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Literary Movements: The Beginner’s Guide to Existentialism

Existentialism - Writers - Public Domain - Wikipedia

Definition of Existentialism

Existentialism is a movement in philosophy and literature that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It began in the mid-to-late 19th Century, but reached its peak in mid-20th Century France. It is based on the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. It focuses on the question of human existence, and the feeling that there is no purpose or explanation at the core of existence. It holds that, as there is no God or any other transcendent force, the only way to counter this nothingness is by embracing existence.

Characteristics of Existentialism

  1. The primary virtue of existencialism is authenticity.
  2. A central proposition of Existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals rather than labels, roles, stereotypes or definitions.
  3. Absurdism  is the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond the meaning we give it
  4. Existential philosophers often focused more on what is subjective, such as beliefs and religion.
  5. Existential philosophers focus  on human states, feelings, and emotions, such as freedom, pain, guilt, and regret, as opposed to analyzing objective knowledge, language, or science.

Authors and Writers of Existentialist Literature

Albert Camus was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history.

Franz Kafka was a German-language novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature

Digging Deeper

Existencialism is one of more than 10 literary movement, consider learning more about the rest of them:

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