YOLO, a bachelor thesis 2020



With this research I am inviting you to a journey through one’s speculations. 


Life is a constant movement, where moments are taken by other moments. In this cycle, creation becomes a tool for capturing these ephemeral glimpses. Most of the time we tend to forget to reflect, to remember these precise moments as experiences we once had. We take those moments for granted - perhaps it is in our nature to be ungrateful. I believe it is a natural human condition - to never feel fulfilled, constantly seek for something new. Perpetual restlessness. A consistency in life or an appreciation of a constant chaos? Something in between losing one’s mind and allowing imagination to flow freely. Is it a constant contradiction between change and stillness. Recently I have stumbled upon certain definitions of words that had allowed me to briefly digest a constant swing between contradictions of my own being. 

I have found comfort within these words. 


This particular research began with anguish of attempting to grasp a notion of one’s struggle for answers. In some cases it had brought me to the depths of absurdity, later it evolved into questions of existential phenomenons and at the very end I was struck by the established rules of society. I turned to history attempting to find comfort with similar minded revolutionaries keeping in mind the notion of history being an unexperienced past. Later realising all of what was written were speculations of historians, philosophers, critics and anthropologists. Each holding their own belief and explanation on a certain change, each telling their own story allowing me to reflect on myself. 

In the end I found comfort in the avant-garde divisionism. I found myself sympathising with romantic notions upon the world. I discovered a language of poetry being an expression in dealing with human communicational conditionings. I have decided  to dive into experiencing living as it is- this was brought up to me through comprehension of Fluxus. 


Imagination, Insanity, and The Separated Artist

My research begins with the desire to comprehend the image of the outsider figure. The reason for this is obviously the stereotyped image of the artist, but also the image of the madman. On March 11th this year I invited a person. He, as identified by himself, took on a route in pursuing a bohemian lifestyle. For me, he was a man who personified the outcast. A slight disillusionment with reality, through him I allowed myself to fall into an unexplored miscellaneous world. I invited him for a dialogue, an interview, which according to my preconceived plan had to manifest itself in some sort of an artwork. But the project went on. It escalated from me being an attentive observer to completely befriending an outcast. While romanticizing his unique understanding of the world I have exposed myself to a stream of imaginative forces that I shared with my subject. During the period of approximately 40 days, while being in a perpetual connection with this persona, I found myself creating works based purely on romantic conceptions. There was a need to disagree with societal constructs and psychological theories that positioned the outcast as the radical other, thus restricting the imaginative forces. A constant rush of new experiences made me aware of a feeling of unsettledness, which later reminded me of Jean Jack Rousseau’s theory of the child figure. Although the works produced during this particular period were coming from my convergence with a person I was with, some crucial understandings were made visible only later. One of the things I came to realize was that outcasts with a romantic view of the world, such as my subject, up to this day are invisible dwellers, experiencing different forms of displacement. But the individuality of my subject also invited a sense of awareness of my own being. Ultimately, through an established friendship with an outcast - my research began.


The human condition is in a constant flux, in a perpetual transformation. In society, ideologies arise as counterpoints to specific events - wars, pandemics, technological or scientific developments. Each happening brings with it a certain turmoil in the human psyche - inviting questions, creating a space for contemplation or in some other way displacing the individual from its habituated perception. The drive to exchange our views and our shared condition, leads us to form particular groups with our peers and co-thinkers. A movement starts. These individuals gather around a table seeking to find  a middle ground for the understanding of the human condition. Later they declare an ideology. They write down their current beliefs and reflections on society. 


Why do we do these certain actions - seeking for others and expressing our own beliefs? Perhaps all we are doing is simply looking for belonging, a sense of community. 


History taught us of the many separations between cultures, traditions, languages, beliefs, stylse, political structures, education etc. This separation partially derives from humans themselves, as well as their placement in the world, which raises two questions - how we, ourselves, create it and how our placement affects us? To partially grasp certain turmoils within our history, first, let’s find the beginning point where this division might have unfolded. 


The division I am particularly interested in is in between the beliefs of certain individuals and societies established judgments of those particular thoughts.


To begin understanding separateness requires understanding what is meant by the word individual. This specific use of the term appeared in the times of Romanticism. Fed up with the rational ideals held by the Enlightenment thinkers, the romantics had turned to the discovering of the self. As society was transitioning towards vast industrialization leading to urbanization and consumerism, the self experienced being neglected by society. An antithesis for this was found in the innocence of the child, which Jean Jack Rousseau mentioned in his book Emile or on Education. Rousseau proposes that the values of freedom, spontaneity and innocence should be central for humans to remain true to oneself. On this same topic, Oscar Wilde, in a book  The soul of man in socialism argues that art has the biggest power in developing romantic individualism - an open-mindedness, with strong potential for a change in human civilization. Wilde investigated romanticism, showcasing the artistic persona as the one standing against the development of machinery. Later in the book, Wilde specifies a crucial point on how individualism operates within  society, stating that what an individual is truly seeking, is simply a disturbance of monotony, tyranny of habit, and a reduction of man being perceived as a machine. The need to find a  place for oneself within society as an individual becomes a key point in the romantic movement. Instead of aiming to fit, the romantics declared a revolt for self-independence. This led artists, poets and writers to reflect upon their own selves within their own times, separate beings within their individual conditions. Thus using one’s imagination became a highly regarded tool in creating works of art. The technique of mimesis was condemned as being too artificial. Such romantic ideals were taken as something disconnected from society. Thus, terms such as Bohemian, outlaw, poète maudit or émigré began to be used in defining the romantics. This led to the creation of the stereotype of an artist as a misunderstood figure, alienated from society.


This misunderstood persona appeared as a threat to society - an individual who was openly exposing one’s metaphysical considerations of existence. German art historian Edgar Wind writes that “it is essential to the well-being of a society that the whole should be less mad than the parts” (Wind, 1960), emphasising the inevitable seclusion of certain groups of individuals. The need to expose one's conditions became an act of childish revoltedness against everything that was already established. Or, conversely, a desperate shout in searching for others experiencing similar conditions - a child trying to use a fork to eat soup. This raises a question, how wide one’s creativity may flow outside the borders of established rationality beliefs? 


In the lectures given on Art and Anarchy (1960), Edgar Wind discusses imagination as a power with great mysteries. However, he also argues that allowing one’s imagination to run wildly, might lead to getting destroyed by its excess. Wind draws a parallel to what Plato considered to be the divine madness. Plato believed that only an individual free from the constructs of society, who no longer possesses any duties, is able to produce divine works of art, thus praising a certain form of madness as a possibility for an expression of one’s creative forces. This leads to another question - why unleashed imagination is so closely related to madness?


Perhaps the answer lies within the alienation between the public and the individual who has given in to the mysteries of imagination. Michael Foucault, in his book Madness and Civilization draws a correlation between insanity and creativity, which also finds its expression in the arts. Let’s take the example of Francisco Goya's etch The sleep of reason produces monsters (1799) where the artist showcases a man, believed to be Goya himself, asleep at a drawing table, being haunted by mysterious creatures. On the etch there is a Spanish caption -  “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and source of their wonders.” Goya sympathized with the idea that unleashed imagination could allow one to transcend perception, nevertheless, leading one to misrepresent reality. Submerging into one’s own imagined reality requires one to voluntarily step out of the already given one. This stepping out is the link between madness and imagination and is the reason for the social misrepresentation which creates unnecessary isolation. 


Perhaps this is the reason why creative forces hold such a power over individuals and society as a whole. E. Wind in discussing Hegel, states that in the times of horrific disintegration artistic energies manifest in order for the stream of imagination to flow. This showcases the importance of societal disruption which creates a space for a child to shout out his needs and beliefs. The shout becomes a means to express the unfairness of forced isolation. At the same time it becomes a manifestation of one’s individuality in a multiplicity of miscellaneous worlds. 


This particular connection between despotism, alienation and creative force can be reviewed through Albert Camus’ writing on metaphysics in The Rebel. He states that the act of rebellion represents the search of the individual for unity. Camus’ metaphysical subject is thus an exiled individual whose inevitabile conditions also include revolt. Therefore, the disruptiveness of society finds its ground in accepting the inevitability of human unconditional revolt. In the need to find a positioning in certain conditions an individual seeks for a space. Camus relates this to art -“Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world (198p., The Rebel)”. Thus a revolt which derives from the alienation of an individual finds its shelter within acceptance of inevitability. The question arises where and in which form it settles? 


