Grendel the Existentialist Monster

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Grendel the Existentialist Monster

The monster Grendel is the ironic eye through which the action is viewed and from this perspective he provides the reader with never-ending examples of buffoonery and self-parody. Often his claims reveal the Sartrean component in his makeup: "I create the whole universe, blink by blink"(Gardner 22). Gardner,of course,wants to make a point here about solipsism. There is more to the objective world than Grendel's ego. Naturally the universe still exists when Grendel closes his eyes. Likewise, when Grendel says "I observe myself observing what I observe", (Gardner 29) ,he reminds us of Sartre's view of the self-reflective nature of consciousness. As he said in his interview, Gardner planned to parody Sartre's ideas in Being and Nothingess in these sections of the novel.

When Grendel says "then I am not that which observes! I am lack. Alack. "(Gardner 29) he plays on the French verb manquer(to lack) that Sartre uses in his description of the lacking quality of consciousness. This ability to observe his observing is a clue to the philosophical underpinnings of the early chapters. Gardner's irony should be crystal clear--Grendel is amusing himself with Sartre's phenomenology.

Now what is the reader to make of all this? A brief summary of Sartre's description of consciousness may help. According toSartre man exists on the level of being-in-itself(as a body in a world of objects) and on the level of being-for-itself(consciousness ). The key to understanding Grendel's view of the world is this distinction between the in-itself and the for-itself.Since, for Sartre, being-in-itself is uncreated(he can find no evidence of a creating God) and superfluous("de trop"), it reveals itself as a sort of absurd, meaningless outer reality. But being-for-itself, on the other hand, is the awareness that consciousness is not the being of the in-itself. Its being is revealed in a more paradoxical way-- as an emptiness in the center of being. How can it be aware of itself as an object?Impossible says Sartre. Simply put, the for-itself is the absence or the lack(thus Grendel's "lack") of the objectness of the in-itself . It reveals itself as the nothingness that remains when you realize that your consciousness is not an awareness of an object(such as your body), but rather an awareness of the lack of an object; or,to put it another way, it is an awareness of a nihilated presence.Grendel is proof that only an

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