Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century

Bernard-Henri Levy, Author, Andrew Brown, Translator Polity Press $34.95 (536p) ISBN 978-0-7456-3009-0
In this impenetrable rhapsody to the apotheosis of French intellectualism, Sartre emerges as a force of nature: a novelist comparable to Faulkner and Joyce; a thinker whose existentialism rivaled Marxism and Freudianism for sway over the modern mind; a political activist whose mistakes are grander than others' successes; a great (though technically lousy) lover whose countless betrayals of Simone de Beauvoir only cemented their soul bond;""a tremor, a torrent, a tidal wave."" Levy, a French philosopher and writer, assumes readers are as steeped in Sartriana as he is and so dispenses with biographical context and narrative thread in favor of a hop-scotching thematic treatment, full of obscure references. He avoids any systematic development of Sartre's philosophy, indulging instead in vapid color-commentary (Sartre's philosophical writings were""a series of raids, offensives, commando operations"") and opaque ruminations (""Truth is a very long and complex movement in which a 'true' which is no longer 'subject' but 'substance' emerges from itself...""). His denunciations of Sartre's""Stalinist cretinism"" are more coherent, but his insights into Sartre's politics (""there were two Sartre's...almost at war"") remain banal. Essentially a 450-page love letter, the book overflows with fawning endearments, petulant reproaches and intimate allusions to epiphanies and quarrels that outsiders will not be able to grasp. Unfortunately, in the haze of grandiloquent verbiage with which Levy surrounds every facet of Sartre's life (""it was in order to have big ideas, to create huge colossal things, that...he had to drug himself"") the man and his ideas are lost.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Discover what to read next