Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness": A Summary

First of all, fuck Kant.

Why is his shit so needlessly complicated? A whole world we can't talk about or know anything about? Then how the fuck can he possibly talk about it? What if the world is just exactly the way we see it? Why complicate things even further? Don't tell me I can't get to the chairness of a chair - it's a pretty simply concept, chairness - it's just being a chair. Legs, maybe a cushion, and you sit in it. Can't stop being a chair. Was that so hard?

Look - there are two ways to exist in this world. Chairs just are the way they are, they have being-in-itself. There's nothing special about them. But bros? Oh man, bros are a whole different story. There's no intrinsic broness we all have; we get to make our own shit. Every bro is like a completely blank canvas, devoid of any color, and he gets to paint himself however the fuck he wants. Seriously, this blankness, this void, isn't just any ordinary property; it cuts to the very meaning of what it means to be a bro - a bro exists with being-for-itself, with an incompleteness that he must take care of himself.

Maybe you're thinking, "but Sartre - don't we have a clear description too? Walks around on two legs, usually between five-six and six-eight, hair up top and all that jazz?" Bro, I get it. Nothingness is scary at first. So much room to work, and so little guidance; the thought of nothingness horrifies us. So if you want to take the infinite potential that is that blank canvas and fill it with a physical description of yourself, then fucking be my guest.  But you still have to do the work; it's not like you're achieving the certainty of being a chair that way. You're just refusing to face uncertainty; that doesn't make it go away. So my advice to you is man the fuck up, grab some colors, face the future boldly, and just fucking paint

Don't paint a simple physical description of yourself; don't paint your job, or your stuff. You'll never have the safety of being-in-itself; you're wasting your time trying. Use your imagination; there are other voids with limitless potential. You can imagine what isn't, and that tells you what you are, and what you want to be; make it happen. Who cares if you fuck up here or there? Paint over it. Humanity isn't an 8x10 you get one shot at; nothingness isn't a cup you get to fill once. As time goes on, you'll see more possibilities, acquire new colors, learn new brushstrokes. But you don't get any of that if you don't start painting now. There's a good chance you'll never get it perfect. Whatever, bro. But you can know perfection through its absence; when you look at yourself and say, "almost! What if I just... that's closer, even!" That's how you can discover the truth of beauty - the drive to create is enough.

Of course, while you're out there doing work, you're going to run into other painters, other canvases; don't panic. Why do people always panic? All of a sudden bros act like they're not supposed to be painting, like they're going to get in trouble or something, as if he's supposed to go back to being a canvas when other painters around - what if he's better than me? What if he thinks what I've made myself is dumb? So bros stop painting and let other bros start painting on them, over everything they've created. And do you think other people give a shit about what you come out as? If you let them paint your canvas for you, they'll slap on whatever is convenient for them, and suddenly you're back to being your job, your stuff, how you look; if you let others define you, they will define you out of existence. So don't let them! But more importantly, don't be that asshole.

Again, this shit is easier said than done. Acknowledging the existential void, the vast emptiness of the self, is no small task; for some reason when people hear "You are nothing!" They respond with fear, not hope. We all want to be something, but we don't want to do the work; the temptation to let others do it, or to refuse to do it yourself, is great. Except that no one can actualize your vision better than you, so don't let them. 

You know that couple that fucking hates each other, but they can't walk away? I know you know at least one. We all do. What do you think is going on there? They've both given themselves up to the other; he lets her paint his canvas (heh) and vice versa. But of course, they both fucking hate what the other is painting, since they each have a better sense of what they want to be, so they've given up their sense of self and now they resent the other for sucking. She's all like "I wouldn't put blue there, you asshole!" and he's all like, "bitch, that shouldn't be a circle!" but they've forgotten how to paint for themselves, how to face the world, the void, alone. That is the risk you run if you can't face the void alone; that is what you'll become. Who wants that?

We think we want peace and simplicity, which is why we want the safety of being-in-itself, why we tend to paint along the same lines, making small changes and slow improvements. But secretly, we fucking hate peace. We can imagine such greatness, and sometimes we just straight-up get restless. You're not beholden to anyone! If you're suddenly unhappy with what you are, why stay that way? We must not be afraid to start anew, to overthrow what we once were to make what we want; we must never be afraid to change. After all, the goddamn future is coming whether you like it or not; sorry, bro, but the void really is empty; stop pretending otherwise and get to work


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You can get the original Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology from Amazon.

