To Read Is to Penetrate

I love reading novels, all the time, but I have never been into any kinds of philosophical book until this core course. It was really challenging for me to fully understand all the texts we covered this quarter, but I was fascinated by one particular topic – Existentialism. “Always to be unshaped” has been my motto for a long time, but I was doubted, denied, and contradicted myself and the environment around me until I found out the match between my motto and the concept of existentialism.

I remembered at our first class discussion, Kiva told us that don’t be afraid to ask big questions. I started to realize that we always ignore big questions and focus on the little things in our lives. We care too much about our GPAs, our future jobs, our salaries; we forget about who we are and what we really want. If we keep seeking the answers of those two big questions, we don’t need to define ourselves so harshly through the outside material world.

Why we need all those useless name tags to define who we are? Why we are bound to the standard of society if what we pursue is unique to the commons?

The reading strategies I learn from Reading With And Against The Grain is the most helpful and effective method for me to understand the course material and engage my own thoughts. It is difficult for me to move between reading “with and against the grain” at first, so I will read all the texts at least twice.

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For example, when I read Nietzsche’s First Essay: “Good And Evil,” “Good And Bad”, I try to write down all his ideas, points of morality. At the second time I read through his essay, I will add my comments on his ideas. It improves both my understanding toward the texts and the critical thinking.

On my last two polished response papers, I drew most of the attention on the freedom of existentialism. This time I want to dig into the attitude of the existentialism. When others accuse of its pessimism, I highly agree with what Sartre refutes that existentialism is “an optimistic toughness”(356) —“there is no doctrine more optimistic, since man’s destiny is within himself”(357). Why we say the existentialism is a severe optimism? Because when we make decisions, we must consider the result of these decisions. In other word, we must take responsibilities of our choices, and we must know that our choices are completely from our heart which do not affect by the external world. More deeply, “A coward is responsible for his cowardice”(Sartre 356), and “he has made himself a coward his acts”(Sartre 356). Sartre denies the theory of both original goodness and evil of human nature.

Thus, existentialism considers human beings as human beings rather than other objects. It regains the dignity of human beings. An object has some specific properties which can define its essence, but as a free man he is “nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life”(Sartre 355). It gives confidence for me to conquer myself while I am struggling with some challenging tasks. Action is the perfect ensemble of optimism. However, once we realize that we are not the creation of God, “we are alone, with no excuse”(Sartre 350).

It seems like we lost the guide of spirits, but if we can still be confident and positive on our vague future, we are reaching the higher order of optimism, that is, the same as “the imperturbable happiness of Don Manuel was merely the temporal, earthy form of an infinite, eternal sadness”(Unamuno 266). In my opinion, there is two kinds of optimism. The first one is the instinctive optimism, which is simply throwing away all the fact and believing that everything should be fine. Another optimism is that after knowing all the possible results, one still believes that everything will be fine. The existentialism is the latter one.

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To Read Is to Penetrate. (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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