Introduction to literary works associated with existentialism, a nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophical movement known for its exploration of fundamental questions about the individual in modernity. Existentialist writers, artists, and philosophers focused on what it means that human beings exist finitely, oriented towards their own death; to what extent free will and reason are or are not governing principles of existence and action; how an individual might live a meaningful life in a society that itself is sick, illogical, absurd or without meaning; how catastrophes and the devastations of war upend understandings of ethics; and what forms of sensation adequately describe the contemporary human experience—waiting, disgust, nausea, anguish, anxiety, estrangement and alienation, confusion or boredom, or perhaps radical doubt? This course explores the aesthetic languages that existentialist writers and artists deployed to think through these fundamental questions, ones with which twenty-first-century thinkers are still grappling.
Works include Sartre, Nausea and No Exit; Camus, The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus; Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground; Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Kafka, The Trial and Metamorphosis; Hesse, Steppenwolf; Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; short stories by Kate Chopin; aphorisms by Nietzsche; and selected contemporary novels and films.