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Course Description

Existentialism emerged as a philosophical movement in Europe in the period just prior to and during World War II. Amidst the horrors of Nazism, it addressed questions about morality and moral responsibility, about death and the meaning of life, in ways that seemed new and relevant. This course introduces some of the main writings and themes of existentialism by focusing on six writers linked to it, whose lives or reputations were intertwined with, and sometimes compromised by, events around the war: Friedrich Nietzsche, whose sister was close to Hitler; Martin Heidegger, who became a member of the Nazi Party; Hannah Arendt, Jewish but notoriously close to Heidegger, whose book about the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann generated much controversy; Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, who chose themes inspired by the weighty decisions of living under Nazi occupation; and Simone de Beauvoir, who documented such decisions in fiction. We also discuss later works by visual artists (Giacometti and Bacon) and filmmakers (Bergman and the Coen brothers) inspired by existentialism.