International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

Existence vs. Essence: An Existentialist Reading of Clive Barker’s “Human Remains”
Nisreen M. Sawwa, Shadi S. Neimneh

The present study applies Jean-Paul Sartre’s notions of “existence precedes essence,” “being-in-itself,” “beingfor- itself,” and “the look” to Clive Barker’s story “Human Remains” (1984), arguing that Gavin’s shadow, a statue acting as his double, is a being-for-itself that gradually creates itself from nothingness. It draws upon Sartre’s assertion that when the person is looked at, s/he may become an object for the other, thus getting alienated and attempting to objectify the other. Employing Sartre’s and Heidegger’s concept of “thrownness,” this article argues that Gavin, a gay narcissist, is thrown into the world and gives meaning/essence to his existence only by preserving his beauty. In addition, the statue, Gavin’s double, is also thrown into the world, and it encounters Gavin and is gazed at and hence objectified by him. Gavin’s double, a being-for-itself, desires for being and creates itself from nothingness at the expense of others, particularly Gavin. In response to Gavin’s look, Gavin’s double gazes back at Gavin, who finds life meaningless after his double manages to take his beauty, consciousness, and feeling away for itself. Thus, Gavin ends up being in “bad faith;” he surrenders to his double’s gaze and turns into a being-in-itself ─ denying his freedom, choice, and responsibility and becoming more of the remains of a man rather than a conscious human being. Thus, the story employs existential ideas and psychological motifs by way of serving its overall ethical comment on the insignificance of a soulless, empty life with no sentiments led by those who prostitute their bodies to become mere sex objects. An amoral life that commodities physical attraction is a meaningless, faceless one reducing one to the level of “human remains.”

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