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Recommended Reading - Existentialism
21-Existentialism-Sartre.pdf --Sartre's clearest "definition."

22-Existentialism-Camus.pdf  -- The Myth of Sisyphus

13-Nihilism.pdf - short selections of Nietzsche aphorisms

25-Fritzsche on Nietzsche.pdf - solid introduction

Nietzsche-1a.pdf - extensive selections 

Language, Essence, and Existence from Introduction to Existentialism

Questions of philosophy eventually confront matters of language and expression. What we know is complicated when we try to share knowledge or wisdom. Each time we communicate, some loss of meaning is risked.

Most visitors to this site have heard Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous statement from Being and Nothingness, “Existence precedes and rules essence.” In general, it is accepted that people create an essence while all other things have an essence and are then created or understood by people. If you have a new idea for a tool, the idea exists before the object you intend to create. However, you can understand your idea only via words or symbols already known. This means all comprehension of “essense” is limited by existing language.

Likewise, how we relate to people and each other is limited by language, even if we accept the idea that first a person exists, then he or she is free to define a “self” in the world. The concepts of language and symbols complicate the existence-essence relationship because how we describe something affects how others perceive that thing or person.

We communicate via images, sounds, and touch. For most of us, what we think is converted to a form of “unspoken speech” in our minds. This means we can only understand and explain things in some form of spoken word. Philosophers dealing with ideas of deconstruction and postmodern linguistics have come to appreciate the limits of language and the social implications of words.

French, as with most languages, is gender-specific even when naming objects. Simone de Beauvoir wondered how language affects gender identity. Language shapes us, while we also have some power to shape language. Because language is not static, we can argue for new words, new meanings, and even new grammars. Unfortunately, no language is a perfect representation of ideas, and our ideas are shaped by existing language.

If we each define an essence by living and making choices, we are still limited by words and other forms of text when we want to express that essence to others.

A Quick Lesson

Good morning/afternoon/evening class. {Mr. Wyatt pauses to accept joyful greetings.} Allow me to write a word on the board.


I need my morning tea, or I will not be able to discuss matters in a civil tone. So, you have until I finish tea to ponder and write your thoughts on what I have written.

{Mr. Wyatt enjoys a simple tea, gathered from his favorite tin, which is kept in a drawer at his desk. The hotplate, violating some campus policy or other, sits on a table behind him.}

Ah, refreshed. What did some of you write?

Blue is the English word for a wavelength in the visible light spectrum. We use it to symbolize many things…

For that, you must read Husserl’s complete works and report on how he viewed the relationship between science and philosophy. Anyone else?

I don’t know. It is the word “blue” written in white chalk on a blackboard.

Bravo! That is exactly the problem we face when studying anything. There are 20 definitions for “blue” in the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Until I write a sentence, “blue” is only a word. Alone, most things lack meaning — even people. We isolate things, even ourselves, to appreciate them and undertand them better. Isolated, the meaning is somehow lost. It is a paradox Kafka explored in short stories and Sartre examined ad nauseam.

Background - Post-1945 - West
Matthias Uecker, "A Fatal German Marriage: The National Subtext of Fassbinder's Die Ehe Der Maria Braun," German Life and Letters, 54:1, January 2001

Background - Post-1945 - West

Frauleins and soldiers - Book Review

Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military,  Fall-Winter, 2002  by Richard A. Voeltz

Richard A. Voeltz

Maria Hohn. GIs and Frauleins: The German American Encounter in 1950s West Germany. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xiii + 337 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8078-2706-1; $22.50 (paper), ISBN 0-8078-5375-5.

Rather Werner Fassbinders' film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) focuses on the post-World War II journey of Maria, a German women who uses her skill and sex-appeal to first get the help of an American Black GI, and then later of a French businessman, to become rich. This allegory of West Germany evolving from her reconstruction to membership in the EEC would be prosaic if it were not for Maria's tragic suicide at the end of the film. She had after all made too many compromises, lost her soul in essence, along the way to wealth and status in the new post-VW "Beetle" West Germany. The film also contains one of the most telling images of the new relationship between Americans and Germans, the victors and the occupied. Maria and a girlfriend are in a care, being ogled by a group of very loud and obnoxious American soldiers. The camera closes in on the their faces, uniforms, and U.S. insignias, and their cigarettes and Coca-colas. One GI, feeling uncomfortable with the whole scene, goes over to Maria and apologizes to her. It is not made clear for what reason. The viewer can connect the dots.

