We explain what existentialism is and what its representatives and authors are. Also, its general characteristics and impact on art.
What is Existentialism?
Existentialism is a philosophical current dedicated to the analysis of the human condition , taking individuality, emotion, the search for the meaning of life and existence, and the life goals of each person as preponderant values .
Existentialism originated in the 19th century , and it lasted until the middle of the 20th century , approximately. During this time, cultural, academic, scientific and mostly social changes took place, putting the questioning of being, knowledge , and subjectivity versus objectivity at the center of the analyzes .
See also: Pantheism .
Characteristics of existentialism :
The current of existentialism originates in Germany and soon spread to the rest of Europe and then to the world , from the general feeling of abandonment and questioning. After the greatest wars of the century, people were deprived of homes, jobs , money and even cities , with their values and ideologies destroyed and at the mercy of the basic questioning of this philosophy .
Jean Paul Sartre is the most notable representative of atheistic existentialism.
It is considered that there were three schools or currents of existentialism, which questioned the existence and importance of God:
- The ‘atheist’ (proposes the nonexistence of God )
- The ‘theist’ (defends the importance of a creative being) - ‘Christian’, ‘Jewish’ existentialism as more prominent movements
- The ‘agnostic’ (affirms that the questioning about the existence or nonexistence of God is irrelevant)
As a general trait, existentialist positions translate into pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that induce a sensation of noticeable unease. In particular, some authors such as Kierkegarrd allude to anguish, making a clear distinction between it and fear, specifying that, unlike the latter, anguish is not produced or focused on a defined object and is developed precisely in that “existing ”Without guarantees.
Existentialism questioned issues as deep as freedom and being.
In its eagerness to reveal the meaning of man’s existence, existentialism proposes to discuss deep problems such as the man-divinity relationship , freedom , the meaning of being, nothingness, time, among others. All of them have in common a deep experiential character, which in simple words means that each one of us attributes our own subjectivities to each concept that are as valid as those of others.
Impact on art
There are many artistic manifestations throughout history that have been influenced by existentialism. As high points in this regard we can mention most of Kafka’s literary works , Sartre’s writings and, more recently, many Ingmar Bergman’s films.
The literature is one of the most expressive artistic fields of existentialism. The characters leave the conventional , beauty and happy endings, and enter the dark plots of personal analysis and inadequacy in society . Some outstanding works are:
- “Crime and Punishment” (Dostoyevsky)
- “The metamorphosis” (Kafka)
- “Nausea” (Sartre)
- “The notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge” (Rilke)
Freedom and choice
The human being does not remain immutable to the environment in which he was born and lived.
As long as they are free, each human being is one hundred percent responsible for their actions , in such a way that they build their own ethics ” per se” independent of any belief system external to their person.
The choice is one of the key points on which existentialist thinking is based . In simple words, it is affirmed that the human being, unlike animals and plants , does not remain immutable to the environment in which he was born and lived. For this reason, he does not resign his existence to what appears or does not appear in front of him. On the contrary, its mere “existence” gives it freedom and at the hand of it, the possibility of choosing and making decisions .
Representatives and authors
Although the term ‘existentialism’ was coined in the 20th century and after the World Wars , its origins can be traced back to great thinkers who brought to light the analysis of the meaning of life and the existence of being:
- Albert camus
- Arthur Schopenhauer
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Karl Jaspers
- Martin heidegger
- Miguel de Unamuno
- Simone de Beauvoir
- Søren Kierkegaard
Existentialism affirms that it is the human being who defines his perception.
In this current it is affirmed that human beings can only exist insofar as they create meaning for their own life. It is the person who defines their perception, their experimentation with the world (“existentialist experience”), and who must know a real being and not an abstract entity, collapsing with the spiritual concepts of being.
For existentialists, the person is not ‘part of a whole’ , but is a whole and individual entity. It is not belonging to the human race that defines existence, but essence and thought.
In existentialism, the individual is governed by a norm of individual freedom that confers on him individual responsibility: what he does while exercising his freedom does not need to be justified, explained, or adhere to an ethic other than his own.
In this current, existing is not only being in the world , but relating to the environment and others, which allows the person to model ‘his’ world, understanding it through his own experiences.
Emotions are a key in understanding existentialism, which seeks to understand being as an independent entity that coexists in environments. Anguish and fear appear with great weight in the literature and artistic expressions of this movement, since they are interpreted as parts of the process of choice and decision.
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