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The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre

The Age of Reason (1945)

by Jean-Paul Sartre

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Roads to Freedom (1)

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English (16)  French (2)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Part history, part philosophical novel this book captures a slice of time in Paris like no other. If you think Sartre has to be thick and boring, try this book as a very readable introduction to his life and how his life was influenced by the events transforming Europe at the time. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This is probably one of the first Satre books that I have read, and while I am not tearing through the bookshops (and libraries) looking for more of his work, I must say that it was a interesting read. I guess there are a couple of reasons it took me so long to get to Satre and one of them would be that since a lot of my friends were either Christians (or basically didn't read) then all I would hear is how evil and bad Satre is, and that by reading Satre you are playing a very delicate game with the devil. Hey, I've played Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, and a bucket load of computer games through most of my adult life (as well as being involved with other things) so I probably ask myself what on Earth could reading a bit of Satre do to me.
To answer that simply – absolutely nothing.
Anyway, this is one of those philosophy novels, you know the type where philosophers write a novel that contains a lot of their philosophy and that the main characters in the book sprout his philosophy – you know, the way that Plato would do with Socrates (even though Plato's philosophy and Socrates' philosophy tended to be two different things). This novel is set over two days during the lead up to World War II and is about how a guy named Mattheiu is trying to get 4000 francs because he has accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant, and he doesn't want to either grow up or become a father (which generally entails growing up anyway). It is also about this guy name Daniel who realises that he is a homosexual, but still wants to marry a woman whom he is in love with because she wants to have children (strange attitude for a homosexual to take – I thought that would be what we would consider bi-sexual, but then again this is 1945 so the intricacies of the modern sexual system sort of did not exist back then).
The story explore the concept of freedom, but also the concept of coming of age. This is not one of those rite to manhood type stories because with Satre the coming of age, or in his words, the age of reason, is when one reaches that stage in life (if they ever reach that stage in life) when they realise that it is time for them to take charge of their life and to take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes an event occurs (such as in Matthieu's case, with him getting his girlfriend pregnant) which forces one to accept the responsibility and, as some suggest, grow up. Other times it simply never happens, and the person simply ends up drifting around the world living in some sort of dream, never actually defining themselves, and never having a purpose or a point.
This is the idea of existentialism (and remember that Satre is considered the father of secular existentialism) in that it is the defining of who we are. It has two effects in that in one case existentialism is us making a concerted effort to define ourselves (such as me being the straight guy that pretends he knows nothing about brothels and sits in the Crown Casino reading a book) and the outward effects of that definition, in that people see who you are and respond to this. However, the catch is that while we may define ourselves, in many cases we are the only people who understand and respond to that definition because everybody else perceives reality differently, and in perceiving reality differently, we respond to reality differently. Each of us have our own perception of ourselves, and everybody around us has their own perception of who we are.
This does have a potential to backfire though because the idea of defining oneself can apply only to that which can be perceived, and there are times when we try to create a perception that does not work. For instance the person who takes out a massive loan for an impressive car and spends money on things that they cannot afford can find that when the money runs out or the creditors come knocking on their door, they discover that the friends that they thought they had are no longer around. In essence they have not defined themselves as a member of the high life, but rather defined themselves as a fraud.
So to with the person that talks themselves up. There is a limit to parading yourself around in front of people, because it gets to a point where when somebody does that too much, and the stories become ever more unbelievable, they are not at all impressive, but rather more like a septic tank. For instance, the phrase 'I can do that if I really wanted to, but I am too much of an ethical person to do that' says absolutely nothing about who you are, other than somebody who is basically full of shit. If you do not want to do that because you are too ethical, you do not need to tell people that you do not want to do that, but rather let your ethical nature come out based upon your actions, and not upon the statements you make about what you do not want to do.
Now, there is another essence to this book, and that is the essence of freedom. The question that comes about is what is freedom? Can one be free yet live in a totalitarian dictatorship? My answer to that question would be yes. While the totalitarian dictatorship may attempt to stifle your thoughts and actions, it is the knowledge that no matter what they do, they cannot really control your thoughts, and they cannot take away your joy.
In a high school essay I used the opening line 'freedom is a state of mind, freedom is a lie'. The first statement is true, because we may live in a country that considers itself free, but we may put ourselves in chains through the belief that we must behave in a certain way, and in behaving in that certain way we are chaining ourselves to society's traditions. While there are restrictions on what we can do (such as killing somebody) in many cases we will restrain ourselves for fear of bringing the wrath of the state upon us. The same goes with a totalitarian dictatorship were we will self-censure ourselves for fear that if we do not we may bring the wrath of the state upon us. However, the question of freedom is always a question of our mindset, knowing that nobody can truly control what we think and how we think, and that if we act in a certain way it is because we want to define ourselves as such as opposed to only acting in that way out of fear.
As such, the statement about freedom being a lie is a statement made by an immature person (me) who was restricted in what he could do because he did not truly understand the nature of freedom. Economic slavery is a term that probably does not relate to this, but it is defining our freedom based upon the amount of money that we have. We believe, in a way, that the more money that we have (and the finance industry loves to float those ideas) the more we believe that we are able to do and in doing so the more joy we believe that we have. However, as I have said, freedom is not defined by how much money we have (because if we believe that freedom only comes through wealth, then we are in fact enslaving ourselves to wealth because we believe that we can only have freedom if we have wealth).
Satre also explores the idea that marriage, and the family, is a form of slavery, and this is something that Matthieu feared. I can relate to that, especially with what happened when I was walking to church last night. As I approached the church I saw this young lady (and a rather intelligent one at that because we have talked about post-modernism, and not in a 'post-modernism is evil and bad' sort of way) carrying a baby. Now this young lady is single so what that tells me about this lady is that she wants to get married and have a family which immediately puts her off the list of a potential wife (if I ever chose to get married, which I don't). My thinking here reflects that of Matthieu in that I see marriage and a family as being a form of slavery (and in essence a form of economic slavery since raising a single child, let alone a whole family, is incredibly expensive, especially if you want them to go to a good school). However, my view of this, that is getting married and having children, is that it is also a form of ordinariness which in a way repugnates me. I have walked into churches where I see these happy couples with their little baby (in a way showing it off to everybody) and I am repugnated by it. Previously it was because of jealousy that I was repugnated, but now, with my new church, in my new city, I am a lot more circumspect. To me I may not feel joy for them (because I generally do not base my happiness upon other people's joy, but rather upon my own state of mind, and the freedom that I give myself through having control over my mind and over my thoughts) but I understand that is their choice, and that is to live the ordinary life. There is nothing wrong with living an ordinary life, however if there is one thing that I know about myself, and that is that I am not interested in living an ordinary life, which probably has something to do with having played Dungeons and Dragons for much of my adult life. ( )
  David.Alfred.Sarkies | Jan 23, 2014 |
There's a bit where Sartre describes Mathieu's sister-in-law: she's pretty, but "Mathieu had on countless occasions tried to unify these fluid features, but they escaped him; as a face, Odette's always seemed to be dissolving, and thus retained its elusive bourgeois mystery." (p. 127) And that's a little how I feel about this book, halfway through; it's certainly very good, and pretty to look at, but it's weirdly slippery. I can't quite get a handle on it.

