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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 21 June 1905Paris, France
Date of Death 15 April 1980Paris, France  (lung cancer)
Height 5' 0¼" (1.53 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Jean-Paul Charles-Aymard Sartre was born on June 21, 1905, in Paris, France. His father, Jean-Baptiste Sartre, was an officer in the French Navy. His mother, Anne-Marie Schweitzer, was the cousin of Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Sartre was one year old when his father died. He was raised in Meudon, at the home of his tough grandfather Charles Schweitzer, a high school professor. His early education included music, mathematic, and classical literature. He studied at the Lycee Montaigne and at Lycee Henri IV in Paris. In 1917 his mother married an engineer at the naval yards in La Rochelle. There young Sartre suffered under his controlling stepfather, whom he called an "intruder". Such experiences shaped his character to rebel against any restrictions and domination.

The happiest part of his childhood was when Sartre met Paul Nizan, who was his classmate at the Lycee Henri IV in Paris. They became constant companions and best friends. Sartre continued his studies in Paris at Lycee Louis-Le-Grand, then at Ecole Normale Superieure and Sorbonne. There Sartre advanced in his studies of philosophy, absorbing mainly from the "Gifford Lectures" by Henri Bergson and "The Principles of Psychology" by Harvard philosopher William James, as well as from Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edmund Husserl, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger.

Sartre saw the artificiality of grown-ups in the bourgeois class as the outcome of their spiritually destructive conformity. His Sorbonne classmate and girlfriend Simone de Beauvoir was also an unrestricted thinker and later one of the founders of contemporary feminism. Both learned to hate the restrictions of upper-class life. Both favored an "authentic state of being". In 1932 Sartre proposed to Beauvoir, but she turned him down and went on teaching alone. In 1935 she introduced Sartre to her 18-year-old student Olga Kozakiewich and the three formed the "family". Sartre was used by Beauvoir, who merged both relationships into a trio, that led to an unexpected and overwhelming outcome. While they imagined the trio would illustrate the 'authenticity' of their relationships; in reality the inevitable competition from the younger and independent-minded Olga became a growing threat. Beauvoir saw Olga as an object, a mere cast member of the game. She also overestimated her own tolerance. Eventually the trio failed before the challenge to reciprocate in recognition of each one's "authentic" consciousness. Each member wrote a different account of the same events in their "family" life. In Sartre's trilogy "Les chemins de la liberte" (The Roads to Freedom 1945-1949) Olga is disguised as the character of Ivich.

Sartre and de Beauvoir continued experimenting with their "open family" by including several former students of both Beauvoir and Sartre, forming a unique social group with Olga Kazakiewich, Nathalie Sorokine and Jacques-Laurent Bost. The complex manner of relationships in the "family" was somewhat based on the intellectual connection between students and teachers, who also shared cooking and other domestic duties. Other family members' "authentic" consciousness added to social inventiveness and developed a sort of a survival group-therapy during the occupation of Paris in WWII. "Existence precedes transformation of consciousness" - commented Sartre.

In 1938 he wrote "La Nausee" (Nausea), which became the canonical work of existentialism. It was partially influenced by Franz Kafka and Edmund Husserl, reiterating the belief that human life has no purpose. The book is set in a French town where Antoine, a 30-year-old historian, is doing his research on an 18th-century politician. He is gradually overtaken by a sickness he calls nausea. This alters his senses, thoughts and emotional experiences of the past and present in an uncommon way. Antoine is anxiously searching for the lost meaning of things, people and events. The character of Antoine embodies Sartre's theories of existential angst, and his own search through the chaos of things and events; that are crowding the human life.

Sartre was initially torn between his pacifism and his anti-Nazi position. In 1939 he was drafted into the French army and assigned to the 70th Division in Nancy, then transferred to Morsbonn military camp. There he started writing his "L'etre et neant". He was captured by the Germans and imprisoned from 1940-1941. While in prison he reread Martin Heidegger and wrote the play "Bariona". In March of 1941 he escaped from the Nazi POW camp. He and Beauvoir traveled to the south of France where they wooed André Gide and André Malraux to their underground group, "Socialisme et Liberte". Their active resistance was soon tamed into mere writing for "Combat", published by Albert Camus. Sartre became a teacher in Lycee Condorcet from 1941-1944 and supported the "family" of five during the occupation of Paris. At that time his opus magnum "L'etre et neant" (Being and Nothingness, 1943) was completed and published. He also wrote a play, "No Exit", as an attempt "to repeat 'Being and Nothingness' in different words". It premiered in May of 1944. In 1945 Sartre with his intellectual friends co-founded "Les Tempes Modernes", a leftist journal named after Charles Chaplin's film Modern Times (1936). Sartre published Beauvoir's works first, giving her a steady platform and publicity. In 1945 he published "L'age de raison" (The Age of Reason), beginning the trilogy of "The Roads to Freedom".

