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(This is a review of a book titled "The Existentialist Cafe". It reminds me of how deep I was into its writings as an undergrad. When I got to the New School in 1965, mostly as a way of staying out of the army, I studied with Aaron Gurwitsch who was considered the world's leading authority on Husserl. Gurwitsch was an amazing teacher but the phenomenology he taught was hardly relevant to what was going on in Vietnam. For that only Marx made sense.)

She begins with a pivotal moment in the lives of Sartre, de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron. It was the Christmas/New Year period of 1932-33, and they were all in their twenties. They were sitting in the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue du Montparnasse in Paris, drinking the house speciality – apricot cocktails. Aron, who had been studying in Berlin, was telling the other two about a philosophy he had been learning about called phenomenology (“a word so long yet elegantly balanced”, Bakewell comments, “it can make a line of iambic trimester all by itself”). “You see,” Aron told them, “if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!”

On hearing this (or so de Beauvoir later recollected), Sartre turned pale and rushed to the nearest bookshop, demanding: “Give me everything you have on phenomenology, now!” The staff offered him a thesis by Emmanuel Levinas on the work on the founder of phenomenology, Husserl. That thesis was The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology (1930), and Sartre began reading it on the street as soon as he got out of the shop. He then arranged to spend a year in Berlin, learning this new philosophy at first hand. When he returned, Bakewell writes, “he brought back a new blend: the methods of German phenomenology, mixed with ideas from the earlier Danish philosopher Søren Kierke­gaard and others, set off with the distinctively French seasoning of his own literary sensibility”. That blend was existentialism.

full: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2016/09/philosophy-sartre-blend-uncovering-birth-existentialism

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