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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Existence precedes essence

So the time has come to tell you about the dreaded prostate biopsy, which I've been avoiding for a while and getting told it's not a suitable subject for humour, but all the time it’s been in my head, damming up the flow like an old mattress in a mountain stream, and while I'm giving it a body swerve, by writing about anything else I can think of, I fear I'm in danger of acting in bad faith and failing the existentialist test of authenticity.

Although where a short, smug git, who speaks French in public and lies to women to get sex, has the gall to attack anyone's bad faith, I have no idea.

See the trouble with existentialists is that they're all French. Apart from when they're being German. Or Danish. 

You don't get the English wittering on about dread, boredom, angst, alienation and nothingness. They're too busy being sensible, drinking tea and conquering inferior races, is what the cultural commentators will tell you.

But I wonder. I think I've found an unsuspected existentialist thread in English literature, from Austen through Wodehouse and down to Douglas Adams - a thread that gave those cheerless continentals, like Heidegger, Kierkegard, Nietsche, Sartre and Camus, the idea in the first place.

See I recently came across an unpublished 18th century manuscript with the opening line, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must squander it in a futile search for the pathetic meaning of his miserable existence."

Was this written by a young Jane Austen, while frequenting Paris cafes in a black beret and dark sunglasses? I think so.

Then there’s PG Wodehouse. Open any of his comic novels and you'll find a conversation like this:

'"What ho, young Bingo! Your gills are distinctly green this morning. Been sinking a few beakers of the blushful Hippocrene?"

My old chum cast a jaundiced eye in my direction. “Stop burbling, Bertie,” he told me. “My life has no meaning, existence is bleak and futile and for two pins I would leap in front of a hansom cab and end it all.”'

If that isn't existential angst I don't know what is. There's even a hint of philosophical rivalry when Jeeves says, “You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”

Closer to the present, you've got the obviously existentialist robot Marvin, whose aphorisms include "I ache, therefore I am", "Life! Don't talk to me about life" and "My capacity for happiness you could fit into a matchbox without taking out the matches."

So there you have it, guys. Existentialism began in England but those nasty foreigners, with their garlic breath, onion strings and stripy tops, have been taking credit for it all along. So vote UKIP.

And wouldn't you know it, I've run out of space without telling you about the prostate biopsy again. Just the kind of thing Sartre was banging on about. I will get to it, I promise. On the plus side you've now gained enough philosophical knowledge to get a degree in the subject from several universities. 

To prove it why not take this wee test?

Match the quote to the philosopher who said it

a) "I would only believe in a god who could dance."
b) "I have a million ideas. They all point to certain death."
c) "Panic is your enemy. You are strong. Through your strength, you shall overcome."
d) "..."
e) "If I became a philosopher ... it's all been to seduce women basically."

  1. Jean Paul Sartre 
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche
  3. Marvin the Paranoid Android
  4. Spongebob Squarepants
  5. Harpo Marx

Correct answers (no peeking)
a) ǝɥɔszʇǝᴉN
b) uᴉʌɹɐW
c) qoqǝƃuodS
d) odɹɐH
e) ǝɹʇɹɐS 

You scored: 
0-2 You have a pathetic, miserable existence.
3-4 "Any fool can know. The point is to understand." (uᴉǝʇsuᴉƎ)
   5 You are now qualified to smoke a pipe and seduce women.

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