Friday, June 22, 2018

Vigorous Discussion Ensues After Philosophy Profs Explore Existentialism and Authenticity at Magnolia Salon

All photos on this page courtesy Machelle Lind
Last night's featured presenters at the Magnolia Salon were a pair of philosophy professors, Steven Ostovich, Ph.D., philosophy chair at St. Scholastica and Gordon Marino, Ph.D. from St. Olaf College and author of The Existentialist's Survival Guide, subtitled How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. Even before the event began you could feel the kinetic energy of electric expectation.

Suzie and Gordon Marino with Glenn and Emily Swanson.
The evening began with Glenn and Emily welcoming us and sharing with newcomers some of the rituals and the overarching theme of the Salon: living creative life. They then introduced the profs, who essentially held a prolonged Q&A forum betwixt the two of them over next hour or more, Prof. Ostovich serving as a Dick Cavett of sorts. Their banter was relaxed and the room was engaged as Steve asked questions and Gordon responded with stories. After this, they opened the floor for questions, which erupted with a send-up of hands, questions from every table in the room without exception and without ceasing for seemingly an hour straight.

What thrilled me was knowing that few, if any, here were philosophy majors in college, yet every person in the room seemed totally engaged. Here are a few of my own takeaways from the never-boring-for-a-minute two hours.

What is existentialism as a movement? Gordon Marino described it as a motley crew of philosopher-writers who explore matters of choice, the meaning of life and the limits of reason. It was popular after both World War I and World War II, global events that were exceedingly disruptive in Europe especially.

Gordon Marino listens to a passionate question.
What is meant by an Inauthentic Age? With social media being so pervasive, people become more concerned with how they present themselves, with posturing rather than being authentic. "We've lost a lot," Marino said. As a result we sense our own alienation because we are not ourselves. This sense of alienation is at the heart of existential writing.

In response, Sartre wrote, "Existence precedes essence." We define ourselves by our actions. We exist in time,. Therefore the choices we make create and reveal who I am.

Marino, who also authored Kierkegaard in the Present Age, is the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf, so he spoke with great fluency about Kierkegaard. He noted that Kierkegaard addressed issues of morality and faith, obedience and virtue. In our modern era, young people are not interested in hearing about self-discipline and obedience. For Kierkegard, obedience to God involves a leap of faith, by which he means one cannot find God by means of reason. Reason has its limits.

Camus is another favorite of Prof. Marino. He began by citing The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. "Once you give up hope, you're free to be creative," he said. Camus carried this further in The Plague where Dr. Rieu was cognizant of the futility and uselessness of his every action to stop the plague. The point Camus makes, though is not to give up just because you can't win. He emphasized that "the value of what you're doing is more important than the success of your battle." In other words, we are all fighting on two battle fronts. The external world is broken. Even though we will never fix it, it is worth the fight, our responsibility to work toward fixing, toward healing. Then there is our own inner battle. Even though we will never be perfect, it is our task to improve ourselves, to work toward wholeness, even if we never reach it.

At this point one of the two presenters stated, "One of the great benefits of philosophy is that it aids us in self-reflection. What kind of person do you want to be? Are you making progress?

One of the questions asked by someone in the audience led to a comment about the medicalization of everything in the 21st century. We talk about depression and panic attacks, and have meds to deal with whatever we're dealing with. This was followed up with the observation that success can be just as destructive as failure. (EdNote: I thought here of the Simon & Garfunkel song Richard Cory based on the poem by Edward Arlington Robinson.)

Other takeaways from the evening included the following.

1) The first task of philosophy is diagnosis.

2) Existential living begins with the acknowledgement and acceptance of this fact: I am responsible for my life.

3) Philosophy is not about the love of knowledge. It is about the love of wisdom. It is important to know the difference. (EdNote: Knowledge for knowledge's sake makes us educated fools.)

4) Proper self-love requires affirmations. Most of us need to feel loved in order to love ourselves. Here he shared the importance of "being there for people on a consistent basis."

5) Living Authentically means being able to tolerate vulnerability.

* * * *
A special feature of the evening was the presence of Bob and Angel Dobrow of Zenith Bookstore. The Dobrow's joined our community after Bob's 20-year career teaching math and statistics at Carleton College. Avid readers they are, so to speak, living the dream.

There was much more, and a lot could be said about Prof. Marino's relationship to boxing, but rather than go there (because my notes are sketchy and my memory moreso) I'll hope to take a deeper dive on that sometime in the near future. It was fascinating.

Related Links
Gordon Marino's book will be available at Zenith Bookstore next door to Beaner's Central in Duluth. The store will be celebrating its One Year Anniversary on July 1. Thank you for being part of our community.
Next Thursday will be the Magnolia Salon Summer Send Off Party. Be sure to register so that they know how many Oldenburgers to grill for us.
If you do not live in this vicinity, you can find The Existentialist's Survival Guide here on Amazon.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Live the life you were meant to live.

No comments: