'No Exit and Three Other Plays'
By Jean-Paul Sartre (Author), Stuart Gilbert (Translator)
In these four plays, Jean-Paul Sartre, the great existentialist novelist and philosopher, displays his mastery of drama. No Exit is an unforgettable portrayal of hell. The Flies is a modern reworking of the Electra-Orestes story. Dirty Hands is about a young intellectual torn between theory and praxis. The Respectful Prostitute is an attack on American racism.
The most famous of the French existentialist philosophers, Sartre was at once a philosopher and an important man of letters. He studied in Paris where he lived and taught most of his life, a good part of it with Simone de Beauvoir, herself a noted philosopher and social critic. Sartre and de Beauvoir never married formally considering marriage to be a bourgeoie moral norm and a remnant of religion which both of them opposed.
Sartre's first work Nausea was a novel which was at once highly anti-social and fiercely individualistic, revealing some of his later existentialist ideas. He adopted the phenomenological method and applied it to several of his philosophical works of which the most famous is Being and Nothingness. In this work he opposes human consciousness as nothingness to being which is "thingness." Sartre was a defender of human dignity and freedom but also at the same time he considered all human endeavor to be useless. In later life, with Existentialism and Humanism, he began to equate freedom more with social responsibility and in his personal life he began to spend much of his time caring for the poor. He turned again in his later years to novels and especially plays such as No Exit which became famous. Politically he was an active leftist espousing Marxist causes although he turned against the Soviet Union after 1956. At that time he wrote The Problem ofMethod to revamp Marxism.
This combination of existentialism and Marxism, characteristic of Sartre, de Beauvoir and their followers had a deep impact upon French intellectual circles after the Second World War and through them upon a number of Muslims especially from North Africa who had spent their student days in France. In fact, the influence of Sartre in both literature and philosophy in modernist circles in the Islamic world is much greater than that of the German existentialist philosopher Heidegger who was, however, much more interested in questions of religion than was Sartre, who openly opposed religion as such and espoused strongly agnostic and in fact atheistic attitudes.
(Seyyed Hossein Nasr)