On Being and Becoming: An Existentialist Approach to Life

New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press (2020)
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Abstract

On Being and Becoming offers a new approach to existentialist philosophy and literature, as responding to competing demands for universal truth and the defense of the irreducible singularity of the individual. On Being and Becoming traces the heterogeneity of existentialist thinking beyond the popular wartime philosophers of the Parisian Left Bank, demonstrating their critical dependence on sources from the nineteenth century and their complements in modernist works across the European continent and beyond. While quintessentially modern, existentialism inherits ideas of the past and anticipates challenges of the present. Despite its individualism, existentialist attention to the human self is related to conceptions of world, others, the earth, and the more encompassing concept of being. The predominance of ideas of authenticity, individuality, and self-determination makes any existentialist manifesto self-contradictory, while existentialist thinkers above all wanted to make their philosophy relevant to concrete human existence as it is lived. Prevailing models of existential authenticity life tend to overlook the rich diversity of its prospects, which, as this volume shows, involve not only anxiety, absurdity, awareness of death and of the loss of religious reassurances, but also hope, the striving for happiness, and a sense of the transcendent—all of these grounded our human capacity to create meaning. In spite of the diversity of existentialism, all of its thinkers recognize the self as becoming, and recognize the courage and creativity human individuality demands. On Being and Becoming elaborates pragmatic and philosophical relevance of existentialism for being human in the contemporary world.

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Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei
Johns Hopkins University

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