My freshman year of college, I was part of a particular dorm called Roots which focused on giving the 24 of us that lived on the floor a foundation in the backbone of western civilization. Those eight months have been the only time in my life when I’ve actively thought about philosophy critically, clinically, academically. I think about ways of being often. Hell, this blog is a collection of essays about me considering how to be in the world and yet, I haven’t built upon that structure from my first year of Higher Education oh those many moons ago.
Windows to the Will: Anomalisa is an essay in Zadie Smith’s collection, Feel Free. In it, she reviews Charlie Kaufman’s animated film through the prism of philosophy, specifically Arthur Schopenhauer, of whom, Kaufman is clearly—to those who are scholars of the subject—a fan. It’s a brilliant essay, knowledgeable and smart and witty and fun in ways well beyond me, and it got me both to spend a few dollars to rent the film on YouTube and to think back on my Introduction to Logic class that was part of my year in Roots.
The film is exceptional in form and function even though I found the protagonist, Michael, insufferable. Smith seems to find some way to identify with him and his struggle to escape boredom and sameness. I had no such luck. There’s a very tender sex scene—amongst puppets, mind—and I think here is when you’re supposed to feel something for Michael as he shows such care and compassion for Lisa, a woman who he believes might save him from his dispassionate life. A woman who is different, until she sleeps with him. A woman who is special until he attains her. A woman whose fleeting uniqueness give him permission to cheat on his wife and be rude to everyone around except her. And then, it passes, and he loses this compassion for her. She becomes just like everyone else, and we see that he has no moral center at all, just an endless want for something more than all he’s been given.
I got an A in my Introduction to Logic class, yet I don’t know how. I found the work challenging and the philosophers, like Michael, mostly insufferable. I guess I understood the “math” of logic, but I couldn’t stand the dudes that came up with it. My assessment then was that these were men who couldn’t stand that they were merely human and not mythical heroes. Men for whom the human condition was a prison.
Get over yourselves, is what 19-year-old me must have thought.
I’m not sure that appraisal was wrong, but I’m thinking about spending more time with the great (?) philosophers this year.
Though, they all seem to be such jerks, maybe not.
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