Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Fictional Experiences

Literature, poetry, or other story forms serve as a resource of experiences to which the phenomenologist may turn to increase practical insights.


Fictional literature, such as novels and short stories, are sometimes excellent sources for experiential material. The phenomenological value of a novel, for example, is determined by what may be called the perceptiveness and the intuitive sensitivity of the author. Phenomena such as love, grief, illness, faith, success, fear, death, hope, struggle, or loss are the stuff of which novels are made. The titles of some celebrated works, such as Crime and Punishment, Nausea, The Trial, Remembrance of Things Past, announce fundamental life experiences which are available to our interpretive reading. In reading Sartre’s Nausea, we cannot help but feel invaded by the same mood which inhabits Roquentin. And so as readers we find the experience of everyday life irresistibly shifted to the world of the novel where such fundamental life experiences are lived through vicariously. As we identify ourselves with the protagonist of a story, we live his or her feelings and actions without having to act ourselves. Thus we may be able to experience life situations, events, and emotions that we would normally not have. Through a good novel, then, we are given the chance of living through an experience that provides us with the opportunity of gaining insight into certain aspects of the human condition.