Showing posts with label Jean-Paul Sartre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jean-Paul Sartre. Show all posts

Jean-Paul Sartre

Many American students begin their exploration of existentialism by reading either Sartre or Albert Camus. Jean-Paul Sartre’s strong political beliefs, ever-evolving as they were, and his need to be in the public eye, contribute to his long shadow. Sartre was largely responsible for the “trendy” nature of existentialism — the lingering images of men and women wearing black, smoking Turkish cigarettes, drinking black coffee. The Beat Generation owes a great deal to Sartre.
As you read this document, understand that I view Sartre as a political and popular figure, not as a brilliant writer. I know people might cringe at not honoring Sartre’s genius, but I question the ease with which the term is applied to Sartre. Of course, without Sartre, you might not even be exploring this website. Personally, I consider Friedrich Nietzsche the most important of the existentialists.
Do not misunderstand. I have a great respect for Sartre’s genuine concern for humanity — especially the “working class” he fought so hard to defend during the 1960s, when France was a political quagmire. What has given me more respect for Sartre are his own notes and interviews with his companion Simone de Beauvoir. Sartre was candid about his failure to write a great novel, or remarkable play. But then again, those were never his reason for being. Sartre was a student of the human condition. I can think of no more honorable a pursuit.
Before delving into the details of Jean-Paul Sartre’s life, I think it reasonable to reveal what type of man Sartre was. The best description of Sartre appears in Ronald Hayman’s Sartre. This passage reveals more of Sartre’s personality than any other I have read; I am left to quote rather liberally from Hayman’s text.
Sartre felt most at home in cafés and restaurants where he could annex space by dominating the conversation and exhaling smoke…. But, like Kafka, he never felt more free than when he was writing, creating an imaginary space. Paper as magic carpet; pen as wand…. After a paradisal infancy centered on the belief that he was beautiful, he systematically tried to reject his body. To reassure his mind that it had nothing to fear from sibling rivalry with his mal-treated body he consistently ignored all messages [his body] sent out. He resisted fatigue, treated pain as if it were a challenge. To step up his productivity he made reckless use of… stimulants, taking sedatives when he wanted to relax. He resented the time he had to spend on washing, shaving, cleaning his teeth, taking a bath, excreting, and he would economize by carrying on conversations… through the bathroom door. He had no personal vanity…. When his smoke-stained teeth began to decay, he refused to waste time on seeing a dentist…. He took immeasurable pride in his intellect — “I’ve got a golden brain.”
Sartre; Hayman, p. 21–22

The image of Sartre painted by various biographers, even Simone de Beauvoir, is one of a man obsessed with his own intellect, to the neglect of almost all else. Sartre was always certain of his own value to society as a philosopher and writer, never avoiding an opportunity to demonstrate his superior mind. In the end, he managed to convince a great many people of his importance. That alone made him important.

