Seagull Books, $28.95 hb, 212 pp
Those wanting to understand better the radical changes in Western thought and social mores since World War II could benefit from revisiting Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80). Of course, one can sympathise with Jonathan Rée in his critique of much of Sartre’s work as ‘slap-dash’, ‘long-winded’, ‘carelessly profuse’ (Times Literary Supplement, 26 November 2010). It is true that by the time Sartre became famous, much of his best writing was behind him. Nonetheless, Sartre lived and worked on what we can now identify as a temporal seismic fault-line between then and now. His voluminous and variegated work – short stories, novels, plays, essays, movie scripts, journalism, autobiography, and correspondence, as well as philosophy proper – remains a rich site for investigating the thirty or so years between the mid-1930s and the mid-1960s, that period when, as Thomas Pynchon puts it, ‘a screaming came across the sky’. To re-engage with Sartre is to re-enter the zone of the epicentre, where broken twists of what was once continuous tradition mingle with new developments – some of which we already know to have failed, while others have become familiar features of our present landscape.