From Iceland — Speechless By The Mountain

Speechless By The Mountain

Published July 20, 2009

Speechless By The Mountain

This short philosophical essay evokes the question of the existence of the human being and his relations to the outside world. Standing at the foot of the Askja, in awe of its raw and majestic appearance, Páll Skúlason – Icelandic philosopher and writer – searches for his place in the world as an entity. Wondering what connects things with each other and what actually makes the world a whole, he realises that he doesn’t know anything. He feels that he is thrown into the world, without any orientation, not knowing where to go.
Askja for him is the symbol of the world itself; or rather, a symbol of the encounter with the world and what is inherent in it. At the same time it is a natural symbol and re-condition for human existence. Having said that, Páll Skúlason asks his main question: What is reality? And is there a concept or a system behind it? In line with epistemology, he doubts the possibility of conveying one’s true and own experience with the world to others, concluding that it is impossible to find an answer anyway. As a metaphysician he asks about the connection between things in order to be able to find a universal explanation for our perception of existence, free of personal experience. He also considers ethical arguments, admitting that conventions and tradition keep us together. But apart from all these questions raised by philosophers in the last centuries and millennia, like Socrates, Heidegger, Descartes and Sartre, Skúlason makes the case that humankind needs the reality as an independent entity of everlasting connections. Consequently, he ponders whether humankind lives in an alliance of trust with the natural whole, which means that true belief is a natural belief, also the Christian belief.
There is reason why Skúlason – out of all the natural wonders in Iceland – chose Askja for his essay. Askja is one of the active volcanoes in Iceland. Its last eruption took place in 1961. Öskjuvatn, the lake belonging to the volcano, is more than 200 meters deep and therefore the deepest lake in Iceland. The photographs generously included in this little booklet give an idea of how vast and majestic Askja and its surrounding looks for all the readers who haven’t had the chance to see it. They help one understand why Skúlason was speechless when he went to Askja. Even if the reader might not completely agree with Skúlason’s theory, it becomes clear how small and unimportant he must have felt standing at the foot of Askja and how hard he tried to answer the questions about his own place in the world.

  • “Gedanken am Rande der Askja” Páll Skúlason
  • University of Iceland Press, 2005 English translation available as “Meditation at the edge of Askja.” French translation also available.
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