Existentialism is a philosophical movement characterized by an emphasis on individualism, individual freedom, and subjectivity. Existentialism emphasises the idea that existence precedes essence, i.e., that one must be alive in order to create meaning, and that each person is therefore gifted with individual moments to make choices. Camus emphasizes this idea in The Stranger when Meursault exclaims "we are all privileged". It was inspired by the works of Søren Kierkegaard and the German philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, and was particularly popular around the mid-20th century with the works of the French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, and others, including the novelist, essayist, and playwright Albert Camus. The main tenets of the movement are set out in Sartre's L'Existentialisme est un humanisme, translated as Existentialism is a Humanism.

Though many, if not most, existentialists were atheists, Karl Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel pursued more theological versions of existentialism. The one-time Marxist Nikolai Berdyaev developed a philosophy of Christian existentialism in his native Russia and later France during the decades preceding World War II.

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Major concepts in existentialism

"Existence precedes and rules essence"

Among the most famous and influential existentialist propositions is Sartre's dictum, "existence precedes and rules essence", which is generally taken to mean that there is no pre-defined essence to humanity except that which we make for ourselves. Since Sartrean existentialism does not admit the existence of a god or of any other determining principle, human beings are free to do as they choose.

Since there is no predefined human nature or ultimate evaluation beyond that which humans project onto the world, people may only be judged or defined by their actions and choices, and human choices are the ultimate evaluator. This concept spins from Nietzsche’s concept of eternal return-- the idea that things lose values because they cease to exist. If all things were to continually exist then they would all burden us with a tremendous level of importance, but because things come to pass, and no longer exist, they lose their value.

The concept of Existence preceding essence is important because it describes the only conceivable reality as the judge of good or evil. If things simply “are”, without directive, purpose or overall truth, then truth (or essence) is only the projection of that which is a product of existence, or collective experiences. For truth to exist, existence has to exist before it, making it not only the predecessor but the “ruler” of its own objectivity.




In Sartre's jargon, anguish is the feeling one gets when he recognizes that he is responsible not only for himself, but for all of mankind. Along with many of the other emotional states described by existentialists, anguish can be paralytic, and one of the goals of existentialism is to push people toward action even in the face of these emotions.

Bad faith

In existentialist philosophy, bad faith is an escape from anxiety and despair, etc. into a false or inauthentic way of existence. Bad Faith is noted by constant and bitter resentment. Those in Bad Faith, also known as "Falleness", have come to be such due to their knowledge of Transcendence (to use the Heideggarian term), but their inability to choose it. This bitter resentment is characterized by characters such as The Underground Man (Dostoyevsky) and Jean-Baptist Clemance (Camus).

Being for itself

Being for itself, in Sartrean existentialism, is that part — part, though inseparable from the rest — of human existence that is self-defined. Viewing human existence as entirely self-defined is one way toward bad faith.

Being for others

Being for others, in Sartrean existentialism, is that part of human existence that is social and socially defined. One path to bad faith is to view all of one's existence as disclosed through others.

Being in itself

Being in itself is the self-contained and fully realized Being of objects. It is to be contrasted with the being, or existence, of people. According to Sartre, human beings want to attain being in itself while retaining their freedom, a tendency he dubs "the desire to be God".


Sartre defines despair as the feeling resulting from the realization that there is no sure footing in the world, and we can never know the results of our actions beforehand.


"When we speak of 'forlornness', a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this." (Existentialism is a Humanism) The feeling of forlornness stems from an individual's realization that he or she is alone in the world, unable to rely on anything absolutely.

The return of existentialism

In the 1950's and 1960's, existentialism experienced a resurgence of interest in popular artforms. In fiction, Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets adopted existentialist themes. Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, based on an idea in Either/Or, sold well in the west, and "arthouse" films began to quote or allude to existentialist thinkers. At the same time that the students of Paris found in Sartre a hero for the May 1968 demonstrations, others were appropriating the pessimistic themes found in Albert Camus and Kierkegaard. The despair of choice and the despair of the unknowing self featured prominently (often in a pidgin form) in numerous films and novels.

Criticism of Existentialism

The opponents of existentialism assert that it fosters the particularization of human beings, stripping them of a universal sense of identity, which is entirely consistent with the claims of existentialists as the only universal allowed human beings is their fundamental freedom.

