How to use the word existentialism, the novel’s most famous and controversial figure, in literature

It is one of the most enduring words in English.

And yet it is a word that often escapes us, and it has been a source of confusion for some decades.

It has come to define an intellectual movement that is sometimes labelled existentialism and sometimes simply called literature.

For example, one of our leading thinkers, the late Christopher Hitchens, called existentialism “the most famous word in the English language.”

It has also been used as an epithet by some prominent literary critics.

But what is it and why has it been used so much?

Are the modern-day writers who use it simply reusing a word they grew up with, or are they using it in ways that seem to defy any common understanding?

Is it the first word to be coined by a modern-age author?

And what, if anything, is the relationship between the word and the literature it describes?

To explore these questions, The Globe and Mail invited two leading existentialists, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer, to reflect on the word, its use in literature and the literary history of literature.

To hear their responses, please listen to the podcast.

For more articles on existentialism visit The Globe & Mail website and the Globe and 6 Days Podcast.