Last week, my wife suggested that we try and spice things up a bit. We were lying in bed and she said "How about we try some existentialism?". Which kind of hit me for six you know? We've been married for 16 years and in all that time, I never knew she was an existentialist. Usually we're quite conservative in the bedroom.
Every Tuesday night is philosophy night. We might occasionally have a quick philosophise on the weekend but otherwise we're quite a traditional couple. When you've been with someone for a long time you get to know what the other likes. For example I like nothing better than to be told that we come to know by reason and by ignoring the distractions of sense-perception. Whereas my wife likes me to give her a good bit of Empiricism. Being told roughly that reason alone yields substantial truths about reality, really gets her going. So I was surprised when she suggested bringing Existentialism into the bedroom.
Of course that's not to say we haven't experimented a bit before. Sometimes we like to throw in a bit of Pragmatism and even some German Idealism when we're in the mood. I mean who doesn't have a copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in their bedside drawer these days? You don't even have to go to the bookshop anymore, you can buy it on Amazon. The furthest we've gone is a very occasional bit of Phenomenology which quite frankly I wasn't very comfortable with. When it got to point of my wife trying to make me believe that objective judgments are grounded in conscious experience, it all became too intense and I had to use the safe word... "Aristotle".
That's not to say that I was totally naive about existentialism. In fact at university I did try it for a bit. I was young, I was experimenting with my concepts of reality, knowledge and existence. I was finding myself. So one term, I happened to fall for an existentialist. You can't help who you fancy. I was in my early 20s but it was a one time thing. I'm not ashamed of it, I don't regret it but it wasn't for me.
And so when my wife suggested Existentialism I was initially quite hesitant but I thought that within the confines of a loving and trusting relationship, who knows, it might be fun. So I agreed. We picked a Tuesday night, opened a bottle of wine and put on some mood music. My wife lay on her side with her hand under her chin and I lay on my back with my hands behind my head. Not the most flattering of positions for either of us and unusual for me as I like a lot of eye contact.
It didn't start well I have to say. My wife was very eager and just dived right in by telling me that we lived in a Godless, absurd world, devoid of meaning and significance, which shocked me. I went "Whoa! Slow down there honey. Nobody wants their world-view challenged that quickly". I mean you need to be warmed up a bit before getting to that.
So she started again, this time a bit more gently. She took out a copy of Jean-Paul Satre's Being and Nothingness and started to tell me that born into the material reality of one's body, in a material universe, one finds oneself inserted into being, which I found a bit uncomfortable initially but after a while felt quite pleasant. By the time she told me that consciousness has the ability to conceptualise possibilities, and to make them appear, or to annihilate them, I was absolutely loving it. I was lying there in ecstasy, realising that existence and the formal projection of a self are distinctly separate and within the means of human control but all the time in the back of my mind I'm thinking "Does this make me French? Does this make me French?".
In the end I had one of the most mind-blowing moments of self-actualisation I've ever had. I asked my wife if she'd hold me for a while afterwards but she said she wouldn't as we're all abandoned in the sense of being alone in the universe and the arbiters of our own essence. Which is fair enough I suppose.