Existentialism in Practice
Existentialism and Theology
Although existentialist thought encompasses the uncompromising atheism of Nietzsche and Sartre and the agnosticism of Heidegger, its origin in the intensely religious philosophies of Pascal and Kierkegaard foreshadowed its profound influence on 20th-century theology. The 20th-century German philosopher Karl Jaspers, although he rejected explicit religious doctrines, influenced contemporary theology through his preoccupation with transcendence and the limits of human experience. The German Protestant theologians Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann, the French Roman Catholic theologian Gabriel Marcel, the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nikolay Berdyayev, and the German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber inherited many of Kierkegaard's concerns, especially that a personal sense of authenticity and commitment is essential to religious faith.
Existentialism and Literature
A number of existentialist philosophers used literary forms to convey their thought, and existentialism has been as vital and as extensive a movement in literature as in philosophy. The 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is probably the greatest existentialist literary figure. In Notes from the Underground (1864), the alienated anti-hero rages against the optimistic assumptions of rationalist humanism. The view of human nature that emerges in this and other novels of Dostoyevsky is that it is unpredictable and perversely self-destructive; only Christian love can save humanity from itself, but such love cannot be understood philosophically. As the character Alyosha says in The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80), "We must love life more than the meaning of it."
In the 20th century, the novels of the Austrian Jewish writer Franz Kafka, such as The Trial (1925; trans. 1937) and The Castle (1926; trans. 1930), present isolated men confronting vast, elusive, menacing bureaucracies; Kafka's themes of anxiety, guilt, and solitude reflect the influence of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche. The influence of Nietzsche is also discernible in the novels of the French writers André Malraux and in the plays of Sartre. The work of the French writer Albert Camus is usually associated with existentialism because of the prominence in it of such themes as the apparent absurdity and futility of life, the indifference of the universe, and the necessity of engagement in a just cause. Existentialist themes are also reflected in the theatre of the absurd, notably in the plays of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco. In the United States, the influence of existentialism on literature has been more indirect and diffuse, but traces of Kierkegaard's thought can be found in the novels of Walker Percy and John Updike, and various existentialist themes are apparent in the work of such diverse writers as Norman Mailer, John Barth, and Arthur Miller.
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