Essays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jean Paul Sartre was something of a celebrity in the European Intelligentsia in the Swinging Sixties; despite his rather homely exterior equipped with a pair of thick horn-rimmed spectacles covering the squint eyes, Sartre was brought into celebratory limelight with a panoply of illustrious epithets- L’Enfant Terrible of the European intelligentsia, a precursor of modern existentialism, and husband of Simone de Beauvoir, a trailblazer of modern feminism – The truth of the matter is that Sartre loved the attentions bestowed upon him. In fact, he thrived on it. On a question of fame relating to his celebratory statue as an intellectual, Sartre answered with forthrightness: “Fame is good, even at forty or fifty is desirable; there is happiness, an intense enjoyment, in pushing one’s way into the spotlight like this.” It is this unusual, feisty frankness in conjunction with his audacious existentialism vis-a-vis Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy that inspired me to find out more about the man’s school of thought in this book written by Sartre himself.
This light volume of essay collection draws on Sartre’s exceptional knowledge of the arts and the creators and yokes it to the tenets of existentialism, which means that the reader should have at least rudimentary knowledge about existentialism. The substratum of existentialism is the experience, the action taken by himself, which constitutes a man’s identity in the world. This might sound materialistic and even bathetic at first blush. However, do we not tend to judge our own self or other people based upon the manifested achievements or deeds, regardless of the character, personality, and/or other planes of circumstances pushing the doer into such actions? With every one of our actions, we particularize our self, thus creating a ‘self’. It is this realization of the abstract self existing as an abstract essence that results in the following dictum: Experience precedes our essence, establishing our own self identity in society.
In terms of existential analysis of a meaning of life or a sense of purpose in life, our actions becoming our experience make us responsible for our own lives, including our missteps and achievements. In other words, this explication of existence shows us how we look and what we are like as the touchstone of our existential selves in everyday life, as the Russian writer Anton Chekhov once said: “”Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” In this regard, existentialism coincides with Logotheraphy, which identifies a meaning of life, freedom of will, and will to meaning with fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks, to achieve ego qua meaningfulness.
In sum, Sartre’s existentialism strikes the zeitgeist of our time convoluted with reality shows, fake news, selfies, social media approbation, and grand collapsed narratives in which we often find ourselves uprooted in the midst of inflated self-aggrandization, however overtly and incorrectly exalted. Sartre tells us: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself in the midst of his infinite possibilities without help.” That is, the purpose of our life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost by actualizing our purposes amid our daily lives, for we are what we do and create our own reality of the world by acting out our ideation. This book will be a good primer on more in-depth world of Sartre’s existentialism with his no-nonsense perspectives on the nature of humanity and proverbial touchy-feely approaches to the real world and a man’s place as a human being therein, all marked in his literary craftsmanship that is all the more enjoyable to the reader.