Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Age of Reason

Jean-Paul Sartre The Age of Reason (1947)
In the course of one of his jazzier speeches, George W. Bush referred to a game known as show your cards, and so to show my cards I have to admit that I'm in way over my water here, as our penultimate president might have put it. I've consulted Marjorie Grene's Introduction to Existentialism, but I've a feeling I should have looked around to see if anyone had written Introduction to Marjorie Grene's Introduction to Existentialism. Anyway, Gavin Burrows' review pointed me in the right direction, following which I stumbled across this in Grene's book:
According to Sartre, however, God is impossible. To be God is to exist from the necessity of his own nature alone; to be a causa sui. But to be the cause of one's self is to stand in relation to one's self: that is, to be at a distance from one's self, to be what one is not, to be in the manner of consciousness, which is aware of not being its own foundation that is, to be not necessary but contingent. Necessary existence, then, implies its own contradictory, contingent, or nonnecessary existence and is therefore impossible. In other words, if God existed, he would be contingent and hence not God; or if he is God, he is not contingent and hence, since noncontingent existence is self-contradictory, is not. But if we have no maker, neither is there a model by which we can trace the proper pattern of humanity, since the model was conceived of only as an instrument of the maker. Heaven is empty, and we are left alone to create ourselves by our own acts.

The Age of Reason is the first of a trilogy about freedom - whether it's a thing, whether we genuinely experience it, how to get there and so on. Significantly it was written after the end of the second world war whilst being set just before, serving to emphasise the perceptual divide between our cast of four or five characters and the world they inhabit. To bring this together with what Grene says, what I take from this novel is that Mathieu and his pals inhabit their respective existences without quite fully being part of them. As they drift along, the cause and effect of worldly interactions and even each other, appear more like projections upon an enveloping screen, not unlike how Guy Debord describes the relationship of society to its own image in The Society of the Spectacle. The future is bearing down on them, but they remain unaffected, like children only dimly aware of events beyond the horizon of adulthood. Marcelle is herself with child and much of the novel details Mathieu's failure to deal with even the notion that everything will soon change as a result. Similarly, he could go to fight in Spain, but he doesn't. He barely seems to engage with or even respond to the consequences of his own actions, as though to do so might lead to a curtailment of his freedom. He dooms himself to inaction in pursuit of freedom and therefore never quite achieves either freedom, or the age of reason - adulthood to the likes of myself and George W. Bush.

At least this is what I took from it. I suppose it's interesting from the point of view that the kidult was not, after all, invented by my generation; and there's a great deal more to it than my admittedly hastily-written analysis. Indeed, The Age of Reason is supposedly Sartre's philosophical treatise Being and Nothingness rewritten as an episode of Friends - sort of - which is nice because it's surprisingly breezy considering, or is at least breezy compared to Nausea, and I have an unfortunate feeling there probably wouldn't be much point in my trying to read Being and Nothingness. I would be in way over my water; plus, I'm not sure I really need to read the thing seeing as I got much more than I expected from this, the junior version.

I'm not sure what else I can say, and so not wishing to appear stupid, I'll say nothing.

No comments:

Post a Comment