Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed

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Hardcover, 186 pages
MJF Books, 2006
First Edition, First Printing

We are all familiar with the concepts associated with Existentialism--angst, alienation, self, truth, knowledge, being, finitude--but what is Existentialism really? How did it develop?  And why does it still matter?

In Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed, Steven Earnshaw explains Existential thinking to the lay reader, exploring its history, its impact on society and politics, and its related literary and artistic influences.  Divided into two parts--"Thinkers" and "Themes"--this accessible volume clarifies both the roles of the most significant contributors and the central topics they've debated: being and self, experience and consciousness, God and nothingness, freedom and ethics.

Existentialism has its modern origins in the works of nineteenth century philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.  In the twentieth century, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Kafka, and others picked up the broad themes of emptiness and absurdity, and developed them further in literature and philosophy.

No longer able to depend on the traditions and systems of the past, these great thinkers and writers insisted on personal insight as the only path to real understanding.  They offered no claims of universal truth--only the opportunity to discover fundamental realities based on one's own experiences. 

In plain easy-to-understand language, author Steven Earnshaw offers a riveting discussion of the following questions:

  • Is freedom real or just an illusion?
  • If there is no God, are individuals free to set their own moral standards?
  • What is the essence of consciousness?
  • Why is doubt "the beginning of the highest form of existence"?
  • How is the individual's experience shaped by the presence of others?
  • How can the absence of hope actually provide life with meaning?

Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed will give you a handle on Existentialist thinking--not as a depressing struggle with the burden of existence, but as a dynamic journey of discovery and enlightenment.

About the Author

Steven Earnshaw is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam. His publications include The Memory Clinic (2016, short story collection), Beginning Realism (2010), Existentialism (2006), The Pub in Literature (2000), and The Direction of Literary Theory (1996). He is the editor of The Handbook of Creative Writing (2014, Second Edition, Edinburgh University Press) and three edited collection on postmodernism. His short stories are also published in various magazines, and he has written essays on creative writing and other topics such as the Brontës. He has been involved in digital art collaborations and was co-founder of the magazine Proof. Current research is on The Existential Drinker (Manchester University Press), due for completion 2017.

Steven was previously Head of English and Course Leader of the MA Writing, and currently leads on practice-based PhDs. His teaching covers literature from the Victorian Period to the Twenty-First Century, literary theory, and creative writing. Current PhD supervisions on literature range across ‘Wilkie Collins and the Inheritance Plot’ and ‘Authentic Relationships in Contemporary Literature: A Feminist Endeavour’, and creative-writing PhD supervision has included work on ‘The Dramatic Monologue’ and ‘David Fram: Lithuanian Yiddish Poet of the South African Diaspora’/Illuminating Love (novel).

He initiated and supervised the Heritage Lottery-funded project, ‘The Sheffield Flood Claims Archive’, which digitised and made publicly available compensation claims following the bursting of the Dale Dyke Dam in 1864. He has been external examiner at a number of institutions, for literature and creative writing degrees and courses. In 2016 he established the ‘Time and Temporalities’ cluster for the Drinking Studies Network and is due to complete a book on ‘Time in Literature’ for 2019.