Modern Literature: Existentialism Essay, Research Paper
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that developed in continental Europe during the 1800?s and 1900?s. Most of the members are interested in the nature of existence or being, by which they usually mean human existence. Although the philosophers generally considered to be existentialists often disagree with each other and sometimes even resent being classified together, they have been grouped together because they share many problems, interests, and ideas.
The most prominent existentialist thinkers of the 1900?s include the French writers Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Gabriel Marcel and German philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. The Russian religious and political thinker Nicolas Berdyaev and the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber were also famous existentialists.
Existentialism is largely a revolt against traditional European philosophy which reached its climax during the late 1700?s and early 1800?s. Principles of knowledge that would be objective, universally true, and certain were produced. Existentialists rejected the methods and ideals of science as being improper for philosophy. They investigated what it is like to be an individual human being living in the world instead of making the traditional attempt to grasp the ultimate nature of the world and abstract systems of thought. They stress the fact that every individual is only a limited human being. Each must face important and difficult decisions with only limited knowledge and time in which to make these decisions.
Human life is seen as a series of decisions that must be made without knowing what the correct choice is. They must decide what standards to except and which ones to reject. Individuals must make their own choices without help from external standards. Humans are free and completely responsible for their choices. Their freedom and responsibility is thrust upon them and they are ?condemned to be free?. Their responsibility for actions, decisions and beliefs cause anxiety. They try to escape by ignoring or denying their responsibility. To have a meaningful life one must become fully aware of the true character of the situation and bravely accept it.
Existentialists believe that people learn about themselves best by examining the most extreme forms of human experience. They write about such topics as death and extreme situations. This concentration upon the most extreme and emotional aspects of experience contrasts sharply with the main emphasis of contemporary philosophy in England and the United States. This philosophy focuses upon more common place situation and upon the nature of language rather than experience.
Jean-Paul Sarte was born in Paris in 1905, and died in 1980. In 1964, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. However he refused to accept the reward.
Sarte was a French existentialist philosopher who expressed his ideas in novels, plays, and short stories, as well as theoretical works. The mere existence of things, especially his own existence, fascinated and horrified him. To Sarte there seemed no reason why anything exists. He stated that only human existence is conscious of itself and of other things. He argued that non-living objects simply are what they are and people are whatever they choose to be. People exist as beings who must choose their own character. He agreed with the existentialists philosophy that people are completely free. Sarte said, ?People are afraid to recognize this freedom and to accept full responsibility for their behavior.? Throughout his philosophical and literary works, he examined and analyzed the varied and subtle forms of self-deception.
In Sarte?s chief philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, he investigated the nature and forms of existence or being. In his essay, Existentialism and Humanism, he defined existentialism as the doctrine that, for humankind, ?existence precedes essence?. In the Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sarte presented his political and sociological theories.
THEATER OF THE ABSURD MOVEMENT
The theater of the absurd refers to tendencies in dramatic literature that emerged in Paris during the late 1940’s?s and early 1950?s. It?s roots can be found in the allegorical morality plays of the middle ages and the allegorical religious dramas. The term theater of the absurd derives from the philosophical use of the word absurd by such existentialists thinkers as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sarte. A fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach and the world must be seen as absurd. The images of the theater of the absurd tend to assume the quality of fantasy, dream, and nightmare.
The theater of the absurd movement heightened people in abstract situations. It was informative and overall made the audience think. Its purpose is to provoke thought with laughter. Theater of the absurd does not stay in key and is sometimes described as crazy. It always has intense moments, does not look like conventional theater, and has no start, no middle and no end.
Samuel Beckett was born in Foxrock, Ireland in 1906. He attended Trinity College in Dublin and left for Paris when he was twenty-two. Throughout his life he wrote in both English and French, but most of his major works were written in French. Beckett was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1969. He died in Paris in 1989. Beckett?s works are explored in novels, short stories, poetry, and scripts for radio, television, and film. He is best known for his work in the theater. His most famous play Waiting for Godot became one of the most dramatic works in this century. The strange atmosphere of Godot, in which two tramps wait on what appears to be a desolate road for a man who never arrives. This made his audience come back to see other major works. Beckett?s drams are most closely associated with the Theater of the Absurd. He has a minimalistic approach, stripping the stage of unnecessary spectacles and characters. His works cover much of the same ground as World War II French existentialists.
WAITING FOR GODOT
Waiting for Godot captures the feeling the world has no apparent meaning. In this misunderstood masterpiece Beckett asserts numerous existentialist themes. Beckett believed that existence is determined by chance. This is the first basic existentialist theme asserted. The play consists of four vulgar characters, and in a simple way who twice arrives with a message from Godot, a naked tree, a mound or two of earth and a sky. Two of the characters are waiting for Godot who never arrives. Two of them consist of a flamboyant lord of the earth and a broken slave whimpering and staggering at the end of a rope. It is almost certain that Godot stands for God and those who are loitering by the withered tree are for salvation, which never comes. Many critics have agreed that Godot does not necessarly mean God, merely ?the objective of our waiting- an event, a thing, a person, a death.?
