John Laughland

Existential Angst

Satre: The Philosopher of the Twentieth Century

By

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THERE ARE SOME books which condemn a man more by praising him than by attacking him. Bernard-Henri Livy’s biography of Jean-Paul Sartre combines an irritating pseudy style – most of the book is not written in sentences, but in Blairite verbless phrases – with the adolescent multi-culti faddism for which the dandy philosopher and shameless self-promoter BHL is notorious. He plunges in, for instance, with a pompous and improbable story about Bosnian academics gathering in a cellar in Sarajevo to read Sartre’s ‘The Problem of Method’ during the siege of that city – ‘they were reading Sartre so as not to die’. But this rambling biography sets itself the task of understanding the man and the philosopher, warts and all – and it is the warts which stick out above all else.

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