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This book is a study of literary concern with ontology throughout the twentieth century. It consists of ten essays, each of which focuses on one or various writers’ absorption with the nature of man and his ‘being in this world.’ The volume discusses Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Milan Kundera, Eugène Ionesco, Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, Toni Morrison and Nathalie Sarraute as reflecting ontological concerns These writers, although not subscribing to the Sartrean proclamation that ‘existence precedes essence’, did consider the related existential questions concerning man’s freedom and responsibility for his ‘being-living’ (in Stein’s terminology). Their works are symptomatic of modern man’s preoccupation with understanding the self as a source of wisdom.
These essays were written over many years and represent the author’s own findings and thoughts over that time, assembled here between the covers of one book. In addition to fulfilling that function, and their pertinence when they were written, they offer the reader a nostalgic journey to the twentieth century’s literary adventures and creativity. A new novel was born and the breakdown of the rigid distinctions between genres made it possible for a novelist to write poetry, and for a poet or playwright to explore a common theme with a novelist, while they all shared with contemporary philosophers an obsession with the nature of man’s being in this world. This book therefore throws light on the intellectual preoccupations of this era.
Doris Enright-Clark Shoukri conducted research from 1951 to 1953 at Cambridge University, UK, on the unpublished Liber Apologeticus de Omni Statu Humanae Naturae, a 15th century English play in Latin. Her English translation of this text was published as A Defense of Human Nature in Every State. She received a PhD in Medieval Studies from Bryn Mawr College, USA, in 1954, before going on to teach at Adelphi College, USA, and the American University in Cairo. During more than six decades, she has lectured and written on 20th century literature, meeting and corresponding with many of the writers discussed in this book.
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