The Crystal Palace Unmanned.

I came to the end of Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy, and feel that my engagement with the author and his theses has barely begun. The insights about eternal human longings down through the ages, and even small details about the lives of individual thinkers, will be rattling around in my mind for a long time to come, and I hope to refer to some of them in the future.

In the meantime, I wanted to share here a few paragraphs from the concluding Part 4, “Integral vs. Rational Man.” The goal of the existentialists is here named as integration; not irrationality, as the book’s title might have led us to think. I’m sure the title Integrated Man would not have been nearly as memorable, and unfortunately, at least a couple of existentialists have descended into such irrationality that they were certainly insane.

William Barrett

“Existentialism is the counter—Enlightenment come at last to philosophic expression; and it demonstrates beyond anything else that the ideology of the Enlightenment is thin, abstract, and therefore dangerous. (I say its “ideology,” for the practical task of the Enlightenment is still with us: In everyday life we must continue to be critics of a social order that is still based everywhere on oppression, injustice, and even savagery—such being the peculiar tension of mind that we as responsible human beings have to maintain today.)

Martin Heidegger

“The finitude of man, as established by Heidegger, is perhaps the death blow to the ideology of the Enlightenment, for to recognize this finitude is to acknowledge that man will always exist in untruth as well as truth. Utopians who still look forward to a future when all shadows will be dispersed and mankind will dwell in a resplendent Crystal Palace will find this recognition disheartening. But on second thought, it may not be such a bad thing to free ourselves once and for all from the worship of the idol of progress; for utopianism — whether the brand of Marx or of Nietzsche — by locating the meaning of man in the future leaves human beings here and now, as well as all mankind up to this point, without their own meaning.

“If man is to be given meaning, the Existentialists have shown us, it must be here and now; and to think this insight through is to recast the whole tradition of Western thought. The realization that all human truth must not only shine against an enveloping darkness, but that such truth is even shot through with its own darkness may be depressing, and not only to utopians. But it has the virtue of restoring to man his sense of the primal mystery surrounding all things, a sense of mystery from which the glittering world of his technology estranges him, but without which he is not truly human.”

-William Barrett in Irrational Man, 1958

A good portion of the book can be found: here.

5 thoughts on “The Crystal Palace Unmanned.

  1. I take my hat off to you for grappling with such deep issues. Right now, I am moving forward one step at a time as we deal with the grip of the pandemic. It is good of you to share these thoughts.


  2. Wow!! I am impressed you read this. That you even understood it. I remember when I wanted a degree in Philosophy. Just curious, how did you read it? and how long did it take? I would only be able to read it maybe two pages at a time and then stop and think.

    Thank you for sharing. It really challenges my thinking. About the deepest I get now is The Closing of the American Mind by Bloom or Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Which maybe I should reread. Have a great day.


    1. Kim, I have both the Audible and paperback editions. Some of it was too hard for me to keep up with, listening — I found myself hitting the replay button over and over, and then giving up, then going back to read all those parts in the book as well. The print was definitely the better way for me personally to engage, because I could take notes and underline, and easily go back to previous chapters.

      I read part of Bloom’s book that you mentioned, when it was new, and that part made a big impression on me. I’ve always wanted to read Amusing Ourselves to Death and I did finally get it into the house a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it lately, and am wondering if I lent it out…? Now there are all the newer books about how our minds and even brains are changed by all the internet and cell phone usage, which probably take Postman’s concerns to the next level.

      Thanks for the reminders about good books on related topics.


  3. The quote from the book has whet my appetite. I would have to say that I find myself in agreement and would like to read more to better understand the effect rationalism has had and continues to have on modern man, particularly in America. Thank you for sharing!


  4. Anne, it is in large part our collective responses to the pandemic that make me want to think about foundational principles, ethics, and what it means to be human. I find it very helpful to consider the centuries-long questions about our existence as they are debated by people from previous decades and centuries, who are not caught up in events current to our own era, and whose concerns go deeper than how to avoid death.

    The answers of the existentialists are not, as this quote points out, completely satisfying, but their questions I find refreshing.

    Thank you so much for joining with me in the bloggy conversation on so many topics!


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