Loading
Notes
Study Reminders
Support
Text Version

The Existential Question

Set your study reminders

We will email you at these times to remind you to study.
  • Monday

    -

    7am

    +

    Tuesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Wednesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Thursday

    -

    7am

    +

    Friday

    -

    7am

    +

    Saturday

    -

    7am

    +

    Sunday

    -

    7am

    +

Hello and welcome back to today’s session of the NPTEL course introduction to wall literature. In the previous session, we started discussing the short story The Wall written by Sartre the existentialist philosopher, the French philosopher, and today we come back to look at it and also look at some of the narrative elements and the existential theories which make the reading more complete. As we wrapped up the session in the last session I also left you with one missing link which was to identify that ironical twist which entirely changed the course of the story. So if you have read through the story you would also know that, there is something which happens in the middle right after midnight, after the sentences being pronounced and before the execution takes place, there is this moment when Pablo decides just to have some fun to engage in some fuss and this is what he does. I looked at them with curiosity, as insects of a very rare species. I told them I know where he is, we are talking about Ramon Gris, he is hidden in the cemetery, in a vault or gravediggers shack. It was a farce. I wanted to see them stand up, buckle their belts and give orders busily. They jumped to their feet, let us go, Moles, go get fifteen men from Lieutenant Lopez. You the fat man said, I will let you off if you are telling the truth, but it will cost you plenty if you are making monkeys out of us. (Refer Slide Time:1:38) So this is something that Pablo had done, just to be farcical, just to make a mockery out of, you know, as the story itself says just to make monkeys of those officers, he wanted to see them, stand up, buckle their belts and go about it as we are going to find Ramon Gris, but much to our surprise and much to the irony of this story, towards the end we get to know that Ramon Gris was actually found hiding in the cemetery and he gets shot dead and Ramon Gris is someone with whom. We already saw that Pablo, he shared a bond, RamonGriswas hiding and living with him for a while and they also, he said that had it be Ramon Gris instead of Tom and Juan with him, he would have felt more moved and this is how it ends, he gets to know that his life has been saved at the cost of Pablo’s life and this is not something which he did deliberately but still, it is he is doing it is the dilemma that the story in some level, is trying to explore as well, we get to know from whatever narration, whatever details that we get through the narration, that this is not something that Pablo had intended to do, this is not something that he had plotted out, he had no intention and no reason to get Ramon Gris into trouble. But we get to know that inadvertently Ramon Gris gets killed and through that process. We find Pablo saving his life as well, this is the existential question that this story leaves with us at some level, but of course, as we mentioned towards the end of the previous session, this was also seen as a flaw, by several admirers and detractors Sartre, that it did not really fit in, that it was not one of his representative texts, where we find his existentialist theories being exemplified and look at the ending again. Everything began to spin and I found myself sitting on the ground, I laughed so hard I cried, there is a neatness to this plot, but there is also a certain kind of uncertainty over here. One is not too sure what exactly Pablo is going through right now, whether he is really, feeling happy or will he feel miserable for the rest of his life because this was his own doing and will he be able to live with it and deal with it and engage with this dilemma and negotiate with it, for the rest of his life. So I leave you with that question, but what I am more interested in first pursuing is to take a look at the narrative structure of this work, The Wall like several other short stories by Sartre, it is written in the first person and this also seems like an excellent choice for any work which gives a voice for the existentialist agenda because it is very, very personal, very, very intense, I also want you to think about Barthes, Roland Barthes at this point and his work Writing Degree Zero. Where he talks about narrative techniques, he also argues that the first person, when one is using the first person, there are two defining characteristics of it, one, there's usually a spectator, second, it is not like the third person, it is not transparent, unlike the third person the I also connotes opacity and particularly there is a certain contingency involved in it as well and for the existentialist speaker, when we talk about this story, both of this suits it very well. Pablo is a spectator and he is very opaque as well, there is no way in which we would get to know what Pablo is exactly alike, there is no way in which we would ever get know what Pablo felt throughout that night, and how he reacted when he gets to know that he has been saved, that is not going to shot dead and instead Ramon Gris has been also, get to know whether Pablo is telling us the truth because it is the first person, it looks very, very real, there is an eyewitness kind of quality to it, but it is also very, very opaque, there is no way in which you can get inside because like the third person, the first-person narrator would always stop the reader from getting inside. In the third person narrative, we still have the possibility of going inside and seeing and trying to analyse different ways, but the first-person narrative is very, very limited in that sense as far as an engagement with the reader, with the text, is concerned and the other thing that the first-person narrator does is it clearly communicates with the reader, in a very direct way and tells us with which character that the reader is expected to identify the most, think about any of those works written in the first-person narrative. It is most likely that you identify the best with the character who is also the first person narrator because that is what the author had intended it to be in the first place, think about any of the ways of narration, whether it is a short story or whether it is a movie, there is away in which it is already intended that the viewer, the reader should be identifying himself or herself with certain characters and that purposes are achieved through various means, the first person narrative being one of those. And this narrative structure is not a unique kind of narrative structure, it is something that it shares with almost all kinds of literary works, there is a big challenge right from the beginning of the story till the end, there is a character, a protagonist who is also the first-person narrator, the speaker, he is the eye, but he is also, assigned to die, he has been sentenced to death, so this is a very, very tricky when it comes to the narration in Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in fact, there is a first-person, a narrator who begins narration in the same way and he has to end his narrative before his execution, and that is how, it was, that is how the plot can be designed. But here in this first-person narrative, Pablo Ibbieta gets to complete his story and we do not know where Heis now, from what content is narrating this and the yare not the made privy to any other things because Pablo Ibbieta being this narrator who is completely in control of what he chooses to narrate and what he chooses to reveal, he also