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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours
and Fifteen Minutes

Witold Gombrowicz

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To purchase A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

Title: A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes
Author: Witold Gombrowicz
Genre: Lectures
Written: (1995) (Eng. 2004)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes - US
A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes - UK
A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes - Canada
Cours de philosophie en six heures un quart - Canada
Cours de philosophie en six heures un quart - France
  • French title: Cours de philosophie en six heures un quart
  • Translated by Benjamin Ivry
  • These lectures were written in 1969

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Our Assessment:

-- : interesting, but likely of relatively limited appeal

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 24/1/2005 Benjamin Paloff
The Washington Post . 19/12/2004 Louis Begley

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gombrowicz's interest in philosophy was profound. These truncated notes do not do him justice; at most, they make one wish that he had written out his lectures or at least had been able to review and correct the outline." - Louis Begley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A brief afterword explains these "began as lectures to his wife and his good friend Dominique de Roux". Presented in Gombrowicz's own note-form -- often more outline than full-fledged written lecture -- A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes is a fairly limited survey of philosophy, concerned mainly with what was of greatest interest to Gombrowicz. Tracing the evolution of philosophy from Kant through Hegel and Schopenhauer, offering a bit of Kierkegaard and Husserl, and then a good dose of existentialism, Sartre, and Heidegger, Gombrowicz does offer a decent -- though often very shorthand -- overview of a central strain of modern philosophy (others -- notably Wittgenstein -- are, however, entirely ignored). in addition, continuing another path from Hegel on, Gombrowicz also tackles Marx and Marxism in several short lectures.
       This isn't a book one would turn to for philosophy-basics. Gombrowicz does offer the basics, but the rapid-fire, shorthand presentation makes for gaps and jumps that likely make it too challenging for those with little philosophy background. Indeed, what is most interesting about the book is what it reveals about Gombrowicz and his work.
       Gombrowicz valued philosophy and thought it useful:

Philosophy is needed for a global view of culture. It is important for writers.
       His 1937 novel, Ferdydurke, is widely considered a work anticipating existentialism, and among Gombrowicz's most interesting observations are those on Sartre and existentialism, including such personal reactions as:
Consciousness is, so to speak, outside of me.
     When I read that in Being and Nothingness, I shouted with enthusiasm, since it is precisely the notion of man which creates form and which cannot really be authentic.
       Fascinating also his certainty about the continuing relevancy of this philosophy:
     What is the future of existentialism ?
     Very great.
       And the consequences:
     Fundamental impotence.
     No solution at all.
     In light of these thoughts, literature which considers that we can organize the world is the most idiotic thing imaginable.
     A sad writer who thinks himself master of reality is a ridiculous thing. Hah ! Hah ! Hah ! Phew !
       Marx and Marxism are addressed in a more focussed section, and Gombrowicz's take is an insightful one. It's also a prescient one: writing in 1969 he opined:
     The future of Marxism ?
     I imagine that in twenty or thirty years, they will discard Marxism.
       This is a book aimed primarily at those with an interest in Gombrowicz -- and the influence of philosophy on his work. Those looking for basic philosophy lessons should probably look elsewhere -- though Gombrowicz's summary and take may also be of interest to those coming at it purely from the philosophical side (though a basic familiarity with his subjects is recommended in either case).
       A one-page afterword 'About the author' provides a brief explantion of how these lectures came about, but the book certainly could have used a more elaborate scholarly apparatus. (Perhaps the thinking was that anyone who came to this book would be familiar with the necessary biographical detail.)
       Certainly of considerable interest to Gombrowicz-fans, but probably only truly enjoyable for those familiar with his writing.

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A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes: Reviews: Witold Gombrowicz: Other books by Witold Gombrowicz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) spent much of his life in exile in Argentina. One of the major writers of this century, he has not received the attention he deserves, due in large part to his difficult and bizarre publishing history, largely a result of his exile. His Polish books, written in Argentina, are first published in Paris ... and so on.

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© 2004-2009 the complete review

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