The biography of Sartre (1905-1980) by Annie Cohen-Solal is an excellent review of the French philosopher, novelist, essayist and militant where we revisit the great episodes of the 20th century through his dissymmetrical vision. After a meticulous investigation undertaken after his death, the author manages to speak with all the close people, old, old, mature, young who were in full use of their faculties and reconstructs all the episodes of his life, especially those that concern his jump to fame and the decades in which he reigned over world fashion and culture as the leader of existentialism, before living the twilight of bodily old age that more than cost him the excesses of amphetamines, alcohol, tobacco and the taste of a native cuisine loaded with sauces, fats, meats, sugar and other killer substances.
I had the fortune to live and study in Paris during the last years of his life and hear one morning on the radio the call he made to the young people to go out and demonstrate against the Spanish dictator, who was preparing to execute a handful with a vile stick of opponents and then to be surprised how tens of thousands obeyed his slogan and invaded the streets in one of the most unforgettable demonstrations.
After May ’68 he had gone a bit out of fashion, but his rebellious attitude continued to fascinate. He had rejected the Nobel, he dressed badly, he refused to mummify himself and he distanced himself from his main followers and collaborators to get closer to the young radicals of various tendencies with whom he shared the party and the drinks. He ventured to follow their fashionable delusions with them, when nearly blind and drooling, neglected and disabled, he struggled to live, refusing to be a monument. He distributed leftist flyers and newspapers in the streets, advocated for Third World causes.
Months before his death, in September 1979, I saw him at the funeral of Pierre Goldmann, a far-left militant who had been assassinated, causing a great commotion in the city. I had sneaked in with some friends by jumping over the walls at the Père Lachaise cemetery. Outside there were tens of thousands of people who could not enter the cemetery. The Cuban musician Azuquita was playing tropical drums next to the grave and suddenly a small vehicle entered and Simone de Beauvoir emerged from it, who opened another door of the car and extracted from there a drooling and trembling old man.
He had risen to total fame after the liberation of the country from the Nazi boot and before the age of 40 he was the philosophical idol of several generations not only in France but in the United States, Latin America and many other regions and countries. His plays caused a sensation in Paris and were staged in many parts of the world. His novels sold in the millions and were translated into dozens of languages. His philosophical books, pamphlets and essays suffered the same fate and his lectures were true spectacles of a rock star just like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
He was also a great lover, a propagandist of free love according to an agreement reached with his most stable partner, the feminist Simone de Beauvoir, and he lived multiple and parallel love stories that are well related by the biographer, who interviewed many of his friends and girlfriends , all of them with fond memories of the intelligent and generous lover. Insatiable reader, compulsive writer, editor of hundreds of thousands of pages in sleepless days helped by pills that later collected the bill, he was also detached from the money.
The many millions that he earned he shared and squandered with his collaborators and friends or invested in all possible lost causes. So was Sartre, a kind of Diogenes of his time, renegade of his class, guide of existentialist generations who turned their backs on wars and lived to the rhythm of jazz and poetry. After reading this sample of his life, one returns to taste his plays, novels, essays on Kierkegaard, and hopes one day to finally read his gigantic monstrosities about Jean Genet and Flaubert or his great old-fashioned treatises such as The Being and the nothing. Sartre was literary dynamite and perhaps that is why he had the luxury of rejecting the Nobel Prize that all authors covet. Annie Cohen-Solal manages to reestablish in this biography published a few years after her death the multiple life of a character who marked the 20th century like few others, anchored in the militant and committed tradition of the great authors of her country such as Voltaire in the 18th century and Victor Hugo in the XIX. And even if it has gone out of fashion and is heading into oblivion like everyone else without fail, visiting its intense life trajectory is a stimulus to continue living with passion reading, thinking, fiction, at the same time that life is lived as a wrong prize .
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Dynamite by Jean Paul Sartre