Monday, April 18, 2011

Bob Dylan, Jean Paul Sartre, and their Existentialist Connections

In the study of world philosophy, and the critique of numerous philosphers throughout history, shows that one comparing and arguing against a fellow philosopher’s thoughts and opionions is a technique used to step-ladder one’s way up past the predecessor’s theory and make it ones own. Nietzsche crudely criticized Plato; Jean-Paul Sarte stood over Kierkegaard and Hurssell to improve his own theory; and so-on, so forth…

In grasping the 21st century meaning of Existential philosophy, two individuals who existed in the 20th century served as architects to the modern day existentialist movement and comprehension. Although they are born three decades apart, the lives they led, and the experiences they endured, resulted in perhaps the two most enlightening collection of masterpieces that shaped and defined existentialism. Two continents apart, a huge barren ocean of vast nothingness separated the two. They were not correspondants nor did one believe the other had much to do with their own work. But with an interval of sufficient time to look back survey the broad catalogues of both men and their importance and influence over the society they existed in brings me to an inevitable conclusion that these two characters are somehow linked, colleagues of a ‘movement’ which itself was ill-defined and subject to distortion by society at large. In fact, as more individuals experienced and pined over their works, the more removed from pure intent the repertoire became. Fighting back at critics, and being aggravated with their corrupt and nonsensical interpretations of their brilliant works fueled both men to defend, or completely ignore, their meaning and purpose against society and mass culture.

Jean-Paul Sarte and Bob Dylan are two individuals with huge intellects and an unprecedented way of observing history, society, and deep philosophical issues with such incredible insight and poetic artistic creations. They were also two men who were at nature fundamentally human. Driven by desires we all face, standing on unique foundations of past experiences to motivate their artistic publications. These two men parallel eachother in ways that are only coincidental, but today can now be seen as bizarre connections that prove they were historical counterparts to a philosophy and political view of existentialism and commentaries on political currents and cultural advancements (good and/or bad).

One can see Sartre at a Parisian café following the liberation of France after world war II, reflecting on the new freedom and liberty the people have recovered. Spending time to intellectually advance his existence at these hip, avent garde social gatherings, Sartre would muse over philosophical issues with many of his French contemporaries, like Albert Camus and Simone deBeuvior. Smoking cigarettes, drinking wine and using mind altering substances that became popular post WWII is what is typically rumored when one reads into how he spent his time at these Parisian café’s—these temples of cultural and intellectual renassaince.

One can later see Bob Dylan, cigarette in mouth, guitar case in hand, wondering the Village in New York City, frequenting bars and pubs which were safe havens to a wave of people following the beat generation of the 1950s. By the early 60s when Dylan came to NYC, American history and culture was on the verge of a major overhaul. Though not as harrowing as World War II was to the French, the prosperous post war America gave way to a inundation of new babies, new wealth, a new American society where the depression of the 30s and war of the 40s were inked in the parents of the vastly expanding generation of newly born Americans. This ‘baby boom’ would be the groundwork for social revolution, a cultural renassaince similar to what France was and would experience. Bob Dylan was of this generation, and by 1960, he trekked his way from the mid-west to NYC to follow a dream, an ambition, a thing he was just plainly good at. It was what he knew he was capable of. Its would he did. That’s all. But whatever Dylan subjectively felt or feels about the way events played out had a bigger role in society than he wanted or intended, it happened.

This work is meaningless or it is the most meaningful thing in the world. It is for all to read or it is meant for no one to see it. It is existentialism. It is “life, and life only.”1

1 Dylan, Bob. "Its Alrite Ma, I'm Only Bleeding". Bringing It All Back Home. New York: Special Rider Music, 1964.

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