Friday, November 22, 2013

Stoic Existentialism - Moby Dick and The Grey


In the movie The Grey I found the narrative a rich source of metaphors for a Stoic Existentialism similar to that in the classic work of Herman Melville, Moby Dick. The cold winter wilderness in the Grey can be compared to the deep mysterious ocean in Moby Dick.

The wolves particularly the pack leader (The Alpha) can be compared to the great Whale in Moby Dick. The difference of course is that Ottway's group was trying to get away from the menace of the wolves where Ahab's group was in pursuit of the great Whale. Just as Ishmael was a wanderer in Moby Dick, the main character Ottway in The Grey was also a wanderer. Both were able to deal with places and people from all walks of life due to their existential wandering. A rootless nomadic restlessness not just in the physical environment but in the very psychology of the character itself. As professor Dreyfus puts it "Leaving the certainties of one's own civilization."
Their flexible philosophy allowed for them to appreciate things in others that may have been ignored by the limitations of a fixed ideology. A sort of polytheistic magnanimity. Pagans (Moby Dick) and outcasts (The Grey) have virtue and may even wear it better than those from your original group identification. Especially in times of extremity. There is no home, no safe land to take refuge in. All your previous assumptions are no longer solid and the cold wilderness and immense ocean must be faced without any shelter from previous ideologies that worked on the common land. The lighthouse is gone, the land is gone, the Sun is gone. What is left is to face the abyss. The Whale and the Wolf cannot be ignored and must be faced. Like Death itself it will have to be faced by all mortals.
Whether you pursue them or they pursue you they are relentless. The cold winter wilderness and the immense ocean is the territory of the wolf and the whale not the place for the faint of heart. In Moby Dick there is a "heartless immensity" from the Ocean and even the sky to where the Sun is seen as a "lonely cast away." The Sun which has been a symbol of God with Dante and the Good with Plato is now alone and a cast away. In The Grey the Sun is powerless it is almost a distant actor that cannot intervene through the harsh cold and clouds. Walt Whitman "The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the Sun falling around a helpless thing."
Any flame must come within the characters. Reminds me of Camus who stated, "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.' Any light or warmth must come with the memories of their love and devotion to their former families. The flame that must be picked up now in the Grey is the flame of courage. The type of Stoicism that refuses to lay down and give in and exclaims that "whatever my fate I will go to it laughing" or fighting.


There is a term by Ernest Hemingway "Beautiful Fatalism" that means one who remains loyal to a doomed cause. This type of stoic existentialism carries with it the same loyalty and courage to a doomed cause. It leaves the safe land of certainty and resists the nihilistic despair in the mysterious ocean deep and the relentless winter wilderness. Facing the heartless immensity without the numbing smoke of illusion is a a combination of wisdom and courage. The defiance in the midst of despair is a thing of beauty.
"Great is he, who conquers the frightful. Sublime is he, who, while succumbing to it, fears it not." -Friedrich Schiller
"What is it that the soul of the tragic artist communicates to others? Is it not precisely his fearless attitude towards that which is terrible and questionable? A courageous and free spirit, in the presence of a mighty foe, in the presence of sublime misfortune, and face-to-face with a problem that inspires horror--this is the triumphant attitude which the tragic artist selects and which he glorifies...he is used to suffering, he looks out for suffering, the heroic man, extols his existence by means of tragedy--to him alone does the tragic artist offer this cup of sweetest cruelty." Friedrich Nietzsche


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