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Sartre: The Philosopher of the 20th Century Paperback – 1 Aug 2003
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"The book′s enthusiasm is infectious. It delves sympathetically into Sartre′s ideas and makes a strong case for their importance."
"This biography of the French guru is brilliant."
George Walden, The Sunday Telegraph
"Enthralling, absolutely enthralling."
Christian Sauvage, Le Journal du Dimanche
"Bernard–Henri Lévy wonderfully resurrects Jean–Paul as a colossus bestriding the age...It would be hard to imagine a better translation of BHL oracular French. Andrew Brown succeeds in bringing Lévy so flamingly to life as a passionately engaged and combative speaker that you can hear him holding forth on the other side of the table in the Flore or the Deux Magots"
Andy Martin, Daily Telegraph
"Sartre, who had refused all kinds of introspection, is here thoroughly revisited in both his life and work. In this journey through the century in which Sartre lived, one learns as much about the twentieth century as one does about Sartre. This is Bernard Henri Lévy at his very best."
Marcel Neusch, La Croix
"Levy is seldom a less than engaging guide to the drama of the rise and fall of one of the last century′s most prominent writers and thinkers"
Aengus Collins, Irish Times
From the Back Cover
A whole man, made of all men, worth all of them, and any one of them worth him. This was how Jean–Paul Sartre characterized himself at the end of his autobiographical study, Words. And Bernard–Henri Lévy shows how Sartre cannot be understood without taking into account his relations with the intellectual forebears and contemporaries, the lovers and friends, with whom he conducted a lifelong debate. His thinking was essentially a tumultuous dialogue with his whole age and himself. He learned from Gide the art of freedom, and how to experiment with inherited fictional forms. He was a fellow–traveller of communism, and yet his relations with the Party were deeply ambiguous. He was fascinated by Freud but trenchantly critical of psychoanalysis. Beneath Sartre s complex and ever–mutating political commitments, Lévy detects a polarity between anarchic individualism on the one hand, and a longing for absolute community that brought him close to totalitarianism on the other. Lévy depicts Sartre as a man who could succumb to the twentieth century s catastrophic attraction to violence and the false messianism of its total political solutions, while also being one of the fiercest critics of its illusions and shortcomings.See all Product description
Top Customer Reviews
I had hoped to gain new insights into the philosopher's existence like the fact he owned nothing and clearly tried to disassociate himself from the material world, but 'no' we just get more tales of how Sartre was loved by Israelis, Brazilians and the Chinese.
It's one long dull love fest as one minor philosopher fawns over his idol.
If this was a cheap paperback I could forgive it's awfulness as a 'biography of a philosopher for dummies', but at 25 pounds it's outrageous.
Sartre would have been disgusted at this insipid tripe. Levy has taken Sartre's notion of Nothingness too literally and created a book that tells the out-of-pocket reader precisely nothing!
Sartre never said there is anything wrong with making the sign of the cross.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
However, he does a very good job of showing the connections, however tenuous, between Sartre and all the other currents of 20th century thought, hence his title. His style will annoy those who prefer straighforward prose, since he goes from straight narrative to rhapsody without much ado. He tends to multiply examples to the nth degree, which again may aggravate some readers, though there's always substance in what seems slightly slapdash. The only thing I object to is his tendency to backtrack when you think he's said all he means and needs to say about something. I found myself saying, Get on with it, man, very often.
Still, this is a brilliant book and if you're already conversant with Sartre and the various turns in philosophy since Husserl, you're bound not only to enjoy it but to learn a great deal.
My guess is however that for the professional philosophers of the twentieth - and now twenty- first century the 'philosopher of the twentieth century ' was Wittgenstein.
As for Sartre he in some way seems to me less a philosopher than a 'philosoph' a kind of French Enlightentment man- of - letters capable of pouring out an endless stream of words on any contemporary subject. Not truly a scholar, but also not a philosopher in the deepest and most profound sense- not one who presents us with a metaphysic which somehow aims to explain the world. But then two of Sartre's intellectual forebearers( The great philosopher of anti- philosophy, of non- systematic thinking, Kierkegaard- and the 'philosopher for whom it was no longer enough to understand the world but rather necessary to change it- Marx) broke the old mold of philosopher as 'understander of all' that I have just presented.
Moreover( against what I have just claimed) it might be pointed out that Sartre wrote two major 'philosophical works' his early 'Being and Nothingness ' and his later 'Critique of Dialectical Reason ' which have the kind of verbiage that the great philosophical systems do.
Only here I would maintain that by the time that they were written this way of philosophizing was already irrelevant. As I understand it, and its possible of course to understand it otherwise 'philosophy' had taken flight to a different direction, a different form of discourse.
In any case Sartre, to my mind was a person who at least in his early years had a 'real idea' of what he was doing. In his early development of 'atheistic existensialism' he presented a way of seeing things which many today would readily concur with. We are thrown into the world , and we have no essence. And our life is the making of those decisions those acts of freedom by which we turn existence into essence. Radical contingency and accident rule the world, and mankind in its ' projects' and with its freedom tries to shape a meaning of its own in an essentially meaningless universe.
Bernard Henri Levy celebrates Sartre for this first- stage of his philosophy. He is more critical about what it is very easy to be more critical about , the latter stage, the stage in which Sartre was the ready political dupe of Communism. This was too the stage in which Sartre justified all kinds of violence .It was the stage in which the world came to see the ugly side of Sartre. The 'intellectual' who had never been in the line of fire, who as Malraux said was getting his plays put on with the approval of the Nazi censor during the Second World War. The intellectual Sartre who sung the praises of the Soviet Union and Castro's Cuba. This is the Sartre who is not the ' philosopher of the twentieth century' but one of its political dupes and fools.
There is another ugly side to Sartre which BHL does not really see that way. The relationship to Beauvoir was one in which both exploited those weaker than themselves , for their own sexual and voyeuristic enjoyment. This 'user' Sartre connects of course with that other side of Sartre's philosophy , his "hell is other people' side. Sartre could not really keep friends , or be a very considerate helper to anyone. Words, words, words on the page and from the mouth. Ironically BHL talks about Sartre coming to at the last stages of his life an acquaintance with the work of the French Jewish philosopher Levinas whose star has been on the rise for some time now. For Levinas it all begins with 'the other' and the ethical is the basis of the philosophical. A different conception from the Sartrean one entirely.
All this is not to dismiss Sartre but rather to suggest that Levy perhaps overvalues him a bit, as he might too slightly overvalue himself.
An excess of 'amour propre' on the side of the subject and perhaps also the author of this work.
Editing: Zero Stars. Someone needed to have a quiet word with Bernard-Henri. Sentances running 39 lines are a bit much. Where is the verb?
Copy Editing: Five Stars. Very Clean.