[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

 

Ernest Becker Sketch by M.R.P. - The Denial of Death - critique, criticism, analysis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

One of my more unexpectedly disappointing experiences in recent memory was reading Ernest Becker’s seminal work of psychoanalytic theory and cultural anthropology, The Denial of Death. Humanity’s obsessive self-distraction and self-delusion on the topic of mortality is something in which I am deeply interested, which is why numerous people had recommended the book to me over the years. With the unmitigated praise (and prestigious accolades) the work has received, I was excited to read what I assumed would be a stirring philosophical and cultural analysis of the titular concept.

The Denial of Death does make a very good first impression, as Becker is an erudite scholar and (drawing on the work of Otto Rank) a subtle interpreter of the theories of Sigmund Freud. But concealed behind the parade of theorists and the solid analytical prose (seemingly consciously concealed) is an old-fashioned, moralizing, pessimistic set of theses: that humanity is in denial of mortality because of a ‘necessary’ denial of the human body and reality; that humanity can only exorcise the dread of death by embracing blind faith and rooting out ‘aberrant’ thoughts and behaviors; and that death can only be truly faced by those who approach the study of humanity and society through a (reductive) structuralist lens.

I think all three notions are shockingly misguided and false, to the extent that I almost see the widespread adoration of the work as either a defensive scenario (where folks who are unable to follow the thread of Becker’s argument praise it, for fear of having to admit their ignorance) or an ironic phenomenon of self-assured conservatism (wherein tradition-biased academics embrace the work because it pats them on the back and insists that only they have already conquered death). While The Denial of Death does certainly have praiseworthy merits, those merits have been stated and overstated across the decades. Thus, in this article I shall explain Becker’s project with special emphasis on its flaws, by addressing each of those three aforementioned theses in turn.

Continue reading

[Work: The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, 1973]
The Denial of Life:

A Critique of Pessimism, Pathologization, and Structuralism in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

was last modified: October 21st, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

 

Introduction:

Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s dark fantasy masterpiece, is a seemingly impenetrable work from an interpretive and thematic standpoint. First, famously, much of its worldbuilding and story can be reached only by careful attention to environmental set pieces, optional character interactions, and item descriptions. Second, and more of an obstacle for our present analytical purpose, Dark Souls is a game which seems to be about death, decay, and annihilation—but which is simultaneously a game starring a prophecy-driven character who survives death, and in which souls are demonstrable realities.

But would-be Souls scholars should not despair. As for the subtlety and density of its worldbuilding, this is no rarity in the wider world of art. While it’s nowhere near as complex as a Modernist novel, I would contend that Dark Souls is similarly rewarding to careful attention and study as are, for instance, the works of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. So, obviously I don’t consider the difficulty of accessing its story to be an insurmountable detriment. And as for the seeming thematic contradictions of the game, these are not intractable.

A reading of Dark Souls as being in conversation with the canon of existentialist philosophical thought yields a relatively straightforward path toward interpretation: Dark Souls, especially through its story and gameplay mechanics, is an allegory for the human condition in an entropic universe with no inherent meaning. That might seem vague and insubstantial, but hereafter I intend to provide support for it (and eventually specificity) through careful attention to both the game and the relevant philosophy.

Dark Souls screenshot with Furtive Pygmy, Dark Soul, and First Flame - existentialist philosophical analysis of Dark Souls - FromSoftware - existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche

Continue reading

[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

was last modified: October 30th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

 

Introduction:

Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre - philosophy, symbolism, literatureThe book that I would like to analytically introduce and recommend today is one that is most assuredly not for everyone. And I don’t mean that it’s not for everyone because its content is shocking, like American Psycho, nor because its content is controversial, like Lolita, nor because its content is difficult, like Gravity’s Rainbow.

No, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea is not for everyone because it’s entirely possible to read the book cover-to-cover without noticing what the book is doing; and if you do exactly that, then you are likely to find the book rather boring. In fact, Nausea is at its best and most likeable when its unassuming content becomes for you shocking, controversial, and difficult. So I’m now going to try my best to prevent you from having that first experience, so that you can enjoy this amazing work of literature.

Continue reading

[Work: Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938]
Meeting Angst and Despair:

A Brief Introduction to the Symbols and Revelations to be Found in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea

was last modified: December 21st, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

 

Albert Camus Sketch by M.R.P. - The Stranger ending - authenticity, existentialism

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

A month ago, your Tuesday Tome article consisted of a discussion of the topic of authenticity in the existential classic The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. This week, I would like to look at this same theme, authenticity, in the context of a work that is not merely labeled existential, but existentialist, appearing as it does among the canon of the French existentialists in the 20th century: The Stranger by Albert Camus.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Stranger, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Specifically, I would like to talk about the ending epiphany of protagonist Meursault, and what it is that allows Meursault to face his death happily at the end of The Stranger. My initial premise is that attainment of the aforementioned authenticity allows Meursault to do so, but this premise will be complicated by the novel’s very last line, for which I will offer three different but related readings.

Continue reading

[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

was last modified: February 22nd, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Existentialism, Morality]
Freedom is Not a Humanism:

Responding to the Ethical System in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”

 

Jean-Paul Sartre Sketch by M.R.P. - Existentialism is a Humanism criticism - freedom

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Whatever your personal estimation of his ideas, it is nevertheless true that Jean-Paul Sartre ushered in one of those rare moments in human history when a school of contemporary philosophy was highly integrated into the zeitgeist. And while I personally find Sartre’s contributions to literature (i.e. his plays, short stories, and novels) to be so exceptional as to far outweigh his contributions to philosophy, I do find value in both.

The work by him which is most likely to have been encountered by any student of philosophy, however, is not one of his literary works; instead, it is his early speech-turned-essay “Existentialism is a Humanism.” This is an essay I generally like. After all, I like existentialism; I would not reject the label of existentialist for aspects of my own philosophical convictions. But, that said, I feel that after starting strong Sartre ventures somewhat off-base in “Existentialism is a Humanism” when he nears what is ostensibly his thesis. His initial responses to myopic detractors are useful and well-composed, but his goal (and the intention stated by his title) of showing that existentialism provides a morality of maximising freedom seems misguided.

Continue reading

[Topics: Existentialism, Morality]
Freedom is Not a Humanism:

Responding to the Ethical System in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”

was last modified: April 16th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski