Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Walter Kaufman’s discussion on Goethe, Hegel and Nietzsche in his book, From Shakespeare to Existentialism is illuminating. By the end of the book, however, his insights become less informative and increasingly invidious, irrelevant, and tedious. His chapters on Kierkegaard and Heidegger fail to provide a substantial exposition of the respective philosophical views; instead it focuses on single failings of the philosophers: Kierkegaard is presented as overly, dogmatically Christian and Heidegger, obscure and ambiguous. The book culminates in a tirade against Toynbee taking up what seems like an unnecessarily lengthy discussion (about 50 pages) about a man who is not a scholar, historian, poet, or prophet. If Toynbee has nothing to offer, beyond influence to Americans who don’t know any better, and is rather irrelevant to the topic of existentialism, why bring him up at all? Kaufman’s criticism and scholarship is admirable. But the book lacks aim, focus, and, by its end, objectivity.