Un-poetically “Man” Dwells Kevin E. McHugh
AbstractA sense of anxiety and ontological insecurity is an inescapable feature of the modern condition. We are threaded with diffuse yearnings for meaningful connections with people and place. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alexander Payne’s 2002 film, About Schmidt, the story of Warren Schmidt, 66 year-old retiree, coming face to face with the meaninglessness of life. I proffer an interpretation of this film that draws on the existential phenomenology of Martin Heidegger, with critical interjections inspired by Albert Camus and Michel Foucault. Through Warren Schmidt, we bear witness to the search for meaning and self discovery as a painful and tragically comic journey. Schmidt gropes clumsily to engage life more fully, seemingly out of place at every turn, the antithesis of Heidegger’s notion of dwelling poetically: attending to the plenitude of Being in the World. Schmidt displays feints and flashes of existential questioning and insight that travel to the core of what it means to struggle, what it means to be human. Through the film we ponder the fragility of human connections and the perplexing question of “nearness” in the modern world. Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and dwelling inspires dazzling insights into the modern human condition but, ultimately, its contribution to meaningful collective action is stunted, as it privileges a quiescent ontological search for Being over concern for social relations and lived realities and practicalities of human affairs and encounters.
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