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

by Sarah Bakewell

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1,2003513,158 (4.17)71
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.From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it 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.--Publisher information.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The upside to the 90 minutes I spent in a traffic jam with a top speed of 7km/h this afternoon is that I was able to finish this most excellent book.

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails is a comprehensive look at the overall existentialist movement and its major players from the 1920's through the 1950's and 60's. Part biographical, part exploration of the different facets of phenomenology and existentialism as advocated by Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aron, Camus, Heidegger, Husserl et. al, the book and narrative both are outstanding.

I am at best a dabbler in philosophy, and considering how easy it is to tie one's brain into knots musing over the philosophical aspects of life, Bakewell had her work cut out for her making such dense material comprehensible - and she did. Most of the time when I got bogged down trying to follow, it was when she was relating concepts that are widely acknowledged to be amongst the most labyrinthine.

My takeaways after finishing this is that I am, by and large, an existentialist (though I'm interested in learning more about Epicurean philosophy), but there were many areas where I diverge, especially if we're talking about Heidegger's existentialism. That man ... I swear he just made stuff up just to see how inaccessible he could get and still be considered a genius. Also, Bakewell makes a pretty convincing argument that he was a nazi. I also was left with a distaste for Sartre in spite of his profound early-career work, although I give him credit for living a "good faith" life until the very end. The existentialist whose work I most connected with was Husserl; he felt the most rational and accessible, and his life the one that seemed the most authentic.

I listened to this on audio, as narrated by Antonia Beamish and I cannot say enough good things about her narration. She read this like she wrote it, understood it and lived it, with a voice I just wanted to listen to no matter what she was reading. Imagine the best, most engaging, professor you've ever had the pleasure of listening to and learning from, and you'll have a good idea of what this book, and this narration, holds in store for you.

Needless to say, I'll be chewing on this book and its contents for a very long time to come. ( )
1 vote murderbydeath | Jan 17, 2022 |
An excellent and breezy read for the non-philosopher interested in the sources and evolution of Existentialist philosophy and its essential purveyors. Why say more when I can simply refer you to Paul Ryan's comprehensive review. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
I read, therefore I am...... ( )
  mortalfool | Jul 10, 2021 |
Engaging And Clear

Sarah Bakewell gives us the context in which existentialist philosophy arose - both the cultural milieu and the personalities of the creators. I found her book incredibly helpful in understanding the movement. Her history of European thought in the first half of the twentieth century is engaging. The brief biographical sketches of familiar names like Sartre, de Beauvoir, Heidegger, Camus and others were entertaining and insightful.

Now I want Ms. Bakewell to produce a sequel to include Derrida and the other giants of the more recent modern! Please, more! ( )
1 vote TH_Shunk | Jul 6, 2021 |
I finished 200 of 327 pages before the library started getting testy about me keeping it out so long. Not wanting to be on the bad side of librarians, I'm taking it back but plan to purchase a copy each for myself and my dad. I knew I tended towards existentialist thinking, but I didn't realize how closely that thinking aligned until I read Bakewell's interpretations of some of the big existentialists. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jul 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (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-- 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.From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it 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.--Publisher information.

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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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