When I was back there in the hole under my parents’ house, I didn’t just sit around on my butt. Well, I did sit around on my butt, but I did so while reading a great deal. I couldn’t say I had learned a whole lot in college—excepting one class—the History of Civilization (sic)—that went on for two years, but I had managed to compile a pretty decent list of must-do reading. They had assigned us a bit of Nietzsche, for example, though from that wretched “Thus Spake…” but enough to wet my whistle, so I read more of him.
And I continued existentialism with background reading in Kierkegaard, and Heidegger’s Being and Time, and on phenomenology in general, especially Merleau Ponti. And, of course, more and more Sartre. I am probably one of the few people in the world who read Being and Nothing “just for fun.” Sartre says that the self arises from or rather is “anxiety.” I sat around worrying about whether I was authentic or not, and concluded I probably wasn’t or even if I were, I wouldn’t know it.
But Sartre, along with Camus, gave me a ready supply of rationalizations for my depression. Now, I was not fucked up precisely. Well, I was fucked up precisely, but that was because the world in general was fucked up. Not the world precisely, but the very nature of being qua being and as such. So during my first couple of years in college Camus afforded me a ready formulation for my state with his claim that the first and most important philosophical question—the asking of and by which one might claim to be a philosopher, however ephemerally—was whether or not to cap yourself.
People would ask me how I was doing and I would say, “I feel like fucking killing myself today.” I said it just like that too, flat out. No wonder I was not Joe-popular, and after a while 98% of the people around stopped asking me how I was doing, and I found myself relating with the 2% that like myself, deep down, were also thinking about killing themselves. This was not a happy group and being able to relate only to people who were thinking about killing themselves tended to reinforce my perception that existence was pretty shitty.
Had I been born in another time I might have made a pretty good monk. I could have gone around reminding people that they could die at any second and that the yearnings of the flesh were the path to nothingness in an official capacity and they would have had to listen to me whether they wanted to or not. As Saint Augustine said, something like, the yearnings of the flesh lead us “to lick after shadows.” And Buddha said, the worst thing that can happen to a human being is to be born.
But since I don’t believe in reincarnation, I would have to say that it’s not the worst thing; it’s the only fucking thing.