Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Exceptional Men

Exceptional Men
by Scott Bradley


Continuing his consideration of the philosophies of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and their contributions to modern thought, Jaspers (Reason and Existenz) observes that they were both exceptional men. Consider for a moment, if you will, what that means. Now, turn it on its head — if you were thinking this means they were 'great' men or 'geniuses'.

They were indeed exceptional, but primarily in the sense that they were lonely, tormented, different, alienated from their epoch — men who did not fit. And this was their greatness and their genius — or rather, what made their genius great. They were alienated from their epoch because they were the first expressions of its demise. The age of neat, all-explaining systems, as typified in Hegel, was coming to an end. Humanity needed to find new ways to cope. They were the sacrifice necessary to show the way.

Both were very much aware of their exceptionality, and wondered at it. Kierkegaard thought he might be "an unsuccessful experiment'', "an experimental rabbit, so to speak, for existence." Nietzsche asked that other philosophers "take care of the rule, since he was the exception".

A friend of mine likes to say that "madness is the new sanity". I wonder if this has not always been the case. Normalcy is, for me at least, a very scary prospect. (It would mean, among other things, I suspect, that I would care about what’s “trending”. Yikes!) This is no doubt largely a consequence of my rather jaundiced view of humanity.

We are an incredibly wonderful development to be sure, but we remain moral and spiritual Neanderthals. But not to worry, growth takes time, and the Neanderthals were ever much as wonderful and special as we, in any case. Yet the fact remains that what is considered ‘normal’ among us does not exemplify the way-of-being to which we aspire.

In the meantime, however, my point (I guess) is this: Do not fear to be different — to fail to fit. And do not see your consequent anguish as a blot on your soul. You are on the cutting edge, if not of the age, then at least of your own search for an authentic existence. Only this is not a given — you must make it so.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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