What are the examples of existentialism readings

Modern literature after the end of the war

Memories of the existentialism of the fifties in France and Germany - on the occasion of Sartre's 100th birthday

By Thomas Anz

For Germany, as for Japan, the end of the war was a more decisive turning point than for most other countries. The war ended the National Socialist dictatorship in Germany, in which literature was isolated from the international developments of literary modernity or driven into exile for over ten years under the verdict of "degeneracy".

However, a significant part of world literature was still created in exile after 1945. For the continuity of totalitarian rule did not break off in many other countries for a long time. Before the most widely read novel in Latin American literature, "A Hundred Years of Solitude" (1967), the Colombian Gabriele GarcíaMárquez lived in New York and Mexico, then in Barcelona. When Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita", which, translated into over twenty languages, became an international modern classic, was published in Paris in 1955, the Russian-born, who emigrated in 1919, was living in the USA and later in Switzerland. In addition to America, France in particular became a place of refuge for countless exiled authors after 1945. Paul Celan, born in Chernivtsi, who had left Romania under the pressure of Stalinism, lived in Paris, the hub of international networks in literary life and a center of contemporary Spanish, Latin American and Eastern European literature.

The Argentine Julio Cortázar also worked in Paris. The first part of his novel "Rayuella" (1963), which helped Latin American literature achieve international breakthroughs, takes place in the Parisian existentialist milieu of the 1950s and shows itself shaped by existentialism in its exploration of crisis-ridden, but at the same time liberating experiences of the "absurd". With close interweaving of literature and philosophy, existentialism had a worldwide charisma with different characteristics after 1945, starting from Paris and into the 1960s. Represented above all by Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, he was the dominant intellectual force in post-war literature and quickly became a collective fashion in the intellectual and bohemian circles of European metropolises, despite the individualistic self-assessment. You wore them, with the jargon of relevant terms up to black clothing, in a mixture of melancholy and anarchic mood demonstratively on display. Inspired by the philosophies of Sören Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl and, above all, Martin Heidegger, as well as the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, which emerged or intensely received in the context of literary modernity, the existentialism articulated, which is already evident with the title of his authoritative magazine "Les Temps Modernes" Claimed modernity, a mood of unsecurity in an uncanny, mysterious and strange world, of being thrown into an absurd, i.e. absurd reality that contradicts human logic, of the confrontation with death, failure and guilt, of disgust, isolation and fear . In the loss of traditional meanings and patterns of orientation, the subject sees itself referred back to the actual substance of its own being: existence.

The loss of metaphysical and social stability, which was a reaction to the accelerated modernization processes in the 20th century and which intensified with the disillusionment in the face of totalitarian ideologies, also meant a specific liberation from false patterns of thought and belief that evaded the experiences of the absurd human dignity. According to Camus' influential essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" (1943), it consists of an attitude that does not draw the consequence of suicide from the perceived senselessness of life, but opposes it with a heroic nonetheless. Sisyphus is condemned to incessantly toss a boulder up the mountain, from the top of which the stone rolls down again. For the gods "had justifiably considered that there is no more terrible punishment than useless and hopeless work." In Camus' version, Sisyphus is a tragic hero and eternal rebel, who consciously withstands the absurdity of his existence, rises above his fate with self-conscious contempt, makes it his own and thus dispossesses the gods. "The struggle against the summit", the essay ends, "can fill a human heart. We must imagine Sisyphus as a happy person." In the novel "The Plague", published in 1947, Sisyphus appears in a different form. The protagonist in the fight against the epidemic that plagues a city on the Algerian coast and which acts as a metaphor for the horrors of the 20th century is a doctor. An individualistic, self-centered revolt against the absurd has been replaced by a form of resistance that shows solidarity with the suffering of others. In the doctor's metaphor, the ethos of rebellion becomes an ethos of humane commitment that defies the recurring "rule of terror". The novel, which received worldwide resonance, ultimately stylizes itself as a "testimony" to what all those admirable "people have to achieve who, despite their inner conflict, fight against the reign of terror and its tireless weapon, who refuse to acknowledge the visitations, cannot be saints and still strive to be doctors. "

