Hot Essays: Essay on Existentialism
For many of us of the generation of the late 1960 and early 1970s, Sartre was a hero. Reading this book inevitably led me back to my own engagement with Sartre’s ideas as a student in those years. I had a brushing acquaintance with Sartre and de Beauvoir during my undergraduate years in the early 1960s, having read on my own pieces of Being and Nothingness and some of their popular essays on existentialism. Later in 1969, while studying literature at the University of California at San Diego, in my first graduate seminar, a course taught by Fred Jameson on The Critique of Dialectical Reason, I was suddenly plunged into Sartre’s thought. That massive 750-page book in tiny print and difficult French, written in the 1950s and published in 1960, attempted to reconcile Marxism with its emphasis on the determining role in history of economic and social structures with Sartre’s own existentialism and its stress on individual human freedom in the face of death. The encounter would leave me an existentialist Marxist, convinced by Sartre that Marxism and existentialism—together with the Freudian psychoanalysis—provide a more complete understanding of the dynamics of human life than any one of them alone. (Herbert Marcuse, author of Eros and Civilization, was also at UCSD when I was there, and all of us were reading Wilhelm Reich’s books and his Sex-Pol Essays.)
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I am not doing justice to the essays on existentialism and on black-white women in relation and in critique of one another, but she notes that resolution between them demands joint collective dialog.
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Read by generations of schoolchildren in the original French, this slim volume is solely to blame for the ability of thousands of A-level students to regurgitate rote-learnt essays on existentialism – and their inability to ask the way to the Louvre.