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Situating ExistentialismKey Texts in Context$
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Robert Bernasconi and Jonathan Judaken

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231147750

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231147750.001.0001

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Angst Across the Channel

Angst Across the Channel

Existentialism in Britain

(p.145) 5 Angst Across the Channel
Situating Existentialism

Martin Woessner

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines how existentialism was received, constructed, and reconstructed in Britain, and how it challenged the dry academicism of the analytic tradition’s emphasis on logical positivism and empiricism. It considers the London debut of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot and how it became the most famous link between existentialism and the theater of the absurd. Godot’s characters were snipped from vaudevillian types, and their dialogue ultimately goes nowhere but still manages to provide glosses on death, language, God, and providence. Beckett thus seamlessly merged the droll with the profound. In more formal terms, existentialism was introduced to British philosophy by two German Jewish émigrés, Werner Brock and F. H. Heinemann. Outside the academy, however, it was the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch who popularized existentialism by introducing Jean-Paul Sartre and the themes of the Paris school to British readers. The chapter concludes by discussing the wider cultural reception of existentialism in Britain via the works of such popular authors as Colin Wilson and R. D. Laing.

Keywords:   existentialism, Britain, logical positivism, empiricism, Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, philosophy, Werner Brock, F. H. Heinemann, Iris Murdoch

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