In the Chronicle, Texas professor Robert Solomon defends existentialism from its critics and those who misunderstand its premise:
Only a few weeks ago I heard a radio commentator declare that the “nothing really matters” lyric from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was truly “existential.” And I still hear pundits and some of my university colleagues decry existentialism as the source of our nihilistic gloom, the reason why our students don’t vote and why they experiment with dangerous drugs. I listen to such comments with a mix of amusement and horror because I like existentialism and I think that existentialism, not pessimism, is what America needs right now.
And make of yourself an example for a larger point about the cultural and political situation in your country.
Last week, Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer was robbed in her house in Johannesburg. She was unharmed, although it seems she was roughed up a bit after refusing to give the robbers her wedding ring.
A week later, Gordimer was keen to view the incident from the other side. The robbers, she said, are products of a society grappling with the legacy of South Africa’s past. “I know that South Africa has a terrible problem with crime, with violent crime. But I don’t think the answer is more police. I think we must look at the reasons behind the crime. There are young people in poverty without opportunities. They need education, training and employment. That is the way to reduce crime,” she said.
A similar, though more violent, South African burglary is described in the novel Disgrace — written by countryman (and fellow Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner) J. M. Coetzee — which was just named the “best novel of the past 25 years” by the Guardian.
Today’s New York Times has a glorious review of the “Masters of American Comics” exhibition now open in Manhattan and Newark. Since I most likely won’t make it to the exhibit, I’ll have to settle for the Slide Show which accompanies the article. Sigh…
Above: two of the better panels (described in the Times as “Superman Suicide”) from the best graphic novel ever, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth. Please (I beg of you) click to enlarge. And then read the book — it will blow your mind, I promise.
Following in the footsteps of the New York Times, the Guardian held their own “What’s the best novel in the past 25 years?” contest, featuring works published in England, Ireland, and any of the colonies. The winner was J. M Coetzee’s Disgrace, a work I just finished reading myself (it was superb).
Lists of this sort are easy to criticize, but I always find them interesting and beneficial, especially as a younger reader who wasn’t off age when most of these books were published. I’ve heard enough mention of Amis’s Money and McEwan’s Attonement to put them on my own list of books needing to be read, and a list like this helps guide my choices in the future.