Another basic existentialist theme on which Beckett reflects is the meaninglessness of time. Because past, present and future mean nothing, the play follows a cyclic pattern. Vladimir and Estragon returned to the same place each day to wait for Godot and encounter the same basic people each day. Godot?s messenger does not recognize Vladimir and Estragon from day to day. This suggests that the people we meet today are not the same as they were yesterday and will not be the same tomorrow.
Beckett also examines a theme of self-deceptive attempts to dodge reality by making excuses for one?s actions. Vladimir and Estragon fool themselves by engaging in petty discourse that reflects the absurdity of life. They even contemplate suicide numerous times for numerous reasons, but ultimately persist in the futility of life.
Tom Stoppard was born in Czechoslovakia on July 3, 1937, the son of Eugene Straussler, a doctor employed by Bata, the shoe manufacturers. In 1942, his family moved to Singapore. He and his mother evacuated to India with his brother before the Japanese invasion. His father was left behind and killed. He then went to a multi-racial English speaking school in Darjeeling, India. His mother later married Kenneth Stoppard, who was in the British army in India. Stoppard was educated in a prep school at Nottingham Shire, and a grammar school in Yorkshire. He was then employed by Western Daily Press in Bristol, were he lived. There he was a news reporter, feature writer, theater critic, film critic and gossip columnist. Eventually he married Jose Ingle. He wrote such works as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, a one-act play in verse. He also wrote Rosecrantz and Guilenstern Are Dead. He won the John Whiting award and Evening Standard award in 1967.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
Rosencrantz creates a picture of characters who inhabit a world which is stranger than they had supposed, which they know it is not as it seems but what it is . He evokes the ability of all man kind to understand those forces ultimately in control of their lives and fates. Because Rosencrantz?s and Guildenstern?s fate is determined by Hamlet and not by random forces.
At outset of the play, Rosencrantz remains oblivious to any oddity and their coin-tossing, describing the improbable run as 85 heads as merely a new record. The destiny which awaits Rosencrantz and Guildenstern consists of nothing for which they are prepared. Instead they are to be ?kept intrigued without ever being enlightened?. The purpose of the coin-tossing scene is the obvious conclusion that forces beyond their control are guiding their fate and it is obvious Guildenstern is more conscious of the two. He also sets up the quest theme that the play will take on. The ranting and ramblings of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reminiscent of the spiritual pilgrim of the protagonist of Waiting for Godot. They both spend the entire play searching for a fate and spiritual rationale that is always alluding them. It can be concluded that the title characters are searching for a divinity that will make itself evident.
Irony comes to fit in the framework of the play because we know that the pair are to loose their heads. The humor of this situation is a game of questions where they ?answer? every question with another question, but really realize how the game is mirroring their predicament, which is to inhabit a world full of questions which, for them, have no answers. For every action they partake in order to answer their calling, they are met with a hundred more questions, and In this lies the irony of the entire production.
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St.Louis, Missouri and graduated from Harvard. He lived in England for most of his life, returning to the United States periodically to lecture and teach at Harvard and other universities. Eliot achieved the fullness of his poetic expression in The Waste Land and other poems on this recording. In 1948 he was awarded a Nobel Prize. Eliot ranks among the most important poets of the 1900?s. He departed radically from the techniques and subject matter of pre-World War I poetry. His poetry, along with his critical works, helped to reshape modern literature. Many of Eliot?s views on literature appeared in The Criterion, a literary magazine he edited from 1922 to 1939. Eliot served as a director of a London Publishing house from 1925 until his death. Eliot also received the Order of Merit for literature during his lifetime. He finally found happiness in his second marriage which took place eight years before his death on January 4, 1965.
Two important factors in Eliot?s development as a poet were his introduction to French symbolist poetry and his friendship with fellow American Ezra Pound. It was in Pound that Eliot found a devoted mentor and a sensitive critic of the early drafts of his poems. With Pound?s help, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in
Poetry in 1915 and Preludes in Blast that same year- thus launching Eliot into the midst of literary modernism.
Eliot?s first major poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, revealed his original and highly developed style. The poem shows the influence of certain French poets of the 1800?s, but its startling jumps from rhetorical language to cliche, its indirect literary references, and its simultaneous humor and pessimism were quite new in English literature.
THE WASTE LAND
The Waste Land has become the poem of the twentieth century. The poem offers an epochal insight into the modern world, the urban blight, of death and destruction, of meaningless relationships, and of a profound absence of spiritual, social, and cultural assurances. It is presented with a series of allusions, fragments of texts and documents, because Eliot wants the reader to experience that sense of fragmentation for themselves through a kind of collage technique. There are glimpses of a sense of underlying order and unity expressed throughout this literary masterpiece.
Eliot suggests that the poem draws upon the powerful myth of the wounded king who must be restored to health before his lands can be returned to wholeness and fertility once more. Eliot also suggests that, deep within the cultural unconscious of our modern wasteland, there are underlying patterns and a sense of continuity. This poem has references to previous empires and cultures such as Rome, Alexandria, and Vienna. The Waste Land is widely regarded as loose or impressionistic.