That may be my fault. Tough to say what you bring to a book, and what the book brings to you.

And there's a sense of foreboding hanging over the thing that makes me feel like this won't always be the story; like something might happen soon to throw everyone into sharper relief. Maybe the whole thing is like the Gauguin self-portrait that Mathieu takes Ivich to see: so far we're just drawing the shadowy figures behind him, and soon enough we'll show the figure in front.

Sorry, I got a little flowery there.


And it ended like and unlike how I expected. I don't want to say too much, 'cause, y'know, spoilers and all that. It was beautiful, and I feel like getting screamingly plastered now. ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Soap opera with brains. Yes, I can agree with this. Caring about other people while watching their little lives and dramas is so much more fulfilling when they prove themselves to have complex despair behind their everyday actions. It never ends, really. The constant proving to oneself that this life is worthwhile, that the hopes of the past and the dreams of the future won't go to waste. Mathieu keeps to his belief of freedom, to be capable of anything, no matter what constraints have been laid across his living by emotional bonds and societal dictations and past history. In the end he achieves this freedom, and finds that he no longer believes in it. He has reached the age of reason, when he sees that the ideas that once characterized him can no longer be applied to him, unless he wishes to be a hypocrite. In achieving his freedom, he sacrificed for nothing, a nothing that provides a clean a break from everything that had been forcing him into a situation that was no longer; and for what? He may have found a small satisfaction in not being free, now that he had realized that he was waiting for a moment of a lifetime that would never come. Everyone around him either spins out delusions of the future or chases desires that had died long ago, joining him in his everlasting goal of not sinking into regret and despair. A satisfyingly realistic portrayal of the tightrope walk that daily life really is. ( )
  Korrick | Mar 30, 2013 |
It has been a number of years since I read this series, so i will have to be rather general about it even though it has stuck with me all these years. I am a fan of Sartre's and his existentialist contemporaries, but this series was an amazing display of Sartre's skill as a fiction writer. While I am generally more fond of Camus' fiction, every book in the "The Roads to Freedom" trilogy stands out as my favorite fictional work by that group. Make no mistake, this trilogy is a masterpiece of existentialist fiction."The Roads to Freedom" series (originally meant to be a tetralogy) was a fictional representation of new direction in Sartre's vision of existentialism which was far more participatory. Using the back-drop of the Nazi occupation, Sartre's characters move from a prewar existence of complete apathy toward their life and others into individuals who are empowered by the will to resist any impediments to their freedom. ( )
  uh8myzen | Apr 17, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Paul Sartreprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boer, JoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutton, EricTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Half-way down the Rue Vercingétorix, a tall man seized Matthieu by the arm; a policeman was patrolling the opposite pavement.
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It's unclear whether this copy is the novel or the periodical, which are considered two separate works on LibraryThing.
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Iniziato nel 1939 e concluso nel 1945, dopo la prigionia in Germania di Sartre, "L'età della ragione" è parte ideale del ciclo romanzesco "Le vie della libertà" in cui il filosofo francese ha tradotto narrativamente le proprie teorie sulla letteratura e idee sull'uomo contemporaneo. Il romanzo è infatti una severa rappresentazione delle vicissitudini e delle crisi di un gruppo di giovani che, nei brutali anni prebellici, scoprono la vita e si accingono a conquistare "l'età della ragione". Il loro tentativo di integrare le mistificate vicende private nel dramma storico che li circonda sarà un'esperienza dolorosa e difficile. Solo uno di loro riuscirà a conquistare il senso profondo dell'esistenza e della libertà. 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679738959, Paperback)

The first novel of Sartre's monumental Roads to Freedom series, The Age of Reason is set in 1938 and tells of Mathieu, a French professor of philosophy who is obsessed with the idea of freedom. As the shadows of the Second World War draw closer -- even as his personal life is complicated by his mistress's pregnancy -- his search for a way to remain free becomes more and more intense.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The middle-aged protagonist of Sartre's philosophical novel, set in 1938, refuses to give up his ideas of freedom, despite the approach of the war.

» see all 2 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185287, 0141045574

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