Sartre: No Entrance, Either


The CBC writes that "Jean-Paul Sartre appears to be fading as a French cultural icon." Sartre's certainly fading at the CBC; the Canadian broadcaster evokes the title of his major philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, to treat Sartre's decline as a headline joke: "Sartre's being drifts closer to nothingness."

What evidence is there for this supposed fade? First, this summer marks the 100th anniversary of Sartre's birth, and a major Paris exhibit celebrating him "has drawn a disappointing number of visitors." Second, his shrinking number of enthusiasts assert that "the general public today knows little about him or his philosophies." Third, "few of his plays, which include No Exit, are regularly performed in French theatres or taught to students."

Here's my favorite exhibit: "His fans complain that the Cafe de Flore in the Left Bank area of Paris, where the prolific Sartre and partner Simone de Beauvoir wrote and held court with other left-wing intellectuals, is now filled with tourists."

Of course it's filled with tourists (many of them French provincials, by the way); Parisians know better than to pay its prices. If you want to, you can still hang out with Left Bank students who are debating culture and politics, but you'll find them in the quarter's fast-food burger joints, not paying $20 for un sandwiche au jambon.

"France hated him when he was alive and shuns him in death," says Bernard-Henri Levy, who wrote a study of Sartre. "He is treated like a pornographer."

Not so: France's leading postwar pornographer is cracking her whip to ever greater applause.