Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Exit"-tentialism


"Hell is other people."
Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit
I can't walk by an EXIT or NO EXIT sign without thinking about Jean-Paul Sarte. I read Sartre's play, No Exit back in my high school advanced humanities class thirty years ago. It was my introduction to existentialism.

The plot is pretty simple. Three people are sent to hell. Hell, however, was simply a room, probably not unlike the hotel room at the Shilo Inn near the airport in Boise last week. At first each person denies why they have been sent to hell. As the play progresses, each character reveals their true personality and why they are in hell. Suddenly, the door opens, but none of the characters leaves. It was not the door keeping them in hell, but themselves.

That is existentialism. Sartre was one of the pioneers of the philosophy. To oversimplify what existentialism is, it's a philosophy based on individualism and free will. Essentially, an existentialist believes you are free to do what ever you want, but responsible for whatever you do.

I was kind of taken with existentialism at the time I read No Exit, or at least with my 17-year old understanding of it. I guess I am still kind of taken with it. It's trite, I know, to say we create our own hell, but I do believe that. Conversely, I believe we create our own heaven, so there.

The operative phrase here, is "I believe." One thing that fascinates me about philosophy in general is that it tends to be created by people sitting around thinking about abstract things and coming to concrete conclusions. Nothing makes me more skeptical about a philosophy than an absolute declaration that it is fact. I prefer to be presented with suppositions and then come to a conclusion myself.

That's why I like No Exit. Sarte doesn't come out and tell you that you create your own hell. His characters demonstrate it for you.

Why all of this talk about No Exit and existentialism? I took a photo of an EXIT sign at the Shilo Inn in Boise last week. Couple that with all of that stuff about the devil and 666 yesterday and you get a good idea of how my thought processes work.

By the way, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays lost to the Los Angeles Angels on 6/6/06 by a score of 2 to 12. Twelve divided by two is...six.

Coincidence? You are free to draw your own conclusions.

17 comments:

i ride the bus said...

The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien

darlingina said...

i conclude that you are one hell of a good blogger Tim. Great post.
Hugs,
~gina~

Tim ID said...

iridethebus, I'm assuming there is an existential connection there.

Thanks Gina, I like that conclusion :)

Hayden said...

ahhhh, very significant. You see an exit sign and think sartre. I see an exit sign and snigger "egress" and think Barnum and Bailey.

Tim ID said...

Hayden, Send in the clowns. There ought to be clowns. :)

littleone said...

honestly philosophy and math before my morning coffee is way too much for me to handle...

but i do have this lil thought buzzing round my head.. i believe in choices .. good and bad.. and the natural consequences that come from our choices.. does that make me an existentialist?? does that make all my kiddies existenialists (because i teach them that theory??)

ughhh too much too early .. i am off for my coffee

morningstar

Hayden said...

tim - don't worry, I'm here

Tim ID said...

Morningstar, Nothing like an educator who thinks it is too early for philosophy or math...but to answer your question, yes, I think that believing in choice and consequences could brand you and your kiddies existentialists...or Catholic. :)

Hayden, Very nice!

cherish said...

That play must have really stuck with you for you to continue to think about it for 30 years. Now that is a writer's success!

Great Post as usual!

The Michael said...

The one big problem with this philosophy, as with most others, is that the responsibility seems to only apply far after the fact, when one dies and then the great cosmic court comes to session. It's nice to be able to do whatever you want, as long as you are responsible for what you do, providing that you are also equiped with your own judge, jury, and executioner. Because we each do not carry around a social "governer" on our backs, we have to establish a societal mechanism to hold people responsible for their actions, because the rapist, murderer, child molestor, and Republican, unfortunately, is having to grand of a time doing what they want, forgetting all about that "responsibility" clause.

But, you do what you want, Tim.......just remember that Bob is watching (and laughing his ass off).

The Michael said...

The one big problem with this philosophy, as with most others, is that the responsibility seems to only apply far after the fact, when one dies and then the great cosmic court comes to session. It's nice to be able to do whatever you want, as long as you are responsible for what you do, providing that you are also equiped with your own judge, jury, and executioner. Because we each do not carry around a social "governer" on our backs, we have to establish a societal mechanism to hold people responsible for their actions, because the rapist, murderer, child molestor, and Republican, unfortunately, is having to grand of a time doing what they want, forgetting all about that "responsibility" clause.

But, you do what you want, Tim.......just remember that Bob is watching (and laughing his ass off).

The Michael said...

The one big problem with this philosophy, as with most others, is that the responsibility seems to only apply far after the fact, when one dies and then the great cosmic court comes to session. It's nice to be able to do whatever you want, as long as you are responsible for what you do, providing that you are also equiped with your own judge, jury, and executioner. Because we each do not carry around a social "governer" on our backs, we have to establish a societal mechanism to hold people responsible for their actions, because the rapist, murderer, child molestor, and Republican, unfortunately, is having to grand of a time doing what they want, forgetting all about that "responsibility" clause.

But, you do what you want, Tim.......just remember that Bob is watching (and laughing his ass off).

Tim ID said...

Well, THE Michael, you must feel strong about it since you stated your opinion three times. If I was to take a strictly literal interpretation of the philosophy, I may agree with you. I prefer to view it all in a more karmic sense. Or if you prefer, a more Biblical, "as you reap, so shall you sow."

shandi said...

Have you seen "The Cube" or it's sequels? They seem to be doing something similiar; concealing a philosophy in an entertaining story. It remains one of my favorite movies.

Seven strangers awaken one day to find themselves in a cubical maze. They work together using their skills and talents to survive deadly boobie traps which guard many of the colored cubic rooms. Using mathematical skills, they press forward, upword, and downward through the hatches to try and find the outer shell, the exit.

In one of the sequels, when one "apparently" escapes to the exit, he is asked a question, "Do you believe in God?"

He answers, "Yes" and is sliced to bits with retractable wires concealed in the floor and walls.

I'm thinking now that they may have used some of the same ideas as Sartre.

Tim ID said...

Shandi, No I haven't even heard of that movie or the sequels. But I sounds like my kind of movie. I think the difference between Sarte's existential philosophy (and I can't really speak for Sarte)and the scene you discribe is that someone asked your character if he believed in god and he is punished by an outside force. Existentialist's believe there is no outside force to punish you. You punish yourself.

shandi said...

Yes, this movie is not "existential" really. It's another philosophy altogether but the technique is similiar. I recommend you rent it.

Also check out "What the Bleep Do We Know" if you haven't already. It's a philosophy based on quantum physics. Not alltogether perfectly accurate either but well worth the watch. Thought provoking to say the least.

Tim ID said...

Shandi, I've seen the "What the bleep" movie. Loved it. Anything with Quantum Physics is my cup of tea.