Early Years

Jean-Paul Sartre was born 21 June 1905 in Paris, the only child of Jean-Baptiste and Anne-Marie Sartre, two individuals from distinguished families. Jean-Baptiste Sartre was the son of Dr. Eymard Sartre, a noted country doctor in the Dordogne region of France. Eymard had written several medical texts; he published his first work in his early twenties. Sartre’s mother was the first cousin of Albert Schweitzer, the famous German missionary.
Eymard was a cynical and unhappy man. He had married the daughter of a pharmacist, under the impression her family was well-positioned. Much like his grandson Jean-Paul, it is clear that Eymard cared a great deal about his social status. The marriage was unhappy, with Eymard seldom speaking. Jean-Baptiste came to resent his homelife, especially his father’s silences. Setting his sights upon escaping from his family, Jean-Baptiste focused his energies upon his studies. An excellent student, Jean-Baptiste gained admission into the Ecole Polytechnique, a presitgious technical school. Still, he wanted to be even further from his past. Jean-Baptiste sought refuge in the French navy, enlisting in 1897.
Anne-Marie Schweitzer was the daughter of Karl “Charles” Schweitzer. While the uncle of famed thinker Albert Schweitzer, Karl was famous in his own right. Karl had published several texts on religion, philosophy and languages. In fact, Karl was the co-author of a series of texts on English, German, and French. With two authors for grandfathers, Jean-Paul Sartre might have been destined to write.
Jean-Baptiste Sartre and Anne-Marie Schweitzer married on 5 May 1904, in Paris. The two were truly in love, Anne-Marie completely dedicated to her husband. Both families seem to have been pleased by the marriage; Eymard Sartre finally established a link to a well-placed family, while the Schweitzer's seemed to appreciate Jean-Baptiste's intellect. To the joy of all, the young couple had a son, Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre, on 21 June 1905. Jean-Baptiste, however, was away on a naval assignment. Upon his return in November, Jean-Baptiste wrote to his family of how handsome his son was. Jean-Paul Sartre's father also noted how active the young child was, how full of energy.
Sadly, Jean-Baptiste had contracted entercolitis during a voyage to China. He became ill in March, 1906, and was forced to request a leave from the navy. the young family moved to a farm near Eymard Sartre's residence. Jean-Baptiste died on 17 September 1906, at the age of 32. Barely more than a year after Jean-Paul's birth, his father had died. "The death of Jean-Baptiste was my greatest piece of good fortune. I didn't even have to forget him," Sartre later claimed.
After the death of Jean-Paul's father, his mother moved into her parent's home. His grandfather was a strict man, dedicated to learning, while his mother pampered young Jean-Paul. The year's living in the Schweitzer house affected Sartre for his entire life.
Anne-Marie and Jean-Paul shared a room in the Schweitzer residence. A young woman, Anne-Marie found herself treated like a child by her domineering father. To escape his oppressive personality, Anne-Marie showered her young son with attention, often treating him like a toy or a doll. She dressed her son in frilly clothing, let his hair grow long, and lavished him with attention. Young Jean-Paul was called "Poulou" by his mother, usually in a sweet tone.
Karl Schweitzer presided over others with his size and personality. His white beard and commanding voice intimidated others; members of the local Catholic parish treated Scweitzwer with respect often reserved for a priest. The Schweitzer family's reputation contributed to Karl's confidence -- and vanity. Though in his sixties, Karl knew he was still attractive, and sought to prove his virility at every chance. As Jean-Paul grew, he saw this "religious" man conduct numerous affairs, including one with a former student. Anne-Marie came to despise her father's behavior, as did her son. Curiously, Sartre would engage in numerous affairs and empty relationships throughout his life.
Eventually, Karl tired of having a grandson that looked more like a girl. One day, he took Jean-Paul to a local barber and had the boy's long hair trimmed. Upon seeing her son, Anne-Marie rushed to her room and cried. Jean-Paul was ugly. Many biographers have described Sartre as ugly or unattractive. From an early illness, Sartre lost most of his vision in one eye. This eye, with a strabismus, seemed to look askance, as if Sartre was not paying attention. Worse, it was clear the boy was destined to be short and awkward. His grandparents referred to Jean-Paul's physique as a "Sartre" fault. Without his curly long hair and fancy clothes, Sartre's ugliness was obvious -- even to his mother.
Children being predisposed to brutal honesty, did not hide their disdain for young Jean-Paul's appearance. His lack of physical size and his odd appearance made him a target for abuse. He began to show signs of a vindictive and angry personality. Jean-Paul's only comfort was his self-confidence; he knew he was smarter than other children.
Karl also knew his grandson was smart. From seven generations of teachers, Karl was eager to tutor young Jean-Paul. In fact, Karl was quite proud of his "little man" as a student. Curiously, Sartre would deny in several essays and his autobiographies that he had been tutored by his grandfather. Sartre's willingness to avoid the truth was established at a young age, and he continued to lie or omit facts throughout his life. Karl, despite Jean-Paul's statements to the contrary, was an excellent tutor and was dedicated to his grandson's success. After all, Jean-Paul carried Schweitzer blood.
Fearing her son was falling under the influence of her father, Anne-Marie sought to expose Sartre to more common experiences. While the great thinkers were important, as were other subjects, Anne-Marie also thought the world should be experienced. She took young Jean-Paul to movies, bought him comics, and gave him serials to read. Sartre was especially fond of American Western heroes, such as Buffalo Bill. Taking Sartre out of the house also allowed Anne-Marie out, as she was not interested in a social life, remaining loyal to the memory of Jean-Baptiste.
At the age of eight, Sartre received some puppets from his mother. These gifts inspired Sartre to write scripts and stage shows. He slowly gained a small group of friends, or at least children willing to tolerate him in return for entertainment. Sartre enjoyed the attention associated with his shows; he had learned that people like a performer.
Eymard Sartre died in October, 1913. His death allowed the Schweitzer family near-complete control over Jean-Paul.
Germany declared war in August, 1914. Sartre, like most French citizens, was caught up in the frenzy of nationalism. War was exciting, as long as it wasn't personal. In October of 1914, Sartre even wrote a short story about a young French private who captures the Kaiser. To prove he is superior to the German, the young Frenchman challenges the Kaiser to a fist fight and wins. Jean-Paul was writing constantly; he felt a sense of power and control while writing.
In the fall of 1915, Jean-Paul enrolled at Lycée Henri IV, a well-regarded school. At the school, Sartre easily made friends. These young men were of the same class, with a great respect for knowledge and wit. Sartre demonstrated an abundance of wit. In a sign of things to come, one instructor noted that Sartre possessed an excellent mind, but lacked mental discipline; Jean-Paul did not refine his thoughts. This criticism mirrors that of scholars who now study Sartre's works, so this is clearly a personality trait Sartre never outgrew. His mind would race from topic to topic, never focused long enough to refine a thought. This tendency also resulted in careless errors.

The Stepchild & Rebel

When Sartre was twelve, his mother remarried. For some reason, he viewed this as a betrayal. Sartre had grown unusually close to his mother and demanded all her attentions. The tension between Jean-Paul and the dominant patriarchs in his family lasted for his entire life. Sartre seems to have rebelled against his grandfather and stepfather at every opportunity. Yet, for all indications, Joseph Mancy tried his best to be a good father to Sartre.
When Joseph Mancy married Anne-Marie in April of 1917, it was the culmination of a long-time attraction. Mancy had met Anne-Marie even before she met Jean-Baptiste Sartre. Mancy found Anne-Marie quite attractive and wanted to know her better, but he was the son of a railway employee and considered "lower class" by her family. In the intervening years Mancy had attended the Ecole Polytechnique and earned an engineering degree. He was employed by the French Navy, making him quite acceptable to her family -- he was smart, well-educated, and capable of providing for Anne-Marie and her son.
Mancy moved the family in 1917 to La Rochelle, where he was working with military contractors. Sartre quickly rebelled and found himself constantly in trouble. He fought with fellow students often enough that he could regularly be found serving after-school detention. His parents began to worry that he would become a thug -- a common thief or worse. Sartre stole money from his mother's room, then lied about doing so. His behavior was too much for his stepfather to accept. By 1920, Mancy recognized that he could not control young Jean-Paul. The young Sartre was sent back to Paris and the Lycée Henri IV, where he was a boarder at the school. He was thereby reunited with Paul-Yves Nizan, one of the most important figures in his life.

Paul-Yves Nizan

Only Simone de Beauvoir had a greater effect upon Jean-Paul Sartre than Paul-Yves Nizan. Nizan enrolled at the Lycée Henri IV in 1916 and soon after established a friendship with Jean-Paul. Nizan was a great deal like his father. An engineer, the elder Nizan often slipped into deep depressions without cause. The slightest stress could drive him to spells of drinking or, possibly worse, doing nothing at all. Sartre could never understand these bouts with depression and thought they were a sign of mental weakness. Despite this odd link between father and son, Sartre did envy the two Nizans' close relationship. Paul-Yves knew his father, something Sartre was not able to do.
While many students thought of Nizan as shy and quiet, Sartre recognized a form of silent rage in his classmate. Over the years, he would learn that Nizan was indeed carrying a great sense of rage, namely at various social injustices. Nizan could not help but ponder the state of mankind and French society in particular. Nizan seemed like an old man at time, not the young student he was.
Reunited with Nizan in 1920, the two quickly became best friends. Other students would call them "Nitre & Sarzan," in recognition of their unusually close relationship. Only women, as might be expected, would come between them from 1920 into the early 1930s. Unlike Sartre, Nizan was popular without trying. He found himself dominant among others through a natural ease. Sartre would develop popularity through a form of forced outrageousness.
In the fall of 1922, Nizan and Sartre enrolled at Lycée Louis-le-Grande, considered among the best prepatory schools in France. Being one of the "best" meant that the school was also drab, authoritarian, and conservative. Over time, Sartre would develop a distaste for the French "establishment" and its skills-based form of instruction.
There is some indication that Sartre came to think of Nizan as more than a mere friend. Having read several accounts of the relationship, one might conclude that there was a form of "love" between the two young men -- at least from Sartre's perspective. When the two became estranged from March through October of 1923, Sartre suffered a near-collapse emotionally; he had come to rely upon Nizan. Sartre vowed never to care as much for any person again.
The two students were a study in opposites. Academically, Sartre was prone to "excessive elaboration of insufficiently clarified ideas," according to one of his instructors. (Cite: Cohen-Solal and Hayman) At best, Sartre seemed disorganized and undisciplined in his writings. Meanwhile, despite his own unpredictable nature, Nizan seemed the perfect student. His works were clear and concise; he would later be known for his journalistic style of writing. If his academic works were disorderly, Sartre himself was also lacking any polish. His sanitary habits were questionable, his clothing a mess, and his nature loud. Nizan presented a neat, stylish, and calm exterior.
Sartre might have been "hyperactive" or what today is recognized as "ADD/ADHD" by psychiatry. To Nizan's consternation, Sartre seemed in a constant state of motion and confusion. Sartre could not even sleep as others might; he required earplugs and a blindfold to sleep at night. He would bundle in his bed, to block all distractions. Awake, he would fidget and move about a room. Sartre seemed agitated by the slightest things... one minor annoyance would set him off emotionally. For one dedicated to the idea of self-control, he was unable to control his own mind and body. These personality traits might explain some of the tension between the two friends.

