The Mystery of Being: Book Review

An unconventional book review of The Mystery of Being by Gabriel Marcel.

I picked up The Mystery of Being thinking it was going to be a mystery novel, a light entertaining whodunit that I could mindlessly read on a relaxing summer afternoon.  What I got instead was a heavy philosophical treatise on Christian existentialism which delved deep into the question of existence, of what it means to “be.”

Have you ever read a philosophy book?  It’s not ideal for a relaxing summer afternoon, unless your idea of relaxing involves slogging through dense confusingly worded arguments for and against obscure metaphysical concepts that hurt your brain to think about, exasperatedly rereading each run-on sentence to try to glean some glimmer of meaning from the complicated language, all the while wondering if philosophers really know anything, or if they just talk in muddled circles to hide the fact that deep down they really don’t know shit.

Rapper like the philosopher of The Mystery of Being

Philosophers are like rappers. This is actually what Socrates looked like. Source

When confronted with such a difficult endeavor as reading a philosophy text my simple mind easily wanders.  While struggling through The Mystery of Being, I was able to entertain myself with the theory that philosophers are a lot like gangsta rappers.  Like a rapper, a philosopher will use a bunch of fancy language that’s hard to understand.  Sometimes a profound thought will bust through this wall of words, but mostly it just sounds like nonsense.  Another key element of gangsta rap is that a rapper will often gloriously promote himself as the best MC with the smoothest style and the dopest flow, and he’ll also start beef with lesser MCs who can’t ever hope to match his sick wordcrafting skillz.  So too does a philosopher talk trash about his peers and strive to show that his thoughts are superior while all those other sucker-ass thinkers are spitting illogical garbage.  Yes, philosophy can be a rough game, although as far as I know no philosophers have yet been shot over these bitter feuds.

The comparison between philosophers and rappers being so obviously accurate, my mind ran with it and converted the serious philosophical contents of this book into the following ode to ridiculousness:

Check my style – My thoughts are wild

You’ll never match my mind because you’re stupid like a child

Step to what I got – You’re bound to get shot

I’m loading up my gun, every bullet is a thought

It’s the thinker’s art – Not to hit your heart

Aim the barrel at your head and blow your mind apart

Those other philosophers – Got nothing to offer

They’re beat like Rodney King and I’m the police officers

Kant can’t philosophize for shit – Wouldn’t let his theories suck my dick

If I was drunk and they jumped in my bunk wearing lubricating lipstick

Debunking Nietzsche – That whiny nihilistic

Half-baked, faker than a rack of frozen fish sticks

No doubt his thoughts were wrong – He was living with his mom!

I drop bombs on depressing existentialists

Like Sartre – Don’t even get me started

I got a retarded dog back home who’s much smarter

These bitch-ass thinkers can’t hold a candle to me

I’m the brightest motherfucker in philosophy

Mystery Machine for solving The Mystery of Being

Existence is a mystery. Where’s Scooby Doo and the crew when you need them? Source

When my mind wasn’t distracted by such silliness, I was actually able to take away some meaning from The Mystery of Being.  Basically, Marcel says that we live in a broken world at conflict with itself.  This conflict stems from the separation of the physical and spiritual, and we as human beings feel a need to transcend this disunity.  The path to transcendence starts with participation, being actively engaged with the world.  This involves connecting and communicating (uniting) with other beings intersubjectively (through shared experiences and love), as well as internally contemplating our own experiences.  Since we are a part of our own existence, we are in no position to understand it; we can only say that existence is a mystery.  Contemplating this mystery may reveal to us a depth of being which leads to eternity, as all mysteries flow into eternity.  Finally, faith involves humility (recognizing you are nothing before eternity (God)) and prayer (spiritual communication / union with God (eternity)).  Marcel makes the case that faith (in this strict definition of the word) is the means by which we may reunite our physical and spiritual selves and mend our broken world.  Which is an uplifting thought, if you think about it.

******

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If you have any thoughts on philosophy in general or this book in particular, leave a reply below.

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