Happy existentialists

Birthday of Louis Armstrong (1901), who really did think it’s a wonderful world; and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), kicked out of Oxford for writing risque poetry and disbelieving in God, who said “Do it now — write nothing but what your conviction of its truth inspires you to write.” He died before he was 30. WA

Yesterday’s Godot post left me thinking about Existentialism and its popular but false reputation for bleakness. The proto-existentialist pioneers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche weren’t philosophers of bleakness, though both depicted a stark world of lonely choice, personal isolation, and irreversible responsibility. When I think of them, though, the starkness recedes and a joyful, affirming, peripatetic mood steps up. Nietzsche’s “formula” for happiness was “a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal.” He said

“all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Rising at dawn, Nietzsche would stalk through the countryside till 11 a.m. Then, after a short break, he would set out on a two-hour hike through the forest to Lake Sils. After lunch he was off again, parasol in hand, returning home at four or five o’clock, to commence the day’s writing. Gymnasiums of the Mind

 Kierkegaard, the Melancholy Dane, cheerfully advised:

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” K’s Journals and Papers

In contrast to Samuel Beckett’s waiters, no peripatetic existentialist ever despaired to take the next step.

 6:50/5:58, 72/97

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