The Existential Cliff
I’ve just started reading Sarah Bakewell’s At The Existentialist Café: freedom, being, and apricot cocktails, a book I’ve been looking forward to reading ever since enjoying her previous book on Montaigne.
Sure enough, right in the first chapter, she hit me right between the eyes with this:
Sartre read Kierkegaard and was fascinated by his contrarian spirit and by his rebellion against the grand philosophical systems of the past. He also borrowed Kierkegaard’s specific use of the word ‘existence’ to denote the human way of being, in which we mild ourselves by making ‘either/or’ choices at every step. Sartre agreed with him that this constant choosing brings a pervasive anxiety, not unlike the vertigo that confess from looking over a cliff. It is not the fear of falling so much as the fear that you can’t trust yourself not to throw yourself off. Your head spins; you want to cling to something, to tie yourself down — but you can’t secure yourself so easily against the dangers that confess with being free. ‘Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom’, wrote Kierkegaard. Our whole lives are lived on the edge of that precipice, in his view and also in Sartre’s.
Perhaps I’m a phenomenogical existentialist, as this seems to sum up my inner life pretty well.