8th Grade Existentialism

Written: Sat Jul 13, 2002 9:03 am

When my stepson was in 8th grade, I saw a copy of Camus’ novel, “The Plague,” on his desk, and I was startled to think that such a book was required reading for an 8th grader, so I asked him “are you reading this for school?”

He became alarmed and said “Is it a bad book?” (he was worried that it was something he shouldn’t be reading).

I said, “No, it’s a fine book. I’m just surprised if they require you to read it.” He explained that it was not required reading. He simply chose it on his own because it seemed interesting.

He then asked me “What is surprising about an 8th grader reading Camus,…. what sort of writer is he?”

I said “Well, Camus is an Existentialist of sorts.”

Then he asked, “What is an Existentialist?”

I answered, “Aha, that is a very interesting question! Let’s look up Existentialism in the encyclopedia. But I guarantee you that when we are done reading the article, you will see that basically, it will say that it is hard to define Existentialism.”

We read the article on Existentialism together, and when we finished, he agreed that it didn’t really explain what Existentialism is.

I tried to explain, “If you keep reading lots of books by
Existentialists like Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, etc., then, very slowly, you will perhaps change and see the world through the eyes of the Existentialists, and you too will be Existentialist in your thinking. Similarly, if you read lots and lots of Plato’s dialogues, you will possibly slowly change and begin to see the world in Platonic terms. You are
Roman Catholic and have always gone to Catholic schools, so you see the world through the eyes of Catholicism.

So, then he asked, “Well, is that GOOD?” (i.e. is it good to see the world through the eyes of Existentialism.)

I answered, “It is not a matter of being good or bad, as if there is only one right way to see the world. BUT, I will say, it is far better to see the world through SOME kind of eyes, with some kind of perspective, be it Existentialist, Platonic, Roman Catholic, etc., then to not look at the world at all, and go through life with your eyes closed.”

That was an eighth grader’s first venture into existentialism.


The Dead Baby Factory
(poem based on an actual event with my step-son)

I remember how easily you laughed.
You laughed at the drop of a hat.
You laughed at the slightest thing.
When I was 49 and you were nine.

The TV groaned as usual.
The newscaster spoke of tragedy.
The death of many infants:
A pharmaceutical error
In quality control.

The TV voice
Repeated ad infinitum:
Dead babies….
…Babies dead
….Babies died

You starred blankly,
Immune to daily tragedy
Frankly, in a trance.

But I began to sing a silly song,
and dance a senseless dance:

“Oh, the dead baby factory,
Crunch those babies,
Grind them up,
Squish them,
Scrunch them…”

You laughed until you cried.
You rolled upon the floor
Beyond control.

Life is senseless.
We are senseless too.
We laughed ourselves senseless.

The more I sang and danced
The more you laughed.
Because you laughed,
I sang and danced all the more.
You doubled over
Rolling on the floor.

Laughter, song and dance
Until you pee your pants.

Human life IS, in reality,
A “Dead Baby Factory”,
Except they age the product
Until it’s slightly elderly.

With Ernest and Julio Gallo
We can say:
“We sell no wine before its time.”
But today we are having a special:
Buy one baby,
Get two free.

The shortest verse in Scripture:
“Jesus wept.”

And, as we danced and sang,
Those babies resurrect
And sing and dance with us
Clapping and keeping time.

Macabre or debonair?
I guess you had to be there!

The tragic and comic blur.

And there we were,
Lost in a moment of childhood,
Forever found,
Throwing humor
Against horror
And winning,
Sartrean humor
Against the anguish
Of senseless existence.

And there we ever are
In that lost and found collection
Realm of the trans-eternal
Moment of recollection
In life’s department store.

We are there right now,
Staring the Void in the face,
Beware be damned!
And back it stares at us and grins
And grimaces
With fun-house mirror faces.

We dance and sing with Nietzsche.

Well, why not?
Life is peachy!

– written (5/06/2003)


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2 Responses to “8th Grade Existentialism”

  1. Michael Moore – Capitalism movie « William Buell's Blog Says:

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  2. Cigars and the Humanities « William Buell's Blog Says:

    […] https://williambuell.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/8th-grade-existentialism/ […]

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