William (Christopher) Barrett John Wild - Essay

John Wild

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In this suggestive book ["Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy"] William Barrett shows that Greek rationalism was much more than just a set of abstract theories. It established a structure of consciousness, an attitude towards life, which persisted throughout our subsequent history, and still plays a dominant role in contemporary life and thought. This attitude turned away from the individual subject and the concrete world in which he exists. Instead of trying to understand the human person from the inside as he lives, this rationalistic attitude was content to regard him from the outside as a thing before the mind, and to fit him into a universe of objects….

Mr. Barrett points out that the romantic poets were already rebelling against the abstract intellect which, if universalized, means the death of man. Developing certain suggestions of Whitehead, he shows how many existential insights can be found in Wordsworth. This poet knew that man exists not as an isolated substance but rather as always open to a world in essential relation to him…. The author has a genuine understanding of modern art and literature, and he indicates with a wealth of example and insight how they have already gone far beyond romanticism in challenging the rationalist conceptions of cosmic symmetry, and in revealing the absence of man, as he is in his dark inner depths, from such artificial constructions. There is no doubt that art and philosophy are at last moving in parallel directions. Can it be that the ancient quarrel between the philosophers and the poets which began with the writing of Plato's...

(The entire section is 666 words.)