The roots of the chestnut tree sank into the ground beneath my bench. I couldn’t remember it was a root any more. Words had vanished, and with them the meanings of things, the way things are to be used, the feeble points of reference which men have traced on their surface. … The root, the park gates, the bench, the sparse bits of grass, all that had vanished: the diversity of things, their individuality, were only an appearance, a varnish. This varnish had melted, leaving soft, monstrous lumps, in naked disorder, with a frightful and obscene nakedness.
– Nausea, 1938
Jean-Paul Sartre is perhaps the best known ‘existential’ philosopher. Along with Kierkegaard, he is, perhaps, the most psychological existentialist, examining the impact of ‘absurdity’ (existence without any pre-given meaning) on the individual. Alongside his attempt to outline the structure of human Being, Sartre also poses that freedom only truly exists in an act of commitment to an authentic project of one’s own – existence precedes essence. Such projects, however, are always fraught with the dangers of inauthenticity and alienation that may arise from one’s being-with or being-for others. Sartre’s phenomenology is ultimately political.