Though certainly not the first book to raise such an objection (in fact, Sartre was in some ways writing in response to such statements) Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature argues that of the aspects of an individual's behavior that vary across individuals, 50% is genetically determined, 40-50% is peer group learned, and 0-10% is parental, though what exactly a percentage means when applied to behavior is questionable. This can be read as retort to Sartre's statement that "existence precedes essence", as genetics, in this sense, can be seen as a human essence. Sartre's ready-made reply, present in one form or another in most of his writings, is that the existence of choice means that we can choose to do other than what our biology or environment might lead us to do.

Major thinkers and authors associated with the movement

Novelists and Playwrights

Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, John Gardner, Franz Kafka, Henrik Ibsen, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Marquis de Sade, Hermann Hesse, Dingting Wang, Jerzy Kosinski


Nikolai Berdyaev, Henri Bergson, Karl Jaspers, Soren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas, Gabriel Marcel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Blaise Pascal, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Max Stirner, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Martin Heidegger, Hans Jonas


Ludwig Binswanger, Medard Boss, Viktor Frankl, R. D. Laing, Rollo May, Fritz Perls

See also

Being -- Being in itself -- Free will -- Humanism

External links

Essays on Existentialism (http://www.columbia.edu/~ta63/exist.htm)

Critical Theory: basic topics

These should be the most basic topics in the field--topics about which we'd like to have articles soon. Please see the most basic encyclopedia article topics for general instructions on constructing this list, and consult complete list of encyclopedia topics.

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Major concepts, key terms, theories, schools of thought

Reason, Enlightenment,

Negative dialectic, Communicative action, Public sphere, Civic society, Constellation, Cultural industry, Late capitalism,

Major theorists

Fredric Jameson, Herbert Marcuse, Taccheri, Louis Althusser, Jean Baudrillard, Stuart Hall, Slavoj Zizek, Raymond Williams, Moshe Postone, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, David Harvey, Loïc Wacquant

Frankfurt School members and their close colleagues

Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Jürgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal,

Gyorgy Lukacs, Ernest Bloch, Bertolt Brecht,

Major works

One Dimensional Man -Escape from Freedom -Theory of Communicative Action -Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere -Negative Dialectic -Dialectic of Enlightenment

Major historical events

Habermas-Luhmann debate, Habermas-Lyotard debate, Adorno-Popper debate

Related school of thoughts

Neo-Marxism, Post-Marxisim, Postmodernism, Poststructuralism

French feminism

"French feminism" (which is a phrase mostly used in English-speaking countries) refers to the work of a group of feminists in France from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

French feminism, compared to Anglophone feminism, is distinguished by an approach which is at once more philosophical and more literary. Its texts are effusive, metaphorical, and conceptually rich, rather than pragmatic; they are not as concerned with pragmatism, immediate political doctrine, or a "materialism" which is not of the body.

The writers most commonly associated with the "French feminist" label include:

Simone de Beauvoir is a clear forerunner of French feminism, as is Marguerite Duras.

Common themes of this work include at least some degree of anti-essentialism, écriture féminine, and a critique of phallogocentrism informed by contemporary developments in Continental philosophy.

Julia Kristeva

Since arriving in Paris in 1966 as a doctoral fellow, Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva has become a prominent figure in contemporary critical theory.

Developing her thought by merging various disciplines -- philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, literary theory, psychoanalysis -- Kristeva has continually sought to formulate new modes of critical discourse in order to reflect logic and reality differently. Her principal objects for analysis are modern or modernist (especially avant-garde) literary texts.

These preoccupations first emerged with her activities in conjunction with the Tel Quel group which she joined in 1969, and which also included Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Marcelin Pleynet and Philippe Sollers. This period produced works such as Sèméiotikè: Recherches pour une sémanalyse (1969), Le Texte du roman: approche sémiologique d'une structure discursive transformationnelle (1970) and La Révolution du langage poétique: l'avant-garde à la fin du XIXè siècle (1974), a study of experiments in French poetic language in the late 19th century.

Throughout her career, non-Freudian psychoanalysis - the ultimate signifying discourse, in her view - has exercised the determining influence on her theories. Kristeva's particular non-Freudian version of psychoanalysis propels such works as Pouvoirs de l'horreur. Essai sur l'abjection (1980), on the topic of narcissism and abjection in their psychoanalytic, philosophical and linguistic implications, Histoires d'amour (1982), a study of the "love-relation, love-object" and its expression in literary theory, Au commencement était l'amour (1985), on the relations between psychoanalysis and faith, and Soleil noir. Dépression et mélancolie (1987), where Kristeva probes melancholy and depression in their artistic manifestations.

