Willoughby Thom | Friday, November 22, 2019
Existentialism is not a movement but a mindset.
On Tuesday, Notre Dame’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts hosted their first lecture of their Distinguished Lecture Series with a lecture from Alice Kaplan of Yale University.
Alice Kapalan—the John M. Musser Professor of French, chair of the department of French, and founder of the Yale Translation Initiative — presented on “how Albert Camus became an American writer—or at least a household word.” Kaplan’s lecture focused on the work of Germaine Brée and her friendship and work with Albert Camus, but, in addition to her analysis of Brée, she expressed the ideas of existentialism and the roots of their formation. Out of everything she presented on, this struck me.
Camus did not believe existentialism was a movement, but saw himself as “absurdist,” like Jean Paul Sartre.
Nevertheless, “they’re way existential” – Cher, Clueless, 1995.
The ideological identity crisis reminded me of a project I conducted earlier this year in search of our modern existential movement. It is found in punk rock.
Existentialism is a philosophy with many different avenues. It is said to be an “anti-philosophy” which has been formed by people who have responded to the emergency of life in a modern world. These existentialist philosophers deny their title and refuse to conform to one philosophical label. They feel restricted if they are confined to a single title and they feel strangled by one type of thought and outlook.
Like existentialist philosophers, punks don’t want to conform to the common ferment either. The confrontation of loneliness, anguish and doubt and the concern for individual fate are parallel in both movements: punk and existentialism.
There are three key ideas of existentialism: rationality vs. reason, being present and nothingness. Rationalism and reason are distinct terms, according to an existentialist. They believe that many accounts, such as experience and emotion, cannot be explained rationally only reasonably. In other words, by being aware of human existence (and of oneself) it is reasonable to say that humanity does in fact exist, but you cannot explain why it exists, destroying all rational explanation. The concept of being present is important because it is the defining factor in determining individual freedom.
Lastly, there is nothing inside man himself. The idea of nothingness is the backbone for existentialist’s view of man’s purpose. Man is filled with a void, creating an internal and individual battle to discover his purpose. It forces man to confront the nothingness creating man’s purpose.
Disgruntled youth of the United States and Britain, marched, moshed and surfed in their steel-toed boots, safety pinned leather jackets and spiked hair to the fast-paced, aggressive beats and tempos of punk rock to challenge the nothingness of humanity.
In the midst of economic turmoil, punk was innovative and exciting. The youth who felt suppressed by the hypocrisy of world leaders, older generations and by their own parents, strove for their voices to be heard. Through the power of music, individuals were able to express themselves and lead a community of people to achieve a common goal of restoring freedom, unity and equality in society.
Punk rock wanted to move away from the lengthy, 20 minutes jams of the ‘60s and create their own proper history. Punks do not like living in the past. They believe that the past was nothing more than a trail of mistakes, but the present is where change is going to happen.
Like existentialists, punks promote the importance of living in the moment. With the music came the infamous fashion statements and — occasionally — violent pits, but the music was a call for change not for chaos.
Existentialism is a punk rock philosophy and punk rock is an existentialist philosophy.
Look into it. You may be surprised.