The case of voluntary exodus; or defining Avant-Garde

“The artist reconstructs the world to his plan” (Camus, 200) 


Moving away from romanticism and into the 20th century we can observe a shifting approach concerning the position of the outcast in society - from societal alienation to a voluntary resignation - a total abolition of establishments. By this we shall call out another stream - Avant-Garde, which will allow us to understand the notions of separateness, the metaphysical need for unity and the role of creativity deeper. 


Let me clarify myself, I am not interested in analysing the artworks of Avant-Garde artists, but rather investigating the fluctuating experiences of living and approaching life through the Avant-Garde lens and its consequential ideology.


The word “avant-garde” itself derives from the military dictionary, denoting soldiers who were ‘out in front’ in order to report the conditions on the front line. I could also compare the avant-garde to the second world war japanese kamikaze soldiers, who voluntarily initiated suicide attacks in order to protect their countries and its ideologies. From this perspective the emphasis is placed on the need to seek beyond. As if the conditioned individual is in search of his own land and for it is willing to sacrifice himself. Renato Poggioli in the book The Theory of Avant-Garde (1968) identified the movement of Avant-Garde as “the anxious search for new and virgin forms” (Poggioli, 57). From this new detached perspective there were no borders limiting Avant-Gardes’ stance on reality. Thus, all sorts of fresh ideologies were able to sprout from certain groups of individuals - forming their own inner circles in order to reflect upon the human condition. Meanwhile, a form of declaration, better known as a manifesto, was introduced to the followers of the avant-garde way of living.  


The original concept of a manifesto was first introduced by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who launched the Comunist Manifesto in which they described their political stances on social structures. What particularly draws attention, is the fact that the propositions given by K. Marx and F. Engels stood for preliminary the same ideas as those of the avant-gardist - a need to annihilate separateness. The segregation that the Comunist Manifesto approached was observed through the lens of social classes, while in the case of Avant-Garde we shall approach it through the perspective of the individual’s alienation caused by its partially voluntary exodus from society. Thus, the form of the manifesto allowed individuals to collectively declare their frustrations. Fillipo Tommaso Marinetti wrote the Futurist manifesto, within which he stressed out the notion of perpetual change, therefore highlighting the rejection of the past and bringing the focus to the present time. In this way the Futurists increasingly emphasised the modern man, who’s journey hand in hand with technology later led to a preposterous glorification of war - “We will glorify war - the world’s only hygiene” (Futurist Manifesto).


Futurism is closely linked to Fascism because of its pro-military and anti-female notions. What particularly catches attention is the original stand point of Marinetti’s manifesto - an attempt for a new world order where one is willing to sacrifice oneself in the name of ideology. Quoting the manifesto itself - “...beautiful ideas worth dying for...”. Thus, the ideology of japanese soldiers manifests itself in the principles laid out in the Futurist manifesto.  Similarly, the notion of antagonism, an embedded desire for opposition, plays a central role in the development of the Avant-Garde way of thinking. This showcases how the demand for antagonistic unity and a wish to reach similar minded individuals, has led to the expressions of one’s rebelliousness in the format of a manifesto. Concluding, another question arises, what was meant by the abolition of the past within the ideology of the Avant-Garde?


In order to understand the concept of the present moment we shall remember what E. Wind underlined when defining the connection between collective societal upheavals and creative forces. This particular connection unfolds through the movement of the Avant-Garde named Dada bringing us back to the notion of the constantly fluctuating human existence. Dada is known as the most infantilistic movement, due to  its use of nonsense, intuition, absurdity and playfulness. Perhaps, however, Dada unconsciously has something else to state.  The deeper roots of dadaism can be associated with nihilism. The primal Nietzschean idea of God being dead leads to the individual being left only with the present moment. In a sense, the absence of universal truth, which for centuries was seen as a transcendence into something greater, smashes the individual with what is left, so to say, the here-and-now. In order to elaborate, the state of society during the times of Dadaism must be taken into account. The tremendous tragedies of the First World War had struck dada thinkers with only one option - to submerge into a contemplation and exclamation of what is presently happening - wiping out the past and with no proposition for the future. 


A. Camus writes - “...rebellion hinges on everything that aims at falsely replacing the vanished deity and reflects dishonour on a world which undoubtedly has no direction but which remains the only proving-ground...” (Camus,41). The concept of the present moment manifests itself through the comprehension of the inevitable unknown. Abolishing the past and without clear future propositions an individual is left with uncertainty. In the case of Dada,  this leads one to take a position of absurdity, thus supporting infantilism. The founder of Dadaism Tristan Tzara states in the manifesto - “Dada does not mean anything”, which then reinforces the nihilistic approach and simultaneously stresses out the infinite possibilities of what could be acted out in the present moment. By removing the responsibility from itself, Dada invites the individual to strip away from the pressures of a predefined understanding of the past. An individual with no construction of the past and no plan for the future is thus free to create.


Why was it important to call out specific Avant-Garde movements and their ideologies within this specific research? So far we have stumbled upon certain universal human conditions - rebelliousness, which was compared to the child figure, as well as imagination and its possible ways of manifesting through an individual. Concerning the modern avant-gardes, the interaffection between society and the individual was brought up, thus exemplifying the shift from the alienated romantic self to a self that decides to become separated, while accepting certain inevitabilities as part of the human condition. 


On November 25th of last year I moved houses. It was not a regular move from one apartment to another, rather it was a movement from a three room apartment to a former 20th century hospital which was taken over in the beginning of 70s’ as an act of rebellion against housing issues. The building is home for over 250 people, each one of whom is responsible for maintaining the well-being of the building. An inner child searching for a same-minded community has found a harbour for a moment. The people inhabiting the building have taught me how to live in the present moment, how to cherish when you have everything or nothing at all. Living amongst anonymous artists, rebels, outcasts, musicians, philosophers, writers, astronomers, teachers, lunatics, farmers, historians, sailors, grandpas and grandmas, former punks, contemporary hippies and all other possible manifestations of individuality, invited a feeling of modern avant-garde nostalgia. There floats an unwritten rule - every one is allowed to be their true selves. The moment I settled in, I was greatly welcomed. Entering as an observer, but following the desire for  curiosity, I ended up in activities that presented to me what could be meant by experiencing moments. One night, by chance I hopped into a van of one of the residents of the building, who brought me to some food waste containers. He opened one of the containers and shortly explained to me how to distinguish  which food can be collected. In that precise moment I had experienced a surge of excitement, which was followed by disappointment towards society and finally exploded through the spirit of creativity. I took out my camera and began documenting the action. The project later evolved into a series of documentations called Skipping. In the end, despite the instrumentality of documentation and the perks of having a fridge full of food, I came to some more revelatory realizations. The action for me was not about seizuring wasted food or extracting some sort of an art work, it was about that specific glimpse of the moment and the specific combination of experiences which went through my being. While I was not alone in this choice, that exact night I voluntarily accepted becoming an outlaw of society. I began to share time with the residents of the building, mutually celebrating each arriving moment. The gatherings in the main area where some would play live music. The rooftop where different thoughts were shared. Someone’s room where comfort for each other was granted. 


Klaudija, how could this peculiar way of living be connected to the concept of being present, as expressed in the Avant-Garde theories?


Quite frankly, the connection is the acceptance of the here-and-now, the need to disobey the structures imposed by society and the wish to celebrate living. Perhaps, occasionally reflecting through artistic lenses. 


The need for finding this lens has led me to the notion of conversation between I and the other, which found its format in a dialogue. Thus within the need to grasp the experience of experience, language stepped in as a means to share the experience between I and the other. However, we could also claim that language alters the way we experience things. Martin Heidegger has described language as a means of connecting to the other as well as to the self, which he claimed to be of significant importance in understanding the act of being in this world. 


The case of Poetics; or the search to make a dialogue 


While investigating language, another word steps in - a poetic language. 


The case of poetics plays a role in allowing us to understand how an everyday communicational tool - language gets its balance between imaginative forces and rational reasoning. 


