Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sarah Bakewell: 'At the Existentialist Café' (2016): Part Two

Photo by Alberto Korda: March 5, 1960, Havana.
Finished a first read-through of Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others (New York: Other Press, 2016).

Let's pick it up with Jean-Paul Sartre. Though he loved to be free, “[i]t seemed that Sartre would rarely be as relaxed and happy again as he had been as a prisoner of war” (page 143). Think about that! And this: he escaped the POW camp and made his way back to Paris. 

As for Simone de Beauvoir, she “seemed more sensitive than Sartre to . . . subtle interzones in human life. The Second Sex was almost entirely occupied with the complex territory where free choice, biology and social and cultural factors meet and mingle to create a human being who gradually becomes set in her ways as life goes on. Moreover, she had explored this territory more directly in a short treatise of 1947, The Ethics of Ambiguity” (page 228). To backtrack a little, “existentialism is always a philosophy of freedom in situation” (page 228).
We make our choices within given circumstances, and we also make them within historical time. If we lived in North Korea now or the American South in 1840, our options (even our imagined options) would be different. Much depends on our socio-economic position – including literacy and knowledge of alternate possibilities. In both cases, powerful obstacles would block many of our choices in life.  

Our physical condition will also help determine the limit of our options within a spectrum of finite possibilities. 
What is our gender identification, what is our age? 

Throw in revolution, war, famine and pestilence and all bets are off. 

Today's Rune: Movement. 


Charles Gramlich said...

It's hard to imagine how different I'd be having grown up in another time or another place. But I know it is true.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think even a decade or two in date of birth would make a vast difference in one's outlook on life.