Romantics like to think of themselves as unique individuals who have the strength of character to go against the flow. They describe anyone who stays in the mainstream as a “conformist,” a word with negative connotations.
Romanticism promotes an anti-social emphasis on individuality and self-absorption. (photo: public domain)
Academic and novelist Ann Swinfen has some interesting things to say about this topic as it relates to C. S. Lewis’sTheChronicles of Narnia. In her work of literary criticism, In Defence of Fantasy (1984), she points out that Lewis was against individualism and in favour of conforming to religious orthodoxy and societal norms. His fiction reflects this strongly held rational philosophy.
Fear of death is mostly dread of the permanent loss of conscious awareness. We see that expiration, the snuffing out of the light, as the final irrevocable end of who we are, the irremediable dissolution of our identity. However, our consciousness is not who we are – it is only our way of knowing who we are. We prove this every night when we sleep and consciousness dissolves, only to magically reappear the next day. If consciousness is who we are, how do we survive this regular extinction? We survive because the self is who we really are.
Tradition can ease the fear of death by overcoming social- and self-alienation and providing assurance that some part of us will live on. (Image: wpclipart.com)
The self lives in the unconscious and the unconscious never sleeps. Picture it as a well-furnished room. We store our memories there. Consciousness is the light that enables us to see and know them. Switch off the light – as in sleep – and the furnished room remains, and we see it once more when consciousness, the light, returns.
French journalist and philosopher Albert Camus said, “man in the world is absurd.” Like so many recent Western philosophers, he was thinking of the individual rather than the human race as a whole. Camus felt that he (like all individuals) was alone in the world, and the world, being cold and inanimate, cared nothing for him. In return, he owed the indifferent world nothing. While he does end on a defiant note (we must stand against the uncaring world and take possession of it) this is definitely not a philosophy designed to infuse your spirit with joy.
Albert Camus’ emphasis on the individual left him with the feeling that “man in the world is absurd.” (Image: public domain)
Camus’ position arises from two sources: the human craving for meaning and the desire for individual immortality. In fact, he frames his entire argument from the perspective of the individual person. Nowhere does it occur to him that he might take a broader perspective, move to a higher level. When it comes to meaning and immortality, the concept of society (humans in organized groups) is not on the radar for Camus. There is only the wretched mortal individual and his pathetic lonely agony in a cruel world.
The heroes we see in today’s action movies are quite different from the heroes of legend and literature. Film – being short and dealing largely with externals – does not easily allow for deep insights into a character’s inner life. Heroes played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis are neither thoughtful nor subtle. They are never inwardly complex. Their heroism is all in the external world and conflicts are always struggles with other people or life-threatening situations. Such tales are certainly entertaining, but they provide nothing to illuminate the more psychological aspects of being human.
Heroes in myth, legend and literature are often profoundly troubled and provide deeper insights than action heroes. (Image: public Domain.)
In myths, legends, and literature heroes serve a greater purpose. Through their heroic struggles, they demonstrate more than just singular physical feats or acts of physical courage. There is an inward component to their heroic adventures. These heroes are often profoundly troubled people. They have inner conflicts that have rendered them social misfits. They may be unusually sensitive, and/or intelligent, and because they are so different from the “well-adjusted” they suffer. Their suffering forces them into seldom-used paths quite far from the collective ones approved by society. They strive for things never attempted by the ordinary person. The battles along the way provide a great opportunity for strengthening personal growth. By trying to ease their pain, they have become extraordinary. They have inadvertently become heroic.