By Robert Whyte and Z
1. Introduction, by Z
Existentialism is a philosophical, artistic, religious/spiritual, and psychiatric movement whose anticipations go back as far as the plays of Euripides, Augustine’s Confessions, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Pascal’s Pensées, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Kant’s Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Kierkegaard’s writings, and the novels and short stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka, but whose most famous 20th century proponents are the early Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone De Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Erich Fromm, R.D. Laing, Martin Buber, and Hazel Barnes.
Existentialism is about the human free agent’s anxious, despairing search for authenticity and meaning in an apparently absurd and utterly mechanical–whether compulsively deterministic or randomly probabilistic–world, and more especially about, as Barnes so crisply puts it, how
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]
In Existential America, George Cotkin rightly notes that
American culture, as expressed in the hard-boiled detective novel of the 1930s and in the film noir of the 1940s faced existential realities of despair, absurdity, and contingency. It did so without any influence from European philosophy. Indeed, popular American film and fictional noir spread its magic toward Europe. The style of James M. Cain’s classic noir novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), for example, influenced Camus to write his own novel, The Stranger , in a similar style. Sartre’s magnum opus, Being and Nothingness (1943), may in some senses be seen as positing a noir universe, a sensibility that paralleled the American noir and tragic view of life….
The hard-boiled hero of noir film and fiction is deeply suspicious of human nature, or at least of the motivations of others. Aware of man’s rapacity and capacity for sin, the hard-boiled hero seeks to escape illusion. He remains, however, in danger of surrendering to its allure…. The noir hero is then perplexed, often left without a moral compass. He is in search of meaning, of a reason for existence–his own and that of others.[ii]
André Gide bang-on accurately described Red Harvest as “a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror.”
The respective protagonists of the two novels, The Continental Op and Nick Corey, are highly intelligent, “human all-too-human” small-town lawmen, who end up as nihilistic serial killers in the name of the law.
In American hard-boiled noir Existentialism, and in everyday American life, the killer inside us is always also the gun-crazy shooter inside us.
Bernard Tavernier’s Coup de Torchon (1981), an excellent adaptation of Pop. 1280 set in French West Africa, fades out with a close-up of the sheriff-killer, played by Philippe Noiret–appropriately pronounced “noir-eh?”–alone with his revolver and the killer inside us, absolutely lost on the verge of the moral abyss.
And now here are some exceptionally existentially cool philosophical music and lyrics about all that.
2. Pop 1280, by Robert Whyte
Pop. 1280 now it’s seventy nine
a body in the trunk and I’m travelling fine
I like to keep things neat and tidy,
or it upsets the little man inside me
You made the mistake of smiling at me,
I returned the favour with a four by three
You’ll never find a sheriff as nice as me
A respected pillock of society
You were just a detail in a difficult case
for the sake of my town I had to erase
I pin my badge on
precisely at 8
And cruise the streets
in my Chevy V8
He’ll bore you to death with his meaningless talk
If that doesn’t work he’ll use a knife and fork
He’s got a death stare like you’ve never seen before
he can feel your liver all a-quiver with fear
He’s my dark underbelly
of original sin
and he keeps on
doing it again and again
[i] H. Barnes, Humanistic Existentialism: The Literature of Possibility (Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1958), p. 3.
[ii] G. Cotkin, Existential America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2003), pp. 28–30.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 212
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 11 December 2018
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