March 02, 2005
SARTRE AND THE QUESTION OF POLITICALLY ENGAGED INTELLECTUALS
In the new issue of the quarterly review Logos, there is a fascinating interview by Danny Postel with Ronald Aronson--the scholar who is our foremost intellectual interpreter of the work and life of Jean-Paul Sartre--about Aronson's last book, Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It, which was published in the Winter of 2004 by the University of Chicago Press (they are issuing a paperback edition of the book in April, which is the occasion for this interview.) Sartre has fallen into disfavor in intellectual circles in recent years, but he still has much to tell us, as Aronson for years has helped us to understand.
I've been a great admirer of Aronson's work for a long time, and his book on Sartre and Camus is nothing short of superb; it is an important contribution to modern intellectual history that should also be of great interest to anyone who is seriously interested in the question of political engagement by intellectuals. It was the nature and contours of that engagement which gave birth to the friendship between these two great writers--and which also was central to the breakup of that friendship. The book is, moreover, a helluva read--Aronson's prose is clean, evocative, and infinitely superior to the wooden language in which too many academics write.
In the interview, Aronson lays out the role the Cold War played in shaping the relations between Sartre and Camus, and discusses how his own view of both men evolved and changed over the years. I would hope that this interview would encourage you to pick up Aronson's book when it appears in paperback next month--you can read the transcript of this captivating Q & A by clicking here.
Also, in The Nation two weeks ago, Aronson had a brilliant review-essay on the occasion of the reissue of Isaac Deutscher's monumental biographical trilogy on Leon Trotsky that re-evaluates Deutscher's work and politics in the light of subsequent history and the fall of Communism. This Aronson essay, too, is a significant contribution to the debate about the intellectual history of the left--you can read it by clicking here.
Finally, Aronson has written a fascinating dissection of how George Bush misused and misquoted Camus in a speech in Brussels during his European trip. Read Aronson's commentary, written for UPI, by clicking here.
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