Monday, October 6, 2008

Existential Angst



From the almighty Wikipedia (to swipe Heraldo's term), under the entry for Existentialism, comes this description:

Angst is "common to many existentialist thinkers. . . the experience of our freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is [the feeling] one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off. In this experience that "nothing is holding me back," one senses the lack of anything that predetermines you either to throw yourself off or to stand still, and one experiences one's own freedom."

I wouldn't exactly call myself an existentialist (although coincidentally I have read all the writers the W mentions, Sartre, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Nietzche and even some that it doesn't mention, like the Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jaloun who wrote Corruption).

Yet, here it is: angst, and it's a familiar feeling too.

Is it the experience of freedom and responsibility as the W explains? Less freedom and more responsibility. Is it the feeling of standing on a cliff free to step back or to jump? Perhaps, perhaps.

It's a feeling of tremendous momentum, exhilarating usually, until the questioning starts: what am I doing? Is this the right thing? Nah, I'm no existentialist or I wouldn't be endlessly concerned with identifying the right thing to do. Would I?

Maybe it is the world's momentum I feel. And dread.

Here is a better definition, also from the great and powerful Wikipedia, under the entry for "angst":
"... a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in the free human being. Whereas the animal is slave to its instincts but always confident in its own actions, Kierkegaard believed that the freedom given to people leaves the human in a constant fear of failing its responsibilities to God."

That sums it up better.

P.S. Why do people think Kierkegaard is an existentialist, I wonder?

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