Talking with Sartre: Conversations and Debates

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Overview

What would it be like to be privy to the mind of one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers? John Gerassi had just this opportunity; as a child, his mother and father were very close friends with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and the couple became for him like surrogate parents. Authorized by Sartre to write his biography, Gerassi conducted a long series of interviews between 1970 and 1974, which he has now edited to produce this revelatory and breathtaking portrait of one of the world’s most famous intellectuals.

Through the interviews, with both their informalities and their tensions, Sartre’s greater complexities emerge. In particular, we see Sartre wrestling with the apparent contradiction between his views on freedom and the influence of social conditions on our choices and actions. We also gain insight into his perspectives on the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the disintegration of colonialism.

These conversations add an intimate dimension to Sartre’s more abstract ideas. With remarkable rigor and intensity, they also provide a clear lens through which to view the major conflagrations of the past century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a decidedly political focus, these lively and candid conversations from the early 1970s between the famed French philosopher and his godson are a fascinating glimpse into Sartre’s efforts to reconcile existentialism with Maoism and his own increasingly revolutionary leanings. That Gerassi (Jean-Paul Sartre) is clearly on close personal terms with his subject is always apparent, and this allows for wonderfully frank accounts of Sartre’s childhood, various affairs and women, as well as asides about his drug use and bizarre, recurring hallucinations of crabs. The author incessantly returns to political questions, examining Sartre’s various left-wing commitments, his views on Soviet Russia, Cuba, the Israel-Palestine conflict, in addition to the broader questions of how social conscience relates to art and whether a doctrine of absolute individual freedom can be made compatible with Sartre’s emphasis on collective action. This can make for repetition and occasional tedium that could easily have been remedied by more disciplined editing and a less ideologically strident framework. Still, as a document of both the thinker and the man, the volume paints a revealing picture of a restless mind in profound engagement with the philosophical and political crises of its time. (Dec.)
Library Journal
Across almost five years, Sartre's godson Gerassi (a former editor at Newsweek) met with the philosopher monthly to discuss family, politics, theory, identity, and other topics high in the minds of both men. As recorded in this aptly titled volume, the discussions remained personable, intellectual, and well guided. Stories about Sartre's nearly lifetime companion, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gerassi's father, artist and Spanish revolutionary Fernando Gerassi, are interwoven with memoirs of Sartre's earliest childhood as well as his then contemporary travels in the Middle East. In spite of the familiarity between the two discussants, the reader feels included rather than either excluded by lack of context or in the role of eavesdropper. Sartre's wit and warmth are nicely revealed without losing his still-active and engaged theorizing. VERDICT The whole makes for an eminently readable and compelling window on 20th-century intellectual social life, as well as philosophy and politics. Of wide interest not only to scholars but also to more casual readers.—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax P.L., N.S.
Hazel Rowley
“Gerassi's conversations with Sartre are a treat, unprecedented in the voluminous Sartre archives. This is the unguarded Sartre; he forgets the tape recorder. We see it all—the voracious curiosity, political passion, probing honesty, self-deprecating humor, and bragging machismo. Some of the greatest gems are his passing comments. In between the lines we see into his soul.”—Hazel Rowley, author of Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre
Bertell Ollman
Talking with Sartre is like no other interview book that I’ve ever read. Sartre’s genius and fire figure on every page, often interwoven with the personal details that make his life every bit as interesting as his writings. Gerassi’s insightful and argumentative probing brings out the very best in Sartre. A masterpiece, an absolute delight to read.”—

Bertell Ollman, New York University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300159011
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/24/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,446,999
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Gerassi, currently professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, is the author of Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century.

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