Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
This phrase, adapted from Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, is to the rest of the book as tailgating is to actually going to the football games—i.e., this one bit is brilliant, but the rest of the ordeal is about as exciting as whatever was being lectured to you this morning while you drew penises all over your friend’s notebook. Lucky for you, that’s about the only thing this piece has in common with Moby Dick (pun not initially intended, but obviously had to stay). The original title of this piece was “A sweet taste of Martin Heidegger,” and with the help of my roommate’s constructive criticism, “That sounds so [expletive] boring I’d rather [expletive] myself in the [expletive] with a chainsaw,”—thanks for the honesty—I managed to retain the essence of the title, AND make a great literary reference.
That’s what you call skinning two rabbits with one butter knife.
It turns out that our friend Martin Heidegger, despite being a Jew-hating-Nazi, is praised for having written a little gem called Being and Time. The book is extremely technical—a real Weiner schnitzel, as ze Germans say—but its beauty lies therein. It asks the simplest question of all: What is being?
While you may think this is an obvious question, Heidegger shows us that it’s not. When I say something like, I’m IN the elevator, I mean something very different from when I say I’m madly IN love. When I say, I’m feeling ON edge, I mean something very different from when I say, I am ON the floor #sorryforpartying. The first is an example of the spatial usage of the preposition, while the second is its existential usage. In other words, when you’re UNDER pressure, or all OUT of luck, or hard AT work, those phrases don’t describe where you are existing, but rather how you are existing—they describe your states of Being.
Now I know what you’re all thinking. Why should I care about the ontological implications that may arise from a sociocultural reading of post-Kantian analytic philosophy? The short answer is, you shouldn’t. But without even delving into the eye-stabbingly complex philosophy of Jekyll M. Hyde—as his friends knew him—the realization that we can inhabit different states of Being will lead us to a more profound question that is at the forefront of college life, namely: How does one live an authentic life?
Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are not the only ones who get to live more than one life —we all experience different modes of Being on a day-to-day basis. When I wake up in the morning, alone in my bed, I am a particular type of person. I tell myself certain things that I will never reveal to anyone else in my life. We all carry an intimate discourse with ourselves that allows us to share our darkest secrets without having to tell other people about them. But when you go to the bathroom with your friend (and I think this mostly applies to our female readers), and you look up into that mirror, you see a stranger in the reflection, one that does not correspond to that same person you were talking to inside your head this morning. That’s because we all experience at least two existential states: Being-with-oneself, and Being-with-others.
While Being-with-oneself is our truest form, Being-with-others does not necessarily mean having to put on an act. Nevertheless, the question of authenticity arises when we discuss different forms of Being-with-others.
For example, my friend has told me that he can never be himself around his grandparents. His Being-with-grandma is a different person from his Being-with-friends. In fact, most of you might find that when you really think about it, even amongst your different groups of friends, you act like a different person based on the people who surround you, inhabiting different states of Being without even having to think about it.
Growing up, in school, all of us had to behave differently around parents and authority figures. But as a college student, that line is beginning to blur. As you begin your search for a career, you are forced to behave in a certain way, but it still feels different from when you are hanging out with your friends. What I am getting at, finally, is that in order to live authentically, you have to begin reducing the number of Beings in your life. By talking to adults in the same way that you talk to your friends, you will be recognized for being genuine, and you will quickly learn that adults care much more about hearing your real voice than they care about being addressed as “ma’am” and “sir.”
This is not an easy task. And it doesn’t mean you should invite your teacher to your tailgate. By reconciling all your forms of Being-with-others, you will spend less time “acting” and being different people—as a result, you will have more energy to pursue genuine happiness, the kind that only comes from within. Every attempt you make to dissolve the air of nervousness that floats around the conversations you have with an authority figure is a step toward authentic living.
So what’s it going to be then, eh?
Some of you may think that this is all nonsense, since you are already living authentically. If you are and have always been a single, undivided Being, I hope we never have a conversation. It is the immorality and the dishonesty in the darkest corners of our consciousness that feeds our humanity and makes us interesting people. By forcing us to exercise our rational powers, we suppress the proverbial Id, and we embrace honest human life. Those of us who deny their sinister nature will never orient their moral compass. By lying to yourself, you validate lying to others. So accept that weird foot fetish you have, and say, “Okay, I won’t act on it, because I can’t start touching everyone’s feet, nor will I tell anyone about it, because they’ll probably stop being friends with me, but I will AT LEAST admit it to myself.” You owe it to yourself to have that conversation and embrace the qualities that make you who you are. Our quest to be honest, authentic, and truly happy individuals always begins with a meaningful look into the self.
Now as I bid you farewell and present you with this sweet morsel for your conscience, refrain from devouring it like a beast. Save it for later. When you wake up in the middle of the night, have that conversation with yourself. Think about the number of people you are, and about the number of people you’d like to be. Take it out then, and savor it as you meditate on your life’s authenticity.
It always tastes better as a midnight snack.