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At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails… (2016)

de Sarah Bakewell

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1,0352914,560 (4.15)69
Paris, 1933. Three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse-- and ignite a movement, creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism: Existentialism. Interweaving biography and philosophy, Bakewell provides an investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called Phenomenology. "You see," he says, "if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!" It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafés of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as Existentialism. Featuring not only philosophers, but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Café follows the existentialists' story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters--fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships--and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.--Publisher information.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 29 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as her Montaigne book, but perhaps that is an unfair comparison. This was a good look at the Existentialist scene of mid-20th century Europe, with an enlightening explanation of existentialism's roots and ideas. But while it tried to keep its focus on 3 main figures, it bounced around among too many others to adequately maintain its focus. If I want to know more about the philosophy, I'll read the work of the main players. And if I want to know more about the scene and the historical figures, I'll read Beauvoir's autobiography. ( )
  evenlake | Mar 23, 2021 |
I found re-reading this book as delightful and engaging as it was on my first encounter with it.

Sarah Bakewell writes with a charming lightness of touch, and has the happy knack of conveying interesting and often complex ideas with a charming simplicity and clarity. Her book is, essentially, a potted history of existentialist thought with some illuminating biographies of many of its leading proponents. Her principal focus is on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, though it extends to some of their contacts and counterparts, with interesting sections about fellow philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Bakewell recounts how Sartre and de Beauvoir were drinking in the Bec-de-Gaz bar in Paris in early 1933 with Raymond Aron, a school friend of de Beauvoir. He had recently returned from Berlin where he had been studying phenomenology, a new branch of philosophy of which the leading proponent was Husserl. Sartre was so impressed by what Aron told him that he immediately decided that he had to go to Berlin and discover more for himself. This was, of course, an unpropitious time to be going to Berlin, with Hitler’s National Socialist party have just been ‘jobbed into power’ through what Lord Bullock termed the ‘backstairs intrigue’. This was to prove more than a little significant in the life of Martin Heidegger, who would become one of the leading existentialists of his time.

Bakewell’s depiction of Sartre and de Beauvoir is intriguing. Though in their own long-term relationship, they both took other lovers with a remarkable frequency, but always swore to keep the other informed of their various sexual exchanges. They were both prolific writers, seemingly capable of producing non-fiction books, novels, plays, journal articles and semi-political tracts almost at will. The world of philosophy, or at least the community of philosophers, through which they moved was not always a sociable environment, and disputes about specifics could lead to deep, irreparable rifts. Bakewell captures this marvellously, though she never lets the detail of the various fallings out obscure her narrative flow.

