Interesting examination of the resurgence of Sartre in France by Jim Holt (I much prefer Camus), looking at the liberationist philosopher and the communist/totalitarian – are they reconcilable? Maybe if you squint real hard. Here is my favorite part:
- By dint of sheer intellectual authority, Sartre could engage his bitter adversary Charles de Gaulle as an equal, even though de Gaulle was head of state. (“One does not imprison a Voltaire,” the general said of him.) He snubbed the Nobel committee by refusing its prize for literature in 1964. A grand séducteur, he maintained many mistresses at a time and employed the ever-devoted Simone de Beauvoir, feminism’s founding theorist, as his procuress. (Because her last name sounded like “beaver” in English, he always addressed her as le castor, the French word for beaver.) If you combined aspects of Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Noam Chomsky, Saul Bellow, Leonard Cohen, and Mick Jagger, you might get something approximating Sartre. (Come to think of it, you’d have to toss in Timothy Leary because of Sartre’s experiments with mescaline, which left the philosophe with the recurrent fear that he was being pursued by a lobster.) [Slate]
Lay off the mescaline, dude, it’ll make you think you’re Carlos Casteneda.
Ultimately, Holt sees the revival as nostalgia:
- Sartre was the Last Intellectual. True, France still has writers on philosophical questions who also march in demonstrations. (One of them, Luc Ferry, has even been made the nation’s minister for education.) But there will never again be a combination of totalizing theoretician, literary colossus, and political engage like Sartre. Today’s French intellectuals look like puny technocrats by comparison. Luckily, they proved to be on the winning side of history, so they can afford to be gracious to him, to say, along with de Gaulle, Sartre, c’est aussi la France.