SARTRE: A Life by Annie Cohen-Solal


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A much-heralded view of the French philosopher's life and thought, already a hit in France. Cohen-Solal is not an evocative writer, but she knows her material cold, so the quotes she selects are very choice. This is not to say that she has no viewpoint on her very controversial subject: she's a revisionist on the subject of Simone de Beauvoir. For the first time in a spate of recent works on Sartre, Beauvoir seems less than preeminent: Sartre's other love affairs are described, as well as some of his friendships in later life that seemed to mean as much to him as his relationship with Beauvoir. Of these friends, Benny Levy was perhaps the most controversial, claiming to reawaken the philosopher's interest in the Bible and things Jewish. The present book is firmly supportive of Levy and Sartre's other friends, most of whom were not on speaking terms with Beauvoir. Cohen-Solal, despite these disagreements, seems to have much in common with Beauvoir: both are totally humorless. Surely Sartre had some fun in life, but in this sober account, little comes through. Sartre, after all, was a person who liked to sit all day in the front row of cinemas watching Hollywood musicals of the 1930's. His life wasn't all Being and Nothingness. Despite her solemnity, Cohen-Solal wins the reader's gratitude with her great familiarity of the Paris scene, both in terms of landscapes and intellectual matter. A strange confusion of tenses mars the flow of the prose narrative, however, but it is uncertain whether the fault is author's or translator's. A helpful addition to the Sartre bibliography.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1987
Publisher: Pantheon