“His philosophy inspired a generation, then drifted out of fashion. Now, 100 years after his birth, the life and work of Jean-Paul Sartre are once again highly relevant – and bitterly controversial. John Lichfield explores his legacy.”
From The Independent:
Jean-Paul Sartre – philosopher, novelist, playwright, polemicist, political activist, the secular messiah of existentialism, the prototype of the “engaged” French intellectual – died 25 years ago this year. He was born 100 years ago next Tuesday.
His funeral in April 1980 provoked an outpouring of grief more usually associated with actors than with ugly, chain-smoking, foul-smelling, squint-eyed philosophers. More than 30,000 people took to the streets of Paris to follow his coffin and – in the phrase of one fan at the time – to “demonstrate against Sartre’s death”.
For the next two decades, Sartre’s standing fell (and Beauvoir’s, if anything, rose). Sartre’s many mistakes and inconsistencies – his support for Stalinism in the early 1950s, for Maoism in the 1970s, his defence of civilian massacres in Algeria and at the 1972 Munich Olympics – obscured the range, versatility and ambition of his writing.
His reputation as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century is now rising again, not so much in France as – paradoxically – in high academic circles in the United States, a country that he detested.