Dr. Bill Slaughter

What do you remember about the first day of class? 


Dear Dean Ash,

My Venture course last quarter—"What Is Existentialism?”—was interdisciplinary: a combination of literature, philosophy, and humanistic psychology.


Since there were only 15 students, thankfully, we were able to arrange ourselves in a small, closed circle and talk, talk, talk. We met at 7:30 a.m., an existential hour. Among us: a truck-driver for Sears, the manager of a 7-11 store, two housewives (self-described), a night-nurse at Baptist Hospital, a would-be radical Episcopal priest (self-described), two Viet Nam vets, a conscientious objector (complete with dishonorable discharge), the man who built the Boathouse, et cetera.


We began with books. William Barrett's “Irrational Man,” Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground,” Sartre's “Nausea,” Camus' “Stranger,” Kafka's “Trial,” Beckett's “Waiting for Godot.” Abraham Maslow's “Toward a Psychology of Being,” and Carl Rogers' “On Becoming a Person.” And we ended with ourselves.


We discovered, among other things, that we are all, in a sense, underground men and women, afflicted with some kind of nausea or other, strangers even unto ourselves, with trials going on in our heads, waiting for Godot... or whomever. And what to do about it.


We thought ourselves different, and better, for having had the course together, for having engaged the texts and ourselves.


The evidence? A range of projects: drawings in which the student responded to literature visually, not verbally; a reading by a student of his own poems, concerned with the main themes of the course, illustrated with his own slides; a science fiction story written by a student, concerned with the main themes of the course; an original piano composition by a student, reacting against the main themes of the course, et cetera.


I hope this kind of explanation of what went on in “What Is Existentialism?” is helpful to you. If you require additional information, let me know.


William Slaughter


P.S.  Kierkegaard says:  "To venture is, in the highest sense, precisely to become conscious of one's self." I offered my Venture course in that spirit.