By W. J. IGOE
IRRATIONAL MAN, by William Barrett (Heinemann, 21s.).
"IT is," wrote Cassian, about
fifteen hundred years ago, "akin to dejection and especially felt by wandering monks and solitaries, a persistent and obnoxious enemy to such as dwell in the desert, disturbing the monk especially about midday. like a fever mounting at a regular time, and bringing its highest tide of inflammation at definite accustomed hours to the sick soul. And so some of the Fathers declare it to be the devil of noontide..."
The Fathers, one suspects. would have thought those who reared a philosophy upon it possessed by a devil more ubiquitous. Existentialism is the rationalisation of the irrational, which is, to use the existentialists' favourite word. absurd.
m-1 K. BARRETT in this analysis of the history of the mood and its re-currence in the works of philosophers writes as one disengaged, like a member of the Brains Trust discussing subjects such as abortion, nuclear fission, and whether citizens should have more than one wife or husband (matters upon which we, the more emotional, feel deeply).
His book, consequently, is unlikely to be "popular": It is for savants.
The subject is one that while it gained status, as it were, in the work of Kierkegard and Nietzsche achieved currency in Sartre in the context of post-war Europe.
It is no accident that Sartre, is a dramatist of genius while in the novel form he is not at home. In the former medium it is more difficult to isolate actions from the context of motives; the dramatist, as he writes, tends to be a puppet-master which is, I believe, a sound reason for respecting actors.
CIAMUS, mentioned in passing in Mr. Barrett's book, was a "spoiled existentialist", at his best in the novel because primarily he was a moralist and the position he took as a young man truly was absurd, as he came to realise. He sought the motive and analysed it
morally. He was a man astride two worlds, the world where the mainspring. so to speak, is charity, and the world of the irrational, where it is mood and thus ephemeral.
His work largely was an approach to the abandonment of the latter, which would have been, in the traditional way, a reasonable leap in the half-light. Sartre essentially is irresponsible and claims to little more.
To those who are interested this book is a reasonably good "profile" history of the existential mood as it has manifested itself.
THE MYSTERY OF MARY, by R. Bernard, 0.P. (B. Herder Book Company Ltd., 37s. 6d.).
FATHER BERNARD emphasises Mary's relation to us, her spiritual children, bringing down to a more poptear level some of the profounder speculations of theologians on the subject.