LARB: The Existentialist’s Survival Guide

IN THE 1950s, existentialism was a hot topic of cultured conversations; William Barrett’s Irrational Man and Walter Kaufmann’s Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre were best sellers. There were voices for and against it in the Partisan Review and The Village Voice. Existentialism was a mood as much as a philosophy, feeding on the ennui of the postwar years. This was an age of quiet desperation and existential angst, peopled by the hollow men, the faceless crowd, the man in a gray flannel suit.


By the mid-1960s, however, the mood was shifting from desperation to protest...


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