When considering language as an instrument it is crucial to see how differently it is being approached in poetics. To emphasise the difference in the use of language I will investigate Michael Oakeshott’s The Voice of Poetry in The Conversation of Mankind, where Oakeshott gives a rather peculiar approach towards poetics. First, he clarifies what a conversation means, stating that each voice is a reflection of a human activity (491p.). Oakeshott distinguishes four types of speech - a voice of practical activity, a voice of science, a voice of history and a voice of poetry. The voice of practical activity, which derives from symbolic language, is believed to be the most universal voice in the human kind. This voice leads to a desire for symbolic language and rationality, which Oaekeshott argues is achieved through the imitation of other selves. Thus, the voice of practical activity is inauthentic, leading humans, as Oakeshott states, to boredom caused by constant repetition. Although there is no true way of escaping symbolic language, Oakeshott brings an emphasis on contemplation, which he identifies with the voice of poetry. By the means of poetry, a voice finds its authenticity since it does not derive neither from an already constructed image, nor from previously established facts. The voice of poetry becomes an immediate touch. To better comprehend this notion, Oakeshott compares poetic activity to the activity of creating by the drive of imagining. For example, fictional characters of writers are created where they no longer belong to the world of practical time nor space. Our desires to comprehend are overtaken by contemplating wonder. Poetic imagining creates a sphere where inquiries of other voices loses its power and for a moment allows one to escape constructed realities of agreed symbolic signals. It provides a sphere to create novel notions. As Oakeshott puts it - “a poet does not do these things: first experience or observe or recollect an emotion, then contemplate it, and finally seek a means expressing the results of his contemplation : he does one thing only, he imagines poetically” (Oakeshott, 525) This formulation, of the immediacy of the poetics experiences is vital in understanding how the voice of poetry coordinates everyday life. The poetic experience becomes an activity where one’s contemplative imagining is invited. Thus, no longer there’s a need for following other voices and instead one is able to create an authentic voice of its own. 


How important is the voice of poetry in our society? 


The voice of poetry allows one to speak in one’s own manner. Compared to the voice of practical activity, the voice of poetry appears only when one is freed from the constructs of others. Accordingly, poetic activity can be compared to aesthetic experience because of its capacity for creating autonomous character. Thus, the activity of creating falls into the category of the poetic voice. 

To showcase how the poetic voice gets its meaning in art, we will analyse works of George Brecht and Alison Knowles who both use poetic language in creating instruction cards. Both artists are coming from the Fluxus movement whose artistic practice focuses on the encounters of the everyday. George Brecht has built his works based on scores, where cards would hold specific instructions for a spectator to act out. With this technique Brecht experimented with perceptual capacities while using the simplest approach - language play. For example, a card of water showcased three steps of water stream ( coming from ; staying ; going to ) symbolising, so to say,  an immediate touch with perception. Brecht gives another way of contemplating water while dismantling the normative ways of perceiving, allowing the spectator to use imagination for experiencing another kind of perception. By creating a poetic imaginary image, Brecht strips down the perception of the everyday and creates a space for contemplating one’s experiencing of one’s own surroundings. In a way Brecht questions the voice of practical activity - he takes into consideration what is perceived as a natural phenomena of water flow and with an authentic voice invites the viewer to one more time contemplate the water flow of our imagination.


Alison Knowles created scores in which she gave a rather absurdist approach to the mundane use of language. Conversation (1962) was an instruction card in which the artist invites the audience to perform their own injury as an invitation and sole focus of a conversation with a stranger. At first glance, one might wonder why one even needs instruction on how to start a conversation, unless a conversation is perceived as a play. This conversation-as-play is used by Knowles to showcase how the most common everyday communication act - a conversation, can be approached from a totally different angle. The instruction suggests to put on a bandage as a conversation starter. The receiver of a communication act will never know if the injury took place. The conversation is thus invited to wonder. It is not positioned in facts or already preconceived conversational rules. The voice of Knowles becomes an example of how poetic imagination creates a space for another to contemplate. 


Why does it become important to recognize the differences between these voices and their usage? By exploring these different voices within M. Oakeshott theories, we are able to draw a parallel to the experience of separateness. There is a gap between the voice of practical activity and the voice of poetry, both fluctuating within society. The poetic voice offers a place for contemplating the breaking down of predeterminate structures, thus creating certain bewilderments within symbolic establishments. Thus, when one embodies an authentic voice one unintentionally resigns from preconceived structures, from the practical voice.  Accordingly, when one accepts the voice of poetry, one is able to create free from constructs. 


In the book Poetry, Language, Thought Martin Heidegger supports the notion of poetic language as the ultimately pure spoken language that every one of us has in possession. Heidegger insists that there is a need to return to poetics in order to escape rational attempts of understanding reality. Acknowledging the power the voice of poetry has over an individual allows that same individual to enhance one's own vision of the world.


Acknowledging the inevitabilities of the human condition; acceptance

As we have seen, certain ideological or voluntary separations between individuals leads humans to incessantly change and shift, pushing them to either adapt to or abandon particular societal conditions. Manifestations of individuality allow one to contemplate, reflect, accept and create. Awareness is brought up as a tool for acknowledging the finite relationships between the different activities. The endless progress of humans in the world brings in the realization that for every action there is an equivalent reaction, whilst any cause necessary results in a certain effect. Whether it is the effect of alienation or of  voluntary separation - in recognizing it, one is able to position oneself amongst the causes, as if in order to move forward one has to awake its inner rebel and empower its own voice.  


Perhaps, for one to move forward one has to submit to the presence? 


A Case for Experience and Living 

Futurism and Dada supported my first baby steps. Fluxus has shown me a world where a certain degree of voluntary separation from society is possible, bringing awareness to the present moment. Dick Higgins writes - “Fluxus is not : a moment in history or an art movement. Fluxus is: a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way of life and death” (Higgins,1997). Etymologically, the word fluxus comes from the latin fluere, to flow, which also refers to the constant change within the lived experience of the individual. Fluxus brought into attention the mundane, the everyday, the present, and has shown how the present moment can be more holistically embraced, experienced and observed. 


Fluxus expressed emphasis on the present; in philosophy such emphasis can be observed in the tradition of phenomenology, which takes as its starting point the experience of the embodied subject. While researching my own awareness of experiencing the present and the mundane, I have stumbled upon Martin Heiddeger’s notion of being thrown (ger.: geworfen) into the world. In the book Being and Time (1927) Heidegger formulates the notion of being thrown as a means of understanding our being’s temporality. Thus, the process of being thrown should be taken as an action which orientates an individual into a range of possibilities within the spectrum of being-in-the-world. It directs an individual to acknowledge the present as a temporal structure, since as Heidegger states - being thrown in the world has already happened. A suggestion is made to act upon one’s own seeking for what truly matters. In relation to the fluxus attitude, the notion of possibilities becomes a key point in overcoming this thrownness into the world, since possibilities suggest techniques for emphasising the temporality and simultaneity exalted by the present moment.


Thus, what particularly interests me is the notion of chance, which allows one to experience infinite ways of manifesting being’s presence within the confines of temporality. John Cage created a chance method through which he was searching for new means of expressing the infinite possibilities for expression one has. This way Cage emphasized the process of chance in all life activities. The metaphysical reach for wholeness, which Cage compared to nature is expressed through the intentional nature of human experience. From the human perspective, nature has no pre-set intentions, while humans are able to create structures as a means to sort out this metaphysical feeling of being thrown. By fully submitting to effects of chance, Caged highlighted the more natural dimensions of expression, thus overcoming the conception of pre based formulas in the expression of human being. Cage was developing his notion of chance through an investigation of Eastern philosophies, specifically in teachings of Zen. In Zen Buddhist philosophy, the world is seen as an intertwined relationship between constant flux and chance. Thus the relationship between Cage’s chance method and the Zen philosophy, gave a foundation for an artistic process grounded and embodied within the ordinary, drawing an emphasis on the everyday encounters. 


