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At the Existentialist Café: Freedom,…
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At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails… (2016)

by Sarah Bakewell

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A response to Heidegger from some NPR level socialite ( )
  soraxtm | Jun 18, 2019 |
I found re-reading this book as delightful and engaging as it was on my first encounter with it.

Sarah Bakewell writes with a charming lightness of touch, and has the happy knack of conveying interesting and often complex ideas with a charming simplicity and clarity. Her book is, essentially, a potted history of existentialist thought with some illuminating biographies of many of the leading proponents. Her principal focus is on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, though it extends to some of their contacts and counterparts, with interesting sections about fellow philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Bakewell recounts how Sartre and de Beauvoir were drinking in the Bec-de-Gaz bar in Paris in early 1933 with Raymond Aron, a school friend of de Beauvoir. He had recently returned from Berlin where he had been studying phenomenology, a new branch of philosophy of which the leading proponent was Husserl. Sartre was so impressed by what Aron told them that they immediately decided that they had to go to Berlin and discover more for themselves. This was, of course, an unpropitious time to be going to Berlin, with Hitler’s National Socialist party have just been ‘jobbed into power’. This was to prove more than a little significant in the life of Martin Heidegger, who would become one of the leading existentialists of his time.

Bakewell’s depiction of Sartre and de Beauvoir is intriguing. Though in their own long-term relationship, they both took other lovers with a remarkable frequency, but always swore to keep the other informed of their various sexual exchanges. They were both prolific writers, seemingly capable of producing books, journal articles and semi-political tracts almost at will. The world of philosophy, or at least the community of philosophers, through which they moved was not always a sociable environment, and disputes about specifics could lead to deep, irreparable rifts. Bakewell captures this marvellously, though she never lets the detail of the various fallings out obscure her narrative flow.

Informative and entertaining, without ever succumbing to the risk of dumbing down, this is a highly rewarding book. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | May 17, 2019 |
Quite a humane portrait of the grand and not so grand figures in the Existentialist philosophy movement, especially Jean-Paul Sartre, and his life time partner Simone de Beauvoir. Also has a lot of material on the roots of existentialism in Phenomenology, and takes in Friedrich Neitzsche, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. ( )
  Matt_B | Nov 27, 2018 |
A biographical history of phenomenology and existentialism. We follow Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Camus; we see the philosophy emerge from their lives. ( )
  stonecrops | Nov 26, 2018 |
Excellent

Whether you already think you know Existentialism and Phenomenology or think you do not care, this is an excellent and readable work. Part philosophical history, part multiple biographies, part personal and ideational autobiography, part history, part sociology, this is a Cafe worth sitting in and experiencing for a good while. ( )
  dasam | Jun 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
"near the turn of 1932-3 when three young philosophers were sitting in the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue du Montparnasse in Paris, catching up on gossip and drinking the house specialty, apricot cocktails." De Beauvoir was 25, her boyfriend Sartre was 27 and his school chum Raymond Aron was describing a new train of thought, "phenomenology," which demands a close scrutiny of the elements of everyday life, "the things themselves." As Beauvoir recounted it, Aron — just back from Berlin — exclaimed, "If you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!" Sartre reportedly went pale — intoxicated by the potential in wedding philosophy to normal, lived experience instead of dusty, dead tomes.
 
Towards the end of this absorbing and enjoyable book, Bakewell writes: ‘Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.’ She presents a cast of characters who are undeniably diverting. Simone de Beauvoir, in particular, emerges as a highly complex individual, far more interesting than her egotistical and gullible partner. Karl Jaspers, frail in health but resolute in his determination to remain untainted by Nazism; Emmanuel Levinas, who withstood Nazi oppression and clearly perceived Heidegger’s culpability; Albert Camus, much given to high-flown rhetoric but with a sense of reality that kept him from Sartre’s political follies: these were substantial figures.
added by smasler | editLiterary Review, John Gray (Mar 1, 2016)
 
The author offers fascinating insights into the cultural impact of existentialism on the English-speaking world. In his influential 1957 essay The White Negro, for example, Norman Mailer predicts much of what would become the counterculture, saying that this is the making of what he calls “the hipster” or “the American existentialist”. English existentialists included the young Iris Murdoch, who got Sartre to sign her copy of Being and Nothingness and wrote to a friend of “the excitement – I remember nothing like it since the days of discovering Keats and Shelley and Coleridge”.
added by smasler | editThe Guardian, Andrew Hussey (Feb 28, 2016)
 
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It is sometimes said that existentialism is more of a mood than a philosophy, and that it can be traced back to anguished novelists of the nineteenth century, and beyond that to Blaise Pascal, who was terrified by the silence of empty spaces, and beyond that to the soul-searching St. Augustine, and beyond that to the Old Tetsament's weary Ecclesiastes and to Job, the man who dared to question the game God was playing with him and was intimidated into submission.
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Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called Phenomenology. “You see,” he says, “if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!”

It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafés of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as Existentialism.

Featuring not only philosophers, but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Café follows the existentialists’ story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters—fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships—and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.
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Paris, 1933. Three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse-- and ignite a movement, creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism: Existentialism. Interweaving biography and philosophy, Bakewell provides an investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.

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