Concerned with current issues of racism and xenophobia in France, Kristeva has also published the essay, Étrangers à nous-mêmes (1988), in which she examines the history of the foreigner and its intersection with nationalism and its attendant problems.

Recent publications include Contre la dépression nationale, Le féminin et le sacré, Proust: questions d'identité, and Visions capitales.

Having realized the abiding impact of psychoanalysis on her work, Julia Kristeva has established a practice in Paris in conjunction with her obligations as a member of the Faculty at the University of Paris VII.

For the last fifteen years (as of 2001), Kristeva has regularly worked as a Visiting Professor at Columbia University, sharing the Chair of Literary Semiology with Umberto Eco and fellow Bulgarian Tzvetan Todorov. She also functions as Executive Secretary of the International Association of Semiology and as a member of many editorial boards. In April 1997, Julia Kristeva received one of France's highest honors, "Chevalière de la légion d'honneur", for her work spanning thirty years and translated into ten languages.

It is noticeable that, among other thinkers like Jacques Lacan or Felix Guattari, Kristeva has been criticised by scientist Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal in their book entitled Fashionable Nonsense. They claim that she is using an unnecessarly obscure and criptic style, abusing of scientific concept that she, according to them, is not understanding at all, and therefore using those scientific metaphors as what they called "intellectual terrorism".

External links

  • Tate Britain Online Event: Julia Kristeva (http://www.tate.org.uk/onlineevents/archive/julia_kristeva/) (On Génie Feminine and Art, Julia Kristeva, renowned for her work exploring identity formation, the limits of linguistic signification, gender difference and political solidarity, is coming to Tate Britain to speak about 'génie féminine' and art. Drawing from the Tate Collection and referencing the work of Hannah Arendt, Melanie Klein and Colette, this special lecture will deal with issues of feminitity, passion and visual culture.) RealPlayer required!

This article is part of WikiProject Critical Theory, an attempt to build a comprehensive, detailed, and accessible guide to critical theory on Wikipedia. We have prepared a list of other articles in the field of critical theory. If you would like to participate in the project, you can choose to edit this article, or visit the project page for more information.

Hélène Cixous

Hélène Cixous (born 1937) is a French feminist writer, poet, playwright, philosopher and literary critic. She was born, and grew up, in Algeria, in a German Jewish family. She is a professor of English literature at the University of Paris-VIII, which she helped to found (and whose center for women's studies, the first of its kind in Europe, she founded). She has published widely, including twenty-three volumes of poems, six books of essays, five plays, and numerous influential articles. Along with Julia Kristeva, Cixous is one of the best-known of the late-20th-century "French feminists". She has also published with Jacques Derrida and her work is often considered part of deconstruction.

Cixous is best known to English readers for her 1975 essay "The Laugh of the Medusa" and her later book The Newly Born Woman. Her fiction, dramatic writing, and poetry are not often read in English, and much of this work has not been translated from the original French.

"The Laugh of the Medusa," an extremely literary essay, is well-known as an exhortation to a feminine mode of writing (the phrases "white ink" and "écriture féminine" are often cited, referring to this desired new way of writing). It is a strident critique of "logocentrism" and "phallogocentrism," having much in common with Jacques Derrida's writing of the time. The essay also calls for an acknowledgement of universal bisexuality, or polymorphous perversity, which is clearly a precursor of queer theory's later emphases; and it swiftly rejects many kinds of essentialism which were still common in Anglo-American feminism at the time.


  • "The Laugh of the Medusa". Orig. English pub. Signs, Summer 1976. Anthologized in:
    • New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron. ISBN 0-87023-280-0.
    • The "Signs" Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship, ed. Abel and Abel. ISBN 0226000753.
  • The Hélène Cixous Reader. ISBN 041504930X.

External links

Luce Irigaray

Luce Irigaray (born 1930) is a French feminist and psychoanalytic & cultural theorist. She is best known for her works Speculum of the Other Woman (1974) and This Sex Which Is Not One (1977). Luce Irigaray is inspired by the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan and the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida. She has two intentions with her work, to expose the male ideology underlying our whole system of meaning and thus also our language and to create a feminine countersystem to provide a positive sexual identity for women. One of her key thoughts is ‘the logic of the same’ or phallogocentrism, a concept expressing how society’s two gender categories, man and woman, are in fact just one, man, as he is made the universal referent. The aim would then be to create two autonomous terms, both equally positive and to acknowledge two sexes, not one . Following this line of thought, with Lacan’s mirror stage and Derrida’s theory of logocentrism in the background, Irigaray also criticises the favouring of unitary truth within patriarchal society. In her theory for creating a new disruptive form of feminine writing (Écriture féminine), she focuses on the child’s pre-Oedipal phase when experience and knowledge is based on bodily contact, primarily with the mother and here lies one major interest, the mother-daughter relationship which she considers devalued in patriarchal society. Luce Irigaray is often associated with Hélène Cixous.