In January 2020, the notion of chance had brought me to destroying my own project. I gave myself a possibility to experience what it is to let life be decided by the flip of a coin. Cage claimed that the chance method allows for a space free from intentionality and invites a closer connection with our pre-intentional nature. While living according to the decisions made by a coin, I have discovered a few peculiarities present within the chance method. To begin with, having no possibility to choose in any immediate sense, did leave me with a number of undefinable unintentional outcomes. Nevertheless, choosing which decisions should be made by chance allowed me to still nurture some sorts of intentions. Thus, even though I left some decisions for chance, I had power in deciding which decisions I shall give to the consideration of the coin. This made me question how much chance actually played a role, and how much freedom from my own intentions I had. To challenge this questioning, on January 31st, while developing an extensive project, I flipped a coin for deciding whether the project should be destroyed. The coin said yes. Thus, I have destroyed what was already developed within the project. In retrospect, this experience has given me a realization that one’s own intentions can challenge oneself, an awareness that one’s own intentional stance upon the infinite possibilities can manifest its existence in the world.


Our intentional stance towards realizing and understanding the experience of being thrown in the world brings us to Heidegger’s concepts of dwelling and building. We could say that the comprehension of being thrown becomes an essence of being, thus dwelling becomes a means for delivering meaning to our existential thrownness in-the-world. Through the concepts of dwelling and building we will be able to illuminate our rebelliousness that is seeking unity and desires to belong. To dwell, according to Heidegger, is to accept the conditions of the unknown, which each mortal carries while thinking linearly about the concept of time. The lack of clarity in life invites one to dwell, to seek for meaningful space. In this case, the notion of space has a different connotation - what Heidegger identifies as the primal oneness. Deriving from his understanding of being-in-the-world, space becomes the world which unfolds through the fourfold - through beings' relation with earth, the sky, divinities and mortals. Accordingly, the way a being is able to cope within the fourfold, reveals the embeddedness of being in the fluctuation of the world. The notion of building steps in, representing the connection between being in an act of dwelling in a search for a momentary position. Heidegger stresses out the connection between these definitions by arguing that in order to dwell one must build. To understand what could be meant by the term build Heidegger gives an example of a bridge. The pivotal task of the bridge, he argues, becomes a gathering of separate components, in this way bringing the fourfold together - allowing mortals to dwell in between the things. Thus, a bridge plays a role in connecting being with another being, as well as being and the space in-between. The concept of building allows us to unveil the metaphysical need of humans to come together and share each other's dwelling. An instance of this can be observed in Fluxus, which exemplifies how dwelling is in a perpetual state of building. 


Instead of building bridges, Fluxus made an island.  The founder of the Fluxus movement, George (Jurgis) Maciunas, developed an international system for Fluxus to mediate and reach out for individuals  from all kinds of places and backgrounds of the world.  


Jonas Mekas in his diary I Seem To Live wrote- “I seem to enjoy only brief glimpses of intimacy, happiness. <...> I do not believe they could be extended, prolonged. So I keep moving, ahead, looking ahead for other moments”.  The awareness Jonas Mekas shares with readers gives a certain sense of relief in settling within a glimpse of one’s condition of existence. As Mekas states, the diary showcases his attempt to regain a lost paradise. Acknowledging the displacement caused by societal turmoils he had found a safe harbour in embodying his existential being through the lens of a camera - as if for a brief moment attempting to catch his own dwelling in the world. In the ‘homemade’ movie As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I saw Brief Glimpses Of Beauty Mekas has built a five-hour ecstatic journey through the joys of daily living. The Fluxian approach towards chance manifests itself in the assemblage of the video material, guided by intuition rather than intention. Mekas uses a machine to mediate between memory and the paradise of his epiphanic moments. Through  filming he is able to  preserve and celebrate the present moment. This way, his film has no clear narrative, there is no beginning nor an ending, everything happens simultaneously, at the same time. He reconfigures the temporality of events while openly questioning himself : “I am not so sure what I am doing. It’s all chance…”. Although this might look as a confusion of one's existence, Jonas Mekas showcases it as one of the conditions of being a human, inviting us to accept the beauty of the unknown. Occasionally addressing the viewer as a friend, Mekas creates a place for one to feel welcome on his journey. Although, soberly, works of J.Mekas were only concerned with living, it allowed the viewer to notice the unseen beauty of life. Thus, even if we are only watching somebody else's life narrative, we still have an ability to identify with it. Consequently, creativity becomes a manifestation of life, and maybe more importantly - a tool to deal with our everyday existential conditions.


In the text Freedom? Nothingness? Time? Fluxus and the Laboratory of Ideas, one of the Fluxus members, Ken Friedman, writes how each individual who joins Fluxus is coming from different social groups, environments and career occupations. He mentions Daniel Spoerri, a ballet dancer, Dick Higgins, a typographer, George Maciunas, an architect and Henry Flynt, a mathematician. Each of these individuals carried with them the notion of experiencing life in itself. Friedman rejected the idea of calling any action art and chose to highlight the experience of life and its senses. To quote Friedman himself - “I never did become a minister. Instead, I pursued a daily life.” What particularly draws attention is the fact that the coming together of individuals from a wide range of social activities exemplifies the shared need for belongingness to a certain community. Thus, in Fluxus, a wish to exclamate life in itself is the primal force uniting the individuals. Awareness is brought to the fresh perspective of the everyday. 


While searching for my own lost or perhaps yet undiscovered paradise I have made the decision to refer to my process not as a creative activity but as an occupation with experience itself. This comfort for the reinterpretation of my creative process was supported by Fluxusattitude. This particular notion derives from Dick Higgins theoretical writings on the Fluxus essentials, in which he also argues on the ability of creativity to flow through any matter, defining it as intermedia. While the concept of intermedia allowed Higgins to merge different art mediums, I would like to propose a broader spectrum of what intermedia could incorporate. If we consider the definition of fluxus as constant flow, Higgins intermedia would be the means of highlighting the process rather than the end means. In a way, that combination of any mediums gave space to experimentation within otherwise established borders. Whilst erasing any preconceptions of what an artwork should be, Higgins based this way of thinking in an attempt to present life itself as a work of art. In an essay on intermedia, Higgins talks about his fellow friend Allan Kaprow, whose happenings merged with everyday activities. Although the term was used to describe a new form of emerging art, the original philosophy behind happenings showcases a simple approach towards the gatherings of similar minded individuals. While seeking ways to bring forward the experience of the present moment, Kaprow succeeded in completely blurring the line between institutional definitions of art and life. The purpose of a happening became the experimentation and the play between individuals - therefore inviting the spectator to become a creator as well. Happenings and the related notion of intermedia, has thus brought attention to the importance of community as a foundational force for creativity. The creative process thus became distributed amongst people and different media, which exemplifies the importance of the process of making and sharing, rather than the final ends.

This particular understanding of the intertwined dimensions of the creative process brings me back to what A. Camus stressed in the book  The Rebel, stating that “according to the revolutionary interpreters of the phenomenology there will be no art in reconciled society. Beauty will be lived and no longer imagined” (Camus, 199). From this statement of Camus, a question rises - could it be that Fluxus had reached the total abandonment of separateness of art as some quasi-religious figure in the world ? I believe it did. George (Jurgis) Maciunas was occupied with drawing diagrams and seeking to find answers to the same historical questions that guided me in this thesis. Meanwhile, Dick Higgins introduced a tool for blending artistic practice in a combination of all sorts of possible mediums for expression. Finally, Allan Kaprow has declared the elimination of the line between art and life. In his critical book “After the End of Art”, Arthur Danto summarizes these certain actions by stating that art after a process of self-realization took on a route towards criticality. Thus, this same awareness of experience of the everyday brings an understanding that art, as a phenomena, is a form of dwelling, present within each being. Art can no longer be separated as a subject but rather should be accepted as a way to experience life in itself. Be it in the opening up of new perceptions, in the blending definitions, or the unleashing of imagination, perhaps in the creation of ideologies, or celebrations of life - within all of these actions the spirit of creativity flows.



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The Birth of A Rebel:


When a child is born into being, he cries at the very first instance, indicating himself as a human being. According to Husserlʻs phenomenology of embodiment, at this very moment the wholeness the infant possessed in his motherʻs womb no longer exists - he now embodies his own flesh. A child becomes aware of his new existential liberties by being exposed to a lack of physical freedom. For Immanuel Kant this is the reason why a child comes into the world with a loud cry. In his book Anthropology From A Pragmatic Point Of View Kant describes how belonging to a body but not yet being able to control it leaves a child in a helpless situation. In contrast, other mammal infants are capable of monitoring their limbs from the first day. For Kant, the newborn’s cry presents an innate judgement concerning the unfair conditions of his existence from the moment he is born. Screaming becomes a tool for expressing the unsatisfactory conditions under which the infant is placed. And even though the child’s cognitive abilities are only starting to develop, on a metaphysical level an infant is already conscious of the unjust conditions he was born into. Still unaware, a rebel is born. 




