Abstract

Cormac McCarthy's minimalist 2006 “novel in dramatic form,” The Sunset Limited, revives an ancient genre—philosophical dialogue. In the book, a born-again Christian ex-convict, Black, searches for reasons to convince a misanthropic professor, White, not to kill himself. Black's faith, White's despair, and their open-ended Socratic dialogue all reflect the influence of Søren Kierkegaard upon McCarthy. White, the suicidal ascetic, consistently extends what Kierkegaard once called “the most fearful” philosophy of all—Arthur Schopenhauer's pessimism. Can ordinary American Christianity refute this systematic Schopenhauerian despair? Taking cues from Kierkegaard, The Sunset Limited stages a dark and inconclusive philosophical dialogue.

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