Being and Nothingness (book review) Jean-Paul Sartre

Hazel E. Barnes (translator),

Mary Warnock (contributor),

Richard Eyre (contributor)


201122: i had thought to read this again before writing about it, as it has been years (decades...) since i first read this as an eager twenty three year-old. i do have a new copy. but there are other books to read and my interests in philosophy have moved from sartre through heidegger through merleau-ponty etc... so much of sartrean existentialism is now embedded i am unsure what came from this book. i can certainly agree bergson is easier to read. it is a long, long, intricate essay that resists review so i will simply recall how it affected me then...


and as this was my first serious philosophy text i was blown away. only in recognition of all the later philosophy i read, much that critiques this, is this four and not five. i had read some of the introduction, thought i understood, embarked on the rest. without any guidance, any net, any idea. it was great: here was a philosophy that i could agree with, that promised absolute responsibility and freedom, that suggested it was all down to me how i would live authentically in the world. i loved that it had nothing to do with science. i loved that the mind was focus. i could grasp everything from bad faith to authenticity to the gaze of the other. mostly i was intoxicated with the idea of freedom. i was young. i have only over the years (decades...) learned to respect that ‘situation’ which so affects freedom...


i have read that the ideal form for continental philosophy is a novel: well that is what this is. i found it absorbing as narrative perhaps because i was not reading it as ‘philosophy’ and trying to parse, argue, affirm ideas he presents in vignettes such as the girl who ‘forgets’ her hand when approached, the eye looking through a keyhole seen in turn, and of course that waiter who decides he is no more than ‘waiter’... i have heard it seen as heidegger’s being and time simplified, but what i have read of that is far from a novel...


and then there is the total ‘cultural’ effect of existentialism which is difficult to separate from this book. sometimes i wish i had started with merleau-ponty in philosophy but i might not have persisted, and certainly by now i have read a lot of various phenomenonologists and philosophy in general, and as mentioned sartre is often reasonably critiqued. the ambition he had, from the history of european philosophy, still impresses me. and from what i read, he did follow his convictions, including his relationship with de beauvoir...


i do not know if i actually want to read it again: it might break the spell of pleasant memories, aside from reminding me of my age. if there is a major, significant philosophy text you want to read to understand much of the 20th century, this is it... ah, to be young and eager again!

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