The Contradictions of Philosophy
‘Existentialism is an attempt at philosophizing from the standpoint of the actor instead of as has been customary, from that of the spectator’: so reads E. L. Allen’s attempt to ‘hazard a definition of existentialism in a sentence’ in his 1953 Existentialism from Within (3). Simplistic though this might be, it does prompt an immediate recognition of the potentially radical implications for the influence of existentialism upon the masculine definitions of selfhood and narrative techniques examined in the previous chapter. The existentialist self, encapsulating as it does the concept of an authenticity continually hard-won by dynamic, individual choice amidst a contingent universe, stands in opposition to a self whose behavioural patterns and values issue from a pre-existent masculine core. As Mark Poster has pointed out, for existentialist thinkers, ‘Consciousness existed […] before it had any particular attributes — before, that is, it had an essence’ (82). Identity is won by the constant striving of the individual, not inherited by virtue of solidarity with a group: in fact, existential authenticity is usually apprehended as being inversely proportionate to social conformity. The existential novel should stand in antithesis to the masculine text. The notion of existence as ‘being-in-the-world’, with its acknowledgement of the subjectivity and instability of each individual viewpoint, provides a marked contrast to Malcolm Bradbury’s lauded ‘art of reason’ (1969, iii), based upon a supposedly objective record of a supposedly recognisable universal experience.
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