Existential Terror


One of the salient experiences of university life was exposure to academics. There was a kind of sadistic glee in some of those first-year lecturers and tutors, somewhat akin to people who enjoy corrupting children; they were going to apply ‘reason’ and ‘education’ to our conditioning and laugh their evil laughs as our bourgeois values fell away from us. As far as they were concerned, God and the Easter Bunny were much the same thing.

In ‘Feminist Film Theory’, I discovered that romantic love is a relatively new phenomenon; it was invented by medieval troubadours in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. Before that, there was no romance. It was either agape (love between friends) or eros (sexual attraction).

The dominant theme of the Middle Ages (in Europe, anyway) was religion; your primary ‘meaningful’ relationship was with God. We’ve shifted since then, specifically in the second half of the twentieth century (probably in large part due to science and technology) to place our faith in romantic love. Traveling to the moon proved the earth isn’t nestled in the palm of God’s hand. It is shrouded in infinite darkness.

Look at popular music; once upon a time, people were crowding into churches to sing their devotion to God. Now, it’s devotion to one another, or the ‘one’ that is yet to come.

You never know where the things you read and see are going to turn up. There’s the bit in Dead Poet’s Society where the kid is encouraged to bring forth his stream of consciousness poem, in which he says that truth is like a blanket; ‘Y-Y-You push it, stretch it, it’ll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it’ll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying t-to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.’

‘God’ and ‘love’ are the words most commonly scrawled across that blanket. That hideous, poisonous sadness that sinks into you like heavy metal poisoning after a breakup is actually existential terror. It’s the realization that it’s just you against the void, as singular as the earth, swaddled in the darkness of space.

This is the big black truth that Sartre and his ilk have foisted upon us. It returns at all echelons of culture, now that capital ‘G’ God has been taken away. That blanket, and whatever you have scrawled across it, is nothing more than your insulation against the void.

Nietzche said that “If you look long enough into the void, the void looks back into you.” When I am alone, I feel the pressure of its stare.

I love this photo of Imogen Hall’s. It’s part of a series that was taken of a pond in Japan at different parts of the year, as a way of capturing the seasons. At first, I thought the white specks were stars, but I have since discovered them to be cherry blossom petals.

Intentionally or no, I think Imogen has managed to photograph the void. The genius of it is that it is benign, rather than frightening.

2 Responses to “Existential Terror”

  1. I had to read this twice to get everything you were saying…love it! There is a damned internal void every time a lover leaves and all those questions of personal worth and purpose come under fire. If one could accept God as enough of a reason to live it would make the dating game so much “safer” lol. But requited romance is another universe altogether, I think, and in it, God makes so much more sense. I believe it was the Cathars who turned Chivalry into a religion…damn them! And yet, I must thank them, all those songs and movies that bring tears and sighs…ahhhh…not very academic!

  2. As someone going through a breakup and divorce it truely is a void on the other side. I imagine I could come to some deeper personal understanding if i pondered deeply and lay around listening to old cure songs but I am on a limited time scale and so like the fool in the tarot deck im going to pretend life isnt some souless void and go and fall in love again. The people who seem to over think it often seem the unhappiest.

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