Informative and entertaining, without ever succumbing to the risk of dumbing down, this is a highly rewarding book. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Feb 4, 2021 |
Sono certo che tutti vi ricorderete di Gil Pender, il giovane sceneggiatore protagonista di Midnight in Paris che, insoddisfatto della propria realtà presente, sognava di vivere nella Parigi anni 20 di Hemingway, Picasso, Gauguin e Degas. Leggendo il libro di Sarah Bakewell anche io sono stato colto da una di quelle strane nostalgie per epoche mai vissute, ma la mia Parigi non è quella degli anni venti, ma quella più recente del secondo dopoguerra, quando sulla Rive Gauche impazzavano le feste, le bevute e le interminabili disquisizioni degli esistenzialisti. Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau Ponty, Maurice Levinas, sono le persone con cui volentieri mi sarei fatto una bevuta e discusso o, molto più realisticamente, che avrei timidamente ascoltato seduto in un angolo del Café de Flor, magari sorseggiando uno dei cocktail inventati da Boris Vian. Sarah Bakewell restituisce le vite di questi grandi pensatori in un saggio preciso come un trattato accademico (e le centinaia di pagine di note lo stanno a dimostrare) ma coinvolgente come un romanzo.
L'esistenzialismo viene raccontato dalla scrittrice britannica come una grade avventura del pensiero in cui non mancano eccezionali momenti narrativi: colpi di scena, azione, momenti di pericolo, cadute, riprese, grandi amori e grandi rivalità.
Al Caffè degli esistenzialisti è un libro a cui sicuramente non mancano i difetti come la tendenza dell'autrice a filtrare il racconto attraversole proprie convinzioni quando invece avrebbe dovuto seguire gli insegnamenti di Husserl, fondatore della fenomenologia e padre nobile del moderno esistenzialismo, e praticare una sana "Epoché", ovvero la sospensione di ogni giudizio, ma si tratta di difetti che passano in secondo piano di fronte alla notevole capacità affabulatoria della Bakewell ( )
  JoeProtagoras | Jan 28, 2021 |
If you ever thought that you wanted to learn more about existentialism but were daunted by picking up books with titles like Being and Nothingness, Critique of Dialectical Reason, The Second Sex, The Ethics of Ambiguity, and, of course, Being and Time, this book may very well be the solution for you. Bakewell does an amazing job not only explaining the fundamental ideas of the various existentialist thinkers of the 20th century, but by grounding them in their historical context, she also shows where these thoughts are coming from and why they were so important in shaping European and US thinking, social movements, and fiction. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
A collective biography of the major figures in the existentialist and phenomenological movements, especially Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger and Simone de Beauvoir. Bakewell discusses their ideas and how they clashed, but the history of ideas takes a clear back seat in her telling to the lives the philosophers led. The result is something that feels oddly caught in between — too shallow to be a proper intellectual history of the movement, but with too many extended philosophical quotes to be a fully compelling biography. It's still good and something I'd recommend for anyone with an interest in this movement (despite its almost criminal relegation of Albert Camus to a tertiary role). A decent introduction to the movement; hopefully those who enjoy what they read here will check out the more accessible existentialist (and existentialist-adjacent) works, such as Beauvoir's "Ethics of Ambiguity" or Camus's "Myth of Sisyphus." ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 29 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
"near the turn of 1932-3 when three young philosophers were sitting in the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue du Montparnasse in Paris, catching up on gossip and drinking the house specialty, apricot cocktails." De Beauvoir was 25, her boyfriend Sartre was 27 and his school chum Raymond Aron was describing a new train of thought, "phenomenology," which demands a close scrutiny of the elements of everyday life, "the things themselves." As Beauvoir recounted it, Aron — just back from Berlin — exclaimed, "If you are a phenomenologist, you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!" Sartre reportedly went pale — intoxicated by the potential in wedding philosophy to normal, lived experience instead of dusty, dead tomes.
adicionado por smasler | editarLos Angeles Times, Karen Long (Mar 4, 2016)
 
Towards the end of this absorbing and enjoyable book, Bakewell writes: ‘Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so.’ She presents a cast of characters who are undeniably diverting. Simone de Beauvoir, in particular, emerges as a highly complex individual, far more interesting than her egotistical and gullible partner. Karl Jaspers, frail in health but resolute in his determination to remain untainted by Nazism; Emmanuel Levinas, who withstood Nazi oppression and clearly perceived Heidegger’s culpability; Albert Camus, much given to high-flown rhetoric but with a sense of reality that kept him from Sartre’s political follies: these were substantial figures.
adicionado por smasler | editarLiterary Review, John Gray (Mar 1, 2016)
 
The author offers fascinating insights into the cultural impact of existentialism on the English-speaking world. In his influential 1957 essay The White Negro, for example, Norman Mailer predicts much of what would become the counterculture, saying that this is the making of what he calls “the hipster” or “the American existentialist”. English existentialists included the young Iris Murdoch, who got Sartre to sign her copy of Being and Nothingness and wrote to a friend of “the excitement – I remember nothing like it since the days of discovering Keats and Shelley and Coleridge”.
adicionado por smasler | editarThe Guardian, Andrew Hussey (Feb 28, 2016)
 
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It is sometimes said that existentialism is more of a mood than a philosophy, and that it can be traced back to anguished novelists of the nineteenth century, and beyond that to Blaise Pascal, who was terrified by the silence of empty spaces, and beyond that to the soul-searching St. Augustine, and beyond that to the Old Tetsament's weary Ecclesiastes and to Job, the man who dared to question the game God was playing with him and was intimidated into submission.
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Paris, 1933. Three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse-- and ignite a movement, creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism: Existentialism. Interweaving biography and philosophy, Bakewell provides an investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.From the best-selling author of How to Live, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century's major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called Phenomenology. "You see," he says, "if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!" It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafés of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as Existentialism. Featuring not only philosophers, but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Café follows the existentialists' story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters--fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships--and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.--Publisher information.

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