Existentialism 101: 5 Must-Read Classics to Prepare Yourself for This Thing We Call Existence

Prepare yourself to question your existence, confront the absurdities of life and delve into the depths of human consciousness with these five books. By Sabaha Salim

Have you ever pondered the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in between? Do you often find yourself asking: What does it mean to exist? If you have, then the term “existential” might have crossed your path at some point. It’s a word that’s often thrown around in casual conversations, but its origins lie in a profound and thought-provoking branch of philosophy known as existentialism. Existentialism, unlike traditional philosophy, resonated deeply with people across different walks of life because it confronted the anxieties and uncertainties we all face. It became a cultural phenomenon, influencing not only high art, but also our collective understanding of the human condition. 

From Kafka’s nightmarish realms to Camus’ absurd encounters and Sartre’s chilling existentialist plays, these curated literary gems offer profound insights into the nature of existence, freedom, and the search for meaning, propelling you to the very essence of existential thought.

All of them are available at Kunzum.

An Existential Reading List

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky  

This slim yet profound novella serves as a gateway to the complex world of existentialist literature. Set in St. Petersburg, Russia, we follow the ramblings and confessions of the underground man, a brooding and self-destructive anti-hero who rejects societal norms with an unsettling gusto. He embodies the human contradictions and paradoxes that we all harbour within ourselves, exposing the darkest corners of our consciousness. Through its philosophical musings, biting wit, and introspective narrative style, Notes from Underground serves as a profound exploration of free will, alienation, and the inherent contradictions of human nature.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Step into the twisted labyrinth of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, where the boundaries of reason and justice blur into a nightmarish haze. Meet Josef K., a bewildered protagonist thrust into an absurd world of bureaucratic chaos and inexplicable accusations. As he navigates the bewildering maze of the legal system, we’re drawn into a surreal journey that explores themes of guilt, powerlessness, and the inherent absurdity of existence. Kafka’s unparalleled storytelling plunges us into a realm where truth remains elusive, leaving us questioning the very fabric of our reality. Buckle up, for a trial like no other awaits.

The Outsider by Albert Camus

Next up, we have Albert Camus’s timeless classic The Outsider. In this existential masterpiece, we meet the enigmatic Meursault, a man seemingly detached from the emotions and expectations of society. Camus masterfully delves into the absurdity of human existence, challenging our notions of meaning, morality, and the consequences of our actions. The book will immerse you in a world where indifference reigns ― leaving us with the question of the very nature of our own existence.

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville

Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener is a tale that explores themes of alienation and the perils of conformity. Through the eyes of a perplexed narrator, we witness the strange and unsettling behaviour of Bartleby, a seemingly ordinary office worker who gradually withdraws from the demands of society. Melville’s tale invites us to reflect on the pressures of conformity and the inherent longing for individual freedom and authenticity. Truly a tale for our times!

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Now, let’s take a detour into the realm of Jean-Paul Sartre with his riveting play No Exit. Brace yourself for a chilling exploration of the human psyche as we join three characters locked in a room for eternity. Sartre’s examination of self-deception, the gaze of others, and the absence of escape forces us to confront our own fears, insecurities, and the terrifying notion that hell might just be other people.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Last but certainly not least, we have Leo Tolstoy’s powerful novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Delve into the life of Ivan Ilyich, a successful and respectable man whose imminent death forces him to confront the true meaning of his existence. Tolstoy skilfully paints a portrait of a man grappling with regret, isolation, and the quest for spiritual enlightenment. This poignant and introspective tale prompts us to reflect on our own mortality and the pursuit of a life well-lived.

Enthral yourself with these literary masterpieces challenge your perceptions, ignite your imagination, and leave you pondering the very essence of your own being!

Related: Father’s Day Reads: The Complexities of Fatherhood Through Khaled Hosseini’s Lens

Leave a comment