Friday, September 12, 2008

An Infant Sartre?

For me at least, one reason infants are so fascinating is that no one really remembers what it was like to be an infant. What does preverbal thought look like? Is it the same as the kind of nonverbal thought that we do after having mastered a language? Or does learning a language so shape our brains that we can no longer think in the same manner as we did before language?

I wonder, do infants experience existential angst? Do they wonder, with some kind of preverbal, innate human impulse, "Why am I here? Who am I? What is it all about?" Perhaps that question goes on only at the completely subconscious level, driving the newly born person to search for patterns and connections, for meaning in the strange and mysterious phenomena he or she is constantly observing.

But when babies cry seemingly without reason--when neither nursing, nor burping, nor distraction, nor changing their diaper does any good--could it be that they are simply frustrated by their limitations? Do babies at times feel a primitive longing for transcendence, for "more," for that nameless something which drives all human individuals and societies forward?

Am I perfectly ridiculous for even asking? But even infants are human, after all. Isn't existential angst an innate property of human beings?

3 comments:

Patrick Lewis said...

If you haven't already read it, try Edmund Husserl's Experience and Judgment. Husserl explores the problems of contemporary philosophy of language and the constitution of logical forms. The guiding thesis is that, even at its most abstract, logic demands an underlying theory of experience, which at the lowest level is described as prepredicative or prelinguistic...

jenzai studio said...

ohh, Husserl schmusserl. Did he have any babies I wonder? : )

I think babies are predisposed to have vastly different experiences and interpretations (however limited those are by being prelingual) of the stimuli around them. Daryl, for instance, was so clearly frustrated by her limitations, right from the start. Georgia, by contrast, found the world to be a delightful place,enjoying each experience as it came. Elliott seems to be reserving judgment for the most part, but boy those wheels are turning.

I was thinking about this post of yours last night as I was falling asleep and it occurred to me that existential angst would make an interesting theme for Elliott's birth announcement! Want to help me brainstorm on it?

Virgie P. said...

An existential angst themed birth announcement? Good grief, your artistic aspirations are far beyond us mere mortals. I would be glad to help brainstorm if I had even the foggiest idea how to do so ...