Ecole Normale Supérieure

Despite their distaste for all things traditional and authoritarian, Nizan and Sartre both enrolled in yet another famous French school for their next level of education. The Ecole Normale Supérieure was widely regarded as among the best of French universities. A companion school of the Sorbonne,  Ecole Normale Supérieure served as a psychology and philosophy campus. (Historical note: Robert de Sorbon endowed a college at the University of Paris for theological studies between 1250 and 1260. The independent college of theology and philosophy came to be known as "the Sorbonne." The Sorbonne currently incorporates three colleges of the Universities of Paris.)
In August of 1924, Sartre placed seventh on the ENS entrance exams, which are to this day highly competitive. Sartre's classmates included René Maheu, Jean Hyppolite, Pierre Guille, and Raymond Aron. Raymond Aron's role as a political and philosophical adversary of Sartre in later life places him alongside Nizan and Albert Camus as someone Sartre would personally insult -- ruining a good friendship.
Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron lived from 1905 until 17 Oct 1983. Much like Nizan, Aron presented a calm, humble, yet brilliant persona. Unlike Nizan, Sartre, and many other French intellectuals, Aron came to be known for his pro-American and anti-Communist views. Like Sartre, Aron was influenced by  Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Max Weber. At the start of France's occupation in 1940, he fled toLondon to join the forces of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, while Sartre and others remained in France. Aron viewed the main issue of the twentieth century as the threat of strong governments to individual freedom. Curiously, Aron never turned upon Sartre -- no matter how poorly Sartre treated him and his beliefs.
In this new environment, Nizan became quite political. While Aron avoided leftist causes and Sartre simply followed much of the time, Nizan, Maheu, and Guille came to be known as true radicals at the school. Sartre's outrageous nature lent itself to the group -- he seems to have liked rebelliousness for its own thrill. These four students were hostile, even somewhat destructive.
During Sartre's first year at ENS, he was one of only five students of philosophy. "Normaliens," as ENS students were known, tended to study theology, psychology, and the classics. Philosophy, at least during the 1920s, had fallen from favor -- viewed as a topic without application. Sartre did enjoy the study of psychology; he would study and critique Freud throughout his writings. And, despite his later claims that he did not read the "classics" while at ENS, library records indicate Sartre checked out hundreds of books, many of them classics.
Reading hundreds of works gave Sartre a vast amount of information from which to construct his papers as a student. Unfortunately, Sartre was still as disorganized intellectually as he had been at Lycée Henri IV. Instructors' notes located by biographers indicate Sartre would base papers upon theories he only partially understood; he was quick draw conclusions. However, as many students have demonstrated, a gift with words sometimes masked Sartre's ignorance or even intentional errors. Eloquence served Sartre as a substitute for any depth of knowledge.
As a student at ENS, Nizan's bouts with depression and anxiety increased. He would skip seminars, spend countless days in drunken state, and often vanish for days at a time. His depression increased with his interest in politics and philosophy. Nizan described himself as torn between "action" and "la vie intérieure" -- the interior life, possibly best translated as "living for the self."
Though he thought Nizan was self-absorbed, it could be argued that Sartre was actually self-centered to an extreme. Sartre even believed that by writing about his life he communicated truths for all humanity. While Nizan wanted to help all people through political action, Sartre lived his own life without much political involvement -- an apathy later changed by World War II. Nizan joined the Parti Communiste Français, the French Communist Party, and was active in Groupe d'Information Internationale, an international student "news" organization. Sartre saw his friend's actions as a waste of time and energy on behalf of others. Sartre once commented that Nizan's attraction to Marxism was an attempt to justify hatreds.
The center of his own universe, Sartre wished to the be the center of all attention. Long ago made aware of his unattractive features by his grandfather, Sartre realized he was the opposite of Nizan. Yet, instead of hiding, Sartre would announce his presence to all at any opportunity. During the March 1925 ENS "student revue," a nude Jean-Paul Sartre danced with Nizan. It was played for laughs; Sartre would rather be comic than ignored.
But more important than being the center of attention, Sartre truly wanted to be the smartest person at ENS.
I want to be the one who knows the most things
- Hayman, p. 61
x x x
If you are moral... {{quote this}}
- Hayman, p. 61

