My summer reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.
From the beginning, Barrett reminds us that contrary to popular belief, the groundwork for Existentialism was not laid in the cafes and bars of 20th century Paris but much earlier, with the 16th century Protestant Reformation. With the iconoclasm that accompanied that movement, the psychic underpinnings of man’s here-to-fore meaningful cradle to grave lives was cast adrift. This left man face-to-face with ‘nothingness’, a stark and shocking reality that in the 19th century, both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche made perfectly clear.
Both 20th century secularism and capitalism hastened our demise. By the mid-1950’s, when Barrett was writing, a new car or TV set delivered American men and women more meaning in their lives than ever could God. Onward forges capitalism until we find ourselves devoid of anything tangible to which we can hold except faceless corporations, sprawling factories, and of course, the next pay check.
By this time, it becomes obvious there is nothing left of the pious medievalist, much less classical Greek man. According to Barrett, modern man remains a mere fragment – a bare skeleton, of that long-ago man that as we are told in Genesis, was created by God in His own image. American president Donald Trump with recent his photo-op with the Bible, aptly sums this up for most, it’s not a pretty picture.
This is because with that picture, it becomes abundantly clear that we are an abstraction, at best, of what once we were. What’s worse, because of the inevitability of evolution, we cannot turn the tide. Now the gateway home to paradise, the Garden of Eden, is well and truly closed and locked. It is with this stark realization that we now all enjoy what the Existentialists have coined ‘angst’ or a deep seated, irrefutable, insatiable anxiety.
(to be continued)