Hazel Barnes’s “Self-Encounter: A Study in Existentialism,” Episode 2: The Far Side of Despair.
I. Introduction by Z
Hazel Barnes was an American philosopher, the first translator of Sartre’s L’être et le néant, aka Being and Nothingness, into English, and the author of seven original books in Existentialist philosophy, including The Literature of Possibility: A Study in Humanistic Existentialism (1959) and An Existentialist Ethics (1967).
In The Literature of Possibility, she says that
[f]or almost a century now, prevailing psychologies and the literature written under their influence have agreed that men cherish the illusion of freedom, while being in fact determined by heredity, by environment, and by early childhood experiences. Humanistic existentialism challenges this doctrine and claims that the reverse is true: every man is free, but most men, fearing the consequences and the responsibilities of freedom, refuse to acknowledge its presence in themselves and would deny it to others.[i]
And she was right–especially about people’s refusal to acknowledge their metaphysically, morally, and politically real free agency, and their insistence on denying it to others.
Barnes’s work is almost entirely ignored by contemporary professional academic philosophers.
But this is merely professionally-induced amnesia, presentist prejudice, and ideological rigor mortis.
In fact, her work is philosophically important for many reasons, not the least of which are its fusion of core Existentialist ideas with a broadly Kantian, dignitarian ethics, and its elective affinity with social anarchism.
In her fascinating autobiography, The Story I Tell Myself, she writes about her brief career as a public philosopher and TV personality:
One of the most interesting by-products of my philosophical commitment [to Existentialism] was a proposal from people at KRMA, the Denver affiliate of National Public Television, that I work with them on a series of ten half-hour shows for the national network. These would be concerned with Existentialism. I would be host and discussant and would select illustrative material for filming. After viewing our pilot tape, the national office approved and granted us funding. I called the series “Self-Encounter.” For each program I chose a basic theme, for which I developed [a]n informal lecture with accompanying visual presentations. Sometimes the visual material served as background to add emotional connotations to an idea, or to enhance a mood. More often we interpolated dramatic scenes taken from plays and from dialogues in novels…. “Self-Encounter” was telecast on the national network in 1962.[ii]
When she wrote this, in 1997, Barnes thought that the tapes for her 1962 PBS series, Self-Encounter: A Study in Existentialism had all been destroyed.[iii]
But actually, they hadn’t: one set had been preserved by the Library of Congress.
Below is the second episode, “The Far Side of Despair.”
Many thanks to Jeffrey Ward Larsen, Andrew D. Chapman, and Addison Ellis for their material, technological, and philosophical assistance with this project.
[i] H. Barnes, The Literature of Possibility: A Study in Humanistic Existentialism (Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1959), p. 3.
[ii] H. Barnes, The Story I Tell Myself (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 166–167.
[iii] Ibid, p. 168
II. Hazel Barnes’s Self-Encounter: A Study in Existentialism, Episode 2: “The Far Side of Despair”
III. Previous Episodes
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 237
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Sunday 10 February 2019
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