Since its birth in the 19th century, existentialism has found expression in both literary prose and traditional philosophical analysis, with many of its most notable thinkers testing both. In this paper, I will argue that the former is more capable of capturing the essence of the existential crisis than the latter, examining the nature of each and their respective methodologies in the pursuit of insight into this subject matter.
Literary vs. Philosophical Approaches in Existentialist thought
Often considered the “father of existentialism”, Søren Kierkegaard gave birth to the philosophical movement with his analysis of the role of Christianity in a world quickly becoming engulfed by scientism. He asserted that rationality alone cannot lead to an understanding of an existence that is ultimately crazy, and that the only method one has of creating meaning in one's life is to oblige with God's will. This idea of the individual as a meaning-creating agent marks the birth of existentialism, and is representative of Kierkegaard's remarkably philosophical sensibilities. His insight into the insignificance of human life and the fundamental predicament that follows set the groundwork for future analysis of the human condition, and although later existentialist thought bases itself on a heavily atheistic foundation, the movement's first footsteps were taken in the shoes of a humble Christian.
An investigation into Kierkegaard's thought reveals efforts in both the refined academic scrutiny of traditional philosophical analysis as well as the eloquence and creative liberation of literary prose. His thoughts of the nature of the self, a topic of extensive debate not only in existentialism but in philosophy as a whole, can be found in both forms, albeit with very different explanatory results. The former, as we will see below, is almost unintelligible - an articulation that will undoubtedly appear opaque to those not used to the syntactic density typical of...