Why Art.

From the very little I know about existentialism as a movement and as a philosophy, the one thing I am sure of is that I am unsure on where existentialism came from.  Why, and from where, did this “absurd”, radical, somewhat pessimistic mindset arise? And why was it portrayed through art, literature, plays, etc.?

Since the claims existentialists make- and the mindset they embody- seems to be so “absurd” and different from all philosophies that preceded it, I find it hard to pinpoint the exact roots of where the philosophy came.  To me, one of the largest differences between existentialism and other philosophies is that existential philosophers are mere artists (writers, painters, play writes, sculptors, etc.), rather than logicians or mathematicians.  Because of this, the method in which existential attitudes are unveiled is unorthodox to most of philosophy.  Considering this, and the idiosyncrasies of existential notions, I am unsure on the philosophy’s roots; and therefore, in this journal, I will try with the very little I know  to locate the mother of this apparently motherless child, and try to uncover why existentialism is better seen through literature and art than rigorous, philosophical proofs.

It is somewhat clear to me that existentialism is a baby of its time.  Jean-Paul Sartre and many of his contemporaries lived through the rise and fall of the Third Reich.  From this they experienced first hand the oppressive forces of a totalitarian regime and the horrors of a near annihilation of a race of people; but most importantly, many late existentialists lived through the long and grueling dehumanization process put forth by the Nazi’s.

But why art? Why literature?

An overwhelming feeling of liberation must have swept over Europe when Hitler’s regime fell.  And from this rejoice in freedom, a creative energy so strong it birthed a new idea of philosophy must have flowed through Europe as well.  These free men and women, the existentialists, didn’t wan’t to communicate their new out-look on life via modus tollens, they wanted to express themselves; they wanted to communicate through art!

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3 Comments

  1. Great first post, and I like the layout of your blog. I have a few thoughts for you. First, I think you’re right that Hitler’s Germany and the atrocities and liberation that followed had a significant impact on Sartre and Camus, and perhaps it was a motivation for the mediums they chose for their philosophies. They were both French afterall and contemporaries of that time period. But I think it would be a mistake to conclude that Existentialism itself began this way or that it is a response to World War 2. After all, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche had both died long before the war. And Heidegger was himself a member of the Nazi party. So, my question for you is, if existentialism is not a response to a particular historical event or context, what is it a response to?

  2. This is just speculation – mostly because I do not know enough history during Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s time to be fully confident of claim’s soundness – but I would (now) assume this: Since Existentialists were faced with doing philosophy in a rapidly changing world- a world that was becoming more obscure and grotesque, oppressive and (quite literally) scary … it may have been the grimmest paradigm shift in human history- Existentialism arose as a way to cope with and explain this new, literally “developing” world. A would that could of very well been accelerating into madness! So in retrospect, the forces that caused the catastrophes of the holocaust could have very well been the same forces that birthed the attitudes of the Existentialists.

  3. Pingback: Why Art. | Blogged Randomly

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