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Existentialism as literature


Malpas, J, Existentialism as literature, The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, Cambridge University Press, S Crowell (ed), Cambridge, pp. 291-321. ISBN 9780521513340 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]

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To what extent does existentialism constitute itself as a literary rather than a primarily philosophical phenomenon? Or, to put a slightly different but related question: what form does existentialism take when it is viewed as literature rather than as philosophy? Such questions arise as a fairly direct consequence of the fact that a number of key existentialist works (or works that have generally been regarded as such) have indeed been works of literature - JeanPaul Sartre's Nausea (La Nausee, 1938) and Albert Camus's The Outsider (L'Etranger, 1939) being two excellent examples - while some of the key figures within or close to the existentialist tradition have been literary rather than philosophical - arguably this is true of Camus, and certainly of Beckett. Rather than simply provide an exploration of existentialism in literature, or a survey of those literary works that figure within existentialism, this essay will also examine the idea of existentialism as literature, sketching a picture of existentialism as it emerges in literary rather than solely philosophical terms.

Although it is sometimes argued that existentialism stands in a special relationship to literature - that it is an especially "literary" mode of philosophizing- David E. Cooper argues that over-reliance on existentialist fiction has actually been a source of misconceptions about existentialism. Refusing to include Camus among the existentialists, or to allow that he might be a philosopher, Cooper claims that "existentialism ... is not a mood or a vocabulary, but a relatively systematic philosophy." I am less persuaded than Cooper by the idea of existentialism as a "systematic philosophy" (if there is anything that is systematic in existentialism, then it is, it seems to me, just phenomenology), and much more inclined to view existentialist literature as providing an important means of access to existentialist thinking or, at least, to what has to be viewed as a form of such thinking. While one approach to existentialism is through the philosophical works that make it up, another approach is surely through the literary works that represent a parallel, and sometimes alternative, mode of articulation and expression.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:Philosophy and Religious Studies
Research Group:Philosophy
Research Field:Hermeneutics
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in philosophy and religious studies
UTAS Author:Malpas, J (Professor Jeff Malpas)
ID Code:83142
Year Published:2012
Deposited By:Philosophy
Deposited On:2013-03-04
Last Modified:2015-02-19
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