Literature Books

A brilliant mind: The Seagull Sartre Library has released a series of 12 books compiling Jean-Paul Sartre’s essays

“All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned in books,” wrote the French philosopher, essayist, novelist, playwright, political activist and literary critic, Jean-Paul Sartre. His books — and he wrote quite a few — certainly help us learn a lot about how this 20th century intellectual icon lived and thought. His work has been heatedly discussed, hailed, sometimes dismissed, but it still remains relevant and thought-provoking. The Seagull Sartre Library has recently come out with a series of 12 books bringing together his most incisive philosophical, cultural and critical essays.

The Second World War shaped much of Sartre’s worldviews — his first play, Barionà, Fils du Tonnerre, was written during his nine-month long incarceration by the Germans in 1940. He was at his creative best after the war and his views on the social impact of war in Europe, contemporary philosophy, race and avant-garde art can be found in Post-War Reflections. There’s more on art in On Modern Art, where Sartre examines the work of a wide range of artists, including recognised greats such as Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder and André Masson, as well as lesser-known talents like French painter Robert Lapoujade and German painter-photographer Wols.

Sartre’s leftist beliefs were evident in the way he rejected bourgeois conformity, opting for ‘authentic living’, shaped only by what one truly believes in. While as a Marxist he held that societies are a battleground for the fight between the powerful and the powerless, the theory of existentialism he propounded moved away from Marxism in its stress on individual agency and moral responsibility. On Revolution contains his thoughts on communism; Political Fictions has Sartre’s famous foreword to his friend and comrade Paul Nizan’s novel, The Conspiracy, that became the inspirational text of May 68.

Speaking of friends, Sartre’s deep admiration for fellow intellectual and activist, Albert Camus, is immortalised in On Camus. Later the two famously quarrelled over their literary and political views as the French media eagerly took notes. On Merleau-Ponty, written following Merleau-Ponty’s death, is a moving tribute from one remarkable thinker to another.

Other titles in the series are On Poetry, Venice and Rome, Occasional Writings on Philosophy, On Bataille and Blanchot, On Novels and Novelists, On American Fiction. All of them have been translated by Chris Turner. They can be ordered on The Seagull Books Store website.


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 6:59:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/a-brilliant-mind-the-seagull-sartre-library-has-released-a-series-of-12-books-compiling-jean-paul-sartres-essays/article35695644.ece

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