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The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Existentialist

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At the end of the second world war, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre launched the “existentialist offensive,” an ambitious campaign to shape a new cultural and political landscape. The word ‘existentialism’ was a popular neologism with no clear meaning. They wanted to profit from its media currency by making their philosophy its definition. Sartre’s talk “Existentialism is a Humanism” was an instant legend. The venue was packed, the crowd spilling into the street. Furniture got broken. People fainted and were carried outside. Sartre had to push his way through to the podium, where he delivered a speech entirely off the cuff. Unsurprisingly, in the circumstances, it was rather sketchy and occasionally inconsistent. Beauvoir’s altogether more coherent account was published a few weeks later as “Existentialism and Popular Wisdom” in the third issue of Les Temps Modernes, the cultural and political journal the pair had founded. These were the keynotes of their rich programme. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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