Every step of the human experience is guided by certain rebellion. We will always find something displeasing, therefore we will always revolt against something in order to reach what we are aiming for. The experience of reaching/attempting is the only solution in changing the condition under which we are placed at that certain moment. And yet, without ever reaching the desired totality, feeling as if some homunculus is constantly dissatisfied with our unreached desires, blaming either authorities or ourselves, protesting for a greater good. To understand why humans have this constant urge for resistance I will look at a person's early life stages through the lens of psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan, Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson and their analysis of how the human psyche evolves. I will compare and contrast the psychoanalytic notions of ego, the “mirror stage” and the adolescent identity crisis, with Albert Camus’ existential philosophy as presented in his essay book The Rebel.


Albert Camus presents the reader with a metaphysical significance of rebellion, raising the question - why does one rebel? For Camus a rebel is one who seeks affirmation in existence, declaring that something about life is worth fighting for- ”in order to exist, man must rebel” . Throughout his analysis, Camus takes the example of a slave who at certain moments decides to disobey the given rules and stand for his own authority. By refusing to obey, the slave finds his self-worth through overcoming. Here in the same way a child cries at birth, a slave raises his voice too. For Camus, the slave’s discovery of a rebel's voice presents the unjust position he finds himself in. Now, the rebel adopts an all or nothing attitude. “All” becomes what the rebel is reaching for and is willing to be identified with, while “nothing” stands for the possibility that “all” could be sacrificed by the powers that govern him. That is to say that both notions would lead the rebel to an unavoidable final defeat - death, “better to die on oneʻs feet than to live on oneʻs knees”- writes Camus. Death becomes a consequence of oneʻs rebellion. But for a rebel - death symbolises sacrifice for a greater good that he considers more important than oneself.  Coming back to the parallel between the infant’s naive position and the rebellious slave we see a correlation that both are in some way unsatisfied of the conditions they have been placed in as human beings. 


The Creation of “I am”


Further in a childʻs growth, when he is already able to monitor his limbs and respond to the outside world, he starts to seek recognition - the formation of individuality begins. According to french psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the phase when a child (6-18 months old) identifies itself as an individual for the first time - is called the mirror-stage. The moment a child identifies itself with the reflection in the mirror is the jubilation of the childʻs self-image. The mirror-stage transforms the childʻs imaginary fragmented body into a whole bodily experience. This, according to J. Lacan is the moment when a child starts identifying himself with his own individuality. A child identifies his body to his mind. However, a transformation  only happens on the imaginary basis - the struggle of what a child perceives and what he actually is, begins. While our mind is capable of holding both imaginary and realistic thoughts, what we perceive through the mirror is considered to be the ʻrealʻ image of ourselves. Since the real image must be acknowledged through others recognition, Lacan in this stage follows Sigmund Freudʻs theory of ego, stating that that is where the first ego formations appear.  The mirror stage is a cause of a rift between the unconscious id and the conscious ego. For J. Lacan, a child in the mirror phase perceives himself as constructed of the imagined identity of what he would like to be, rather than of perceiving behind the construct of what the real subject is. The childʻs desires are projected onto the image he is perceiving and therefore confusing the child and the image. With the establishment of ego, a child for the first time identifies himself  with an “I“. Now, the childʻs recognition of his true self is prioritised. The childʻs jubilation happens through the reflections of “others” - the ones who also recognise his image. The ego cannot exist without the presence of the other, therefore if the other mis-recognises the image, the childʻs transition into being becomes a struggle. External images pressure the development of the child’s self with pre-established acceptable appearances. 


Furthermore, Freud in his notable paper The Ego and The Id analyses the relation between the unconscious id and conscious ego in a childʻs development. “The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world” - states S. Freud. In other words, the ego controls the instinctual id’s needs whilst reasoning it. While id is present from birth and works according to the pleasure principle (the immediate fulfillment of needs), the ego establishes itself when one starts accepting oneself as an “I am” and works together with the reality principle (develops a relation between an unrealistic world and the socially acceptable reality). Here, ego represses idʻs unacceptable behaviour and transforms it into a suppressed form - in other words - a socially acceptable attitude. Though id still remains, ego becomes the one that dominates, since as Freud exemplifies “the ego is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse”. As a child develops his first identity, he becomes aware of the external world reconstructing his social behaviour. The mirror stage now reflects a constellation of the subject represented by external relations. The same way a rebel encounters his condition, a child attempts to fit-in in the external world while developing itself.  The first conscious protest in search of a childʻs true self begins. 


Metaphysical Rebellion in The Context of A. Camus “The Rebel”


Albert Camus continues in his book to examine a more deeper meaning of rebellion, describing it as a metaphysical rebellion. “Metaphysical rebellion is the means by which a man protests against his condition and against the whole of creation”- states Camus. To better comprehend the idea of a metaphysical rebel Camus gives the parallel of a rebellious slave. A slave rebels disapproving his current state and seeks affirmation of his freedom, while a metaphysical rebel protests against the whole human condition declaring his dissatisfaction towards the universe. A metaphysical rebel protests against the human condition through life and death, which for a metaphysical rebel appears to be unjust. He refuses to accept mortality and in this sense he rejects the power that gives him life. Camus defines a metaphysical rebel as blasphemous, “he simply blasphemes, primarily in the name of order, by denouncing God as the origin of death and as the supreme disillusionment”. To help in understanding the context of blasphemy, Camus suggests to compare it with slave-master relations. The existence of a slave can only be affirmed by a master and vice versa. The metaphysical rebel acts in a similar way, raging against the inevitable power of existence, accepting the power in the moment of questioning. This inquiry  brings awareness to a rebel, by making clear his undeniable condition. In comparison to the child who  experiences himself for first time through a mirror, a metaphysical rebel shatters his image and desire to be recognised as equal to God. In both cases the subject is left dissatisfied with the condition of being, due to the lack of recognition as an equal in relation to something greater or something to be desired. The metaphysical revolution ends by losing its original purpose.


Destruction of Ego - The Rise of Instincts 


Later on in the book Camus takes historical figures as examples for metaphysical rebellion, beginning with Sade’s story, which I will focus on. An infamous historical figure, Marquis de Sade was a french nobleman and writer, who is mainly known for his libertine outlook on sexuality. It was due to this, that he spent around 32 years in various prisons and asylums. Camus introduces him as the “first theoretician of absolute rebellion”. In the same way a metaphysical rebel reaches to be equal with God, Sade conceives the idea of God as an equal and jumps to extreme conclusions - “if God kills and repudiates mankind there is nothing to stop one repudiating and killing oneʻs fellow-men” quotes Camus from Sade’s 1782 Dialogue. Sade’s tremendous revenge is transmitted through repudiation of morality and a full-blown devotion to instinctual being. Sadeʻs hatred for mankind liberates his sexual instincts. Camus here clarifies Sadeʻs statement “Sade denies God in the name of nature and makes nature a power bent on destruction”. For Sade nature is sex : with this logic leading him to an ultimate energy of desires he pleads for the freedom held by instincts. Freudʻs aforementioned theory of the id and the ego in this case can be applied to Sadeʻs story as well. Sadeʻs hatred towards humanity and its injustices deviates into a form of repressed sexual desire, which according to Freud rests in our id apparatus, thus we could claim that Sade’s abandonment of social morals pushes him towards an immediate satisfaction of desires in this way presenting his pure rebellion against social morals. Disillusioned with humanity, Sade turns to his individual needs. Left alone behind prison bars Sade liberates his most instinctual desires in the form of writing. His most notable work One Hundred And Twenty Days of Sodom, which Sade wrote whilst imprisoned in Bastille tower for over 10 years. The story takes place in a castle surrounded by forests where four male libertines decide to isolate themselves from society and dive into experiencing the ultimate gratification of their violent sexual desires. The libertines created a harem of 36 teenagers using them as guinea pigs for their erotic experiments. In the novel, Sade no longer identifies victims as human beings, but instead as objects. Following Camus’ interpretation of Sadeʻs logic that we universally agree for man to be held as a material species, then manʻs physical body should be treated as an object and moreover as an object for unlimited experiments. We can again see a parallel with  Freudʻs theory - when socially accepted norms are no longer required, our instinctual side no longer needs to be withheld. Therefore, our material bodies become experiments for our unconscious apparatus. Camus questions Sadeʻs formula of universal destruction. For Camus, Sade’s expression through natural instincts demonstrates a need for escape from despair, which according to Sade leads to human annihilation.  Hence, Camus underlines the importance of a metaphysical rebellion against the unwritten power of authority. Though the rebel could be liberated by/in his mind, just as Sade was, his conditions will remain the way society has constructed them, in Sadeʻs case - a prison. 