Irigaray was criticised by Alan Sokal in Intellectual Impostures for arguing that E=mc2 is a "sexed equation" (because it privileges the speed of light) and arguing that fluid mechanics has been neglected by "masculine" science because it prefers to deal with "masculine" rigid objects rather than "feminine" fluids [1] (http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/dawkins.html).

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan (April 13, 1901September 9, 1981) was an influential French psychoanalyst.

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Lacan's life is summarised in a timeline at this page (http://www.lacan.com/rolleyes.htm).


Lacan reiterated and clarified Sigmund Freud's findings. In contrast to the dominant Anglo-American ego-psychologists of his time, he focused on the powerlessness of the ego in relation to the unconscious. After having obtained a medical degree in psychiatry he settled in Paris, where he worked as a psychoanalyst, primarily with patients suffering from various forms of psychoses.

Lacan argued that the psychoanalytic movement towards understanding the ego as an active and dominating force in the self misinterpreted its Freudian roots. Lacan stated that the self remained in eternal internal conflict and that only extensive self-deceit made the situation bearable.

Lacan also initiated the ideas of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real, with which he explained the three aspects of human psychic structure. Describing the interaction of this triad, Lacan revised orthodox Freudian ideas about a stable psychic reality. The Imaginary, or pre-linguistic aspect of the psyche, formulates human primitive self-knowledge while the Symbolic, his term for linguistic collaboration, generates a community-wide reflection of primitive self-knowledge and creates the very first set of rules that govern behavior. Lacan's notion of the Real is a very difficult concept which he in his later years worked to present in a structured, set-theory fashion, as mathemes.

His developmental theory of the objectified self was inspired by Ferdinand de Saussure's insights into the relationship of the signifier and the signified.

Although Lacan has joined Freud and Melanie Klein as one of the three major figures in the history of psychoanalysis, he made his most significant contributions not in the traditional form of books and journal articles, but through seminar lectures. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, conducted over a period of more than two decades, was not simply transcribed by Jacques-Alain Miller, his son-in-law; Sherry Turkle further claims that Lacan effectively contracted out all work on the seminars to Miller after reviewing his work on the first and that Miller made extensive changes to the seminars to add clarity to the material (Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution, p. 254-255). The Seminars are still taken to represent the main body of his thinking. The Seminars may be taken as more intellectually accessible than his published collection of writings, entitled Écrits. Seminar XX remarks that his Écrits were not to be understood, but would produce a meaning effect in the reader similar to some mystical texts. Given the complex provenance of these texts, this remark is extremely difficult to evaluate.

Turkle and Ferdinand Dosse both claim that Lacan had a hand in the extremely contentious politics surrounding the pioneering psychoanalysis program at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes. This was a program headed by Serge Leclaire, annexed to the philosophy department headed by Michel Foucault. At the outset all of the members of the program were also members of the Freudian School of Paris [French acronym EFP, for École Freudienne de Paris]. Lacan was not a member of the program himself, but his son-in-law was. The department suffered from a number of difficulties: one was that Lacan was not himself in charge. Leclaire became exasperated with the program's lack of autonomy, intellectual and institutional, both from Lacan and the philosophy faculty and left the University. The department was to go without a chair for three years. Second, the program had limited degree status. A degree from Vincennes was not initially a clinical qualification to practise psychoanalysis, which caused considerable objection among the students. When Lacan gave a lecture at the University in 1969, in which students interrupted to complain about their lack of qualification through the program and refused to accept his objection that psychoanalytic knowledge was distinct from other forms of knowledge taught by the university and therefore should not be credentialed equally. In addition to his concern about granting clinical authority Lacan was against granting any academic credit for work in the program. Students unhappy with the program's seeming disinterest in clinical experience left the program to undergo analysis or simply stopped attending lectures. Miller's inclusion in the program was a problem in that his avowed Maoism was in apparent contradiction with his university position given that Maoism set the abolition of the university as a goal. Such contradictory and conflicted attitudes toward authority and education are often taken as the hallmark of Vincennes generally (ironic jokes about a Gaullist strategy to preoccupy the many factions of the French academic left by giving them a university to administer), but this problem seems unusually acute in the psychoanalysis program. Third, Lacan's subsequent involvement in the program, which began in 1974, was regarded as heavy-handed and was a further source of frustration for the clinically included. Lacan was retooling his views of psychoanalysis heavily and was determined to give it a more profoundly scientific character. He declared the previous efforts of the program a failure, appointed himself to a position in the department, and had Miller elevated to the position of chairman. In the same period Luce Irigaray proposed to offer a course on material developing in the wake of her first book on psychoanalysis and feminine sexuality and was rejected. This rejection was perceived as petty antagonism of a critic indicative of a further curtailment of intellectual freedom in a program seemingly shackled to Lacan's agenda. Later decision to grant clinical standing by degrees from the program were taken as signs of outright hypocrisy serving to assure Miller of unreasonable powers in Lacan's name.

