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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

1 - Introduction: Sartre vivant

Summary

Most philosophers live and die in relative obscurity. If they are both insightful and fortunate, they sometimes achieve a measure of fame and posterity afterwards. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80) bucked this trend. Perhaps no other philosopher was as famous in his own time as Sartre, or so we would claim. Fame, of course, does not entail or denote value, whether it be philosophical value or otherwise. It can also be fleeting, as the posthumous life of Henri Bergson showed, at least for quite some years. Sartre also seemed “dead” in academic circles, perhaps twenty years ago, and much earlier in France. Sartre himself would no doubt have been unhappy to learn of this posthumous fate; after all, in his beautifully crafted autobiography, entitled Words (1964), he positioned his life's work as a writer as rooted in his desire to achieve a kind of immortality through his writings, which would survive him into posterity. It became fashionable to declare that we have “been there and done that”, as far as the study of Sartre's life and works are concerned, and have long since moved on.

Yet those declaring that all there was to be known about Sartre had already been written (whether by Sartre himself or by others) were arguably doing so from a position of “bad faith”, as Sartre might have said. Perhaps those dismissing Sartre as irrelevant had read and enjoyed some of Sartre's short stories, plays or novels, such as Nausea (La Nausée; Sartre 1938, 1965a).