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Existentialism (2)

More about existentialism.

  • Existentialism is a philosophical movement which posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to it being created for them by deities or authorities or defined for them by philosophical or theological doctrines.
  • Emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, foreshadowed most notably by nineteenth-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, though it had forerunners in earlier centuries. Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kafka also described existential themes in their literary works.
  • It took explicit form as a philosophical current in Continental philosophy, first in the work of Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers in the 1930s in Germany, and then in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and 1950s in France.
    • Their work focused on such themes as “dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, and nothingness” as fundamental to human existence. Walter Kaufmann described existentialism as “The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life”.
  • Although there are some common tendencies amongst “existentialist” thinkers, there are major differences and disagreements among them (most notably the divide between atheistic existentialists like Sartre and theistic existentialists like Tillich); not all of them accept the validity of the term.

  • Literature.
    • Since 1970, much cultural activity in art, cinema, and literature contains postmodernist and existential elements.
    • Books such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) (now republished as Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick, Toilet: The Novel by Michael Szymczyk and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk all distort the line between reality and appearance while simultaneously espousing strong existential themes.
    • Ideas from such thinkers as Dostoevsky, Foucault, Kafka, Nietzsche, Herbert Marcuse, Gilles Deleuze, and Eduard von Hartmann permeate the works of artists such as Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Szymczyk, David Lynch, Crispin Glover, and Charles Bukowski, and one often finds in their works a delicate balance between distastefulness and beauty.

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