existentialism for dummies...

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
was reading this and found our hero listed among the "ten great works of existentialist literature" !!!

(sorry it copied as blocktext.)

Run with the Hunted, by Charles Bukowski

If one of the misanthropic characters from an existential novel got up and walked around in real life, he’d probably look a lot like Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was one of America’s greatest and most controversial poets and novelists. Alienated, alcoholic, lonely, poor, and even homeless for long stretches of his life, he wrote semi-autobiographically about the world he lived in, a world of flophouses and bars, racetracks and menial jobs, prisons, hospitals, and graveyards. Oh, and libraries. Being homeless and/or unemployed much of his life, he spent vast quantities of time in them, reading voraciously without guidance or structure, bias or preconception. A literary man without pedigree, Bukowski didn’t write about an existential perspective; he lived it. He once said of Camus that he wrote about death like a man who had just had a fine steak dinner. In his late middle age, he became famous and successful, but for much of his life, there were few steak dinners for Charles Bukowski. Run with the Hunted is a posthumous collection of his short stories, poems, and excerpts from his novels, arranged “chronologically” — not in the order he wrote them, but in the order of the period of his life from which they’re taken. The result is a fictionalized biography, a literary portrait of the man as he re-created himself in his work. It’s an act of self-creation, and in that there is, of course, some artifice. But what strikes the reader is the degree to which his writing is raw, unvarnished, and uncolored by romanticism or apology. In true existential fashion, he stubbornly refuses to look away from the world as it is. What emerges is a kind of existential saint, one who adheres to no moral code but who consistently acts in what Sartre calls “good faith,” seeing the world and acting within it in a way that’s totally honest and doesn’t abdicate responsibility. The world he presents isn’t one you’d normally call pretty, but it’s often beautiful despite Bukowski’s refusal to doll it up. His characters and situations all have an immediacy and an intense humanity. Many of his poems read almost like personal letters, and you get the rare experience of feeling a direct, unadorned connection to the writer and, ironically, to all humanity and our shared human condition. Bukowski certainly has his nihilistic tendencies, which would place him in direct opposition to the existentialists. Much of his work is deeply cynical, even resigned. But poems like “Nirvana” and “The World’s Greatest Loser” help illuminate, in a way no philosophy (and perhaps no novel) could, the beauty and wonder that you can see in this imperfect world when you accept it as it is without falsifying it or romanticizing it, and without hiding its scars or justifying its ugliness in terms of some more perfect world of which it is a part. Bukowski arranged for his tombstone to read simply, “Don’t try.” Acceptance or surrender? Maybe a bit of both.
 

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
right and right. for fun (no cheating!) see if you can guess the other 7 -

Bukowski
Kafka
Sartre
 
I've always claimed, that Bukowski is an existentialist.

Like here:
Roni_claims-Bukowski-an-Existentialist_press2020_a.jpg



The others on the list are:

- Schopenhauer
- Nietzsche
- Kierkegaard
- Camus
- Dostoevski
- Judy Blume
- Houellebecq
- Rimbaud
- Cioran
- Pessoa
- Beckett
... and maybe Jane Austen

does that add up to 10 all in all?
 
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d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
well, it's a difficult challenge cause it's "works of" as opposed to writers themselves.

roni you were right about beckett, dos, camus and you clearly are way more informed than me
about the subject so i'll just list the works and authors -

hamlet - shakespeare
notes - dos
death of ivan ilych - tolstoy
the trial - kafka
the stranger - camus (which i just read and got me researching existentialism)
no exit - sartre
blood of others - simone de b
waiting for godot - beckett
interview with a vampire - ann rice
run with the hunted - 🤔
 
You should read Camus' interview entitled "No, I am not an existentialist," which can be found in Lyrical and Critical Essays. Camus and Buk are probably my two favorite writers (along with Dos and Kafka), but they are so different that they are 1a and 1b for me.

Camus had a knack for writing an essay about a terribly banal topic, such as changing a pillowcase, and simultaneously convincing you that:
  1. Changing a pillowcase is one of the most magnificent undertakings ever; and
  2. When one changes a pillowcase, one doesn't actually change a pillowcase.
Along with The Stranger, the other critical novel is The Plague - an allegory for the German occupation of France during WW II. All of his essays are worth a read if you don't mind his rather cerebral style.
 

