Friday, October 10, 2008

Sartre Restarted

In HS, Sartre was very in ("Hell is other people," we said knowingly), but in college he was very out ("Sartre just misinterpreted Heidegger," we said dismissively). Like my classmates, I conformed to both upswing and downswing in the career of Sartre's reputation.

Recently, however, I found a copy of his autobiography, The Words, lying on the street in Park Slope (along with Rabbit, Run by John Updike -- this has actually happened to me multiple times in Park Slope). Technically, it's not a complete autobiography: Sartre only recounts his first ten years. But his first ten years was a formative period which, in one way he spend the next twenty repudiating and overcoming, and in another way ends up consummating the very ideals hatched during these halcyon days.

Anyway, I finished it a few days ago, and it was shockingly, overwhelmingly good. Perhaps that's the best way figures such as Sartre should be approached -- through their marginal and parergal works, like The Words or Sartre's brilliant essay on anti-Semitism -- rather than through those big opera about which one already has set opinions.

Satre's father died while he was in utero. Thus, his childhood was a fatherless one, a condition which Sartre in time came to regard as a great boon. Here's (part of) what he has to say about it:
There is no good father, that's the rule. Don't lay the blame on men, but on the bond of paternity, which is rotten. To beget children, nothing better; to have them, what iniquity! Had my father lived, he would have lain on me at full length and would have crushed me. As luck had it, he died young ...I left behind me a young man who did not have time to be my father and who could now be my son. Was it a good thing or a bad? I don't know. But I readily subscribe to the verdict of an eminent psychoanalyst: I have no Superego.
Like I said, it's an unexpectedly awesome memoir. Also, it's really funny in parts. I definitely recommend this book.

1 comment:

  1. If you liked that one, check out Arthur Koestler's two-parter, "Arrow in the Blue" and "The Invisible Writing."