Monday, August 20, 2007

Six Existential Thinkers

I just finished reading one of the most arcane books ever - Six Existential Thinkers by H.J. Blackham. Wikipedia says it "became a popular university textbook" -- and I must say I pity those students who had to read it. Only 160 pages but it felt like it took me a lifetime because, for the life of me, I could not understand a thing that was being said in many places. It felt to me that he was constantly trying to be intelligent by repeating the same thing over and over. For example, the Preface:
    The purpose of this book is exposition, not criticism nor advocacy.

I hadn't even meant to use this part of the Preface, but look at the first sentence of the entire book!

    There have been enough popular accounts of the general ideas of existentialists. It is time to discriminate between these thinkers; they are not exponents of of a school, and yet not the least impressive thing ... is the interrelatedness of their thinking: they lead into each other; they form a natural family; each throws light on the others, and together they develop the content of certain common themes.
    Finally, the general reader who is interested enough to want to acquaint himself with existentialism should be told at the outset that there is nothing in this book which he cannot understand if he really wants to. There are difficulties, but they are not technical, and they are likely to oppress the philosopher even more than the general reader.

Does that make me a philosopher? I don't think so.

The second word of the book is "pertinaciously". I had to look it up.

To be fair, the Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and to some extent Jaspers sections are readable. The middle section, Marcel, is OK, but the last two sections on Heidegger and Sartre are likely the most opaque things I have ever read...

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