From Sartre to Dostoevsky

Anthony Hatzimoysis identitifes the leading lights of existentialist philosophy

We have seen some of the main features of the existentialist approach to human life. Our discussion has not been limited to any one particular philosopher, and has tried instead to identify some guiding thoughts of existentialist authors. But who exactly are those authors?

Which, among the several philosophers who reflected on the nature and meaning of human existence, count as existentialists? There are several, and sometimes conflicting, answers to that question. Historians may disagree over the attribution of the existentialist title to various figures. However, there is a core group of important philosophers who should be included on anyone’s books. So, here is my short list of existentialist writers.

To begin with, there are thinkers who made a strong claim on the paternity of the idea of grounding philosophical inquiry on the analysis of human existence (Karl Jaspers in Germany, and Gabriel Marcel in France). Then there are philosophers who came to endorse ‘existentialism’ as a title for their own theory, often using the term in order to describe, clarify, or qualify the nature of their approach to important philosophical topics (Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre).

Furthermore, there are a number of thinkers who engaged with existentialism in developing their distinctive approach to the experience of artworks, the meaning of life, the limits of political legitimacy, and the philosophical understanding of history (Rom Ingarten, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, and Ortega y Gasset).

Then we have philosophers whose work betrays an ambivalent stance towards existentialism – an ambivalence that has been intellectually most fertile, since it offers both some of the most eloquent expressions of the existentialist thinking, as well as a critical statement against certain forms of existentialism for obscuring our view of the Other (as alleged by Emanuel Levinas against Cartesian Existentialists), or for silencing the voice of Being by reducing serious ontological inquiry about what there really is into some sort of philosophical curiosity about human beings (as it was argued by Martin Heidegger against Humanist Existentialists).

There are, though, three authors of the 19th century whose writing - its focus, vocabulary, and narrative structure, perhaps more than what their texts actually argued for - made their work the main point of reference for a number of issues that would become the staple of existentialist discourse: Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

A quick glance through the above list should warn us that it would be unwise to characterise a view as ‘existentialist’ without clarifying which existentialist philosopher one has in mind. The list includes from devoted Christians (Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Marcel) to ardent atheists (Nietzsche, and Sartre), from committed liberals (such as Jaspers), and radical political thinkers (such as Arendt), to notorious opponents of political progress (such as Heidegger), and from literary curators of immanence (Camus), to supporters of the transcendent dimension of human life (Levinas).

If there is one view that they all share, it is that the concrete reality of each individual being is richer in content and prior in importance to any theoretical construction about what a human being in the abstract supposedly is – in the terms of a famous motto: ‘existence precedes essence’.

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The new Gilmore Girls trailer is dated, weird, nostalgic and utterly brilliant

Except, of course, for the presence of Logan. I hate you, Logan.

When the date announcement trailer for Gilmore Girls came out, an alarm bell started ringing in my ears – it seemed like it was trying a little too hard to be fresh and modern, rather than the strange, outdated show we loved in the first place.

But in the lastest trailer, the references are dated and obscure and everything is great again. In the first five seconds we get nods to 1998 thriller Baby Moniter: Sound of Fear and 1996 TV movie Co-ed Call Girl. The up to date ones feel a little more… Gilmore: Ben Affleck, KonMari, the Tori Spelling suing Benihana scandal.

As in the last trailer, the nostalgia is palpable – a tour of Stars Hollow in snow, misty-eyed straplines, and in jokes with the audience about Kirk’s strange omnipotent character. It seems to avoid the saccharine though – with Rory and Lorelai balking at Emily’s enormous oil painting of her late husband.

What does it tell us about the plot of the new series? Luke and Lorelai are still together (for now), Rory has moved on from Stars Hollow, and Emily is grappling with the death of her husband (a necessary plot turn after the sad death of actor Edward Herrmann). In fact, Emily, Lorelai and Rory are all feeling a bit “lost”: Emily as she is trying to cope with her new life as a widow, Lorelai as she is questioning her “happy” settled life in Stars Hollow, and Rory because her life is in total flux.

We learn that Rory is unemployed and living a “rootless” or “vagabond” existence (translation: living between New York and London – we see skylines of both cities). But the fact that she can afford this jetset lifestyle while out of work, plus one plotline’s previous associations with London, points worryingly to one suggestion: Rory and Logan are endgame. (Kill me.) This seems even more likely considering Logan is the also the only Rory ex we see in a domestic setting, rather than in a neutral Stars Hollow location.

As for the other characters? Jess is inexplicably sat in a newsroom (is he working at the Stars Hollow Gazette?), Lane is still playing the drums (we know a Hep Alien reunion is on its way), Sookie is still cooking at the inn (and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy roles seem to have influenced the character’s appearance in the trailer’s only slapstick moment), Paris is potentially teaching at Chilton, Dean is STILL in Doose’s Market, Michelle is eternally rolling his eyes (but now with a shiny Macbook), Babette and Miss Patty are still running the town’s impressive amateur theatre scene, and Kirk is… well, Kirk.

The budget, context and some of the camerawork has evolved (the show’s style of filming barely changed excepting the experimental season seven), but much remains the same. For me, it’s the perfect combination of fan service, nostalgia, and modernisation (except, of course, for Logan. I hate you, Logan) – and seems to remain true to the spirit of the original show. Bring on 25 November!

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.