segunda-feira, julho 11, 2016

At the Existentialist Café, by Sarah Bakewell

I read somewhere a review of this book, which made me interested, especially considering that I was fascinated by the existentialists in several times of my life. I didn't even notice that the author was the same of the excellent How to Live about Montaigne, which would have been an even stronger recommendation. And I was very glad I ordered it.

I first read La Nausée very young, I don't think I understood much, but the book left me a very lasting impression, I could never forget the sense of nausea, of a kind of detached feeling of disgust for the meaninglessness of things, of being; it wasn't an elaborate idea but it was an enduring feeling. Later, I read Mémoires d'une Jeune Fille Rangée, and I was bouleversé, Simone de Beauvoir spoke to my late adolescent self in such a meaningful way, it helped to bring sense to my growing pains and from then on I was hooked. Then L'Âge de Raison literally changed my life in a very personal way, with its concepts of freedom and commitment. From then on, I devoured many of Sartre's and Beauvoir's books, liking especially Les Chemins de la Liberté trilogy, her memoirs and Les Mandarins. And I yearned to live a life like that, talking, smoking and drinking at cafés with interesting people, living a truthful and uninhibited life.

I'm older now, and less romantic, namely about the smoking and drinking part of the café life, but I'm still an adept of the existentialist philosophy, that revived in a way the stoic and epicurean thinking, since it concerns life - how to live, how to feel meaningful and alive, how we are what we choose to be, and in that way we question ourselves, the eternal questions "what am I doing here?", the name I gave this blog. It's a philosophy of man and life. It's not by chance that Sarah Bakewell also wrote about Montaigne, that indefatigable questioner of life and how to live, and her book is extremely informative and insightful. She manages quite successfully to explain the origins of the existentialist thinking, and gives a very clear picture of Husserl's and Heidegger's ideas - at least for me, since I've never felt like reading them. Her affectionate and lucid portraits of Sartre, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty and others are engaging and interesting. I mostly agree with her about Sartre - a fascinating man that was so many times enormously wrong in his political choices - and Beauvoir - whose memoirs I also consider one of the most fascinating and insightful depictions of her times. The character of Merleau-Ponty was a surprise for me, I had only known him from Beauvoir's memoirs, and he comes out from this book as a real philosophical hero.

And yes, I also think people are so much more interesting than abstract ideas, and that the true philosophy is the on that makes us question how to live.

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