The First Simone

Before Jean-Paul Sartre met his life-long companion Simone de Beauvoir, he met and fell in love with Simone-Camille Sans. While attending a funeral for a cousin, Sartre first noticed Simone-Camille. She was 22 and from a respected family. Her father was a chemist in the Toulouse region of southern France. By the end of 1925, Sartre and "Toulouse," as he called Simone-Camille, declared their love to each other in letters and to friends.
Simone-Camille's adventurous nature appealed to Sartre. She experimented with any and all freedoms, but especially pursued sexual pleasures. She had been involved in several wild orgies in Toulouse, hosted by the sons and daughters of other middle and upper-class families. The 1920s were a time for such experimentation.
Sartre's nature quickly revealed itself to "Toulouse." She noted his constant desire for self-control and order, while he continued to be volatile and disorganized. Her fiancé wrote and talked of being completely in charge of his own fate, but he seemed to lack any discipline. As for independence, Sartre eventually seemed possessive and needy -- he needed to feel loved. When Sartre asked to see Toulouse during Easter break of 1926, she had to decline due to family commitments. Sartre could not understand her telegram: "NOT FREE. POINTLESS TO COME SUNDAY." He took her message as a rejection, not the simple statement it was. In anger, he set a deadline for her to meet with him. One might assume he would have let the deadline slip; he would not have rejected her.
For two weeks in December of 1926, Toulouse visited Sartre in Paris. She attended the ENS winter formal, attracting some attention. She was an odd-mix of proper and ill-bred. She was interesting. Following her visit, Sartre's letters to Toulouse became less formal; in comparison, he would later treat Simone de Beauviour with formality -- at all times.
While Sartre struggled to reconcile his relationship with Toulouse and his strong desire for control, Nizan dated and fell in love with Henriette Alphen. Nizaon and Alphen were married on 24 December 1927, with Sartre and Raymond Aron serving as witnesses. Once again, Nizan demonstrated a greater maturity and personal growth.
By 1928, the Sartre-Toulouse relationship was ending. Simone-Camille became the mistress of Charles Dullin, a well-known French stage actor. Anny, in La Nausée is based upon Toulouse -- Anny is the mistress of an actor, too. When Sartre saw Toulouse in 1929, she seemed rather eccentric. She "talked" to the dead, danced about in a drunken state, and seemed lost in her thoughts.

Student Revolutionary

French students, it would seem, have been in a constant state of revolt since the late eighteenth century. Students, lacking any other target for their anger, often turn on the institutions of learning -- and the people in charge. Jean-Paul Sartre and his classmates at the Ecole Normale Supérieure followed in this tradition. Sartre's personal target was Gustave Lanson, the head of the school. Jean-Paul was impersonate Lanson and pull childish pranks at the master's expense.
Sartre's campaign against Lanson culminated on 25 May 1927. Charles Lindbergh was on tour in Europe, following his trans-Atlantic flight. Sartre and other students informed the media that Lindbergh was to visit the Ecole Normale Supérieure. The students then arranged a look-alike to dash into the buildings with a circle of escorts in the morning, while the media followed. The stunt drew attention throughout Paris -- and Lanson was forced to resign for not having better control of the ENS "normaliens."
Minor rebellion might make one's life interesting, but the French student population drifted towards political action. Satre's classmates, including his best friend Paul-Yves Nizan, joined left-leaning political organizations. Nizan joined the French Communist Party, a move Sartre described as "totally grotesque." Sartre himself was not willing to be called a socialist or communist. He preferred to remain independent -- and self-absorbed. Sartre's self-imposed ignorance of most leftist activities and beliefs was aided by the anti-Marx and Hegel rhetoric of his instructors. Curiously, Hegel was not even among the course reading lists.
Eventually, politics came home... Sartre faced conscription into the French military. His response was to write anti-military columns in the student newspaper. Sartre was shortly called before the ENS disciplinary council. In November 1928, Sartre joined 82 other students in signing a petition against military training.

