and methods from other disciplines is characteristic of postmodernism in its broadest sense.

While not all existential philosophers were influenced by phenomenology, the philosophical legacy of existentialism is largely tied to the form it took as an existential version of phenomenology. Edmund Husserl’s efforts in the first decades of the twentieth century had been directed toward establishing a descriptive science of consciousness, by which he understood not the object of the natural science of psychology but the “transcendental” field of intentionality, i.e., that whereby our experience is meaningful, an experience of something as something. The existentialists welcomed Husserl’s doctrine of intentionality as a refutation of the Cartesian view according to which consciousness relates immediately only to its own representations, ideas, sensations. According to Husserl, consciousness is our direct openness to the world — one that is governed categorically (normatively) rather than causally – that is, intentionality is not a property of the individual mind but the categorical framework in which mind and world become intelligible. A phenomenology of consciousness, then, explores neither the metaphysical composition nor the causal genesis of things, but the “constitution” of their meaning.

…he thus joins Lyotard in promoting creative experimentation as a leading power of thought

At first, it seems hard to understand how one can say much about existence as such. Traditionally, philosophers have connected the concept of existence with that of essence in such a way that the former signifies merely the instantiation of the latter. If “essence” designates what a thing is and “existence” that it is, it follows that what is intelligible about any given thing, what can be thought about it, will belong to its essence. Having an essence meant that human beings could be placed within a larger whole that provided the standard for human flourishing. Modern philosophy retained this framework even as it abandoned the idea of a “natural place” for man in the face of the scientific picture of an infinite, labyrinthine universe. Because existence is co-constituted by facticity and transcendence, the self cannot be conceived as a Cartesian ego but is embodied being-in-the-world, a self-making in situation. It is through transcendence that the world is revealed, takes on meaning; but such projects are themselves situated — not the product of some antecedently constituted intelligible character but embedded in a world that is decidedly not representational.

If authenticity is the category by which one is able to think about what it means to exist, then the account of authenticity cannot neglect the social, historical, and political aspects of that existence. Thus it is not merely because twentieth-century existentialism flourished at a time when European history appeared to collapse and political affairs loomed especially large that existential philosophers devoted much attention to these matters; rather, the demand for an account of the situation stems from the very character of existence itself, which unlike the classical rational subject, is what it is only in relation to its time. There is certainly an emancipatory role ascribable to these kinds of conceptual paradigm, obviously relative to anyone who envision them. It potentially might indicate a movement from being to becoming, essence to process, or a repudiation of sterile repetition in favor of fecund unpredictability. The revolutionary subversions of an old order can easily turn repressive when they take over and become the new order, indicating that perhaps such revolutionary movements are merely a paranoid delusion and proof that we are always already imprisoned within an order we cannot escape. At this point, co-optation is not only possible, it is probable.

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