Spring 1950 • Vol. XII No. 2 NonfictionApril 1, 1950 |

Existentialism and the Self

French existentialism is a complex and, to the critic, a disconcerting product of the European agony. How shall we treat it? As a philosophy in the sense of an attempt at logically ordered discourse which tries to prove something, and hence can be argued with? Or as a kind of metaphysical tone poem, seeking to evoke or express something, and so to be studied as a psychological and sociological phenomenon and to be judged, if judged at all, by aesthetic rather than logical criteria? Some of its critics thus far have adopted one of these strategies and some the other. When viewed as a metaphysical tone poem, Existentialism has come out looking considerably more worthy of respect: one pays obeisance to it as expressing the ethos of the French Resistance, or perhaps more broadly as a cry of pain in the twilight of Western culture, together with a spasmodic heave of expiring life, heroically if frantically voicing against the encroaching atomic or totalitarian night some of the residual

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