35 comments:

  1. As someone who sticks mostly to Hegel, I never realized Sartre was basically a self-help author.

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  2. I'm a muse and you're a bro. I just discovered your blog and fell in love, bro.

    www.philosophicalmuse.com

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  3. Is "fuck kant" intended to be a pun?

    Also, I'd like a summary of deleuze and guattari - a thousand plateaus if you're ever in the mood.

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  4. @Archer: don't forget that Sartre completely overthrew Hegel. Where Hegel sees being and nothingness as logically (and therefore ontologically) the same, Sarte sees nothingness as a derivative negation from being (simply put, and the bro's totally right about that, we can't go from nothing to something, but we can go from something to nothing). Therefore, Sartre's ontology is almost the opposite of that of Hegels.

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  5. you had me at "fuck kant"...

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  6. I second the request for a summary /A Thousand Plateaus./ I'd love to read that.

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  7. It looks like your opening just eclipsed "Two households, both alike in dignity..." and "Call me Ishmael" in the minds of the teeming masses. You're a ways behind "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns..."

    Give you a few thousand years, though; you'll catch him too.

    Good stuff.

    -Wm

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  8. I read this entire post as a motivational speech.

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  9. I'd actually prefer a summary of Difference and Repetition if you're going to do Deleuze. But this is great, and fitting--since you have distilled a gigantic book down to about what it has to say, which is, considering its length, very little.

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  10. I've been waiting for this!

    -Great post bro

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  11. This blog is PRECISELY why i adore stumbleupon's being almost as much as I adore it's decision to bring me here! Know I am gonna read this blog top to bottom. Keep it up PB.

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  12. Egotistical whining (Sartre, not you Bro). Human nature exists, no matter what any crypto-marxist cultural determinist ass-hat like Sartre wants to believe about his "infinite potential". Also if he's so smart, how come he was French?

    CHECK AND MATE

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    1. Sartre wasn't a determinist. Pretty impossible to find an existential determinist.

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    2. Don't be such a fucking troll. If you had read Sarte then you would know that he is anything but a determinist or a marxist.

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    3. Anything but a determinist sure, but Sartre was a self-proclaimed and active Marxist most of his life (he even wrote a book called "Between Existentialism and Marxism" to tie his existentialist philosophy to his politics), until towards the end of his life when he became an anarchist.

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  13. I would paint Sartre's canvas if he'd let me. Dude, I'd paint it SO HARD.

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  14. I'm pleased that this came out around commencement speech time, let the forwards begin

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  15. I'd love to see a summary of Camus's "The Stranger" up here. That'd be hella sweet, broseph.

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  16. I just love you. This is the best blog I have ever found.

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  17. Haven't read the book, but this summary was very inspiring to read. Does indeed sound like a self help book, only better phrased and not as annoying. I loved the canvas metaphor. Also, I love this blog.

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  18. Bro I'm in awe. I just just discovered your blog and I don't know if I love it for-itself or in-itself. But I love it.

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  19. You just blew my mind

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  20. More Camus, more plato :)

    Thank you very much bro! You rock!

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  21. nice work young man- as fate would have it, just stumbled into your world.I feel welcome and love the Truth that you the host serves. Blessings and all love. Kant and no thinker is to be negated, because they do contribute to the dialogue-help keep it going- whether right or wrong.

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    1. his point is not that he thinks Kant is worthless but rather that existentialists find his thought to be flawed.

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  22. Better than spark notes ;-)

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  23. how do you feel about his "awareness of awareness"? I agree that it is needed but I don't think you can be aware of it.

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  24. Bro, the paragraph about the couple that hates each other blew my mind. You described my ex best friends relationship with his girlfriend. That is real shit.

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  25. These posts will end up in hardback at some point! Keep it going.

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  26. this whole thing just made me understand my whole existentialism class.
    makes absolutely perfect sense to this art kid.

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  27. You just keep going, bro. Awesome stuff. Best blog ever.

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