RE: RARA-AVIS: SHOOT HORSES? and existentialism

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 15 Apr 2003

William Denton wrote in answer to my: "What is existentialism?":

A twentieth-century school of philosophy and literature. Charles Willeford's THE DIFFERENCE is a hardboiled existential western--Jake Dover is taught that "existence precedes essence" when becoming a gunfighter. Of course, there's a lot more to the philosophy, and there are lots of good books that will explain it.

Can anyone remember the short story, which I think was collected in the Pronzini-Adrian anthology HARDBOILED, where an Old West sheriff has to keep the townspeople from taking his prisoner and lynching him? He's terrified, scared beyond belief that he won't be able to do it and they'll kill him and tear down the jail, but he grits his teeth and steps out the door looking cool as a cucumber and hard as rock even though he's a mess inside. That story always come to mind when I think of existence preceding essence.
************* Thanks, Bill. I've read a few explanations and even a few books, like Hesse's, that are supposed to be existential. What I have found is that I still don't really understand it. I'm not big on philosophy, but when it's tied to the genre that I read, it piques my interest.

Thanks again, miker

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