Rebellion in Early Adolescence


Teenage years are well known as the most rebellious in human development. At this stage a child, who has already established an understanding of who he is, enters a limbo between leaving the child position and slowly entering an attitude of a young grown up. It is a time when a childʻs ego is being reexamined by a teenager who is creating a new identity. With the rise of the individual, the need for new authorities increases. While in childhood one’s perceived role models are parents, during adolescence the parental authority collapses. The German-American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson describes this phase as an ʻidentity versus role confusionʻ, where he differentiates teenagers from children, based on how they both perceive the present moment. For a child, thoughts of the future do not exist - their reality is still intertwined with a fictional world, while a teenager has already began thinking about the future and feels the urge to get rid of the constructed fictional world. This led Erikson to coin the term ʻidentity crisisʻ, by which he refers to the teenagers goal of finding a new identity, which is triggered by the pressure from social morals and acceptance. During this phase the teenager aims to construct his own unique individuality with a valued sense of self in society. To reach this goal teenagers tend to rebel against what they had when they were still identified as children. Acts, such as running away from home, violent behaviour, drug abuse and vandalism for E. Erikson constitute the teenage rebellion. The transition to adulthood brings new physical, social and emotional changes, for E. Erikson it seems natural to have some psychological difficulties. Led by confusion in the search of new authorities, teenagers, according to E. Erikson, tend to form peer groups, which help them to deal more easily with the upcoming changes. Just as the child sees himself for the first time in a mirror, the same way teenagers establish the mirror stage between each other by imitating one another in order to find their own unique personalities. Therefore, the adolescent stage of rebellion can be compared to A. Camus’ rebel and blasphemer. Blasphemy is embedded in the adolescent transition. Hence, teenagers revolting against authorities appear to be in a fight with the goal to assimilate with authorities - an immediate demand to be recognised as equal.  


Nihilism In The Context of A. Camus’ The Rebel


“When a man submits God to a moral judgement, he kills Him in his own heart”- A.Camus  begins a critical analysis on Nietzscheʻs rebellious philosophy. Nietzscheʻs work in the nineteenth century could be  considered extremely rebellious, since his view on a socially non-existent God and a will to glorify a ʻsupermanʻ, according to Camus, leads him to a destruction of doctrinal morals and the inevitable acceptance of universal suffering. For Nietzsche the affirmation of inability to believe, demonstrates the contemporary culture which is in search of a new God: one whose values replace the old ones. From this point of view Nietzsche condemns Christianity since it imposes an imaginary meaning of life whereas the real meaning is rather hidden in immediate reach. Therefore, Nietzsche suggests perceiving the world as it is, where nothing should be added to make it more jubilant, each individual must suffer personally with the evil the world contains. While Nietzsche replaces God with Man, but still accepts evil as part of the world where recognition of suffering is the only liberation, Camus raises a question “Can one live, believing in nothing?”. Camus tries to answer it with a nihilistic approach: a man who got rid of God and moral idols now stands alone, without a master. From the moment a man stands alone he must take everything, including suffering into consideration, unless he cannot stand without the law, he must surrender to lucidity. Thus, for Nietzsche the ultimate freedom does not exist amongst many, but only amongst the few. Camus interprets this as the end of metaphysical rebellion and a beginning of human revolution, since any kind of morality is rejected together with the rejection of God. The aforementioned example of a rebel in the confusion of “all” or “nothing” in relation to Nietzscheʻs work gains a meaning of “yes” or “no”.  Since the world is without moral judgement, a murderer is free to say yes to a killing of a man. As Camus suggests with the example of the slave- “ if the slave says yes to everything, he consents to the existence of a master and to his own sufferings”. Though a metaphysical rebellion in its initial stage was against the lie and the crime of existence with Nietzschean approach it refused the ethics together with the acceptance of the world. Therefore, Camus calls Nietzsche a prophet, since after Nietzscheʻs death in 1900 his nihilistic views would become fatal to the world. Nietzscheʻs previously  mentioned glorification of the ʻsupermanʻ (Übermensch) manifests his beliefs in intelligence, where aristocracy is able to practise virtue without asking for a reason. For Camus, this statement only leads to examples of twentieth century concentration camps despite his misinterpretation of Nietzscheʻs theories. In spite of this, Camus demonstrates Nietzscheʻs bright ideas of salvation - “The transmutation of values consists only in replacing critical values by creative values”- Camus writes in comparison to Nietzscheʻs thoughts on creation. Nietzsche believed that a world should be reconstructed by culture (literature, music, arts).  Since Man replaces God, he becomes responsible for a new creation. For Camus, in order to establish Nietzschean virtues, one should not leave the history of mankind behind. As Camus interprets it - “once he had escaped from Godʻs prison, his first care was to construct the prison of history and of reason, thus putting the finishing touch”. Therefore, a rebel creates his own imprisonment with new morals that one individually holds. Hence, with a new creation mankind remains burdened by the past’s need to be fully understood. The rebel now stands alone, and as Camus adds next - “I rebel, therefore we exist <...> And we are alone”.  




From the first tears of an infant till the last breath, humankind through its various stages of life will face frustration towards the meaning of existence. The establishment of social morals and oneʻs will to fit in  demonstrates difficulties in building oneʻs individuality. As a child perceives himself through a mirror and a slave realises his values, both cultivate a build up of new individualities. This leads to the establishment of awareness towards a dissatisfaction with oneʻs condition, which occurs up until the last unfair defeat - death. A rebel simultaneously accepts death as inevitable, whilst leaving it to be solved in the future. Therefore, the history of humankind should be accepted with the aim of ending universal suffering in order to recognize the present moment with the values it holds. In the last paragraph of the book Camus writes - “Rebellion proves, in this way, that it is the very moment of life and that it cannot be denied without renouncing life”.  Thus, the spirit of rebellion is a central aspect of humanityʻs search for self-improvement. 


Art in the Context of Rebellion


Regardless of said inevitable conditions, there is a path which may allow to experience the world in a different perspective. Art. Creation brings into consideration society’s perception of the universe. As far as the rebellious impulse exists alongside it there will be art.  In the same way that a rebel establishes new values, an artist strives to create new images of the world simultaneously rejecting reality and at the same time recognising it, the artists hold responsibility for manifesting it in a work of art.  In the fourth chapter of the book, Camus analyses the relation between art and rebellion. “Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world. But it rejects the world on account of what it lacks and in the name of what it sometimes is” - writes Camus introducing the purpose of art. In comparison, through history Camus compares different periods and how they influence creativity. Camus presents an example of Platoʻs statement- whereas beauty is regarded more important than the world, what differentiates it from the modern times is that morality banishes beauty - it calls into question social morals. This could be seen as one of the tasks of art - it forces us to look back into history and the present with a alternative perspective. The time period after nihilism, according to Camus, had made creation primitive, as a result of intense madness towards unity. Here we see how contrasting art reacts together with historical revolutions. Coming back to the thought of art being a mediator of reality, a parallel with metaphysical rebellion shows how one sympathises with existence. While an artist creates a new image, a rebel creates a value towards the image. Thus both aspects are interconnected. As Camus writes about the revolutionary interpreters of phenomenology- “there will be no art in reconciled society. Beauty will be lived and no longer imagined”. As long as there are misunderstood values and an aim towards unity, there will be mediated reflections from art. As long as rebellions exist, art will walk alongside it.   




