I’ve always been curious about philosophy, which is why I actually enjoyed this English project–a rare occurrence (sorry). The discussion of many of the major Western philosophies of the last few centuries throughout Grendel fascinated me, the way complex metaphysical systems were not only referenced but analyzed through the characters and events of the novel. In particular I appreciated the exploration of nihilism and existentialism. I at least partially subscribe to Sartre’s school of thought, so reading Gardner’s letter to the students allowed me to reconsider my views. Given that Grendel is largely about Grendel’s quest to determine how he should live his life, it is not surprising that Gardner believes human make up their own values, since there are not universal truths or guarantees. I found his declaration of this position to be a breath of fresh air, honestly, having grown up in a community in which criticisms of absolute morality (and religion in general) are generally met with disapproval.
However, I disagree with Gardner’s claim that our current society’s mark on the world will fade into oblivion. Clearly on a universal scale human actions are infinitesimal and insignificant, but the memory of our modern discoveries and values will not vanish on Earth–as long as the Internet exists, at least. Gardner could not have anticipated the existence of such an information network. His justification, referencing our ignorance surrounding the society responsible for erecting Stonehenge, does not hold water if we consider the power of the Internet. Stonehenge was built in such a primitive time that writing hardly existed, let alone a simultaneously virtual and physical database of trillions of ideas and events that could feasibly be printed with the help of some fancy computers and an army of printers. I appreciate his consideration of the transience of human life and society, but I believe the future of recording history has been forever revolutionized by the creation of the Internet.