1. Neo
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    Existentialist fiction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Neo, Jan 8, 2010.

    I cannot seem to find anything anywhere which outlines the main tenants of existentialist fiction. Can anyone help?
     
  2. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You probably need to read & understand philosophers like Nietzsche & Kierkegaard and others, and then maybe read NAUSEA by Sartre. Existentialism was a buzzword in my day (years back), and it took me three years of majoring in philosophy before I could tackle existentialism at all. So, it's a complicated and interesting and divergent subject.

    Might help if we understood what you're trying to accomplish.

    P.S., the word I think you're looking for is "tenet" (not "tenant").:)
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Albert Camus is also a good writer to read. In addition to his fiction, he has a few essays which are worth reading (especially "The Myth of Sisyphus").
     
  4. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Agreed. I'd also suggest L’Étranger by Albert Camus.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    By the way, I think you mean tenets :).
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I recently read Hemingway's Old Man And The Sea which I've seen argued as existentialist. Perhaps give that a read, it's certainly easy to read though the existentialist narrative does not run at its surface for easy study.
     
  7. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Oxford Companion To Philosophy.

    This is a block of concrete but it's written in a straightforward and clear language by people who really understand the core of their subject.
     
  8. Delphinus
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    The Age of Reason is probably better than Nausea as a work of Existentialist fiction, particularly as it was written shortly after Being and Nothingness, Sartre's seminal philosophical treatise, whereas Nausea was written several years earlier and has a less direct relationship to the Existentialist movement. If you're searching for an easily-accessible introduction to Existentialist ideas, though, I recommend the transcription of Sartre's lecture Existentialism Is A Humanism, although that's obviously a non-fiction piece.

    Being and Nothingness is a dense, monolithic, headache-inducing nightmare. On the plus side, it's far more comprehensive than any of Sartre's other works, but a decent literary analysis of The Age of Reason would pick out the crux of his philosophy with ease. (I should know; I finished reading it two days ago. ;))

    Oh, and Camus is technically Absurdist rather than Existentialist; the two movements, although similar, have subtle differences.

    Preparatory Literature:

    Beyond Good And Evil - Friedrich Nietzsche
    Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Friedrich Nietzsche
    Fear and Trembling - Soren Kierkegaarde

    And, of course, if you haven't already: Meditations - René Descartes
     
  9. DragonGrim
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    I don’t think you would have to read all those philosophers to write something that is existential. Your plot and characters can do the job.

    Stay away from moralizing; there are no good or bad characters. There are not even shades of gray.

    Plot could show your philosophy too. The events could, for example, show that destiny does not exist. You would probably do that by setting up a character that seems to be following his or her destiny and have it fall apart.
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Lots of good advice here. I think maybe some of Kafka's stuff might qualify as existential fiction. I was racking my brain trying to think of a contemporary piece of existential fiction. I wonder if you guys who know more about existentialism than I do would consider McCarthy's THE ROAD existential. I kind of think so. It's very immediate and devoid of a sense of destiny or future (or past).
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought all existentialism was fiction...LOL
     
  12. DragonGrim
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    Maybe, maybe not. Sounds like Descartes' question, NaCl. :D

    One thing about the whole concept of existential fiction though. I think it is usually a critic that will call a work existential. I don’t know if any authors set out to perpetuate the concept.
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    How so?
     
  14. ojduffelworth
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    I would say existentialist fiction is simply fiction that deals with existential themes.

    - The futility of seeking meaning in a universe devoid of god. The individuals struggle to seek their own truth and values…

    I think existentialism is as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it for yourself. I don’t understand why it is thought of as inherently complicated, other than to allow philosophy lectures to think they’re cleaver.
    Do they really have a better understanding of the human condition / inner suffering than any other human experiencing that condition? I don’t think so.

    Heaps of books delve into existential topics; even if they are not labelled existentialist.
    ‘Humpty-Dumpty who sat on the wall’ is existential fiction, if it leads you to ponder existential themes.

