It was hard to watch the first season of NBC’s Blacklist without a couple of quotations from character Raymond Reddington staying in my mind.
Lizzy, there’s something I want you to understand about your father Sam.
That night when he took you in– without hesitation– Sam made a difficult choice that changed the course of his life.
And that’s where you find yourself now.
You can turn away and run from it.
You can hide from it.
And if you choose to do that, I’ll fly away.
Or you can face it and confront it engage it.
And maybe– maybe you prevail and rise above it.
Without ‘dumbing down’ existentialism, or even claiming that there is really one philosophical school with this name, it is clear that choice (and the difficulties that go along with it) is one of the themes that would have to be present for us to think of something as existentialist.
I always explain to my students that it is perfectly possible to be a religious existentialist – indeed if you can accept a more naturalistic reading of Nietzsche it starts to look as though existentialism has a deeply religious character.
Jean-Paul Sartre, however, was very much an atheistic existentialist. For him, it was the very ‘death of God’ that left us with a feeling he called abandonment, there are no objective rules to live by for we are not designed by any supreme being. There is no design for humans, so the very best we can do is choose the criteria we will choose by and not hide from the fact that we are doing so… This sounds strange but, according to Sartre, the majority of people live in a satate of consistently ans almost convincingly lying to themselves that this is the way thgs are. Sartre calls this mauvaise foi or ‘bad faith’. In episode 3, Red shots a verging on innocent IT guy saying only:
I believe I will always do whatever I feel I have to do to keep you alive.
Not all of Reddington’s statements fit with everything Sartre said for the latter believed that the ‘first few chapters’ never determine what someone will be, though he would completely agree that the end of the final chapter of our lives is the only time one can say that we have any concrete or fixed essence. For more, read what I have written about ‘Sartre on Nothingness’.