We Have Only This Life to Live: The Selected Essays of Jean-Paul Sartre 1939-1975


“Jean-Paul Sartre, in a magazine interview at the age of 70, five years before his death, made no apologies. One of the most prominent French thinkers of the 20th century, echoing one of its most famous French singers, declared laconically, ‘I have written, I have lived, I have nothing to regret.’ Sartre’s posthumous dilemma, however, was that what he had written would increasingly be judged by how he had lived, and how he had lived was more often seen as a cause for regret than for celebration. Notably, he was judged to have been a fellow traveller of Soviet totalitarianism for longer than was decently sustainable, to have shown a disturbing tolerance towards the excesses of revolutionary violence and to have a record of resistance during the second World War that was not quite as illustrious as it appeared on first inspection. Sartre increasingly appeared as a dark and compromised Cain alongside Albert Camus, a morally incorruptible Abel, whose reputation has risen in tandem with Sartre’s fall into the murk of unseemly commitments. As Sartre himself noted addressing his critics, in an essay from 1944 on existentialism, it ‘is not even certain that you have read any of the books that you are talking about’. The most damaging aspect of the biographical determinism to which Sartre has been subjected in recent decades is that it becomes the perfect alibi for ignorance. No need to read the man’s work if he was such a heel. It is in this context that the editorial initiative of Ronald Aronson and Adrian van den Hoven is to be welcomed in bringing to the attention of English-speaking readers examples of the sheer diversity and vivacity of Sartre’s essayistic writing. The 28 essays and two interviews cover a vast range of topics, from Husserl’s phenomenology to the liberation of Paris to Giacometti’s sculpture to the Arab-Israeli conflict (where his views are anything but predictable) and the dangerous unaccountability of parliamentary democracies. Sartre was clearly writing in a tradition of subversive philosophical polemic in French that reached back through Zola, Rousseau and Voltaire to the Provincial Letters of the 17th-century mathematician and Christian thinker Blaise Pascal. It is a tradition that, while attending to the specific contemporary point being debated, constantly refers to wider frameworks of philosophical reference. What is most striking about this very disparate collection of essays, whether the topic is the war in Algeria or the spatial properties of New York city, is the constancy of Sartre’s preoccupation with the question of the limits and necessity of human freedom. …”
Irish Times: A rich sampler of Sartre
Being and drunkenness: how to party like an existentialist
amazon


Jean-Paul Sartre in 1966: this collection of his work shows the diversity and vivacity of his essayistic writing.

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