Albert Camus, 1951.  “The Rebel”  260p. 


Sigmund Freud, 1923. “The Ego and The Id” free pdf ebook




Radostin Kaloianov essay  “Hegel, Kojeve and Lacan - The Metamorphoses of Dialectics” 




Immanuel Kant, 1785.  “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View”  167-168p.




Erik Erikson “Profiles in Psychology” 



Rebelling Against Human Condition, 2019

Klaudija, Why Happiness?


The interest in grasping the topic of happiness began when I started noticing how rarely people in my close surroundings concern themselves with the question of happiness. For a long time I held the belief that happiness is something contained within every human being and for myself took it for granted. To ask one if he/she is happy seemed to be a cliche question, instead asking something more precise seemed to be more relevant. This brought me to an unstoppable curiosity to understand why people avoid questioning happiness. The research of happiness brought me to the very beginning of  philosophical inquiry in which, apparently, the question of happiness is closely related to the meaning of the human existence itself. Thus, through this essay I will look at how the concept of happiness changed from the very beginning of philosophy and up until the contemporary era. Factors such as politics, economy and religion will be taken as reference points in order to present happiness from multiple angles. With this essay I am not trying to find the ultimate answer to the question of happiness but rather to analyze why the meaning of happiness was important throughout human history. Rather than guiding the essay with my own interpretations I take the position of a neutral observer. I believe, that the meaning of happiness is answered by each person individually and most importantly one should first seek to answer the question within himself/herself.


The First Definitions


The first philosopher who took into consideration the question of happiness was Aristotle. In his most notable work Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle presents a theory of happiness, which revolves around two crucial questions - ‘what is meant by the word happiness?’ and ‘where can one find happiness?’. With the first question, Aristotle examines the linguistic aspect of happiness. The Greek word for happiness - eudaimonia, directly translates to ‘worthwhile life’. Thus, for Aristotle happiness is the grand goal of every human life - ‘it is for the sake of happiness that we all do everything else we do’. Similarly, Aristotle states that any activity which works according to virtue is a definition of happiness. The knowledge of human virtue derives from a consideration of the function of human beings. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the function of humans must be a life of reason, therefore a good human with good virtues, one who is able to philosophise and base one’s thoughts in reason can accomplish a worthwhile life. To acknowledge happiness, according to Aristotle, requires a person to set his priorities and to have a plan for life. Therefore, Aristotle builds the notion of happiness as being self-sufficient, so that it allows to bring independence and stability into one's life. 

With his second question, Aristotle examines three contrasting poles of human activity - a life of pleasure, a life of politics, and a life of study. A life of pleasure, , according to Aristotle, does not offer permanent happiness, on the contrary - it only works the moment human pleasures are satisfied. The example of a politician relates to virtuous actions in public life.  Third, a life of study, Aristotle gives a profound reason why this formula, according to him, fits best with the idea of happiness. Whereas the pleasures can be taken away by sickness and age, money can get stolen or spent on useless pleasures, to philosophise one has to possess only a few necessities of life. The enlightenment of one’s mind cannot be taken by any other means, which makes the life of a study the true final goal in Aristotle’s conception of happiness.


Eudaimonia And Its Evolution Into Other Theories


Stoics agreed with Aristotle, in that they also saw a close-bound relationship between happiness and virtue. Similarly to Aristotle, they valued the human ability to philosophise uttermost. Though Stoics where very much inspired by the Aristotelian notion of happiness, they did incorporate one particular shift. Stoics claimed that happiness once possessed could not be lost. Because of this, the wise man has become the ultimate symbol of a virtuous/happy life. Another crucial point Stoics claimed, was one’s cohesion with nature. Stoics believed that happiness has nothing to do with the material possession, hence the ability to philosophise is naturally intangible. A good example here, is the philosopher Diogenes the Cynic, who, even before the school of Stoicism,   has practiced the Stoic conception of happiness. For Diogenes, happiness stemmed from the simplicity of life and, similarly to Stoics, from the union with nature. Although the writings of Diogenes were never discovered, his lifestyle has become a philosophy in itself. Better known as Diogenes the Dog, the philosopher propagated a dog life. For him, a comparison with a dog presented the simplicity of one’s life, where the social status or superficial desires seemed artless. Diogenes was known to have only possessed a piece of rag and a wooden bowl. However, as the epic anecdote about Diogenes states, he got rid of the bowl, after seeing a boy sipping water straight from his hands, since a bowl is already too much of a material attachment. Today we might confuse  Diogenes to be a mentally unstable, homeless man, but during the age of the great minds his knowledge was regarded as essential to the philosophy of Cynicism and laid the foundations for Stoic philosophy. 


Contrasting poles between Ancient Western Philosophy and ancient Eastern philosophy 


A century earlier before Aristotle,on the other side of the globe in the far east, the wisdom of Buddha began to spread. Buddha’s teachings took a different road in the conception of happiness. For him, suffering is an inevitable part of  human life. In the Four Noble Truths Buddha states that suffering comes from each karmic rebirth causing people to get attached to desire, therefore creating illusional alleviations. According to Buddha’s teaching, one who believes in owning a permanent self is doomed to suffer, as a result of  humans deep commitment to one’s  body, one’s live, one’s mind and knowledge. In Buddhism happiness is seen as unattainable. Buddhism suggests to pursue balance between suffering and happiness, rather than striving for ultimate joy. For this balance to be exercised, Buddhism teaches selflessness towards others, and thus the ego in buddhism is perceived as an illusion - an aftermath of human desires and false impressions about the true state of happiness. 


For Aristotle, happiness is achieved by the individual’s virtuousness. In Buddhism the balance between suffering and happiness is achieved, through compassion and devotion to others.  Comparing Buddhist teachings with Stoicism, both share fundamental similarities -both schools preach  happiness as a simple life, where one has little need in possessing material possessions. Furthermore, Stoicism invites one to live in accordance with nature, similarly to the Buddhist notion of living in the present moment. Even though these two notions present comparable foundations in philosophies, in exercising these theories, both schools of thought provide different paths. In the case of desire, Buddhism teaches renunciation, while Stoics suggest practice in temperance. These contrasts and similarities in the conception of happiness in eastern and western philosophy , presents the contrasting poles, of these cultures,on the general understanding of what a human being is and what is its meaning. 


Christianity And Its Promise Of Happiness


During the Christian era, the concept of happiness was altered by the notion of a God figure. While the concept of eudaimonia in western society was seen as a self-centered purpose, with the rise of  monotheistic religions the other became a necessary factor in perceiving happiness. Christianity brought up the concept of a divine afterlife with a promise of everlasting happiness in the City of God (Heaven). Same way as Aristotle, a prominent philosopher St.Augustine agreed upon the approach that happiness is the supreme good. However, for St.Augustine the supreme good was seen as the true happiness through the vision of God, which could only be attained in an afterlife. 

The concept of a divine afterlife for St.Augustine derives from the Christian story of Adam and Eve and their first sin. St.Augustine argues that the first sin makes all human beings condemned to carry their original ancestors vice. St.Augustine suggests that without the original vice humans would not be able to reach their grace. The correct balance between human flaws and mercy allow humans to attain a worthwhile life on Earth and contributes to the fairness in the face of God in the judgement for the afterlife. St.Augustine assures that divine assistance will be given to those who live a virtuous life in their pursuit of an immortal happiness. 


Inspired by the theories of St.Augustine and Aristotle, a christian saint philosopher Thomas Aquinas raises a different question with a new necessity. If one keeps the balance between vice and grace, how can one still commit sin and remain happy. Aquinas distinguishes happiness from certain human goods. For him, happiness derives from a divine grace in the face of God, while certain humanly goods can be obtained without necessarily the aid of the divine. One will attempt to pursue happiness in the same way as one perceives happiness. This leads to the fundamental Christian canon- “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ”(Matt 22.verse 39). If each human being has its own path in reaching the divine happiness, one should fully respect the path of the other.


