What is Existentialism?
“Existentialism is not a philosophy but a label for several widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. It is not a school of thought nor reducible to any set of tenets. The three writers who appear invariably on every list of “existentialists’ – Jaspers, Heidegger and Sartre -are not in agreement on essentials. Such alleged precursors as Pascal and Kierkegaard differed from all three men by being dedicated Christians; and Pascal was a Catholic of sorts while Kierkegaard was a Protestant’s Protestant. If, as is often done, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are included in the fold, we must make room for an impassioned anti-Christian and an even more fanatical Greek-Orthodox Russian imperialist. By the time we consider adding Rilke, Kafka, and Camus, it become plain that one essential feature shared by all these men is their perfervid individualism.
The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life – that is the heart of existentialism.”
Kaufmann, Walter. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Meridian Books, 1956, pp. 11-12.
Thus, to understand human nature or existence, requires more than what science can tell us, whether psychology, physics, biology and/or chemistry. Existentialism does not deny the value of these lines of inquiry, no more than a robust moral theory. But taken by themselves they miss the central fact of being human. And what is that? What idea can be found which unites such a diverse set of thinkers as noted by Kaufmann above? Authenticity. At the core of existentialist thought is a fervent belief in personal authenticity; that is its categorical imperative.
Crowell, Steven, “Existentialism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
In Blood Sapphire’s Revenge we find Staff Sergeant Haddy Abrams the existentialist. Her goal in life is to be authentic to the core. Early on she adopts her mother’s Judaism yet is deeply in touch with her own inner chaos. She feels alienated. She is angry at life, out of joint. Her father is dead, and his murder is tied to her birth. Life appears, as Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes boldly announces, is meaningless, a vapor of vapors.
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
(Ecc 1:2 NIV)
“Teacher: Life is fleeting, like a passing mist.
It is like trying to catch hold of a breath;
All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.”
(Ecc 1:2 The Voice)
In short, Haddy is far more in touch with Nietzschean angst than Orthodox Judaic thought. When she is raped and must face Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion during her recovery in her grandfather’s home, Haddy can only lash out at the God who must be responsible. She must be authentic to her own roiling horrific emotions. And she must pursue a course of action (an elite sniper in the Israel Defense Force) which allows her to express this authenticity. Therefore, against all reason, she has grown tired of living. This is not clinical depression, treatable with pills, but a deep-seated revolt against the meaningless of life itself.