Here I explore Paul Tillich’s notion of the “ontological” or “existential” self as indivisible, vital presence. Such a self cannot accurately be called a “construction,” since it does not differentiate itself into parts needed to make a “construct.” As indivisible, it bears a striking relation to Leibniz’s notion of the monad. Since our sensation of vital presence brings us into closer consciousness of our eventual extinction, the monadic self is likewise the source of tremendous anxiety that longs for transformation. The poetry of Keats and Whitman gives expression to the existential monad as participating in vital mysteries, joys, and terrors that both connect us to some greater unknown and inspire our imaginative response as a mode of transfiguring, celebrating, and lamenting that connection.
KeywordsTillich Keats Whitman Existentialism Leibniz Monad
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