Simone de Beauvoir

In 1928, Jean-Paul placed last -- fiftieth -- in his class at the Sorbonne on his agrégation, a form of exit exam. The topic of Sartre's paper had been Nietzsche's writings and "contingency."
Failing was difficult for Sartre, who considered himself quite smart. However, this setback might be the most important event in his life. Forced to wait for another examination, Sartre met Simone de Beauvoir. Easily his intellectual match, Simone offered Sartre emotional and professional companionship throughout his life. For the next agrégation the two studied together. Sartre placed first on the exam this time, and de Beauvoir placed second. In many ways, this is how they are remembered: together one right after the other.
It is clear Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were deeply in love, though in the most unconventional of relationships. They were never exclusive, both having other lovers at different times in their lives. The pair never lived together and marriage was certainly out of the question for both -- it represented society's view of relationships. According to many sources, they addressed each other formerly, as colleagues more than romantic lovers. Maybe they both feared expressing their love would be perceived as a weakness... we may never know.
For 18 months, beginning in 1929, Sartre served in the French military. After his discharge from the military, Sartre took a position at a lycée in Le Havre, in northwest France. As Simone was teaching at Marseilles, located in the south, the two frequently met between the two cities -- usually in Paris. One night in Paris, Raymond Aron was drinking with the couple when he mentioned phenomenology. Aron used a beer mug to illustrate phenomenology, discussing the mug's properties and essence. Sartre was intrigued, so he began to read about this school of philosophy.
Jean-Paul went to Berlin in 1933 to study the lectures of Edmund Husserl. After a year, Sartre returned to teaching with new enthusiasm.
Sartre experimented with mescaline in February 1935. As a result, he suffered hallucinations for the next year.
The novel Nausea was published in 1938. Sartre included a phenomenological analysis of a glass of beer in the novel, as a tribute to Raymond Aron.

The War Years

At the start of World War II, Sartre was conscripted into the military once again. Sartre served in the meteorological service, launching weather balloons. Unfortunately, Sartre was captured on 21 June 1940.
While in the stalag, Sartre spend much of his time writing what was to become Being and Nothingness. According to one biographer, Sartre neglected himself while imprisoned, washing rarely, failing to shave, and developing a reputation for being rather foul. Sartre escaped in March 1941. He managed to return to Paris and somehow returned to his teaching post.
In June 1943, Sartre's anti-Nazi play The Flies opened at a Paris theatre. Despite the play's lack of subtlety, even uniformed German soldiers attended the production. The play closed after 40 performances, but left quite an impression among the artistic community of Paris. By 1945, at the end of World War II, Sartre found himself famous -- and "existentialism" was the philosophy to study. Sartre spread his idea through his editorship of the magazine, Les Temps Modernes. The publication was named for the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times, considered a masterpiece by many.

Politics and (or?) Philosophy

Curiously, as existentialism grew in popularity -- to the point of becoming a pop-culture term  -- Sartre slowly left the philosophy that had brought him fame. Sartre claimed a "conversion" to Marxism. In part, Sartre's move to the political left resulted from the influence of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. As the Cold War developed, Sartre came to support the Soviet Union. Eventually, his support of Soviet Communism cost Sartre his friendship with Albert Camus.
Sartre published his defense of Marxism, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, in 1960. The work was meant to be two volumes, but the second was abandoned by Sartre before completion. This unfinished work was published after Sartre's death. In The Critique, Sartre tried to defend "pure" Marxism as respecting individual freedoms. Unfortunately for Sartre, most people saw Marxism as it existed in the Soviet Union -- anything but a system respecting freedom.
In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He refused to accept the award on "political" grounds.
Paris university students rebelled in 1968, calling for various reforms. Sartre's support of the students caused him problems with both the left and the right in France. The right-leaning supporters of President de Gaulle thought Sartre contributed to the protests. The French Communist Party did not support the students, thinking their demands for liberalized education unreasonable. Both the left and right in France considered the universities fine as they were.
From 1968 until his death, Sartre embodied the left, socially and politically. He stopped wearing suits and ties, protested the Vietnam War, and found a new following in student "radicals" in both Europe and America.
By the late 1970s, Jean-Paul Sartre's body began to rebel. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, drank heavily, and used amphetamines while writing. For all this talk about logic and individual will, Sartre could not stop his bad habits.

