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Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3009-0
544 pages
September 2003, Polity
Sartre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century (074563009X) cover image

Description

"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 Levy 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, Levy 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. Levy 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.
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Author Information

Bernard-Henri Levy is a philosopher and a writer. He is a member of the Selection Committee of the Editions Grasset, and he runs La Regle du Jeu magazine. He writes a weekly column in the magazine, Point and chairs the Conseil de Surveillance of La Sept-Arte.
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The Wiley Advantage


  • A fascinating biography of Sartre, a highly idiosyncratic intellectual whose life represented the intense conflicts of living in the 20th century.
  • Shows that Sartre cannot be understood without taking into account his relations with his intellectual forebears, contemporaries, lovers and friends, with whom he conducted a lifelong debate.
  • Demonstrates that his thinking was essentially a tumultuous dialogue with his whole age and himself.
  • Key themes include his experimentation with inherited fictional forms, his relationship to communism and his critical fascination with Freud and psychoanalysis.
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Reviews

"The book's enthusiasm is infectious. It delves sympathetically into Sartre's ideas and makes a strong case for their importance."

The Economist

"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

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