existential primer

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a personal fascination, nothing more

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Most people do not care why I compile the information and opinions found in these documents. What people wonder is why one site is more “trustworthy” than another. No matter how many letters might follow my name indicating academic something or other, I will never consider myself an “expert” on what other men and women think or thought. The only way to know what Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre, or anyone else thought is to assume what you read by a particular thinker is honest (and comprehensible).

Academically, I have credentials. Those credentials are formalities. I know many experts I value without formal credentials. Judge the content of a work, not the person or the labels.

Without any greater purpose or meaning, I decided to utilize a portion of my time trying to both explore the meaningless nature of the cosmos, as expressed by various thinkers called “Existentialists” within philosophy texts. I understand this pursuit has no value, other than that of a distraction. In the den that serves as our home office, sits a filing cabinet filled with articles and notes on literature and philosophy. There is an explanation for this obsession with the human condition.

I was fortunate to have a French-born gentleman with a Ph.D as a high school literature instructor. Before teaching literature, he had taught French, world history, and Western civilization classes. In 1985 or 86, I endured my first lecture on existentialism and the French Resistance. In 1987, he taught the Advanced Placement literature course, which again focused upon existentialism. No college professor I encountered at the University of Southern California could match his knowledge or life experiences.

During my undergraduate years, I enrolled in every existential literature course offered, certain that while I might not grasp the theories, I do appreciate the notion that life is what it is.

In late 1996, I reviewed my college papers. To my dismay, I realized how condescending the graders had been. One paper caught my eye because the grader wrote, “I doubt you have read Camus’ biographies.” Some professors and their assistants have a difficult time believing students read. Or, maybe some graduate students take themselves too seriously. As a graduate student, I observed more than one of my peers dismiss the thoughts of undergraduates.

This illustrates why someone would agree with Camus that life is absurd. The few students truly passionate about understanding the condition of mankind are the ones least likely to be taken seriously… and to think I enjoy teaching.

Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…

Do not use this site as a study guide. The Existential Primer is a “living” academic project, unlike a static text. This primer is only a shallow introduction to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result in misunderstanding the profiled individuals. These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations included because within them is where you will find the experts. Read their works!

NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

Work; Author, p. Page


Not a Study Guide

The World Wide Web offers a great deal of information — some valuable, most not. I created this site to encourage further research into existential and phenomenological philosophies, hopefully providing a useful amount of information and references to external sources. I expect those interested in the writers and thinkers mentioned within these pages to locate the books and articles cited. My writing is not in textbook form, nor is it even in a form suitable as a high school term paper. I ask questions without offering answers, since I have no idea what the answers would be. The paragraphs are short, in a journalistic style not suited to academic research. Trying to use this site for any serious purpose might prove fatal to a student's grade.

It is not that I think the chronologies of biographical information is incorrect, but I have learned, as have most students, that some instructors are certain they and they alone know exactly what Nietzsche or Sartre meant in a particular work. My own students always seem astounded when I admit I have only an educated guess on these matters. It is much easier to know what is not likely, so we can establish limits on interpretations.

The biographies and commentaries are brief, limited by available server space, my free time, and my belief my opinions are not important. Other matters are more important than philosophy, what I ponder is how this particular set of men and women shaped literature and educational theory, not world events or human understanding.

I cite the views of others as frequently as possible. Opinions exist to be debated I am told, though I hate any debate — calm discussion is better. In many cases, opinions should be dismissed anyway. At best, opinions are starting points for new perspectives, but I'm not sure where philosophy will take anyone. If you have a question, submit it to the Exist List. I encourage students of philosophy to develop their own understandings — I’m of no particular help.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Credentials!
(But We Have Some)

As you can probably tell by now, I am not going to claim any grand authority to write on philosophy. I think anyone staking such a claim is probably the least likely to illuminate the subject. As with most people interested in philosophy, my primary qualification is that I read too much. One can never own too many books. Any academic credentials only demonstrate that I need to be outside more often!

I also do not claim to comprehend any “theories” about life or any philosophical schools of thought. For me, things are what they are; unfortunately, things are often absurd, especially in complex human systems like companies, governments, and universities.

“But do you have any qualifications?” I can hear you asking. Other than nearly 40 years of life? Oh, you want academic letters, awards, and other silly symbols of socially acknowledged expertise. No list of credentials would satisfy some people, though. Ironic — I think credentials are silly, but I also know they matter to my career in academia.

You could read my résumé and biography to decide if you want to give any value at all to what I write. Please take into consideration that what seems like self-promotion is also part of pursuing a career in the “publish or perish” competitive world of academia. And yes, I am employed by a university.

Recognitions for The Existential Primer

The following is a partial list of recognitions The Existential Primer has received from universities, libraries, and educational publishers.

Academic Background

I have taught philosophy courses as an assistant professor at a small private university.

I want to make this as clear as possible: I am not trying to understand particular philosophers or the implications of their ideas as they might apply to me. I am interested in the lasting effects these men and women have had on literature, theatre, and educational theory. I make no pretension of understanding theories about right and wrong, ethics, or human existence. I only know that the men and women grouped as existential shaped culture, including education and popular literature.

I’m in Charge Here!

One of the great pleasures is that I get to select the individuals profiled. I maintain a list of suggested additions to the site, yet I select those people about whom I wish to write first. In selecting these writers, I am considering their influence upon existentialism to be greater than those of others.

I am not completely ignorant of the topic: yes, some non-existentialists are on this site. I could not write about existentialism and not mention Dostoevsky, Hegel, or even Marx. It is the influence of these men upon The Existentialists that I weighed before dedicating space to commentaries upon their works. Don’t complain — I’m in charge here. (That’s dry wit, if you cannot tell!)


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