chooses to use this autonomy in letting the reader know that he will only narrate this bit from that night, where his life in the prison begins and till that moment where he gets to know that he is not going to be executed then and we clearly have no idea about what happened him after that when he was taken to a regular court as we get to know from the story. In Alexandra Argyros’ essay, the sense of an ending which is the reading of Sartre’s The Wall, this was published in 1988, he makes this very interesting observation about this short story, Wall is a microcosmic version of the impossible reconciliation between a theory of experience which posits an essentially open future with a form of expression, which is finite, in fact, much of Sartre’s work can be seen to grapple with this issue. So much as many have quarrels with this ending, it is also important to know that Sartre is willing to engage with this dilemma, it is, of course, a story which is written during the early phase of his career and even before his existentialist theories had come into full fruition, even before they began to be translated and widely used across the world, and this is one of his earliest works, and it could be argued very well that it is also one of those short stories, which exposes the kind of enquiries that Sartre or any others having similar questions had at the outset and this can be open and, this can be used as of those avenues which open up the narrative world and also the philosophical world for further enquiries and going deeper and going into more analytical ways bringing in these two elements, the ideas of existentialism and also the ideas of narrative theory. I would like to wrap up after having offered one of the other alternative ways in which this conclusion has been read and many critics are also of the opinion that they are in the position to offer an interpretation of the story’s conclusion, not necessarily seeing it as a flaw, not necessarily comparing it with the existentialist theories and philosophies that Sartre wrote about and believed it, and we need to recall that the central dilemma that the narrative protagonist is facing the wall is the fact that he is condemned to death, but he cannot be executed, and we aren’t too sure whether this is entirely his doing or not. And the reader is in that sense is also deprived of an authentic identification with Pablo because even though Pablo believes that he will be shot in the morning following the night, during which most of the plot of the wall transpires, the reader also understanding , there is an unreachable disparity between what Pablo knows and what Pablo thinks he knows, I repeat, there is an unreachable disparity between what he knows, what the reader knows what Pablo thinks that the reader knows. And this disparity is also the central dilemma of this narrative,I am taking this away from the many, many existential, questions and the disputes and the theoretical dilemmas this is also about reader-centric experience and also responding to some of the important critiques I can precisely this ending that, this ending the wall is very theatrical, very bourgeois, very cheap and what if, however, the endings very artificiality, the very fictiveness, very strength and perhaps its central point, and this is something that I wanted to pay attention to, that I wanted to take your attention as when you are reading the story and when you are engaging with his ending what this artificiality, what this neatness that Sartre deliberately wanted to bring in, Sartre was clearly aware of what he was doing, and as pointed out by many, he was not always in agreement with this literature written for consumption and he was not always with those neat presentable plots which always make sense the roundness of the plots. And here he chooses to engage with it, perhaps to make one point, maybe as a narrator, as a writer of fiction, Sartre also chooses to submit itself to the laws of fiction if there is any way in which we can name it thus and that is a deliberate thing, what Sartre does and just like the character Pablo who does this for farce whois telling the officers, look for Ramon Gris in the cemetery, you may find him in a gravedigger’s shack, in that same way, this is perhaps a farce that Sartre is playing with his own readers, trying to tell us, look at the neatness of it. And look at how significant thesis is perhaps taking you to very different things, maybe he is also challenging the reader teasing the reader to go, look for something which he thinks is not there, but just like it happens between Pablo and the officers, the readers also end up seeing more then perhaps the author, the author figure intended them to in the first place. So while looking at this. I also encourage you to see this as a short story with a not, I also encourage you to look at this as a short story not with a weak ending but with the powerful ending salvaging an impossible story and this is very, very impossible, the neatness of this is very artificial, it is very cheap and it is also something that makes you feel good in a very strange way, but this is the artificiality, but perhaps that Sartre also wants us to deal with and the consequences of set in the interpretation of the wall, there are of two kinds and one level and certainly it is not an insignificant one. It is not possible to salvage the wall from its critical dustbin and instead of seeing this as one of the least characteristics of Sartre’s works we can perhaps situate this differently and you can look at it as an experiment where is also engaging with the notion of fictive closure and he is trying to close the story in a very deliberate way and that can be seen as an experiment and how that radically differs from the other characteristic works of Sartre and at a broader level when we think about that second implication, the consequences of the second interpretation. It said the wall can be seen as a very genuine attempt to figure the general, dilemma generated by any attempt to incarnate existentialist theory in fiction, we do not know even whether Sartre is trying to draw our attention to that impossibility, the dilemma which is there when one tries to bridge the gap between existential theories and narrative techniques between fiction and existentialism, so I would go with those readings which argue that, instead of seeing the ending as a flaw, instead of seeing that is very bourgeois and very cheap and very theatrical. I would also go with those readings which think that that is its strength, for someone like Sartre to be able to write something like this to be able to bring in a deliberate neatness, a deliberate closure in this fiction and this theatricality, in its unabashed fictiveness that perhaps is, it’s the greatest strength, as I wrap this up, I leave you with this question from an Alexandra Argyros’ essay, the sense of an ending, Sartre’s The Wall, published in 1988. Furthermore if as opposed to Kant we hypothesize that the esthetic driven human is not an isolated phenomenon, then TheWall compels us to ask why the organism which according to Sartre creates its most genuine existence when it refrains from repetition and fixity is the same organism which creates art a mode of experience, that is, by definition framed that is immured within its own limits, The Wall is a short story which gains significant attention and a lot of critical dukes, a lot of critical flak because of the ending and it is the ending I believe which make this a very str his deliberate narrative fictive closure that it brings in the event the exchange, even to the extent of asking uncomfortable questions which forces to link existentialism and narrativity, with this, we also wrap up today’s lecture, I thank you for listening and look forward to seeing you in the next session.