Continental Philosophy – A Graphic Guide.

So last week, when I had my guitar holiday, I had plenty of time to read through various material and even better, 4 books. Reading proper books is something we should all do more of, myself included. I decided to finish reading “Continental Philosophy – A Graphic Guide” by Christopher Kul-Want & Piero.

It was an interesting read, with many intriguing ideas being mentioned briefly. A proper pop-science book, tailor-made for the masses I would assume.

The impression that I was left with is that Continental Philosophy has been allowed way too much influence in modern Europe. The idea of grammar being an eternal evil that forces human beings into perpetual slavery, is quite something.

Jul-Want’s book describes  Continental Philosophy’s end goal as breaking down the pillars that holds society together in order for human beings to finally attain freedom, regardless of the consequences.  The truth though is that we are all born into specific “matrixes” where you have to submit to certain rules of conduct in order to be “operative” within that specific system. Reject these “laws” and you have the most isolated of men, completely cut off from their fellow humans, due to a complete inability to function within the “system”.

You can think about Snapchat for example, how it allows us to communicate through pictures and facial expressions, well, we are taught that various facial expressions have certain meanings, which means that this could also be seen as “enslavement”. Since we’ve been “programmed” from infancy to allocate specific meanings to such and such. Sign language also follow certain rules, so if  you are to use any kind of communication, you need to use specific symbols, that have been allocated a specific meaning. In other words, there is no escape.

Jaques Lacan felt that “without some artificial system of symbolic order by which to organise “reality”, the individual would cease to exist” Slavoj Zizek also said ” Fictions structure our reality. If you take away from reality the symbolic fictions that regulate it, you lose reality itself”.

The idea on “breaking free from the chains” of standards created to uphold society and rules created to make interaction between the “players” within this system possible, can truly be observed in all its glory in Norway. Yes you read that right.

It doesn’t matter if you can spell right in my country of origin, putting an emphasis on correct language might “traumatized” little children, so not only have we abolished grades in elementary schools we are also trying our best to destroy the language. There has been a systematic move towards a school system, where you can write in your own dialect and where correct grammar isn’t really that important. This of course results in teachers who a) I have no idea what they are doing or b) teachers of a foreign background who cannot even talk Norwegian properly. This has of course also resulted in news articles and magazine editors being given the green light for ludicrous grammar use, sentence structures and words that don’t even exist. Printing and digitally publishing articles that could be more eloquently delivered by me – An international Norwegian ( I’ve lived the majority of my life abroad and only attended Norwegian schools during brief stays in my home country on 4 separate occasions).

The fact that I spot the sorry state of the Norwegian language, when it comes to articles and statements written by everyone from magazine editors, politicians, journalists and independent bloggers, really says it all.

This is the sort of culture you get if you are to “break free” from the shackles of grammar and sentence structure. Not that my grammar is perfect by any means, but it is a hell of a lot better than a lot of people who actually get paid to write, especially in my home country. I guess that the goal of Continental Philosophy is communication through grunts.

In Norway you are now also allowed by law, to define your own gender, as gender apparently is only a concept created by society. It is quite easy to know what you are, by…ehm..looking between your legs, unless you are a modern “liberal” or practise a philosophy of “breaking free” regardless of how “mongo” your society turns out.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the thinkers “sorted” under the Continental Philosophy umbrella are very interesting indeed. But as exciting as it can be to lose oneself in abstract discussion quotes such as these cannot possibly be set to proper use in terms of building or maintaining a social construct ” certain aspects of modern and postmodern art and literature reflects this view that knowledge is irreducible and lacks rules”.

I quite liked the quotes from/about Jaques Lacan , regarding his critique towards the 1968 movement ” you demand a new master, you will get it!”.

“Lacan sensed that underlying the students desire for change was a naive idea that freedom is to do as one pleases, thus elevating enjoyment to the level of an authoritarian imperative. In a similar critical vein, Slavoj Zizek has argued that the hedonistic tendencies of the generation of 1968 helped pave the way of the consumerist culture in the West of the late 20th century.”

I also took a liking to Sartre‘s ideas about freedom” The French people were never so free as when they were under Nazi occupation”. His reason for stating something that controversial, was that the French people were made acutely aware of the question of freedom while under occupation as said in the book ” For Sartre, freedom didn’t simply mean freedom of the will or freedom of action, as in the kind of freedom that a prisoner is deprived of. He meant freedom of conscience, the freedom to make decisions in whatever situation we find ourselves.” According to Sartre ” Man is condemned to be free”due to freedom of choice.

Albert Camus viewpoint that “life and existence are absurd” and that we “continually tell false stories to ourselves about ourselves” to function, fits well with modern books such as “You Are Not So Smart” and other current psychological articles.

The idea of whether or not we actually exist is also a good one, that took up a lot of my attention when I first read philosophy years ago.

Walter Benjamin appealed to me enormously when I read Kul-Want’s book and is a philosopher that I have to check out more closely. ” During the 1930s Benjamin compiled a massive dossier known as the “Arcades Project” recording the new inventions (photography, steel and glass arcades, gas lighting) and forms of consumption and the subjective experiences associated with modernity – of alienation, boredom and commodity fetishism – that developed during Napoleon III’s reign.”

“Benjamin asks whether there is specifically a revolutionary form of violence that does not re-institute the violence of the law?”.

” Benjamin claimed that through modern technological changes the narrative of humankind’s progress,far from achieving a utopian conclusion, results in eventual destruction”.

I found the short section about Theodor Adorno quite interesting as well ” For Adorno, the idea of happiness in art accommodates the status quo. Rather, he argued, the work of art should be oppositional, focusing the individual on the true inequalities and horrors of the world”. Walter Benjamin also believed that art could be used to shock people into action or be used as a source for people to live out destructive tendencies, without acting on them in the real world.

My conclusion? “Continental Philosophy” is an interesting read since the after shocks of its radical thinkers can be clearly felt today. The radicals of yesterday shaped the world into its current form of today. We are now feeling the repercussion of their bold philosophies and one can argue that it hasn’t exactly made us any stronger. Just like modern art was an attack on rules, it was equally an attack on everything beautiful and the idea that one should strive for mastery and perfection. Standards are mercilessly crushed and smashed into the ground by radical thinkers, as standards can be seen as the death of individualism and free thinking. The radicals laid dead the celebration of personal mastery as the ultimate goal, and equally laid dead its greatest victor – the individual who has exploited their personal potential to its fullest; rising above the standard. “In the absence of standards, emerges a degenerate edifice of social and cultural dysfunction” to quote my brother.


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