Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Philosophy, Done Another Way

As I mentioned a little while ago on this blog, I gave students in my Existentialism course this semester the option of making a short film for extra credit. The motivation for this was my frustration, in previous iterations of this course, with what I viewed as a deficiency on my part of adequately capturing the importance of the "aesthetic" (literature, art, theater and film) dimension of the Existentialist movement. I spend the better part of the semester in my course covering the major philosophical articulations of Existentialism as seen in the works of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty and many of the so-called "religious" Existentialists (like Frankl, Buber, Tillich, et al). Although we do cover thinkers like Dostoevsky, Camus, Beckett and Kafka, time restrictions limit us to only reading selections of their work, which means that the project of considering what might be unique in the literary expressions of Existentialism qua literature gets subordinated to the philosophical interpretation of those literary pieces. I am convinced that the authors, playwrights, artists and filmmakers who are counted as "Existentialist" are also doing existentialism-- whatever that means, but I think it in part means that they are doing philosophy-- though I find it hard to capture exactly what it means to "do philosophy" otherwise, so to speak.

Anyone familiar with the Existentialst movement in philosophy is aware that there is a kind of leitmotif animating all of those texts that seems to suggest that there is something about human existence that escapes our powers of "explanation" and must be, consequently, "shown"... in a real life, in a character, in a situation, in an image, in an anecdote, in something other than an argument. So, in this project, I wanted to give students the opportunity to access that other mode of expression in order to demonstrate their understanding of Existentialism.

The films are starting to come in now, and I am very impressed. If you're interested, you can view them as they arrive over on the Existentialism blog here. Given the restrictions that the students were working under-- a film no longer than 6 minutes-- I think they've done quite good work so far.

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