Existentialism & Absurdism

Existentialism is a pretty big term to try and coin but basically is revolves around the experiences of the individual in the universe. It is a study of the meaning we give to our lives and the meaning we give to the world. These things in and of themselves have no inherent meaning but only exist in relation to people, society and ourselves.

Existentialism has links to Semiotics which is the study of meaning through linguistics and language. We see the world through the language we use, which can sometimes limit our outlook. The meaning we give the world is relative to the words we use. For example, we use the word table to describe something tan object we put things on and more than often has 4 legs and is made of wood. If this object is made of metal or plastic we still call it a table. If we use it to place books on or eat dinner it’s still called a table. Basically, we as society have all agreed that this object be called a table. That’s the meaning we give to the word “table.” But it is not a “table” in and of itself, it only has that meaning because we have all made that agreement. I can call the object a “hs3 xzzz” and say that that’s what I use to eat dinner on and it would be perfectly credible because that’s the meaning I give to “hs3 xzzz.” Obviously that jumble of letters and numbers means nothing but it shows how meaning is relative and is only based on societal convention.

This leads us onto societal expectations. We are all expected to abide to these non-written agreements and laws like don’t murder and do go to school. These aren’t laws of nature but laws society has agreed upon. They are so ingrained that we don’t question them and they become norms. Obviously “don’t murder” is a very extreme case and people shouldn’t question that law but things like “women should stay at home” was a perfectly reasonable norm to question otherwise we wouldn’t have gender equality, etc. Back in the early 20th century this would seem a crazy thing to revolt against but we can now say it was a just thing to have revolutionised society.

Immanuel Kant notes that our understanding and experiences of the world come from Rationalism & Empiricism. Rationalism is what we learn from raw data and Empiricism is what we learn from our experiences. For example through rationality we learn that touching a hot stove is dangerous because we’ll get burned. It is something we are told. Whereas if we touch a hot stove, empirically we learn that it is dangerous because we can remember the pain of the burn from touching it. It has more to do with the senses and our experiences. These two ideas can be used together but sometimes they may clash.

When we question the meaning of our existence, society or experiences, this is known as existential crisis. This thought process may cause depression, frustration, clarity or increased conviction. It is important to know the truth in life and not live by external forces such as society.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed that there is no objective truth and no pure knowledge in the universe. It is all subjective and agreed upon by people and society. It provides stability in an otherwise chaotic world. This comforts people in the random, meaninglessness of the universe. By questioning this system we can change our lives and society. It will allow us to open our eyes up to man made constructs and systems which restrict and oppress us.

This meaninglessness is recognised in the philosophy of Absurdism. It describes the lack of meaning in the universe and in anything throughout the universe. In people’s search for the truth, they may come to this conclusion of meaninglessness. Sometimes people may go through three of them in stages or experience all of them or just one. Some responses to this realisation are:

  • Emotional deadness.
  • Depression from society’s expectations.
  • Contentedness with one’s life.

With the 2nd, the individual is depressed because their understanding of the world is different from what society portrays the world to be and what society expects of the individual. The inherent lack of meaning may also be too chaotic than they can handle.

With the 3rd, the individual is able to ignore societal constructivism and live their life contently by providing their own meaning to the world.

With the 1st, there is no emotional response. It may lead to extreme emotional deadness and passiveness. This may be a more extreme case of the 2nd response. This meaninglessness may make it hard to express emotions. I will discuss this further using texts where characters have this response.

L’Étranger – Albert Camus (1942)

L’Étranger (1967)

I read this as part of a French Literature module. It was tough understanding the concepts in French, but I think I got the gist of it.The novel follows the tale of a man named Mersault. He shows many signs of emotional detachment and passivity.

At the beginning of the novel, he is attending his mother’s funeral and appears quite unemotional. It doesn’t cry and is seen smoking and drinking coffee by the coffin. Later on in the novel, he ends up shooting and killing a man with whom his friend had fought with. Again he appears apathetic about the murder and feels nothing. He is of course detained in prison and is passive throughout his time there. He does not show remorse or regret. During the time up to his execution, he remains unfazed and accepts his fate. This character portrayal is a perfect example of a person’s unemotional response towards the universe. Although his actions are without a doubt questionable, it shows us how some times people are indifferent towards the world, norms and laws.

Melancholia – Lars von Trier (2011)

Melancholia (2011)

An absolute masterpiece in my opinion. It follows the story of group of characters and their responses to a planet that is on an impact with Earth. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) appears unaffected by any of the events throughout the film.