In this period the EFP fell apart, sparked in large part by the rise of the parallel organization Confrontations, which René Major helped found with the support of Jacques Derrida. Confrontrations harnessed much of the dissent that emerged in the French psychoanalytic community in response to Lacan's insistence on mathematical aspects of his scientific conception of psychoanalysis. The clinical emphasis of Confrontations drew in those less inclined toward issues they viewed as hermetically theoretical or philosophical. In some respects Confrontations might be taken to be a necessary element of the psychoanalyic community, but the EFP went so far as to remove Denis Vasse, then serving as its vice president, from office for his participation. EFP broken down into factions, and a number of factions otherwise sympathetic to Lacan walked became restive because of what they viewed Miller's increasing hegemony as dictatorial in ambition. As questions were raised about the democratic nature of the EFP, Lacan became increasingly ill with colon cancer. A letter dissolving the EFP was circulated, affixed to a Lacanian signature whose authority was contested by allegations of a Miller forgery or dictation imposed upon a gravely ill Lacan. The matter splattered headlines everywhere. Louis Althusser showed up to denounce the proceedings of a meeting to found a new organization, the Freudian Cause. It became increasingly difficult to determine whether Lacan was speaking with his own voice or if Miller were appropriating his authority in a bid to consolidate power. Turkle has suggested that many who wished to think themselves loyal to Lacan expressed this in imagining that they were only defying the machinations of a scheming son-in-law.

Lacan died in hospital after a hemorrhage left him in a coma.


Criticism was levelled at Jacques Lacan in the essays of Jacques Derrida, who made a considerable critique not only of Lacan's analytic writings, but his structuralist approach as a whole and its various underpinnings. Lacan, like Freud, was also the target of numerous feminist critics, who saw Lacan as carrying on the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis.

Lacan was not without other critics either: François Roustang, in The Lacanian Delusion, called Lacan's output "extravagant" and an incoherent system of pseudo-scientific gibberish. Lacan was described by his acquaintance Noam Chomsky as a "conscious charlatan." In Fashionable Nonsense (1997), authors Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accused Lacan of abusing scientific concepts (however, they have been accused of various misunderstandings too), and in a 750-page French biography of Lacan (translated into English by Barbara Bray) by Elisabeth Roudinesco, a psychiatric historian, Lacan was portrayed as a megalomaniac and compulsive womanizer who was dishonest when it was expedient. Notable, however, is that Roudinesco has also characterized Lacan as "the last great living master of psychoanalysis" (Roudinesco w/ Derrida, Of What Tomorrow..., p. 167) and further argued:

Lacan is the only heir to Freud who attempted to think the question of a school of psychoanalysis that would be neither a professional corporation, nor a party, nor a sect, nor a bureaucracy. He pushed the reflection on this subject very far, and I can testify to this, having participated in this adventure as a member of the EFP beginning in 1969. (ibid, p. 182)

Key Concepts

Mirror stage


Selected works published in English listed below. More complete listings can be found at Lacan Dot Com (http://www.lacan.com/bibliography.html) or Peter Krapp's page (http://www.hydra.umn.edu/lacan/gaze.html)

*referenced above

  • Sherry Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution, 2nd edition, Guilford Press, New York, 1992
  • Jacques Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow..., Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2004

External links


(Redirected from Phallogocentrism)

Logocentrism, also called phallogocentrism, is a term used in Deconstruction (a postmodern form of philosophy and literary criticism) to refer to the perceived tendency of Western thought to locate the center of any discourse within the logos (speech and words) and the phallus (embodiments representing the male genitalia).