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Sunday, July 15, 2012

"A mix of Bogart, Fernandel and a samurai"

That's how Camus described himself :) There's an interesting post at the NYT's philosophy blog by Andy Martin, a lecturer at Cambridge University. It's about Sartre and Camus and their respective trips to New York.

I liked the existentialists in college - they seemed like such surreal personages, especially Camus. I think one misconception about existentialists is that they were nihilists, that they embraced despair. Not so - they basically said one should suck it up and go on in the very teeth of apparent meaninglessness .... I admired that courage. See this on the distinction between existentialism and nihilism from Wikipedia ...

Although nihilism and existentialism are distinct philosophies, they are often confused with one another. A primary cause of confusion is that Friedrich Nietzsche is an important philosopher in both fields, but also the existentialist insistence on the absurd and the inherent meaninglessness of the world. Existentialist philosophers often stress the importance of Angst as signifying the absolute lack of any objective ground for action, a move that is often reduced to a moral or an existential nihilism. A pervasive theme in the works of existentialist philosophy, however, is to persist through encounters with the absurd, as seen in Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus ("One must imagine Sisyphus happy"), and it is only very rarely that existentialist philosophers dismiss morality or one's self-created meaning: Kierkegaard regained a sort of morality in the religious (although he wouldn't himself agree that it was ethical; the religious suspends the ethical), and Sartre's final words in Being and Nothingness are "All these questions, which refer us to a pure and not an accessory (or impure) reflection, can find their reply only on the ethical plane. We shall devote to them a future work."

But anyway, here's a bit from Martin's post ....

Sartre and Camus in New York

In December 1944, Albert Camus, then editor of Combat, the main newspaper of the French Resistance, made Jean-Paul Sartre an offer he couldn’t refuse: the job of American correspondent .... Camus — officially a cultural emissary of the French government — followed in Sartre’s footsteps in 1946 ......

He fell in love several times over, notably with Patricia Blake, a 19-year-old student and Vogue apprentice. He read her pages from “The Plague” and she, in return, noting his fascination with the American way of death, found him issues of undertakers’ trade magazines — Sunnyside, Casket,and Embalmer’s Monthly. He particularly admired a funeral parlor ad: “You die. We do the rest.”

At Vassar he gave a lecture on “The Crisis of Mankind” and was dazzled by the spectacle of “an army of long-legged young starlets, lazing on the lawn.” But he was preoccupied by what he thought of as the “American tragedy.” The tragedy of the students was that they lacked a sense of the tragic. For Sartre the tragic was the mechanization and objectification of the human. For Camus, the tragic was something more elusive: whatever it was, it was missing in America ...


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