Shiralkar: An existentialist walks into a bar

Columnist Parth Shiralkar narrates the value of life. 

Parth Shiralkar

When considering some of the gloomier philosophical schools of thought, one doesn’t immediately tend to think of raucous partying and fun. But the concept of a late-night romp isn’t very far from the nearest watering hole. As an example, the excellent tragicomedy movie “In Bruges” is an absurd narrative that takes place almost entirely in the vicinity of rustic Belgian pubs — not that the plot has anything to do with that, but the uplifting feel of partying is juxtaposed very nicely. Note that this column is not a call of invitation to go partying but a reflection on our relationship with socializing in a lighter environment.

Existentialism is typically known as one of the less cheerful outlooks of existence because of its focus of pondering the abject meaninglessness of life. However, existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, both acclaimed existentialists of their time, were ardent party-goers at their polygamous relationship’s peak. France is known for its flamboyant ambience, the exciting nightlife that we read about even today, which both de Beauvoir and Sartre were known to partake in frequently.

It has been over a year since I stepped foot onto the sticky-wet flooring of any of the esteemed establishments down Welch Avenue in Ames. These places are not much different to those Parisian discotheques in that they offer an avenue, a shared space in which to let loose. It is but inevitable that these places will see a rapid rise in foot traffic over Finals Week, especially since it’s much safer to venture out now than it was a couple semesters ago.

Absurdist Albert Camus, contemporary philosopher and acquaintance of the existentialists, would also engage in the wartime celebrations of Sartre and de Beauvoir. Sartre himself, who has said that “Hell is other people,” liked to party hard and effectively have convoluted ideas, which would then fall apart after the intoxicants had worn off. These philosophers frowned down upon the seriousness of life, instead embracing these moments of rebellion while the rest of their lives were spent in anxiety.

There’s a reason “Friday After Class” is such a popular thing, and — even through the pandemic — we’ve seen people thronging to those few hours of hanging out with strangers in a structure that isn’t restricted. Singing, dancing, making friends on the fly — heck, about three-fourths of all my Snapchat friends are people I met at the bars. With the widespread vaccinations going on, I think we’ll have way more people going out over summer.

But in many cases, balance is crucial — partying all-out every day will only take away the refreshing nature of these social gatherings. Relying on these outings as a form of total escapism is in bad faith; instead, one should vigilantly strengthen their self-reliance and carefully strike a balance between accepting the utter seriousness of life and also challenging its notions.

In quarantine, having a tiny but safe social bubble in which to engage in such gatherings has helped my mental health immensely. As the existential motto goes, the meaning of life is a faraway dream that’s way too exhausting to chase 24/7, so why not groggily launch a frisbee at a grill right now? As the battle against COVID-19 seems winnable in the near future, we must appreciate being in the presence of others, pushing back against the despair through a shared sense of ecstasy. Stay hydrated.