Although today in our age of consumerism, dominated by oil prices and key rates, we have little time to reflect upon our being, about 100 years ago a whole philosophical movement was gaining ground in Europe that focused precisely on man's existence. One of its early exponents was Russian-Jewish thinker Lev Shestov.
Born Lev Isaakovich Schwarzmann into a big prominent family in Kiev, in what was then the Russian Empire, Shestov studied mathematics at the Moscow State University and then law back in Kiev.
Unhappy working in his father's textile business, he joined a circle of rebellious fin-de-siècle writers and philosophers that included Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Vasily Rozanov and Nikolai Berdyaev, who all flirted with Socialism/Marxism in their youth only to become champions of the Christian worldview in their mature age. Berdyaev, in fact, also came to be associated with existentialism, although he concentrated mostly on spiritual and creative activity as the purpose of human existence.
Shestov gained recognition with his two early books, The Good in the Teaching of Tolstoy and Nietzsche (1899) and The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche (1903). But it was with the controversial Apotheosis of Groundlessness (1905) that he brilliantly tapped into the zeitgeist of the overturning world and laid out the central tenets of the budding philosophy.
In this aphoristic, unsystematic, sarcastic work Shestov tears up just about every tradition, ideology and idea that prevents man from realizing his maximum potential. "Nothing on earth is impossible," says the author, explaining that man should believe only in himself, in his immediate being, that he is absolutely free to construct his identity as he so wishes.