Existence precedes essence.

A true existentialist believes there is no God and hence, man becomes alone with only ourselves as any kind of guide to making the decisions which will define our existence. Our existence not only defines, but also must be defined. Subjectivism provides this definition. Subjectivity refers to the radical freedom to choose that we have without any God, but also that this radical freedom becomes a responsibility to use or not use. The use of this subjectivity makes our choices, defines our existence, which in turn defines our essence. Existentialism describes a being who means nothing and is utterly alone in the world, except for his other empty associates.

Any self respecting existentialist will familiarise themselves with dostoevsky (esp. notes from the underground, crime and punishment, and the brothers karamov), albert camus (notably the myth of sisyphus and the stranger), nietzsche, kierkegaard, and jean-paul sartre. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre combined the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, the metaphysics of G. W. F. Hegel and Martin Heidegger, and the social theory of Karl Marx. Sartre’s view of man described a man whose existence yes, preceded his essence. Fundamentally, Sartre was defining a being who has no instrinsic goodness, or "human nature."

And then of course there are those who may not be definitively existentialists, but whose work or philosophy revolves around the general feel. Namely, ayn rand, woody allen, director todd solondz, simone de beauvoir, and tom stoppard (read: rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead, a play), to name a few.

A few classic existentialist quotes for your perusal:

    • They were offered the choice between becoming kings or the couriers of kings. The way children would, they all wanted to be couriers. Therefore there are only couriers who hurry about the world, shouting to each other - since there are no kings - messages that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to this miserable life of theirs but they dare not because of their oaths of service.
      -Kafka, Couriers

    • I feel so queer. Don't you ever get taken that way? When I can't see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist. I pat myself just to make sure, but it doesn't help much.
      -Sartre No Exit

    • One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are - your life and nothing else.
      -Sartre No Exit

    • Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as it is, corporal punishment is better than nothing.
      -Dostoevsky Notes from Underground

    • What do I know of man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.
      -Samuel Beckett

    • "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
      Last words of The Myth of Sisyphus

    • Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.
      -Shakespeare MacBeth (Thank you Phyllis_Stein!)

More useful notes for cutesy teens wishing to turn into existentialists to be sexy:
always wear black and grey. Always carry a tattered philosophy book. Become either interminably bored, or an insatiable sensualist.
Hmmm. An editor 'corrected' my interminably, to 'terminally'. I wish they hadn't. Terminal means fatal and incurable. Interminably means endlessly, incessantly. That's why I chose that word. And that is why I changed it back.
p.s. cletus_the_fetus says it is worth pointing out that dostoyevsky and kierkegaard were considered christians as well as existentialists.

Corporal Influences on Meursault’s Existence

Within The Stranger, a serious fiction written by French author Albert Camus, Meursault’s actions are completely dependent on his physical state and highly reflect the principals of an existentialist. For example, while at his mother’s funeral he seems less concerned with the demise of his mother than of the fatigue resulting from his lack of rest. Also, while attending his mother’s vigil, his behavior is quite peculiar in that he is extremely nervous and tense. Lastly, the scene where he kills the Arab is largely affected by his physical sway.

While at his mother’s funeral he is apparently more distraught over his fatigue and at some points even his level of annoyance than of the recent death of Maman. Camus notes that “ When she’d gone, the caretaker said, “I’ll leave you alone.”... Having this presence breathing down my neck was starting to annoy me... I could feel myself getting sleepy”(7). Meursault, as well as many other existentialists, views death as something which is very absurd, which has evolved into the idea of absurdism. This corresponds perfectly with the fundamental beliefs of most existentialists. A quote from an existentialist website very clearly relates this absurdity through theatre, thus explaining it: “The two dramatists who best reveal this process of evolution are Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard. Using Beckett as a starting point and Stoppard as an ending point, one gets a small sense of the ways in which absurdist theater has changed and keeps changing. In comparing and contrasting these two dramatists' works, specifically changes in structure and metaphorical intent, the evolution of absurdism ventures beyond its original borders into a new and distinct realistic theater. Of the three plays which clearly reveal this evolution, Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot will be addressed first, followed by another one of his plays, Endgame, and finally a discussion of Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. All of these plays metaphorically address the issue of "ending" or "dying" and through such a focus offer us a clear example of one way in which absurdism has evolved.” The death of his mother doesn’t bother him emotionally whatsoever, and clearly, he only cares about the way in which he feels during the present time. Hence, he experiences no mourning process as a typical person would. However, the way in which he acts is very typical of an existentialist.

While staying overnight at his mothers vigil, he displays very odd behavior. This is once again due to the fact that he goes through no mourning process. He respects his mother and feels grateful towards her for raising him as anyone would, however, the loss of her is very insignificant dealing with his daily life. It is also to be found that during the vigil, Meursault smokes a cigarette. “Then I felt like having a smoke. But I hesitated, because I didn’t know if I could do it with Maman right there. I thought about it; it didn’t matter. I offered the caretaker a cigarette and we smoked.” (Camus 9) Once again he reacts to his physical feelings rather than any emotions that he may be experiencing or a social standard. The vigil makes him very tense, his anxiety builds which produces a certain nervous tension causes him to smoke the cigarette. “ I’d never noticed what huge stomachs old women can have... When they’d sat down, most of them looked at me and nodded awkwardly, their lips sucked in my their toothless mouths, so that I couldn’t tell if they were greeting me or if it was just a nervous tic. I think they were greeting me... For a second I had the ridiculous feeling that they were there to judge me.” (Camus 10)

A very critical aspect of the novel, the murder of the Arab also deals with the bodily needs of Meursault. Most significantly the sun, as it plays a key role in his actions concerning this portion of the book. When he confronts the Arab on the beach for the final time, he is very exhausted and sweating profusely from the radiant heat of the sun. The drop of sweat into his eye is what actually causes him to fire the gun which in turn kills the Arab. “ All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed at my stinging eyes. That’s when everything began to reel. The sea carried up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave; I felt the smooth underside of the butt; and there, in that noise, sharp and deafening at the same time, is where it all started.” (Camus 59) Certainly Meursault was contemplating over whether or not he should murder the Arab, but the extreme heat from the sun, the reflection off of the Arab’s knife, and finally the drop of sweat from his brow all combined to produce an absolutely unbearable situation for Meursault. This forced his body to tense, and the gun to fire.

Basic existentialism agrees with the way in which Meursault acts entirely. Repetitively through the novel, Meursault’s actions depend specifically on how he is feeling physically at any given time. Whether it is the situation of his mothers vigil, where his is concerned about how others are viewing him, causing him to be nervous and annoyed. Even if is the killing of the Arab where the overbearing heat from the sun causes his body to break down. Consistently he is acting purely based on physical needs and attributes. Noted by Thody “Meursault, the central figure of The Outsider, is characterized by his complete indifference to everything except immediate physical sensations. He receives the news of his mother's death merely with faint annoyance at having to ask for two days' leave of absence from the office where he works. At her funeral he has no sadness or regret, and feels only the physical inconveniences of watching over her body and following the hearse to the cemetery under the burning sun. He notes automatically and objectively everything which strikes his eye: the bright new screws in the walnut-stained coffin, the colours of the nurse's clothes, the large stomachs of the old ladies who had been his mother's closest friends, the whiteness of the roots in her grave.”

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