The film begins on Justine’s wedding day. She disappears from the party on numerous occasions. She appears unhappy. At one instance her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is annoyed by her behaviour and Justine says “I smile and I smile.” To this Claire tells her she’s lying. These lines have a certain truth in the world at large. Some individuals pretend to be alright or happy when in fact they are suffering in society. Society’s expects people to be strong and suffer in silence when in fact there’s nothing wrong with not being happy or not being “ok.” People put on a face so that they won’t be seen differently. Justine later dismisses her new husband when he begins to make love to her. She walks down to the golf course and has sex with another man in a bunker.

In the 2nd act, the planet’s impact is nearing and the characters responses are portrayed dynamically. Justine is unaffected and detached by the imminent destruction of Earth. Claire is distraught and afraid. Claire’s husband is at first confident that the planet will pass by the Earth but when he realises it will in fact impact, he commits suicide. With the collision coming closer, Claire finally accepts her impending death. She wants some comfort from her sister and wishes to do one last thing with her son and Justine. She wants to drink wine on the terrace and sing a song. Justine responds to this by saying, “You know what I think of your plan? I think it’s a piece of shit.” It’s extremely condescending and harsh but it’s from the point of view of someone who is unafraid and is apathetic towards a fearful person. Justine is calm in the face of her death. An amazing scene is when Justine basks naked by a river at night in the light of the planet Melancholia. What makes this epic is the fact that she is giving herself fulling to oncoming planet. It’s like she’s accepting her fate and her death. She gives herself to the universe and it’s endless oblivion. And she is ok with this because she believes it all means nothing.

Lost in Translation – Sofia Cappola (2003)

Lost In Translation (2003)

A film about culture shock and isolation. It shows how individuals can have unemotional responses towards certain things while in a foreign culture. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an actor who is doing an endorsement in Tokyo and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is with her husband while he has a photography gig.

Bob is overwhelmed by the Japanese culture and doesn’t understand a lot that’s going on. Charlotte spends some time alone because her husband is working. One day she decides to go explore. A really great  quote she says when she’s talking to her friend on the phone is, “I went to this shrine today and there were these monks and they were chanting and I didn’t feel anything.” She doesn’t find any meaning in her trip to the temple. Her own experiences are different from that of society’s expectations. This fact upsets her as she feels she should have a particular emotional response but in fact feels nothing.

Of course these characters aren’t entirely immersed in Absurdism, it’s more like situational or momentary absurdism experienced through culture shock.

Skins – Effy Stonem (2007-2010, 2013)

Kata Scodelario -Effy Stonem

One of the best characters ever created played by Kaya Scodelario. Also one of the most messed up. She is extremely damaged because everything around her is always fucked up. She is continuously destructive because the universe seems to be against her. Her brother gets knocked down, her boyfriend dies, she becomes depressed. In the final series she seems to have her stuff together. She has a good job and lives with Naomi. Naomi is diagnosed with cancer and Effy is arrested for insider trading. As she is driven away in a police car, she gives her famous “Effy smile.” It’s a smile that shows she knows the truth. She knows that no matter how hard she tries and how good her life is, there will always be something that comes along and messes up her life. Because of this Effy believes there’s no point in feeling anything towards the world or life, because the universe is against her and will ultimately come along and fuck things up.

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City Of Heavenly Fire Review

Book: City Of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments, Book 6).

Author: Cassandra Clare.

Published: May 27, 2014.

Rating: 4/10.

The highly anticipated finale of The Mortal Instruments series. I must admit, I was looking forward to it. I did enjoy the first 5 books. I read it a few months ago and I suppose it was a good a good enough read. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed by it. I don’t know if it was the text or myself. I guess it’s worth taking into account the fact that I read the first 5 books when I was 16-18 & I read this book when I was 20. A lot can change in that time, you learn more and interests change. Maybe I just grew out of this series? I don’t know. But as for the text itself, this is what I found.

So if you’re familiar with the series, Sebastian is building up and army and Clary & all the gang have to stop him. That’s basically what the premise is.

As usual, Cassandra Clare’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions and prose are what I love most about her books. As readers of her books are probably familiar with, she switches from different character POVs. I love how she does that. It’s one of the things I like most in novels, as it keeps things interesting.

As for the plot itself, I thought the build up was brilliant. For a finale, there needs to be a major climatic build up in order for it to be spectacular and blow people away. She really did have us on the edge of seats for most of the book. You can feel that something massive is coming.

Unfortunately, the disappointing thing about this is that there was no massive climax. It all felt very meh. Nothing really spectacular happened. From the great climatic build up, I was expecting explosions and fireworks and heartbreak. What we got was seriously disappointing.

