The Theory of Existentialism and Its effects on Literature By Nandita Sharma
“There are two schools of thought. One says that we are all made imperfect, and require the assistance of a higher authority—a deity—to overcome the sin of being born. The other school of thought—to which I subscribe—insists that when we leave the womb we are pure, that a babe in arms is untainted by sin, that evil is the product of social forces, and that God has nothing to do with how a man turns out, be it good or be it bad.”
- Nick Dear, Frankenstein.
Existentialism, a concept where the individual in question takes sole responsibility for giving his or her own life sole meaning and for living that life passionately and sincerely, dealing with his or her conditions, emotions, actions, responsibilities and thoughts, advocates modernism and eliminates the possibility of any form of higher power dictating an individual's life and circumstances. It is then the individual himself or herself that becomes accountable for their thought process and the action that follows.
The philosophy is by most standards a very loose conglomeration of perspectives, aesthetics, and approaches to dealing with the world and its inherent difficulties.
Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the 19th Century, very famously quotes ‘God is Dead’ in his book The Gay Science.
‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?’
— Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125
These ideas resonate throughout his works. God being dead is not a literal statement. Nietzsche ideology belonged to a nihilist school of thought. Not that he believed in a God himself, but the idea of his death is a way of saying that humans, in the wake of renaissance, could no longer put their faith in a cosmic order. The death of god, Nietzsche says, will not only lead in the rejection of blind faith in an omnipresent power lighter than the human kind but the rejection of belief in a universal moral law, binding upon all individuals.
It is then that the individual shall take responsibilities of his actions and thought and be absolutely free of any pre existing notion or rule that dictates what is his or her purpose in life and what should he/she do in order to achieve it. Existentialism then comes into play.
Sooner or later, existentialist writings bear upon freedom. All of these ideas either describe some loss of individuals’ freedom or some threat to it, and all existentialists of whatever sort are considered to enlarge the range of human freedom. Freedom in itself is a concept that humans have struggled with and for throughout history. Freedom in our times is relevant n terms of speech and human rights.
Modern day existentialist writers like Chuck Palahniuk touch upon their subject using language to explore the explicits. There is no holding back in expression anymore. It is gruesome and truthful. Fight Club sets a precedence for literature that dares to reveal and present itself untainted. Here, existentialism acts as a catalyst for freedom in expression.
Existentialism has long acted as a pulley for language and expression to present the world from the perspective of realists, separate from the fancy of the dreamers. It then acts as a balancing force between what is the reality of our world and what we believe. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it serves as an equipment to explore themes with a clearer lens helping us look at the subject in question with as realist a perspective as we can gather.