The Exit

On 15 April 1980, Sartre died. Simone de Beauvoir attempted to spend the night next to his body, but hospital employees removed her from his bed. She had loved him since they met to study for the agrégation.
Sartre's popularity might have diminished by the end of his life, but his death brought forth the kind of emotional displays normally reserved for great political leaders. Of course, a political leader is what Sartre was in many ways. More than 50,000 people lined the streets of Paris for Sartre's funeral procession on 19 April 1980. Sartre's ashes were buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery. Later, Simone de Beauvoir's ashes were buried next to his.
1905 June 21Born to Jean-Baptiste Sartre and Anne-Marie (Schweitzer) Sartre.
1905 October 20The General Strike of Russia, leading to the formation of the first Soviet in St. Petersburg.
1906 November 17Jean-Baptiste dies.
1907Sartre and Anne-Marie move in with her parents: Karl "Charles" Schweitzer, noted writer and music historian, and Louise. Anne-Marie's cousin is Albert Schweitzer.
1909Sartre suffers from a cold or influenza, causing leucoma in his right eye. He loses some sight in the eye.
1911The Schweitzers move to Paris.
1913 OctoberDr. Eymard Sartre dies.
1914 June 28Assassination of Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo signals the start of World War I.
1914 August 1-23Various European nations formally declare war against each other.
1916 January 29Germans launch an air raid on Paris, using the Zeppelin Fleet.
1917Anne-Marie marries Joseph Mancy. The couple settles in La Rochelle.
1917 April 2America declares war on Germany.
1917 November 7(October 26, according to old Russian calendar) The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
1917 November 8Lenin assumes the chair of the Council of People's Commissars.
1918Writes novel Götz von Berlichingen.
1918 November 9Revolution in Berlin.
1920 FebruaryGerman Workers' Party changes its name to the National Socialist Party.
1922Writes the short L'Ange du morbide and begins the novel Jésus la Chouette, which he does not finish.
1923 August 10-13Riots in Germany, lead by unions and National Socialists.
1925 January 16Trotsky dismissed as chair of people's Military Council.
1926 OctoberStalin expels Trotsky and Zinoviev from Politburo.
1927Writes thesis L'Image dans la view psychologique.
1927 December 27Trotsky expelled from Communist Party.
1928Fails agrégation.
1929Meets Simone de Beauvoir. They both take the agrégation. He places first, she places second.
1929 January 31Trotsky exiled from Soviet Union.
1930Inherits portion of grandmother's estate.
1931Publishes La Légende de la vérité and starts writing Nausea.
1934Writes La Transcendance de l'Ego.
1935Grandfather, Karl "Charles" Schweitzer dies.
1935 FallRelationship with de Beauvoir and Olga Kosakiewicz.
1936Alcan publishes L'Imagination. Sartre writes the short stories Erostrate and Dépaysement.
1936Series of government changes in France, the result of power struggles between the left and moderates.
1936 July 18Spanish Civil War begins.
1937The journal Recherches Philosophiques publishes La Transcendance de l'Ego.
1938Writes about 400 pages of Le Psyché and begins writing La Age de raison. Publishes the stories La ChambreIntimité, and Nourritures (originally titled Dépaysement).
1938 AprilPublishes La Nausée (Nausea).
1938 September 7French government activates all reserve military personnel.
1940 June 14German troops enter Paris.
1940 June 21Sartre is taken prisoner by German army.
1941 MarchEscapes from German stalag. He founds the resistance group Socialisme et Liberté, which is disolved within the year.Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a student of Husserl and acquaintance of de Beauvoir joins the group.
1941 December 8, 11America declares war on Japan, then Germany.
1943 June 2Meets Albert Camus.
1943Writes Huis clos in two weeks. Finishes Le Sursis and Réflexions sur la question juive, published in 1946.
1944 JulyEscapes from Paris with de Beauvoir.
1944 August 25Allied troops enter Paris. The liberation of France does little to change the instability of the French government.
1944 FallForms Les Temps Modernes, which is to remain a popular journal.
1945 January 21Stepfather, Joseph Mancy, dies.
1945Refuses the Légion d'Honneur.
1946 November 8The plays Morts sans sépulture and La Putain respectueuse premiere.
