The Lonely Landscape: Poetic Existence (Heidegger and Cioran)

My favourite game of all time is Shadow of
the Colossus. Produced by Fumito Ueda’s Team ICO, it had
this amazing score, a unique linework, and had this captivating bare-bones storyline. There were so many people involved it became
visual poetry more than a game. And it all looked like this. That’s it. Just you and a horse. The two of you traversing a huge landscape,
defeating enormous creatures known as colossi. You’d spend more time travelling from colossus
to colossus than you’d actually spend beating them. And that’s exactly what stuck out to me for
all these years. The journey. The setting. The being-in-the-world. The landscape of Shadow of the Colossus. But apart from being entertaining, poetic,
and memorable, I think there’s more to the game. I think the landscape itself says something
about our existence, about our very condition as human beings. Emil Cioran was a Romanian author, philosopher,
and pessimist. In 1934, he wrote a book called “On the Heights
of Despair”. In it he asks the question, “Who is more unhappy? He who feels his own loneliness, or he who
feels the loneliness of the world?” What Cioran is referring to is the split between
what he calls individual and cosmic loneliness. The individual loneliness takes the person
and drenches him in agony, making him an outcast in an otherwise seemingly normal world. Cosmic loneliness is something else. It’s an awareness of the world’s isolation. It’s objective nothingness. Cioran says of cosmic loneliness that, “It
is as if all the splendours of this world were to vanish at once, leaving behind the
dull monotony of a cemetery. I think that Shadow of the Colossus pushes
the idea of cosmic loneliness as an integral part of our existence. The way Wander is in the landscape, and how
the landscape functions, show how the idea is embedded into our existence. So, what makes the game’s landscape so special? Well, the landscape is vast. It invites exploring. It’s quiet and indifferent, and does everything
it can to not insist its presence on you. Its colours are subdued, it’s homogenous,
and it’s autonomous. The landscape is completely severed from the
minimal story of the game, and it feels like it would be literally the same thing if you
weren’t there to play it. What’s perhaps most striking is how the
landscape reinforces the tragic fate of the hero. It focuses on the colossi, not on you. The colossi are grand and epic, Wander is
weak and insignificant. The colossi are part of the landscape. Their bodies are made up of stone platforms,
there’s grass on some of them, and they move seamlessly in water, air, and sand. The landscape becomes a character through
them. The loneliness shines through via the landscape’s
indifference. Wander is not only alone as in he’s not
in the company of other people. He’s also alone due to the landscape being
indifferent to him; due to the landscape ignoring him. And this awareness of the cosmic loneliness
is embedded into existence itself, too. By riding on his horse, by defeating the colossi,
by killing lizards, Wander is dwelling in the land as we are dwelling in our existence. In 1951, Martin Heidegger delivered a lecture
entitled “Bauen Wohnen Denken”; “Building Dwelling Thinking”. In the lecture, Heidegger talks about dwelling
as what the Dasein does when it exists. Dwelling is the basic characteristic of being,
of mortal existence. Dwelling is not passivity, it’s existing
while living, it’s preserving oneself until death. In later years, Heidegger talked of being
as something that unfolds in time and space. It’s a series of events being transformed
and is constantly trying to make sense of its existence. To sum up: We take place. We happen. We occur. As human beings, we’re part of what Heidegger
calls the fourfold. The fourfold is a unity of four dimensions
of existence. They are earth, sky, mortals, and divinities. They’re our way of grappling with existence. For centuries, we’ve tried to make sense
of us as dwellers on the earth while gods are above us in the sky. These are not proven facts, they’re culturally
upheld notions. And that makes our existence poetic. The fourfold is a beautiful construct. Belonging to such a unity is safe. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from
the cosmic loneliness seeping in. With his lecture, Heidegger inspires us to
live in tune to the rhythm of the natural world, which is inherently lonesome. And this brings us all the way back to the
beginning. Just you dwelling in the world. Shadow of the Colossus lays bare our deep
need for connection. By removing all the superfluous things, it
makes it painfully obvious how we fear loneliness. A loneliness entangling our existence. Because existence is inherently lonely; nothing
would really be different in a significant way if we weren’t here. I can’t tell you who’s unhappier; he who
feels his own loneliness, or he who feels the loneliness of the world. Cioran couldn’t either. In the very same aphorism, he wrote, “Why
should I bother with a classification of loneliness? Is it not enough that one is alone?” Thank you for watching.

14 Replies to “The Lonely Landscape: Poetic Existence (Heidegger and Cioran)

  1. Cioran is my favorite author, I've never played Shadow of the Colossus but am familiar with it. Great video, I enjoyed the Waves – 1999 – Joey B. soundtrack too

  2. I got the same isolated landscape feel and existential thought…from Dear Esther and The Old City: Leviathan both games have beautiful aforisms that are similar to Cioran.

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