His "Reflexions sur la question juive" (Reflections on the Jewish Question) was written after the liberation of Paris from the Nazi occupation in 1944. The first part (The Portrait of the Anti-Semite) was published in December of 1945 in Les Temps Modernes. Sartre deals with anti-Semitism and reaction to it on all levels. In 1962 Sartre adopted a Jewish musician, Arlette El Kaim, and later took his adopted daughter along on his visit to Israel, where he accepted an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University in 1976. Through his life Sartre expressed his interest in Messianic Judaism. A few months before his death he began a study of Jewish history. In his last interview with his friend and associate Benny Levy, Sartre said that "the messianic idea is the base of the revolutionary idea", but violent revolution is not the way.

In 1950 Sartre denounced Soviet labor camps, known as gulag prison camps. In 1955 he and Beauvoir went on official visits to the Soviet Union and to communist China. As left-leaning academics they accepted the official invitations from the communist governments. Sartre and Beauvoir met with Nikita Khrushchev. Beauvoir was commissioned by the Communist governments to write positively about communism and the 1917 revolution. Beauvoir took their money and published her shameful book, for which she and Sartre were ostracized in the West. In 1960 the two visited Cuba on the invitation of Fidel Castro. "Every man is a political animal," stated Sartre when he started as an editor of La Liberacion.

Sartre came to disaffection with the bourgeois lifestyle, as one of the perpetual ceremony that can strip people from their identity. For a similar reason he saw religion as a prison, although he was baptized Catholic. He lived a very modest life in a small apartment which he shared with Beauvoir on Rue Bonaparte in Montparnasse. There were attacks on his home in 1961, most likely by right-wing elements outraged by his position on Algerian independence (he was for it). Sartre spoke out on behalf of the Hungarians in 1956 and on behalf of the Czechs in 1968. He presided over the International War Crimes Tribunal set up by Bertrand Russell in 1967. He turned down prizes and took no money for any of his political positions; unlike his partner Beauvoir. Such independence made his voice more credible.

Jean-Paul Sartre quit writing literature after decades of success and misunderstanding. Ambiguity of his ideas and political evolution only reflected an effort to keep up with the rapidly changing times. His existentialism became a philosophy of the beatniks. His works were prohibited by the Catholic "index". "If God does not exist, everything is permitted", quoted Sartre from Fyodor Dostoevsky. He finally renounced literature as a "machine for producing words", and refused to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he was awarded in 1964. He exhausted himself during the work on "Critique de la raison dialectique" (Critique of Dialectical Reason, 1960), the work he wanted to be remembered for. He left the unfinished massive biography of Gustave Flaubert, and over 300 personal letters to Beauvoir, who published them all after his death.

Sartre underwent his transformation from being a disciple of Andre Gide to a complete break-away. In his many incarnations--the philosopher, novelist, playwright, journalist, song lyricist, magazine editor, political activist--Sartre moved ahead by breaking old rules. He even used hard psychotropic drugs to "break the bones in his head" and think big. Sartre's opposition to the rigid social organization and self-destructive nature of class society and inevitable fatality of the modern world was paralleled by that of Aldous Huxley.

Jean-Paul Sartre exhausted himself with overwork, stress, drugs and alcohol. He died of edema of the lungs on April 15, 1980. His funeral was attended by 50,000 people, when he was laid to rest in the Cimetiere du Montparnasse in Paris, France. Six years later Beauvoir, who refused his marriage proposal in their youth, joined him in his grave forever.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Trivia (6)

Longtime lover of Simone de Beauvoir.
Was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 but he turned it down.
Founded the newspaper "Libération" with Serge July in 1973.
Was portrayed by Fred Wellisch in the 2000 stage production of 'John Susman''s three-hander, "Nelson & Simone," at Chicago's Live Bait Theatre. The other two characters, of course, were Nelson Algren (played by Gary Houston) and Simone de Beauvoir (played by Rebecca Covey).
Related to famed physician Dr. Albert Schweitzer. His mother was Schweitzer's cousin.
Mentioned in the popular movies Roxanne and The Box.

Personal Quotes (4)

Life begins on the other side of despair.
Hell is other people.
[on choice] An individual chooses and makes himself.
[on the German occupation of Paris, 1940] We were terrified of dying, suffering, for a cause that disgusted us. That is, for a disgusting France - corrupt, inefficient, racist, anti-Semite, run by the rich for the rich. No one wanted to die for that until, well until we understood that the Nazis were worse.

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