At The Existentialist Café with Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, and Others
Best-selling author of How to Live, Sarah Bakewell and author, and New Yorker journalist Kathryn Schulz discuss Sarah Bakewell’s new book, At The Existentialist Café, a spirited account of one of the twentieth century’s major intellectual movements and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it.
Paris, 1933: three contemporaries meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are the young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher who raves to them about a new conceptual framework from Berlin called Phenomenology. “You see,” he says, “if you are a phenomenologist you can talk about this cocktail and make philosophy out of it!”
It was this simple phrase that would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being, and political activism. This movement would sweep through the jazz clubs and cafés of the Left Bank before making its way across the world as Existentialism.
Featuring not only philosophers, but also playwrights, anthropologists, convicts, and revolutionaries, At the Existentialist Café follows the existentialists’ story, from the first rebellious spark through the Second World War, to its role in postwar liberation movements such as anticolonialism, feminism, and gay rights. Interweaving biography and philosophy, it is the epic account of passionate encounters—fights, love affairs, mentorships, rebellions, and long partnerships—and a vital investigation into what the existentialists have to offer us today, at a moment when we are once again confronting the major questions of freedom, global responsibility, and human authenticity in a fractious and technology-driven world.
In English. Free and open to the public with RSVP. Please send an email to email@example.com
Sarah Bakewell was a bookseller and a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart, The English Dane, and the best-selling How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography. In addition to writing, she now teaches in the Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at Kellogg College, University of Oxford. She lives in London.
Kathryn Schulz joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2015. Previously, she was the book critic for New York, the editor of the environmental magazine Grist, and a reporter and editor at the Santiago Times. She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism and has reported from Central and South America, Japan, and the Middle East. She is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010).