On a recent holiday in France, I popped into a small restaurant in one of the many beautiful villages in the Dordogne. I must confess I decided to continue the holiday diet of cheese and bread. Aside from the delicious cheeses, pickles, and bread we were surrounded by photographs of philosophers and writers – and guess who I bumped into? Well, you know already, Albert Camus, Viktor Frankl, and Søren Kierkegaard.
I don’t claim academic expertise in their respective bodies of work, but rather a curious interest in their insights into life’s most profound questions.
Travel can be a transformative experience, and I often find that it can lead to contemplation, as the passage of time without the usual distractions allows things to bubble into consciousness.
Now, if philosophy and/or faith are not your ‘things’ then you might not want to read on – or curiosity may get the better of you 😉.
I found these writers' play out in the geography, and that spoke to me.
The Grandeur of Chateaux and Camus' Absurdity
The French countryside is dotted with majestic chateaux, symbols of historical grandeur, and architectural marvels. Yet, as I meandered through these opulent structures, the vast halls and ornate rooms became emblematic of life's inherent unpredictability. These palatial residences bore witness to stories of nobles either birthed into privilege or those who wrestled destiny to claim their fortune. But what of the countless others, devoid of such fortune or opportunity?
This disparity, seen throughout the world but so palpable in the shadows of these chateaux, mirrors the philosophy of Albert Camus, who posited that life is inherently absurd. Camus believed that our incessant search for meaning often collides head-on with a seemingly indifferent universe. This can lead to a profound sense of existential nausea.
However, it's not merely this collision that Camus focuses on; it's our reaction to it. He challenges us not to retreat into despair but to rebel. By acknowledging and confronting the absurd, Camus believed that we could live a life full of passion and authenticity. The chateaux, with their stark disparities, reinforced this: in the grand theatre of life, the play might seem nonsensical, but it's the act of living, of passionately engaging with our circumstances, that brings true meaning.
Battle Marks and Frankl’s Search for Meaning
Moving beyond the chateaux, the quaint villages and towns of France told a different story — one marked by the indelible scars of World War II. The remnants of bombed-out structures and tales of resilience painted a haunting image. These scars, while serving as a painful reminder of history, also resonated with the teachings of Viktor Frankl.
Surviving the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, Frankl birthed logotherapy, a therapeutic approach grounded in the belief that our primary drive isn't pleasure or power, but a search for life's meaning. Observing the war-ravaged villages, I could feel Frankl’s philosophy coming alive. Despite being subjected to unimaginable suffering, the human spirit continually seeks purpose and meaning. This might manifest as a commitment to rebuild (metaphorically and physically), pass down stories to the younger generation, or simply remember and honour the past.
Frankl argues that even in the face of profound suffering when everything seems bleak and pointless, meaning can still be found. The very act of searching, of trying to make sense of our circumstances, is what makes us uniquely human. The resilience of France's war-touched communities epitomised this relentless pursuit of purpose amidst the chaos.
The Sanctity of Faith: Kierkegaard's Divine Resonance
Amidst the historical riches and the scars of war, I saw a spiritual heartbeat in the numerous churches, cathedrals, and sacred spaces. These bastions of faith have stood the test of time, offering solace to countless souls over the centuries – whether a believer or not.
Søren Kierkegaard, often termed the 'father of existentialism,' posits that life is filled with uncertainty and existential despair. However, where Camus sees absurdity and Frankl seeks meaning, Kierkegaard finds solace in faith. His philosophy emphasises a deeply personal 'leap of faith,' suggesting that an individual's relationship with the divine can transcend the empirical, offering profound existential comfort.
As I sat in the quiet alcoves of a centuries-old chapel, I understood that, for many, there is a bridge between the worldly and the spiritual, between existential angst and divine solace. Kierkegaard’s writings suggest that while reason can guide us to the edge of understanding, it's faith that propels us into the divine embrace. The sacred spaces of France, reverberating with whispered prayers, encapsulated this leap into the transcendent.
Weaving the Threads: An Existential Tapestry
Navigating the French terrain, the philosophies of Camus, Frankl, and Kierkegaard emerged not as disparate strands but as intertwined threads of a rich existential tapestry.
1. Camus’ philosophy, rooted in confronting life's inherent contradictions, became evident in the looming shadows of the chateaux, challenging us to live authentically amidst life's absurdities.
2. Frankl’s emphasis on discovering purpose amidst adversity resonated in the tales and landmarks from the war era, showcasing the indomitable spirit of communities that found meaning in the face of dire circumstances.
3. Kierkegaard’s leap of faith was echoed in every church bell, offering a connection to something greater, and urging individuals to bridge the gap between the existential and the divine.
An Odyssey of Existential Insight
The chateaux, war remnants, and sacred sanctuaries were not mere landmarks; they became milestones in a deeper exploration of life's meaning. Camus, Frankl, and Kierkegaard accompanied me on holiday. Through their teachings, a pathway emerges, guiding us in navigating life’s complex terrains with enriched understanding and purpose – whether you need the inspiration to confront absurdity, find meaning amidst despair, or find solace in faith.