Maria Hohn, an Assistant Professor of History at Vasser College, has written one of the first detailed looks at the everyday interaction of Germans and the American military in post-World War II Germany. She focuses on the 1950s, a period of intense interactions between Americans and Germans, who were just beginning their fascination with things American. Hohn purports to "provide a worm's-eye view of the German-American encounter in Rhineland-Palatinate and the excitement, ambivalence, and panic that marked that encounter" (p. 14). The author, in fact, had grown up in this area during the 1960s and 1970s and thought it natural to be around so many Americans. Historians of postwar Germany have only recently begun to examine how racial hierarchies continued to inform notions of German identity. New scholarship on German reactions to American popular culture as well as German policies toward children born of German mothers and African-American fathers have now emerged. That scholarship, along with Hohn's study, demonstrates that there is no simple continuity from Nazi racism to racial attitudes in the 1950s. Hohn shows that the Americans brought an unprecedented prosperity to the Rhineland-Palatinate, wooing reluctant Germans into the western alliance. Germans, especially the younger generation embraced the consumerism, more relaxed morality, and materialism of the Americans. General Colin Powell once said of his service in Germany in 1958 that, for blacks, "especially those out of the South, Germany was a breath of freedom" (p.12). Hohn addresses Germany's later transition to a country that not only adopted from America democracy, rock and roll and Elvis Presley, but also Jim Crow. Religious conservatives indicted the local German population for its materialism, hedonism and loose morals associated with the American military and way of life. Such behavior had led to striptease parlors, prostitution, common-law marriages, and increasing numbers of illegitimate births. There developed a common narrative myth that indicted black GIs; sexually out of control women, or so-called "Veronikas;" and, Jewish bar owners for having brought degeneration to the countryside. If this has a familiar ring, it should, for some Germans simply dusted off the old Nazi racial ideology that now seemed respectable in the light of the American objection to inter-racial mixing. The good burghers invoked the racism of their mentors, thus soothing any sensibilities about being Nazis. All of this led to efforts to criminalize prostitution and to broaden the definition of what acts constituted prostitution, i.e., any women in the presence of an American serviceman was liable to arrest as a prostitute. Various church affiliated welfare organizations attempted, without much success, to stem the rising tide of American influence. In practice it became impossible to arrest every women in the presence of a GI, so prostitution became equated with racial transgression, black GIs with white women. Hohn concludes this tour de force study with an examination of events in the area of Kaiserslautern during the 1957 federal elections, when the controversial deployment of Nike atomic missiles led to an outcry by both the SPD and the Christian Democrats over the sexual and racial transgressions of black soldiers and German women.

Germany, as attested to by Colin Powell, was the top choice for a tour of duty by African-Americans in the 1950s, but by the late 1960s that tolerance and acceptance had disappeared, making Germany one of the least desired assignments for them. Under the impact of "Americanism" gender and racial issues were renegotiated and reformulated in post-war Germany. Hohn speculates that these debates over black soldiers during the 1950s "'functioned as a sort of bridge to the racist discourse on the guest workers who came to the federal Republic in the 1960s" (p.235). She ominously concludes from the comments of welfare workers that they had little difficulty "shifting their emphasis from worrying about the presence of American GIs, especially black GIs, to worrying about the newly arrived guest workers (Gastarbeiter) (p.235). Her remarks on German notions of race take on special urgency given the violent xenophobia found currently in the old states of the former German Democratic Republic. This study of German and American racism tests the grand narratives found in the models of Westernization, modernization, globalization, and Americanization. At the same time it asserts that while the Germans may not be just like us, nonetheless the changes they attributed to Americanization were based upon a complex nexus of mutual love and hate that was never a one-way street.

Reviewed for H-Minerva by Richard A. Voeltz

Department of History and Government, Cameron University

Background - Post-1945 - West - Timings
Fassbinder-Maria Braun-Timings.doc 
Background - Post-1945 - East
Lives of Others.pdf 

The Lives of Others - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.pdf 

The Stasi on Our Minds - The New York Review of Books.pdf 

'The Stasi on Our Minds'_ An Exchange - The New York Review o...pdf 

The World from Berlin_ The St...pdf 

William F. Buckley Jr. on The Lives of Others on National Rev...pdf 

Symposium on The Lives of Others 

Background - Post-1945 - East - Timings
Here are descriptions, comments, and timings for The Lives of Others.

Lives of Others timings.pdf