According to Sartre, people who are alienated from their actual existence are, on the one hand, paralyzingly dependent on given circumstances, in particular on the "gaze of the other", in which they are forced to reflect their own identity and which can make life hell for them. "Hell, they are the others" is a kind of résumé of Sartre's famous one-act play "In Closed Doors" (1945), in which three people in a mirrorless room are at the mercy of each other in the struggle for their self-assessment to be recognized. On the other hand, however, in every situation found, humans are able, even forced, to decide how far they will accept or negate them for themselves and their future actions. He is "condemned" to freedom of choice, he has to redesign himself every moment with a view to future possibilities. In Sartre's main philosophical work "Being and Nothing" (1943) is the sentence: "There is no difference between the being of man and his freedom." According to Sartre, the decisive factor is not "what you have made of a person, but what he makes of what has been made of him." This freedom is also stressful because the individual is completely responsible for his or her life, is to blame for a possible failure, and has to constantly exist in fear of making wrong choices. It is only in this fear, however, that a person becomes aware of his freedom.

The existentialist philosophy of the absurd inspired the "absurd theater" in the 1950s, which, unlike the plays by Camus or Sartre, drew the formal consequences from the negation of traditional sense orientations. "The Bald Singer", the "anti-play" in twelve scenes by the Romanian-French author Eugen Ionesco, premiered in Paris in 1950, deprives the dialogues between the indifferent spouses living next to each other of the communicative meaning. Speaking becomes a farce, the banalities and platitudes of everyday speech turn into grotesque comedy through parodistic exaggerations. The linguistic signs tend to become meaningless noises. The "absurd theater" lacks the psychological motivation of behavior, as does a structured course of action. They are replaced by the staging of ritualized processes, circular repetitions or escalating rhythms of events. In the preliminary remark to his one-act play "Die Stühle", which also premiered in Paris in 1952, one of his most famous pieces alongside "The Rhinos" (1959), Ionesco describes his characters as "characters who wander around in the incoherent and who call nothing their own except their fear , their regrets, their failures, the emptiness of their lives. " Such figures "can only appear grotesque". Any understanding and explanation prove to be impossible even for the author himself: "How could I, since the world remains incomprehensible to me, understand my own piece? I wait for someone to explain it to me." Waiting for the lack of meaning is a characteristic feature of the "absurd theater". In the play "Waiting for Godot", which premiered in Paris in 1953 and which became one of the greatest theatrical successes of the post-war period, the Irish author Samuel Beckett, who wrote in English and French and who had settled in France in 1937, undertook the paradoxical attempt that To dramatize the static of in vain waiting and boredom. While Camus had ascribed heroic seriousness to the unsuccessful repeated efforts of his Sisyphus, Beckett's play turned comparable efforts into clownish insignificance right from the start. The tramp Vladimir's repeated attempts to take off his shoes end in the admission with which the dialogue begins and at the same time a résumé of the whole text is expressed: "Nothing to be done." With the absurd theater, which finds its most radical form in Beckett's "Endspiel" (1957), the tragic and lofty tone of existentialism turns into the tragic-comic. Under the influence of Kafka and Beckett, the black "Comedies of Threat" by the English playwright Harold Pinter, whose play "The Birthday Party", premiered in 1958, brought the author international renown. In German-language literature it is first Wolfgang Hildesheimer who in 1960 called this "a parable about the strangeness of man in the world" in his "speech about the absurd theater", and above all Friedrich Dürrenmatt, later also Thomas Bernhard, who, from Existentialism shaped, the absurd to win grotesque-comic aspects. Friedrich Dürrenmatt's tragic comedy "The Visit of the Old Lady" (1956) and his comedy "Die Physiker" (1962), set in an insane asylum, which, against the background of collective fears of a nuclear catastrophe, depicts how a mad psychiatrist appropriates the destructive potential of physical knowledge , are accompanied by a comedy theory, which in turn is based on an unmistakably existentialist creed: "The world stands for me as a monster, as a riddle of calamity that must be accepted, but to which there must be no surrender." According to Dürrenmatt, a senseless and irrational world that is more determined by chance than by ethically responsible action can only be dealt with through comedy. Something like truth can reveal itself in the failure of responsible action and in catastrophic borderline situations.

