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HE SARTRE MYTH: REBORN?

by : Georges Duncan
Tuesday September 20, 2005 - 23:12
2 comments

By Georges Duncan

Cubanow.- Half a century later, the texts and words of Jean Paul Sartre, the scandalous French intellectual, are once again being read as if they had never before been read, and his figure is being reconsidered as if it had been hidden and waiting for better times.

Recently, in connection with his 100 th anniversary, philosophers and writers, critically searched out files of one of the most lucid and controversial thinkers of the last century.

For some, Sartre was the unmatchable symbol of the time in which he lived (1905-1980); for others, he was only an agitator using apocalyptic phrases.

Sartre, indeed, stood against challenges of his time, the "Cold War," French decolonization, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, Kennedy’s murder, Soviet socialism, the war in Algeria.

The author of the novel Nausea (perhaps his most famous work) came to personify almost perfectly the image of the intellectual who hates the system that has formed him and therefore needs to adopt a critical position at all costs.

Sartre, the great "existentialist" (he also moved close to Marxism) participated in more than one scandal in this respect. The most sensational one was, probably, when he rejected the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964.

At that time, he was defying worldwide references about the values of a writer and the role of individual freedom.

The author of Being and Nothingness (his most important work) tried to settle (and he did, finally) in a perfect status: the intellectual who places individual morals and freedom above politics, economy, and all established interests.

He was the philosopher of freedom, existence, and full life. Even his physical image became a sort of symbol of the intellectual of the 50s, ugly, intelligent, with an apprehensive glance, lost in infinity, neatly dressed, formal, introvert, thick glasses. A solemn, responsible, expression.

However, he had some charm. The charm of the antihero. Sartre must have often wondered: Who am I, where and how have I been formed intellectually? And, he must have answered: A typical intellectual of the system, arguing, critical, thinking, independent, personalist, even scandalous if necessary.

However, that was where his contradictions began. From the point of view of morals, he always judged whatever he wanted and unloaded his examining mind on whatever was happening, including the conduct of parties, governments, ideologies, political trends, and great personalities.

In 1959, he traveled to Cuba and was fascinated by the recent triumph of the Cuban Revolution. He held interviews with Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The head of the Cuban Revolution invited him to Cienaga de Zapata, surrounded by marshes, crocodiles and charcoal kilns.

After long journeys, in suffocating heat and humidity, the French philosopher, accompanied by his wife, the writer Simone de Beauvoir, without taking off his jacket or necktie, calmly sat down to write in millimetric handwriting in a big notebook all he had seen and discussed.

He studied the Cuban process in detail. Upon his return to France, he wrote a book on his impressions on Cuba. Probably, Sartre had discovered the possibility of a new course he could use to force his way into the world amidst so many problems and disappointments.

Who can doubt it? He had reached a luxury site to which it was very difficult to gain access: he was considered a worldwide reference on all kinds of events.

He was, at the same time, a writer, a philosopher, a novelist, a dramatist, a thinker, a sort critical conscience of the 60s, a decade of so many important happenings.

Finally, an unfortunate image of Sartre hit many. The image of the misled intellectual, lost in his own time and his own explanations, not finding light, and shooting critically as if forced to judge everything that happened on the planet.

But, to the public opinion, admirers or critics, he was, no doubt, the committed intelligence of his time.

Nevertheless, what most damaged his image and disturbed his followers were his totally opposite positions. He was fluctuating. He could be rebellious or tolerant, drastic or humanizing.

He criticized, in his time, both US world policy and Soviet society. He judged both the leaders of the socialist system and its detractors. He rejected the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964 explaining that if he accepted it "it would jeopardize his integrity as a writer."

He was a supporter of the total right of human beings to choose their own way. He believed the individual was the sole responsible for his decisions, without any intervention from society.

But, no doubt, Sartre was a myth. He was a living myth until the moment of his death, even though his image began to lose shine in his last years. He was the idol of mid-century intellectuals.

At the time, existentialism was the pillow book of all young intellectuals, an approach that established a relation between philosophical theory and life, literature, psychology, and political action.

In spite of his great compromise with world’s the best causes, and his criticism of imperialist and colonial wars, Sartre preferred not to belong to any movement or party, in order to maintain his freedom to think, condemn, and criticize everything he considered wrong.

The Sartre myth lasted until the 80s, but already surrounded by great rebuttals. Times had changed. Many spoke of the fall of this philosopher, of the intellectual who had most influenced the creators and thinkers of the 20 th century.

Yet, more than 20 years after his death, his ideas are being read again with the utmost attention. Why did this man have so much influence 40, 50, 60 years ago, and then why was he no longer read and taken into account?

What is happening in the world today? What is the reason for this Sartrean nostalgia? Could this be the intellectual we need in our time?

http://www.cubanow.net/global/loade...



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> HE SARTRE MYTH: REBORN?
Wednesday September 21 - 01:23 - Posted by bd48d64c07e155f5...

You call "Being and Nothingness" Sartre’s "Most important work." In doing so, you have either overlooked or considered not worthy of mention Sartre’s "The Critique of Dialectical Reason," a much later philosophical work and one that supercedes and/or expands upon further many of the ideas found in "Being and Nothingness." Many serious students of Sartre consider "The Critique of Dialectical Reason" to be his most important philosophical work.




> HE SARTRE MYTH: REBORN?
Friday September 23 - 22:37 - Posted by bff4dad99758c8b5...

From my existence then (60’s) to my existence now;
"Freedom is what you do, with what has been done to you," has been as intriguing then as it is challenging now.
cheers, jt






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