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Existentialism in Grendel

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Jennifer Martin

on 11 October 2017

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Transcript of Existentialism in Grendel

The Courage to Be:

Existentialism and other -isms
in Grendel

Definition of Existentialism
"A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will."

“Existentialism is not a comprehensive philosophy, or way of life, but an endeavour to grasp reality... "
May, R. Existence: Origins of the Existential Movement
Famous Philosophers
The Pros and Cons of Existentialism
--We are utterly free and have no one to answer to.

--We are utterly free and have no one to answer to.
Nihilism and Absurdity
Absurdity: Everybody is here; everyone exists, but there is no reason for it.
Nothingness: There is nothing that structures the world’s existence.
Death: Death is always there; there is no way escaping from it.
Life: You desire to find meaning, but this is an absurd quest because there is no meaning to be found. "Is
all there is?" "Does
Existential Questions
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
-Danish philosopher
- First existential philosopher
- Advocated the importance of the individual consciousness against the church's formalities and adherence to traditions.
Core Philosophies in Grendel
"I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!"
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
-German philosopher
The "Pessimist"
“GOD IS DEAD”: Man is alone on Earth.
There is no “higher power” to guide, judge, console, encourage, etc. us.
“Life is what you make it”: if you screw it up…oh well.
“Morality is the herd instinct in the individual.”
In 1889 he had a sudden breakdown and became psychotic.
His works were later used by the Nazis.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
- Key French Existentialism philosopher
-The Freedom to Choose
What differentiates man from animals is our freedom to choose.
Man learns by making choices and committing to those choices.
CHOICE: I am my choices. I cannot NOT choose. If I do not choose, that is still a choice. If faced with inevitable circumstances, we still choose how we are in those circumstances.
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
- German philosopher
- The "Optimist"
- It is true that when people face the reality of existentialism, they will feel DREAD or ANGST.
Yet: God still exists = responsibility leads to DREAD = DREAD leads to ACTION = God has inspired us to take responsibility for ourselves.
Anxiety is normal in the face of one’s mortality. Courage is needed.

Who we are and our purpose.
Who am I?
Why am I here? Are we an accident in the universe?
Is this all there is to life?
What is the point of striving when life is so short? Why should I struggle to survive when life is transient and fragile?
What or who creates meaning?
What is the purpose to life?
Authenticity and Identity
Juxtaposition in Waiting for Godot
None of the character seems to retain any.
Vladmir and Estragon is always indecisive and easily swayed. (Ex. Vladmir’s sudden change in attitude towards Pozzo. )
Estragon cannot solve any problems without Vladmir's help. (Ex. Taking off his boots.)
Vladmir and Estragon’s resolves to leave always end in inaction, signifying their lack of responsibility towards themselves and their identity.
They seem to wait for Godot to act upon them.
Godot as an analogy to religion and faith, giving structure to Vladmir and Estragon's lives, but at the same time refrains each individual to develop their own meaningful lives.
The Basic Tenets of Existentialism

After the rise of existentialism, religion was often called absurd because it could not be justified on rational principles.

There was no proof of a god.
Definition: Given the randomness and chaos of the world, INDIVIDUALS determine meaning through free will and responsibility.
“Existence precedes essence”: we exist, but things in life have no meaning for us except the meaning we create for them.
“Meaning” is determined by us, not by a higher power: we are who we make ourselves to be.
There is no “destiny”: we are fully responsible for what happens to us.
Origin of Absurdity
“Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Characteristics of Existential Fiction
No story or plot
Violent and grotesque
Little character development
Dreamlike or nightmarish
No beginning or end
Illogical or irrational organization

Tenants of Solipsism
Knowledge of other minds
How do we KNOW that other minds exist? We cannot feel what other people feel—all experiences are private and immediate.
You can look at the behavior that others exhibit.
Problem: People can lie.
Solipsism: I know I exist because I think, feel, etc. I can’t deny my own existence. But I CAN deny the existence of others. “I THINK THEREFORE I AM.”

Does existentialism ALWAYS have to be a bummer?
Carl Sagan's "The Pale Blue Dot"
1973 Interview with John Gardner: What inspired him to write
"Beowulf, the poem, was ripe in possibilities for a modern audience. The monster Grendel, is a symbol of darkness of chaos in the poem, but in my book, becomes a full-bodied, three-dimensional character."
"The novel Grendel, it seems to me, is essentially a novel about faith and reason."
"In Grendel, I wanted to go through the main ideas of Western Civilization and go through them in the voice of the monster, with the story already taken care of, with the various philosophical attitudes and see what I could do, see if I could break out."
From Macbeth: Act V, sc. v:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
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