The renunciation of psychological motivation of the character behavior, of action-bearing "heroes" and opponents, the abolition of temporally linear events, the withdrawal of meaningful offerings have become hallmarks of the Nouveau Roman analogous to and at the same time as the absurd theater, enforced and represented by authors such as Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor or Beckett (with his trilogy of novels "Molloy", "Malone dies" and "The nameless". Sarraute's "Portrait of a Unknown" (1948), described by Sartre as "Anti-Roman" in his preface), put the existentialist problematic of the subject reduced from the view of the other to the object under the microscope, as it were, registered "tropisms", ie tiny preconscious reactions to stimuli emanating from the environment on the individual.

Existentialism was no less inscribed in German-language literature of the post-war period than in French literature. Confrontations with personal or collective catastrophes in "borderline situations" (a term used by Karl Jaspers), which primarily include experiences of death, which calls into question all traditional meanings, social outsider figures, mostly failing departures from familiar, but questionable habits and certainties Free uncertainty of "actual" existence shaped the themes, motifs and action patterns of countless works. "The city behind the stream", which the orientalist Dr. Robert Lindhoff traveled through Hermann Kasack's enthusiastically received novel in 1947, is an eerie, meaningless intermediate realm of the dead, which was read as a picture of the agony in Germany during the last years of the war. Also in 1947 was Hans Erich Nossack's novel "Nekya", in German "Totenopfer". This "report of a survivor", so the subtitle, from a lifeless, deserted city, referred to the destruction of Hamburg in June 1943, which the author had witnessed close up and which caused him to break with his past. In the end, the novel Kasacks and Nossacks evoke hope for a collective new beginning.

In the fifties, the described upheavals in the works, which were shaped by existentialism, were more of a private character. In Nossack's novel "In November at the latest" (1955), the wife of a businessman leaves her secure sphere of life and walks towards an uncertain future with a young writer. The new relationship fails, but following the example of Sartre's script "Das Spiel ist aus" (1947) the woman tries (again in vain) to realize this love a second time. The fear of the repetition compulsions in one's own behavior, of the images with which others fix their own identity, as well as the guilt in trying to evade the demands of others, characterizes the entire work of Max Frisch - from the "Diary 1946-1949 "up to the play" Triptychon "(1978), in which the conversations of the dead on the industrially contaminated river of the underworld are exhausted in monotonous repetitions and death becomes an image of an incapable existence. In his novel "Stiller", published in 1954, the title character, who returned to Switzerland under a false name after fleeing from two women, defends himself against the definition of his identity with the famous sentence from his prison records, which opens the novel: "I am not Quieter! " Significantly, the sentence is preceded by a motto by Kierkegaard, which addresses the difficulty of freely choosing oneself.

The aftereffects of existentialism in the German-speaking area extend far beyond the fifties and sixties. Ingeborg Bachmann, who criticized the inadequacies of a philosophy of fear in her dissertation on the philosophical Heidegger reception in 1949 and programmatically countered it with a literature of fear using the example of a sonnet by Baudelaire, tells in her late cycle of types of deaths of various types of fear. And in Thomas Bernhard's works, too, since his novels "Frost" (1963) and "Das Kalkwerk" (1970), the insidious but often failing efforts of the crazy and sick protagonists to confront "improper" role and natural constraints on themselves claim, right up to the magnum opus "Auslösch" (1986).

Existentialism combined the subject's modern claims to autonomy with experiences of complex dependencies and threatening catastrophes. In the last years of the war and in the first post-war years, the existentialist suggestion of making new decisions at every moment, being able to negate the given in every situation with regard to new self-designs, corresponded to collective needs in a historical situation in which the war was seen by many as overpowering and an inscrutable catastrophe was felt, in which one was looking for a new beginning and was prepared to become actively involved independently of old, questionable offers of meaning.