t a frowned look. According to journalist, Richard Eyre, in this country, Sartre is perhaps as unfashionable as loon pants. That is in part because Sartre, albeit a great French philosopher, didn’t have a poster status. Sartre was not a particularly attractive man and although he was the darling of the 60’s in all of Europe, his pipe, glasses and an air of bad temper kept him off walls that celebrated the Brigitte Bardots and the James Deans.
Furthermore, Sartre was not always an easy man to understand. His writings are not particularly fanciful and he doesn’t necessarily care to engage the reader by painting pretty pictures of life or of a utopian society. He engages the reader by making him think ? think about his existence, his reason for being, his freedom and his obligations. If anything, Sartre’s novels and plays are bold and interesting because they are filled with metaphors and sheer audacity. They are generous with spirits and almost always contain a message.
Sartre was not evasive, condescending or self-righteous, he has always maintained that his audience was free to perceive him and his work as they saw fit ? Simply put, he had ideas and he communicated them. Sartre was an existentialist – He believed that:
First, man exists
Turns up, appears on the scene,
And only afterwards, defines himself.
What does it all mean? It means that Sartre was an investigator as well as an observer.
He was concerned was with:
– How we live and why we live
He was also concerned with:
– Our disposition to evade responsibility and to lie to ourselves
He believed that:
– Human freedom did not lie in the impudence or boldness of our actions but in the responsibility we took for them
Sartre died twenty years ago at age seventy-five. Currently, he is receiving a lot attention and press due mainly to the fact that famous French author, Bernard-Henry L?vy has written a rather controversial book about Sartre’s life. Also, I was delighted to have found an article in the December issue of Talk Magazine about Sartre ? it is not only appropriate but very timely since I am writing a paper about Sartre and his literary contributions. I am like the idea that Sartre might become popular in America ? that his name will no longer sound so arcane or esoteric. I am glad to see that Sartre is not forgotten and that even after his death, he is being celebrated for his works, his courageous positions on the Algerian and Vietnam wars, his work on behalf of the oppressed, his stance against communism and his gutsy appearances at student demonstrations in Paris.
At age 13, I read my first play by Sartre called Huis Clos (No Exit) ? it fascinated me.
It was about a philosophical game, which told the story of a diabolical lesbian, a spoiled society woman and a cowardly journalist who found themselves trapped in Hell. They were held captive in a single room in which they eternally tormented one another with the awareness of their delusions and their failures as human beings. In the end, they came to the realization that there was no need for red-hot flames. Hell was —other people!
Although Sartre meant that hell was other people, he also meant that ultimately our egos could not withstand or bear the presence of another ego.
I went on to read many other plays and two novels by Sartre but I have never had to study or analyze him or his works. I was surprised to learn that:
– He never married his long time friend and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he later founded a quarterly journal/newspaper.
– They had an open relationship during which time, they had “other” affairs.
– He had an adopted daughter.
– He was anti-bourgeois – He rejected Nobel Prize for literature just because…..he felt the whole affair was too bourgeois.
– He was a member of the French army and was captured by the Germans during world war II and repatriated a year later
Although most people associate him with the existentialist movement, Sartre is also a novelist, essayist, playwright, biographer, philosopher, and political intellectual and engaged activist. Sartre is, in fact, one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century, a man whose insight and intellectual gifts were at the service of nearly every progressive cause of our time.