Modern Era: The Changing Conception of  Happiness 


The capacity for rational thought allowed humans to establish social structures, communities and cultural traditions. Individuals started to cooperate in pursuing their basic needs, generating complex social forms. In the face of a massive capitalist industrialization human welfare became a necessity. During the period of the 19th century, the worldwide economy increased rapidly, and as a consequence the question of one’s happiness became an influential factor in sustaining the empowered capitalist system. The capitalist asked how can complex systems please single individuals and sustain such fulfillment, so that the structure can maintain the needed labour. Utilitarianism declared happiness to be a universally shared value. Utilitarians perceived happiness as something that could be measured, hence they created a theory of value and a theory of right action.. Although in certain situations measuring happiness seemed to be aa way towards equality, it took poor attention of one’s personal needs and welfare. Industrialization blended individuals into masses, creating a boisterous industrial-strength. As a consequence, alienation in  work space, uprooted families and destroyed traditional communities created chaos in an individual's life. This sudden upheaval created space for a new political system, one  that would take into account individuals needs. 

Socialism contempted the universal measure of happiness and instead suggested to consider each human being as an individual with a different set of human qualities and needs. Socialists promised people a working space in classless, non competitive orders, thus bringing people back to life in community. They believed that happiness depends ultimately on nurturing individuals, but as well the associations they form. The famous aphorism of socialism “ from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs ” created a notion of minimizing one’s needs in accordance to one’s neighbour needs. The outcome failed to exercise the perfect module for human beings to sustain their individual happiness, which led people to depreciating their internal achievements. Both utilitarianism and socialism attempted to support depraved conditions of a working individual maintain the economy in less hideous conditions and yet collapsed as a result of providing too little consideration of individuality.


Happiness Propaganda


As a result of heavy developments of capitalism through economics, consumerism emerged within individuals. The notion of capitalism allowed people to purchase not only the basic needs but as well fulfill their desires, and by doing so achieve happiness with the aid of material goods. But how did the concept of eudaimonia, which disregards desires as a path towards happiness,converted into something opposite in modern society. Hence, for the economic monster to work, masses needed to be willing to consume, and to consume people need a reason. The knowledge of psychoanalysis was central in this. Edward Bernays, who was a prominent happiness propagandist in the beginning of the 20th century, had applied his uncles S.Freud theories in order to control the buying masses. Bernays was aware of  repressed unconscious desires, which he manipulated to create an emotional connection with a product. He changed the concept “ you need it” to “you will feel better”, thus leading people to a distorted concept of happiness. The formula worked equally for both parties, fulfilling the individual's desires,as well as keeping the growth of the economy. People were told into trust their desires as a key to unlimited happiness. Measuring one’s happiness, became measuring one’s riches - the more you have, the happier you are. 

Unfortunately, the false notion of happiness through satisfaction of desires slowly led masses into an upheaval. 

Here, S. Freud was fully aware that such a false notion of happiness can lead the masses to an upheaval, since one’s desires cannot be ever fully satisfied because of one’s primitive, instinctive forces. Manipulation of these forces could guide humanity into a catastrophe. 

Freud believed that if the libido forces were unleashed and used in order to control power, the aggressive inner feeling of the masses would get provoked, which indeed happened during the Great depression years which followed to the Second World War.


Phenomenological Approach Onto Happiness


Stephen Strasser, a phenomenologist who was mainly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger theories of being, defined happiness as a coherent, meaningful phenomenon. The topic of happiness, which according to Strasser, was inconceivable to grasp, should always remain open-ended because of its experiential solidity. Remembering Aristotelian and modern approach towards happiness, in phenomenology, both cases could be applied as notions of happiness, since one’s aim in being happy is equally meaningful as being good-in-itself. Strasser, on the contrary to other philosophers, leaves space to human desires naming them as temporal transcendence inherent to becoming happy. However, where does this urge of grasping happiness comes from? Strasser simply answers it with regards to human metaphysical incompleteness which leads the happiness to be essential for the wholeness. Each individual, according to phenomenology, is active in a meta-intentional urge of fulfillment. Happiness becomes a tool for a human to complete his meaningful existence. Strasser distinguishes a form of happiness - contentment. The comfortability of one’s life accompanies the mundane life through social, political and economical conditions in the pursuit of one’s happiness. Happiness becomes a mode of personal fulfillment. Another form which Strasser underlines - a happiness of luck, chance or triumph. This phenomena brings back eudaimonic happiness as fundamental in understanding the happiness of good fortune. Strasser notes that the happiness of good fortune could be perceived as the one which could be measured. Thus, a phenomena of fortune has a close comparison to utilitarian vision of happiness. However, Strasser points out contradictory judgement on this form of happiness, since it can get easily blended with one’s personal success, leading one to a self-glorification process. The third form, to which Strasser gives most credits is the happiness of transcending anticipation. Realizing happiness as transcending anticipation provides a possibility for a higher affirmation of life, not only at the present moment, but as well as in the future. It involves the infinite power of creation through which happiness may be released. For this experience to manifest, Strasser incorporates the notion of myths. According to him, these worldly affairs allow one to attain a global perspective on life, thus allowing to embody oneself in the experience of myths. Happiness as transcending anticipation completes one’s content happiness in a way that one no longer needs to be content with the conditions, in the transcending sense, one can be content with the life one has been given. 



Having presented an overview of different notions of happiness throughout ancient and modern philosophy, I, now sitting in the contemporary era, perceive that all the mentioned theories are still applicable to each individual, even though in modern times the concept of happiness was converted into a notion of fulfillment of one’s desires, which overinflated the importance of understanding why one has a necessity for a worthwhile life. Nevertheless the phenomenological approach to human metaphysical incompleteness gives an answer to the question why the meaning of happiness is an important factor of human existence. Just like Aristotle placed happiness as the ultimate goal of one’s life, the modern phenomenological studies unravel eudaimonia in one’s search for wholeness. In Buddhism happiness is also seen as unattainable, and it becomes clear why the action of reaching-for-happiness is more essential than the end goal. Having in mind Christianity notion of happiness, the same perception of reaching for happiness clarifies the importance of everlasting happiness in the afterlife. So to say, each theory presents the importance of human ability of reasoning one’s actions within choosing a purpose - a worthwhile life. This also explains why the question of happiness can not be fully answered and as Strasser says, it should be left open-ended because we are in a constant search for the meaning of our own existence. As mentioned in the first paragraph, I remain with the same opinion, which states that each individual chooses his/her own path of experiencing happiness.


Art Practice As Key To Happiness


Regardless of the position of the neutral observer in the search of happiness, I want to propose another point that stems from my own understanding of happiness - artistic practice. When an artist builds multiple perspectives into a single object, he/she allows for different paths to emerge. And it is not something that could be taught or mastered in art institutions, it is simply, a way of living something inherent within each individual the moment one steps into this world. The proof of arts deep-rootedness within our psycho-physical mechanism can be seen in children, who regardless of the factual purpose of certain objects are able to co-modify them into a joyous experience. Children are a good example of this - they jump in puddles, instead of avoiding them, they play in the sand, instead of trying to stay clean. Marcel Proust writes that the ultimate meaning of being can only be found in art, since just like in childhood, it offers a different perspective from that of our daily lives. For M. Proust the opposite of art is habit which becomes largely manifested through societal structures. The artist, on the other hand, is able to strip the shroud of habit and provide a new perspective on life. Taking into account Strassers phenomenology and his concept of human incompleteness, I believe art can uniquely connect one’s will for constant search of truth with one’s concern for happiness. Art provides freedom for the individual to express these baffling searches and later reflect on possible meanings of existence. Nevertheless, as Aristotle and Stoics jubilated the life of a study, I jubilate the life of art, since to study one has to generate thoughts and ideas, one is already in a creative process. Therefore art is one of the tools which can provide infinite paths for experiencing/comprehending/perceiving/being happiness.




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The Buddha, His Life and Teaching,  Piyadassi Thera, 1982


Life after Capitalism , Robert Skidelsky, 2011


The Pursuit of Happiness under Socialism and Capitalism, Charles Murray, 1991


The Century of the Self - Part 1: "Happiness Machines" , Adam Curtis, 2002


The Phenomenology of Happiness: Stephen Strasser’s Eidetic Explication , Eugene M. DeRobertis, 2016

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Utility: Happiness in Philosophical and Economic Thought,  Chapter- The Philosophy of Happiness, Anthony John Patrick Kenny, 2006

To Experience Happiness, 2019