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
thanks! i loved the outsider - it was really interesting how he expressed his philosophy through the main
character - the scene at the end with the priest in his cell was great.

i'll check out the writings you mentioned.

any tips on where to start with kafka would be much appreciated too. i read the illustrated stories crumb did
and really liked them.

sounds like another poor soul with a monster for a father.
 
any tips on where to start with kafka
The problem with KAFKA (for an emotional reader) is, that he writes about horrible things, but in a calm voice, almost like the narrator of the TV-news. He is Not "screaming when he's burning". That's why it took me a couple of attempts over many years to connect.

"The Trial" is a great, wonderful, perfectly existentialist let-down novel.

Contains everything you need:
Like suffering from society and what it does to everybody being (forced to be) a part of it.
Like being a victim of "superior" forces and/or "authorities".
Like being THROWN into situations you don't understand or had a reason to expect to happen.
Like

If you'd like to start with anything shorter than a novel, there's - of course - the classic "The Metamorphosis" where the main character suddenly finds himself changed into a bug = not a member of humankind anymore. And what happens then, concerning the interaction with his close family and ability to live.
Or - since you indicated an interest in the father-trauma: "The Judgment".
Or - if you're interested in the less subtle horrors, that man do to each other (or society): "In the Penal Colony".
 
btw.: if you ask for a starting point with DOSTOYEVSKY:

"Dream of a Ridiculous Man" is definitely a sure bet!

It's a short-story, so you don't need the long breath like with his novels (including the screw to remember 3-6 different names for the same persons).
Also it really is EXISTENTIALISM at its very best, by which I mean:
a radical analysis of the "conditio humana" in all its tragedy.

Early in the 90s I've been doing a public reading of this story.
Here's the original announcement-poster from back then:

Roni-liest-Dostojewski_ca-1992.jpg
 
btw.: if you ask for a starting point with DOSTOYEVSKY:

"Dream of a Ridiculous Man" is definitely a sure bet!

It's a short-story, so you don't need the long breath like with his novels (including the screw to remember 3-6 different names for the same persons).
Also it really is EXISTENTIALISM at its very best, by which I mean:
a radical analysis of the "conditio humana" in all its tragedy.

Early in the 90s I've been doing a public reading of this story.
Here's the original announcement-poster from back then:

View attachment 19744
I wonder if any of you guys and gals ever saw the TV series "The Prisoner' with Patrick McGoohan. Seems to me to fit Roni's description quite well for an existentialist film. Poor Pat is thrown into a bizarre, totally "made-up" "village" by remote authorities and tries unsucessfully to escape, etc. I've watched it several times and even bought a book which tries to decode all the "hidden messages" in the film. Also "The Matrix" which is based on Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic where we again have a prisoner...But in Plato there is the hope one can enter finally into the mystical realm of TRUTH if we only open our eyes to true Sun of Knowledge....I don't know if you ever escape The Matrix, with the red pill blue pill choice....
 
Kafka's The Trial actually made me angry while reading it. The Castle deals with a similar philosophical issue in somewhat less frustrating fashion. America is even more accessible and is something of a companion to these two. His shorter works are also good; The Penal Colony is a collection of short stories and essays as is The Basic Kafka. All good stuff.
 
the other critical novel is The Plague
Yeah.
And this spring it literally became a bestseller again in Europe (we all know why).
I wonder if any of you guys and gals ever saw the TV series "The Prisoner'
This should answer your question:

roni_The-Prisoner.jpg



. . . oh, and talking KAFKA:

You definitely should watch this movie by Soderbergh with Jeremy Irons:


It's neither a bio-pic nor a picturization of a work, but collects smithereens of both and creates a new story outa that, which makes a perfectly filmed insight into the real Kafka's world (except that the movie is very expressionistic which Kafka's own emotionless narrator-like writing-style is not.

DO NOT spoiler yourself by googling now or watching more excerpts than the trailer gives away!
I mean it. Don't ruin your experience (there are a couple of unexpected moments you should see while you actually watch the whole thing and NOT know beforehand).

When I've watched the movie as it came out in the early 90s, afterwards I was so much in a state of inner horror, that I even did not dare to drink that night for fear I might develop nightmares. True.
 
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The Prisoner: Haha, I've just rediscovered this old dialog of ours (from 2012):
the way this trailer was filmed reminds me of 'The prisoner'.
I AM NOT A NUMBER! I AM A FREE MAN!

And since Bukowski-fans use to be deeply into Heavy-Metal (as we all know), this is the moment when you should be made aware that the intro to Iron Maiden's song "Free Man" is containing David's above quote, sampled from the TV-series:

 
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