Required existential reading: fiction


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Required existential reading: fiction

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Redigerat: okt 1, 2006, 11:50 am

If you were teaching a class about existentialism using only fiction works, which titles would you say are essential reading, or at least very good because they hold important existentialist themes? Please state why you like these works.

okt 1, 2006, 12:20 pm

André Malraux's La Condition humaine (Man's Fate). Set against a disastrous Communist uprising in Shanghai, it's a story of action, ideas and absolute freedom. This is also a very engaging, beautifully written book, so pick it up if you haven't already.

A side note: The title is usually translated into English as Man's Fate--but what a deterministic idea that is that man has a fate! The Human Condition is true to the French title and Malraux's story.

okt 4, 2006, 10:35 am

I'd definitely choose Sartre's Nausea, because it's short and accessible to people who aren't familiar with existentialism. It's a good introduction to the whole existential angst thing. No Exit is also good (a play, not really fiction, I guess) - it's hilarious and deals with the famous "hell is other people" idea. Camus's The Stranger is also an accessible intro, and I think the character of Meursault would really get a class talking. (Plus, it's a classic.) I would also choose something by de Beauvoir (probably Blood of Others; The Mandarins is wonderful, but very, very long.) First of all, she's often overlooked as an existentialist (even though she's brilliant), and I think it's good to have a woman's/feminist's perspective to balance out the others. Both novels go into the difficultly of freedom and making decisions in a godless world, angst, etc, and are a bit more political than the other ones I've mentioned.

okt 4, 2006, 11:32 am

I actually did a short course on existentialist fiction. The set texts were.....

Dostoevsky Notes From Underground
Franz Kafka The Trial
Jean-Paul Sartre Nausea
Albert Camus The Stranger
Albert Camus The Plague
Saul Bellow Dangling Man
Norman Mailer An American Dream
Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being
James Kelman A Disaffection

The last book on the list probably owes as much to the course being taught in Scotland than anything else. I found they were a mixed bag - wasn't keen on Sartre or Mailer but thought Kafka, Camus (The Plague), and Kundera were great. These works stood out for the simple fact they seemed to exhibit more humanity than the others - there is only so much alienation and despair you can take.

okt 4, 2006, 11:32 am

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

okt 4, 2006, 11:33 am

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

okt 4, 2006, 11:34 am

Det här meddelandet har tagits bort av dess författare.

mar 9, 2007, 5:01 pm

Re L'Etranger.....ce n'est pas un homme. C'est une idee.

mar 10, 2007, 2:27 am

Above all The Stranger because by the time one journeys with the character to his end, one actually "arrives" at a happy existentialist epiphany--personally, I don't buy it whatsoever (and am not sure Camus did either) as it seems much like John Wayne Gacy's way of going out, but for the purpose of understanding existentialism, The Stranger illustrates it best. In contrast, Kafka's The Trial, as fascinating as that is, ends up pointing towards nihilism, quite the opposite of existentialism. And Kierkegaard, forget about it, though his pseudonymous fiction is pure genius, his idea about subjectivity is something totally different than that of existentialism, and involves subjectivity in relation to God.

okt 27, 2007, 12:14 pm

I would add Witold Gombrowicz to the list.

okt 28, 2007, 2:42 pm

I might be the odd one out, but I loved Barrett's Irrational Man. It was a nice overview sort of thing.

nov 6, 2007, 5:48 pm

I would say Dostoevsky's Idiot. All of his works are apt, but this one just happens to be my favorite.

dec 11, 2007, 5:57 pm

In response to what is tantamount to abuse regarding Franz Kafka; you shouldn't regard nihilism as the opposite of existentialism, the two are actually very closely related. A failure at several points in the progression of existentialist thought leads one to a nihilism of one sort or another. So Kafka's stories of alienation and arbitrary suffering, although they are nihilistic, can be read as incomplete existentialism. Kafka was heavily influenced by existential thought, but was himself incapable of coming to grips with the fact that "god is dead" as Nietzsche put it.

Agh. Wall of text. So sorry.

dec 11, 2007, 6:25 pm

Please add Ellison's Invisible Man to the top of the list!

dec 12, 2007, 9:11 pm

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead might be a very good source of existential analysis. In the DVD "special features", there is an interview with the author, Tom Stoppard, wherein he is asked whether he considered the play as either existential or theatre of the absurd. I would say "existential" much like Waiting for Godot.

sep 29, 2009, 8:40 pm

Lying on the Couch by Irvin D. Yalom.