LDR STUDIES TOOLKIT | 2b. “existence”

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To once again recap, because TV shows dont do it anymore and America is missing out on some good reductive fun:

1. We are trying to figure out an entity’s relationship to the thing that it projects itself as, a thing that we’re temporarily calling “persona” despite the fact that “persona” wholly fails to describe what we’re talking about in any way.  We are using a “whorehouse that fronts as a dentist’s office” metaphor to describe this because it is interesting/sexy.

2. To understand “persona,” we need to understand its relationship to the entity itself (the dentist’s office’s relationship to the whorehouse).  To do that, we need to understand what we mean when we’re talking about the “entity itself,” which means we need to place ourselves somewhere within a long-running ontological discourse that can be broken down to a conversation about “essence.”

3. We’re going to define “essence” as the pure being of an entity, regardless of action, experience, relativity, or anything else.  Essence is “is-ness” and nothing more – the whorehouse, as it is, doing nothing but whorehouse-ing.

4. The problem with essence is that it can’t really be experienced as such.  The second you encounter an entity, the entity starts doing something – at the very least, it starts relating to you, which forces definition into the picture, which more or less ruins the concept of pure, unadulterated being.  So while we’re not going to deny the existence of essence, we are going to acknowledge that there’s something else happening between being and being experienced.  I’ve just blown the rhetorical surprise because that something is so unavoidably present – “essence”‘s great philosophical rival, existence.”

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The constructed nature of the Latin word that gave us “existence” is just as fascinating as that of the one that gave us “essence,” though its history is a bit less documented.  “Existere” didn’t appear in Latin-English dictionaries until the mid-16th century, though it was present several hundred years before that in philosophical texts.  Unlike “essentia,” which is a ridiculous grammatical construction that attempts to capture the “essence” of a Greek term, “existere” makes relative sense.  “Ex-” means out, beyond, coming from within to without; “stare” means “stand,” as in, what things do when they are upright and not moving.  So, while “essentia” is a convoluted attempt to get at something very pure, “existere” makes no bones about its pretty direct lack of purity.  “To exist” literally “to stand out.”  It’s not just being; it’s doing – something – kind of.

“Existence”‘s lack of literal purity makes it much easier to talk about – it’s clearly definable parts give us something to hold onto.  We can start with the root verb – “stand.”  “Stand” is a verb of inactivity, what one does when one is doing nothing.  But it is nevertheless an action that “things” “do,” and in this sense the thing that exists demands some relation to the rest of the world around it.  Something can only stand in regard to the movement around it; it’s not a pure state of is-ness, but a state of active rest.  It’s also interesting to note that standing is hardly a passive action – standing requires strength.  People who are doing nothing are lying down, not standing; houses that are standing are formidable and well-built.  It’s an inactive verb, but it’s actively inactive.

Things get wilder when you toss in the prefix “ex-.”  The entity doesn’t just stand – it stands “out.”  That which “exists” is that which puts itself actively “out” – separate, other, definable – from everything else.  Something exists because it is separable from the rest of the world.  This is the crucial difference between essence and existence – that which just is isn’t necessarily anything; that which exists is necessarily something.

When one starts to get hyper-sensitive about this sort of thing, “something” becomes an awfully strong word.  So, to amend the previous statement: that which “exists” isn’t necessarily defined, but it is definable in so far that it can be experienced as something that is specifically itself.  In other words – when I experience something that exists, I experience that something as other than another something.  Essence is the is that separates one entity from another entity, buy existence is the is that allows me to experience the separation.

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No one has time to fall into this black hole of thought, but one can imagine the horrific questions that start to arise: does existence come from within essence, or from without?  Does existence define essence, or does essence define existence?  If existence is all that can be experienced, how can essence be at all?  If existence only exists because of a series of constructs, how can I even know with certainty that I exist?  Is the essence that is me that is experienced by the essence that is me as an existence that is my essence existing because of the essence of that which is not me which I experience as both the essence that is me and the existence that is not me (or maybe vice-versa) only through the existence of the essence that is both existentially me but also essentially the essence of that which is not me which I experience as existence and not essence?  People kill themselves over less interesting things; suicidal ideation need not be dabbled with when talking about pop music.

To keep things emotionally stable for the time being, then, let’s stick to straight definitions: essence (that which is) experienced is existence (what that which is does).  In a world where experience is a constant reality, the difference between essence and existence is moot – when we experience an essence, we experience it as an existence.  Whether one precedes the other is a conversation for dead people; all that matters in this study is that essence is the subject and existing is the action.  Things are, but a necessary condition of are-ing (being, I guess) is doing.  Being in the world is doing.  Even if you’re talking about a thing in-and-of-itself, you’re still necessarily talking about what the thing is doing.  Go about yr essential being all you want – you are still, in so far as you and others are aware of you, existing.

So, re: dentist office fronts.  The whorehouse is the essence of the fake dentist’s office.  But when one enters a fake dentist’s office (i.e., “experiences it”), one still enters a whorehouse.  So, not only is a fake dentist’s office essentially a whorehouse, but it is also existentially a whorehouse.  The front is nothing but a fake exterior that dissipates the second one starts to really get into the whorehouse experience.

In the case of Lana Del Rey, we have an whorehouse/essence (Elizabeth Grant) with a dentist’s office in front of it (Lana Del Rey) that we still experience existentially as a dentist’s office despite it’s maybe also being a whorehouse.  Which would indicate that the dentist’s office, in it’s ability to exist as a dentist’s office, is also essentially a dentist’s office in addition to essentially being a whorehouse.  Which would indicate that the fake dentist’s office metaphor is a bad one when we’re talking about Lana Del Rey, and that hopefully we can discard it and move on.  The question now becomes: what sort of establishment can exist as two essences, and how can we extend this absurd metaphor to the point of complete incomprehensibility without entirely reducing this entire conversation to pseudo-intellectual shreds?

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