Firstly, the battle in Alicante. Ok so I get that there was a battle towards the beginning-ish? of the book, which is a bit atypical of a finale. But there was another battle at the end, the classic battle that is at the end of every fantasy series. I was seriously looking forward to it, but it was so short. We only got like two or three scenes. And most of it was just the 40,000 Blackthorn kids running to some building. I don’t know, the city hall or something, I can’t remember. But anyway there is a bit of fighting and battling but by far not enough. When Jem appeared and starting swinging his sword around (literally) I was like yes! Finally! But he only hit like 2 people and then brought the 40,000 Blackthorn children to the hall place. Boring final battle, yawn.

I have a few other issues about the battle. I mean why weren’t the werewolves and vampires there to fight as well. I mean you had these whole sub-plot about vampire clans and head of the werewolf packs, and it went nowhere. It would have been relevant if they went to Alicante at the end to aid the Shadowhunters but no, nothing actually happened there. It was like whatever, I don’t even know why those sub-plots were included. As for the faeries, I hated how they were all branded as evil.

As for the other fight between Clary & Sebastian. I mean, come on I don’t even think it’s allowed to be called a fight. She literally pulled a dagger and stabbed him and he died. :/ Boring. For a villain he died pretty easily and with like no effort. And this is the guy who was able to evade the hands of the Clave. He just dies after a girl strolls up to him and stabs him. Come on? I wanted a 1 on 1 battle to the death, but no that would be too fun.

There was so much disappointment. I mean Sebastian wasn’t even that great of a villain. He was like, a kitten compared to any of the great villains. He wanted to control his sister, that’s as bad as he got. He wasn’t scary or crazy or even psychotic. He seemed pretty weak to me, I don’t know how he led an army.

As for other weak characters: Magnus’s father. He was so pathetic. I can’t even remember his name. Hold on… ok Asmodeus is his name. A Prince of Hell, apparently. Pffft, everyone was expecting a massive terrifying demon because Magnus was like keeping his identity a secret. What we got was an old man. I mean he could’ve been a demon of subtle evil, I could’ve rolled with it. But no he was as disappointing as everything else. He only wanted memories as a trade to get them out of hell. That’s it? No blood or souls or fucking terrifying shit? Just memories? Ugh I’m seriously over this shit. Hell in this book isn’t even horrible. They have to fight like once and that’s about it. You’d think if you went to hell and back you’d never be the same. But no, the gang seemed to have a great time. Clary & Jace fucked in some cave, brilliant! Great craic lads!

As for the characters… ehhhh. I dunno, I kinda didn’t care about anyone. Clary, Jace, Magnus, Alec, Simon, Jordan, Maia, didn’t really care what happened to them. I love Isabelle because she’s a legend. It was kinda sad what happened when Simon forgot all about her. I think she saved this series for me. When Jordan died I was like alright. I didn’t care much for him, and neither really did the others apparently. When Raphael died, it was kinda an emotional moment. Not because he was a great character, because I didn’t feel much for him, but because Magnus said something about saving him and then Raphael saved Magnus by sacrificing himself. Good moment. Sabastian took about 10 years to die and he reverted into some weird good character. I don’t know that was really dragged out.

I absolutely loved Malcolm Fade. He was so funny. I kept reading his voice in a really weird tone. Got a good chuckle out of him even though he was only in like one scene for 5 minutes. Best character in the book!

As for the 40,000 Blackthorn children… that annoyed me. I mean why is there so much children?? And their introduction was just like setting the readers up for the next Shadowhunter series: The Dark Artifices. I didn’t like that. It’s like Cassandra Clare was plugging her next book instead of creating a great finale. As for the characters themselves, I loved Helen Blackthorn. We needed more Helen. It pissed me off so much how marginalised her and her girlfriend Aline were. I mean like lesbians! Come on, such an amazing dynamic. I remember being so delighted the first time they were introduced in City of Glass was it? I don’t know, but I was so happy to see lesbians in a YA series. I found her half Faerie, half Shadowhunter lineage so fascinating and refreshing and the whole racial-politics thing with the Clave so interesting. What annoys me is how now her and Aline are banished to Wrangel Island in Northern Russia so we won’t be seeing them in TDA. :/ As for Mark, he’s also Faerie/ Shadowhunter which I like. As for the other 5 children, I don’t really care since they’re fully Shadowhunter and young and annoying. Emma Carstairs, bit of a tragedy there but again, not much interest.

The thing with Simon was heartbreaking when he didn’t know who Clary was but of course it had to be a happy ending so everything worked out, :/ I don’t like that idea that vampire’s are inherently evil. It means also that the majority of the main characters are Shadowhunters which is a bit supremacist. Also Maia loses her boyfriend but ends up with Bat which is annoying. Everyone gets paired up which is something I’m whole-heartedly against. It gives the idea that independence and being single is bad or leads to sadness. I don’t agree with pairing and I think it’s a very shallow and easy option.

I also felt that this book was very long. It could been cut down a lot.

Maybe I just grew out of this series or it was in itself poor, either way a disappointing but alright book.