    Kafka is great for sure:
    The Trial – story of a man trying to defend himself against a charge he cannot get any information about.
    The Castle – wanting to be where you cannot…
    His characters are trapped without walls; Imprisoned by the desire to be free…

    I also like Milan Kundera– The Unbearable Lightless of Being.
    And, Ivan Klima – Love and Garbage.
    Also, Victor Pelevin - The Clay Machine-Gun.
     
  15. ojduffelworth
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    I thought all fiction was existential
     
  16. HorusEye
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    If there's any tenets to be aware of while writing, it may be that existentialism seeks to find personal meaning, i.e. a "good ending" for the individual. Otherwise your story would risk falling into nihilism.

    EDIT: I'd consider "The Trial" to be more nihilistic than existential. Everything is futile, and there's no hope for the MC to find his own values.
     
  17. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Samuel Beckett has some very underrated novels and short stories. how it is was my favorite.
     
  18. DragonGrim
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    I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but isn’t existentialism and nihilism nearly the same? What I mean is that nihilism is an aspect of existentialism.
     
  19. ManhattanMss
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    Oh, UNNAMABLE, (and likely MOLLOY & MALONE DIES, too--I don't remember those parts as vividly as UNNAMABLE, which would surely qualify). Can't get much more existential than a mind that won't quit experiencing things, can you? I haven't read HOW IT IS.
     
  20. ojduffelworth
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    Seeking personal meaning does not imply a good ending. A good ending is just one of many possibilities resulting from the search for meaning / personal truth.
    A ending resulting from an existential quest may be nihilistic.
     
  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I forgot to mention Dostoevsky in my last post. His books also deal with existentialism and nihilism.
     
  22. ManhattanMss
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    Hey, OJ--

    I think you nailed it here. My take on existentialism is that it's humanistic-centered or premised upon the notion that the only truth we can actually "know" is the one we ourselves experience, and so our philosophy or view of life extends from whatever we ourselves have experienced or are able to, and which accounts for the meaning we give it (if any). Of course, everyone experiences life in his own private way (that is, if we're right to "assume" that others besides ourselves actually exist, to begin with). I guess an existentialist purist might not even be inclined to take it on faith that others are indeed "out there" (as most of us probably do), which may account for why existentialism comes in so many different colors flavors, and shapes.

    I see you read Kundera's book THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. Care to write a review about it (maybe somewhere over in the book section)? I could use one (I think I heard its point whistling somewhere way over my head:)).
     
  23. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Existentialism assumes humans are completely free from external definition and that their lives and environment are what they define them to be. They ponder such imponderable nonsense as..."Is that wall really there? Or, do I simply perceive it to be there?"

    I once wrote an exhaustive paper using theoretical physics to lend credence to existentialism. The professor gave me an A++ on the paper and I was invited to join the local philosophy society. He said he had shared my paper with the members and that I was the only non-PhD ever to be invited into their midst. When I declined, he seemed surprised and asked why I would not welcome such a prestigious invitation. My response..."Just because I understand and can vomit existential point of view on command, it doesn't mean I accept that philosophy as a fundamental truth. Quite the contrary. For me, if there's a wall there, I'll walk around it, trusting that it exists. Naive realism suits me fine."

    So, in answer to your question, existentialism is nothing more to me than a form of intellectual masturbation, bringing spasms of orgasm-like delight to academic snobs in universities. That said, all fiction contains "reality" derived from the author's imagination. The reader must suspend his or her own reality to immerse into the story, hence, there is an element of existentialism in all fiction.

    Here is my existential question for each of you. Do you really exist? Or, is my mind creating your persona for my own needs? After all, you're only countless electrons whirling around in my computer...or are you???
     
  24. marina
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    Fight Club by Palahniuk
     
  25. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    These aren't existentialist questions at all. They are ontological questions more than anything else.

    No they don't. Like I said, such questions are ontological, not existential. Existentialism has very little to do with reality. Existentialists are concerned with the meaning of human existence, not about if we truly exist.

    To the OP: if you like reading books/essays on philosophy, then you should check out Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Both of them wrote about existentialist topics and are seen as the "founders" of existentialism.
     

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