1946 November 10French elections are marked by Communist and Socialist gains, leading to a Socialist-Communist coalition government.
1948 FebruaryJoins the Rassemlement Démocratique Révolutionnaire (RDR).
1950Denounces Soviet labor camps, after defending them in several articles.
1952Publishes Saint Genet.
1952 May 28Communists demonstrate in Paris.
1952 AugustPublishes public reply to Camus' essays on rebellion in Les Temps Modernes.
1953 MayMerleau-Ponty parts with Sartre, leaving the staff of Les Temps Modernes.
1954 January-FebruaryThe former Allies meet to discuss German autonomy. The Soviet Union vetoes proposed free elections in Germany.
1954 May-JuneVisits the Soviet Union for the first time.
1954 DecemberElected president of the Franco-Soviet Association.
1955 May 5Occupation of Germany officially ends, but troops remain.
1955 JuneMerleau-Ponty publishes Les Aventures de la dialectique, which includes a chapter attacking Sartre for ultra-bolshevism.
1955 October 2France withdraws from the United Nations over perceived interference by other nations in the Algerian-French Revolt.
1956 NovemberCondemns Soviet intervention in Hungary.
1956 DecemberMartial law is declared in Hungary. Once again, Sartre is forced to recognize the totalatarian nature of the Soviet Union.
1958 December 21Anti-communist De Gaulle elected president of France, just two months after radical-socialists had formed a coalition government. In many ways, De Gaulle's rise is a result of Soviet actions.
1959 September 24The play Les Séquestrés d'Altona premieres.
1961 MayMaurice Merleau-Ponty dies.
1961 July 19A bomb explodes near Sartre's apartment, 24 Rue Bonaparte.
1962 January 7Another bomb attack prompts Sartre to move.
1962Sartre visits Russia three times during the year. He is also elected as vice-president of the Congrès de la Communanté Européenne des Ecrivains (COMES). He steadfastly remains a supporter of Marxist ideals.
1962 July 3Algeria wins independence from France and soon after joins the Arab League.
1963Received by Krushchev in Soviet Georgia. Sartre will make regular trips to the USSR in coming years.
1964Refuses the Nobel Prize in literature.
1965Again elected as vice-president of COMES.
1965 January 25Begins adoption process of Arlette Elkain.
1968After appearing on Czech television in support of the Prague Spring, Sartre once again is faced with the true nature of the Soviet Union when it crushes Czechoslovakian reforms with tanks.
1969Sartre's mother, Anne-Marie, dies.
1969 MaySupports Communist candidate for French presidency.
1969 November 12The Soviet Union expels Solzhenitsyn from the Union of Soviet Writers. Sartre remains publicly loyal to the Communist Party.
1970 November 9De Gaulle dies.
1971Publicly breaks with Fidel Castro.
1972 May 22American President Richard Nixon becomes the first President to visit Moscow.
1974 February 13The Soviet Union deports Solzhenitsyn and revokes his Soviet citizenship.
1976Sartre leads a campaign of 50 Nobel prizewinners for the release of Mikhail Stern, a political prisoner in the Soviet Union.
1976 April 15In Spain the Union of Workers convenes its first congress in 44 years.
1976 April 25Portugal has first elections in 40 years. The Socialist Party wins most seats.
1976 November 7Accepts a doctorate from Jerusalem University.
1977In an interview, Sartre declares that he is no no longer a Marxist. The interview appears in Lotta Coninua.
1977 May 17Israeli Labour Party defeated after 29 years in power.
1978 FebruaryVisits Israel.
1978 March 12In French elections leftists parties win an absolute majority for the first time.
1980 April 15Dies at 9 p.m. in a Paris hospital while in a coma.


  • Emotions: Outline of a Theory, Essay: 1936 (L'Imagination)
  • Transcendence of the Ego, Text: 1937 (La Trascendance de l'Ego)
  • Nausea, Novel: 1938 (La Nausée)
  • Being and Nothingness, Essay: 1943 (L'Etre el le Néant)
  • The Flies, Play: 1943 (Les Mouches)
  • No Exit, Play: 1944 (Huis Clos)
  • The Age of Reason, Novel: 1945 (L'Age de raison)
  • Existentialism and Human Emotions, Text: 1946 (L'Existentialisme est un humanisme)
  • Anti-Semite and Jew, Essay: 1946 (Réflexions sur la question juive, written 1943)
  • The Respectful Prostitute, Play: 1947
  • Dirty Hands, Text: 1948 (Les Mains sales)
  • Saint Genêt, Biography: 1952
  • The Critique of Dialectical Reason, Text: 1960
  • The Family Idiot, Critique: 1982