"Who are you?"
Halloween has been haunting me.
While it feels like the transformative holiday was moons ago, I still have a ringing in my ear.
"Who are you?"
This inquiry is only fun when we can confidently answers this question, eloquently coupled with further details about how we so adequately resemble our costume. It was an answer we handled with great care — knowing the answer days in advance.
Now, without my concrete answers – '20s flapper girl, Daphne from Scooby Doo and Hindu Deity, Vasana – who am I?
Although this question is daunting, it's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who has felt obliged to interrogate the self. This question, along with similar others such as "What is life?," "What is my true essence/ identity?" and "What does being alive mean?" are classified as existential questions.
These questions are the foundation for a philosophy known as existentialism.
The main subject in existential thinking is the individual: one's own thinking process, actions and feelings. During the years following World War II, when self-reflective thoughts about life and death became abundant, the movement grew in popularity.
Two 20th-century philosophers – Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus – are considered to be the founders of existentialism, this philosophical and cultural movement with fundamental roots in both Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegaard.
Since existentialism is based in individuality, there is no single existential view on any topic. Its etymology and the above question prove to give the most concise definition. The word is a combination of the root words 'existence' and 'essence.'
Underlying themes of existential philosophy concentrate on human freedom, authenticity and experiences like dread and anxiety; the theory attempts to ask the hard questions and puts pressure on the individual to give meaning to their life outside of what society and religion decide.
A starting point for this philosophy, after addressing the difficult questions, is to look at how you deal with the confusion or disorientation of our seemingly absurd world.
Sartre put his doctrine into three words – "existence precedes essence." Only after you decided who you are and what your essence is can you truly live.
Sartre also argued that, "A person is free to choose his or her own destiny and that the one thing we cannot do is fail to choose," emphasizing the need to ask the big question, "Who am I?"
He thought humans often tried to escape their freedom by clinging to some unquestionable fact, such as religion; he called this pattern "bad faith."
During an existential crisis, like the one I am having, it is nice to learn about your identity crisis under the lens of acclaimed philosophers who offer guidelines and fancy quotes.
But the dirty work still lies within.
If you have found yourself in a similar post-traumatic-Halloween-existential-crisis, feel free to continue your research into the minds of Sartre and Camus.
They both wrote plenty of fiction and philosophy to indulge in between classes. I can personally recommend two works, one from each. Sartre's play, "No Exit" is short and eerie, where three strangers find themselves in a room they cannot leave. The quote, "People are hell," comes from this work.
Camus wrote a more extensive novel, "The Plague," that studies the effects of our absurd world and the questions his characters must ask when a plague hits town.
The research does not have to stop here though, movies and books, such as Fight Club, The Matrix, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Clockwork Orange, Badlands, and Slaughterhouse-Five, all include a heavy existential baseline frameworks.
If you weren't having an existential crisis before reading this, I hope you are now. Let's all be collectively alone in this endeavor to find out who we are, where we are going and what exactly all this means in the first place.
Julie Mrozinski is a junior in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.