Published:  01:22 AM, 02 December 2019

Jean Paul Sartre: A Voltaire of France's conscience

Jean Paul Sartre: A Voltaire of France's conscience Jean Paul Sartre

Any prize or award, that we speak of claiming to be the best in the world is undoubtedly Nobel Prize. Ever since the Nobel Prize was introduced by Alfred Nobel and the prize was given first in 1901, hundreds of eyes of Scientists, Litterateurs, Peace activists, Economists remained focused on the prize who yearn to add feathers of Nobel Prize in their crown that they have achieved in their respective field of studies and researches in their life time.

Swedish Academy of Nobel Prize accords the prize in all other given fields except for peace which is accorded every year by the Norwegian Academy.

Despite deserving candidates who win the prize gladly accept it, yet there are very few in Nobel's history who declines to accept the prize for various reasons of their own.

Eminent French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964 is the first in Nobel's history to decline the prize with his plea that he always refused official distinction and did not want to be 'institutionalized' by accepting the prize. Sartre further argued that he rejected the Nobel Prize for fear that it would limit the impact of his writing. According to him his readers, not the panel judges of the Nobel Prize committee, are the best judges to evaluate his works.

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the 20th Century French Philosophy and Marxism. His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory and literary studies and continues to influence these disciplines.

Sartre was not widely known world-wide including his own country France before Second World War era. He came into prominence after the end of the Second World War in France and rapidly excelled his fame and reputation world-wide beyond the borders of France.

During Nazi occupation in France, having been released from jail by applying his ready wit, Sartre actively engaged himself in resistance movements and after averting the red eyes of Nazi justice system composed plays and dramas and acted in the open stage displaying symbolic resistance against Nazi occupation in France. People of France duly acknowledged his contributions in arousing the patriotic zeal among people, after the Second World War ended.

Sartre could mesmerize and attract youths in Paris through his leading a bohemian life style in the Cafes and Restaurants in Paris where he could engage himself in dialogues and discourses with youths for hours together on philosophy, literature and politics.

Sartre wrote in volumes and discussed enormously on different aspects of literature. In Sartre's Road to Freedom Trilogy; Iron in the Soul, Nausea, The Age of Reasoning are notable. Among his most scintillating plays are The Respectable Prostitute, Lucifer and the Lord, In Camera. Sartre used the theatre to give dramatic expression to one of his major pre-occupations as a philosopher.

At the outset it is worth mentioning the name of his book What is Literature published in 1948. Because in this book he articulated his opinion candidly and mentioned that a writer cannot express himself impartially.

By this way or other a writer has to take his position in one side and that side has to be on the side of freedom and emancipation. He vividly wrote: "The freedom to write presupposes the freedom of the citizen. One does not write for slaves. Prose-writing is bound up in solidarity with only regime in which prose retains a meaning democracy".

Sartre wrote many books on philosophy of which Imagination & Psychological Criticism and being an ardent advocate of philosophy of Existentialism, Sartre discussed in length & breadth about -existentialism and its impact on human life and society.

Although his contribution in literary work is immense, yet his contribution of publicizing existentialism, as a father of the Existentialist doctrine, which becomes this generation's intellectual self defense, and its application in the society and his active participation in political and social movements cannot be overemphasized.

Sartre raised his voice, in post War era, against the prevailing political order in France. He was vehemently critical on the then French president Charles D'Gaulle's viewpoint governing the politics in France.

Sartre mobilized public opinion against Charles D'Gaulle policy on Algerian Liberation War and appealed people of France, alongside with 121 top intellectuals, not to support French army in Algerian War.

In one point the government of Charles D'Gaulle's was about to be collapsed on the face of students unrest attributed by Sartre's acerbic writings and activism. Situation being much critical and vulnerable for the D'Gaulle's government to survive, a few ministers including the home minister in the D'Gaulle's cabinet advised the president that Sartre be immediately imprisoned.

Despite D'Gaulle's government was shaken by Sartre's activism, D'Gaulle, in response to his minister's advice, said: "No, he is also a France. I cannot imprison the Voltaire of France's conscious", thus recognizing Sartre as Voltaire --- a versatile and prolific writer and an outspoken advocate of civil liberties.

Jean Paul Sartre hosted International War Crimes Tribunal; Russell-Sartre Tribunal organized in 1966 by Bertrand Russell. The Tribunal investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam. This had taken place in the decade following the 1954 defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu and establishment of North and South Vietnam.

Sartre believed that humans have inexhaustible power to improve the social system by their will. He wrote: "Man is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other destiny the one he forges for himself on this earth. Human existence, is thus void, a total frustration. Man exists, for this there is no more reason than for his non-existing".

Before I conclude, I must confess, at this point, that this humble piece of mine on great philosopher and literary giant Jean Paul Sartre will not be complete if I do not mention the name of another existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir with whom Jean Paul Sartre had open relationship.

Sartre and De Beauvoir challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their upbringing which they considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thoughts.

Sartre and De Beauvoir both were immersed in deep love with each other and developed life long relationship to each other without social prejudice and wedlock; although both of them believed in open sexual relationship with others too. Both were introduced to each other in 1920s in their youth. Sartre groomed Beauvoir since her teens to become a writer believing in existentialist philosophy.

She wrote novels, essays, biographies, autobiography and monographs on philosophy, politics and social issues. She was known for her 1949 treatise The second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.

Her friendship and love with Jean Paul Sartre without marital bonding sustained for long 51 years till Sartre died on April 15, 1980 thereby setting an example of unalloyed love story of two literary giants and intellectuals that still remain highly talked about in the literary circle in the world.

Despite her heterosexual and bisexual habit De Beauvoir who, with her highly acclaimed penmanship, prowess and intellectual competence, was fondly called by Sartre as Beaver, could not accept the death of Sartre so easily.

Six years after the death of Sartre, De Beauvoir also died on April 14, 1986. Ashes and remains of her dead body were returned to the grave where Sartre's ashes were interred earlier. This was how they immortalized their love even after their death by resting in the same grave up keeping their lasting desire and belongingness to each other forever.


The writer is a former
civil servant

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