Continental Philosophy

'The only answer to the question of the meaning of life has to begin from the fact of our human finitude, of our vulnerability and our fallibility. My personal belief that I’ve tried to argue for in my book Very Little… Almost Nothing—a winning title if ever there was one—is that we have to, in a sense, give up the question of the meaning of life, or at least hear it in a particular way. The formulation that I use in that book is “the acceptance of meaninglessness as the achievement of the everyday or the ordinary.” What I mean by that is that once we’ve accepted that the meaning of life is ours to make, we make meaning. Then we accept that we live in a situation, or, rather, that we inherit a situation of meaninglessness, and out of that meaninglessness we create meaning in relationship to the ordinariness of our common existence. I try to argue for a cultivation of the low, the common and the near—the everyday—as that in relationship to which we can make a meaning out of the meaninglessness of our existence.'

Some headaches are more persistent than others; there's the dull ache of tiredness, stress and exhaustion, and there's the arbitrary cruelty of the pounding, blinding migraine. On the other hand, there are metaphorical headaches: everyday frustrations, needless complexities and tiresome habit. They can be a kind of headache, too. And just as pervasive. At the moment I seem to be suffering from one such 'metaphorical' headache, and trying to establish some kind of meaning and purpose to my daily routine. And it's trickier than it looks.

I have always been someone satisfied by the simplest things in life. My idea of bliss is sitting on a park bench on a sunny morning, or looking at the way that light reflects through a cafe window. Edward Hopper once said 'Maybe I am not very human - what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.' It's a straightforwardly unsentimental sentiment, and one I have always related to. But there are times when even these glorious daily joys aren't enough, or simply aren't around. I live in Wales, a country notorious for its rainfall, and there are times when the grey skies bring doom and gloom with a hint of ennui.

Funnily enough, I've always had similar ways of dealing with these down spells. I usually play jazz and blues music, which perks me up no end, and I try to do something constructive or creative with my time. This certainly helps. In fact, writing this blog has its part to play, too. But there are other routes that I enjoy taking, like contemplating the big questions. Life, Love and Death. You know. The Big Questions. But, and perhaps this is a contradiction, I'm never content with the thoughts that I think, or the answers that I read.

Lately, I've found an interesting - and entertaining - approach by British philosopher Simon Critchley. I suspect that I will be writing about him at some point in the future, so he has already been given his own blog-label inauguration. What he has written on Samuel Beckett, Wallace Stevens, Maurice Blanchot and Terrence Malick is sure to keep me rapt for months.

Critchley is preoccupied with the life and evolution of what it known as Continental Philsophy; that is, developments in European philosophy over the last two hundred years, that have attempted to bridge the gap between epistemology (the theory and study of knowledge) and wisdom (a guide to a happy and fulfilled life).

The idea of balancing a pursuit for knowledge with the pursuit of happiness is too good to resist, so I'm throwing myself in hot pursuit. I'm currently reading Critchley's Continental Philosophy: A very short introduction, and loving every minute of it. Of course, I am aware that the meaning of life is not to be found within its pages, but as always it's the journey that's exciting. And as long as there's a journey, an argument, a complication, then there's enough to keep me happy.