Life Stories

May 23, 2016

Around people whose name lifts to prominence in the regard of public awareness accrete histories and life stories of folk tale kinds, often anecdotal, often celebratory or shocking; or both.

Chopin and George Sand as an item perhaps; or else, Elvis maybe, truck driver, stopping off at Sun Records?

I want to consider stories like these and see where they lead in regard to our own apprehension and understanding about our awareness of and grip upon our own lives as we see them as discrete individuals.

Let’s call these stories all celebratory; whether notorious or not.  They are an act of remembrance and are shared communally amongst one’s contemporaries within the circles one inhabits and on the mind map one draws as one’s preferred personal territory.  As such they are items used by us in our shaping and constructing of our personal identities. We might be variously aware and conscious of our using them in this way, sometimes doing so deliberately and carefully; sometimes having done so without actually having taken note of having done so.

Our identities as we make them might be looked on as being a collection of stories a person tells to himself about himself.

As items of community they are also building blocks; able to secure qualification for us to enter a social group or a mental fraternity: Once again, with some deliberation, or else without our realisation of it.  William Blake said famously that ‘Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it’.  Blake also said with vehemence: ‘I must create a system of my own or else be enslaved by another man’s’.  Blake then was intensely aware of the use and purpose of our lives to be, as another poet said: ‘And I will make my soul’.

These stories that we tell to ourselves about ourselves might from another angle be considered as being part of our Sartrean ‘essence’. This Sartre saw as a quality not present in our existence from the very first, but instead always following on from, (and being created over time in us) our having come into the world at our births.

Sartre felt that this essence we create for ourselves necessarily engenders in us a ‘bad faith’.  He felt that because we are born as creatures without direction, meaning, and purpose; and because that we clutch for lifelines to which we cling to make sense of things, and by them fill this lack; that ours is a desperate case in which we stop a hole in our leaky ships of life by any material that comes to hand, and so build out of scraps of expedience something which we like to believe that and say that we are.

Sartre felt that our making, fabricating, ourselves like this was an act of human weakness; an act of grasping at straws, and so essentially unauthentic; and so creates lives always lived out in falsehood, even when lived out with a subjective sincerity. This, then, is how Sartre tells us a person generates ‘bad faith’ in his life.

You can see that Sartre and Blake owned mental lives at poles opposed to one another in many respects.  Creative persons and people of belief generally do own a life of thought in polar opposition to Sartre’s existential pessimism.

There is a further consideration to be made in an attempt at distinguishing a Sartrean ‘bad faith’ among those of us who own to, and model themselves around, and upon, instructive and celebratory stories.

When one knows one is telling oneself untruths in the stories one embraces as one’s model for one’s own life; perhaps Sartre is right; that there is a level of knowing self-deception which is being used by certain of us to ‘justify’ our attitudes and actions to ourselves; and in despite of ourselves?   This surely is ‘bad faith’ in any language?

Yet again, there are actors and storytellers themselves; whose livings are to portray and bring to life dramatic persona whose, actions, thoughts, words, done and spoken; all which as an actor or storyteller they does not believe in, nor might these be manifestations of stories held dear within their own life-choice stories?  Are acting and storytelling then exemplary items of ‘bad faith’ in their performers and performance?

Readers, movie-goers, opera-lovers, ballad, theatre and TV lovers; are they all at rock-bottom only indulgent mendacious self-deluders, because they will engage with and identify themselves in, and live out stories as they unfold as if they themselves were the very subject of them?

And then, are the historical stories we use to add a brick or a slate to our self-created identities, which help inform us of whom and what we are, are these also wadding and padding for our selves which we use to help us by way of illusion out of a quandary of existence?  And this regardless of the truth value or credibility of such tales as told to ourselves?

The George Sand and Chopin; the Elvis at Sun Studios stories; is it legitimate to own such stories within ourselves? Or are we all frauds at bottom?

Our emotional lives tell us we are not frauds and that we are good to own such stories to ourselves.  Our lives of reasoning might tell some of us something other than this; as Sartre’s did to himself; that the stories we tell ourselves and own as ours are flimsy props in a theatre of the absurd of our senseless lives.

However, the logic for considering connection and harmony between our emotional and reasoning lives seems clear. It rests on the status of our emotional lives; on whether these are prior in importance and in value to our rational lives; on whether these aspects of us are, or must necessarily be, in conflict with one another, completely or else in part; and on what might be the highest eminence of human value and whether this eminence might be characterised as being rational and/or emotional.

What might be an answer to these questions?  A viable, self-consistent, and practicable answer which satisfies all bases?  A marriage of thought and feeling; a marriage not of ‘heterogeneous ideas’ and feelings ‘yoked together by violence’; but perhaps it might be ‘a marriage made in Heaven’?

What would be the qualities asked of in such a ‘marriage’: conciliation, peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, faith - and to crown all – love?  These are feelings; they are also concepts.  They are feelings which when felt in us generate harmony; and act to harmonise one’s thought – to itself and to ones feelings.  And so the stories we should tell to ourselves then, so as to assume them as the building blocks creating our identities, seem to be stories which carry as their messages of import these conciliatory qualities.

You may look upon this startling fact as being an accident of nature; that such qualities when sought out for and practiced with endeavour, tend ever towards peace and joy toward, and for, others, and also in oneself.  It’s a pretty strange coincidence of nature that it should be so?

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