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Intellectual PTSD?


Most people think existentialism is a dark, dour, and depressing philosophy, but I have always found its emphasis on absurdity and self-determination to be refreshing.  Because I read most of the classic books on this subject years ago, I no longer look for additional books.  However, I find myself reading Left Bank by Agnes Poirier about “Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris 1940-50.”

Paris was the birthplace of existentialism, parented by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  The book described their life before the German invasion, during the occupation, and following liberation of the “city of lights.”  While their suffering during occupation is trivial compared to the soldiers on both sides, there was a different type of suffering – a type of suffering unique to intellectuals, who tend to be overly-sensitive and self-involved.  War does different things to different people.

The darkness of existentialism and its preoccupation with death should not be surprising, maybe a form of intellectual PTSD.  One comment by Simone de Beauvoir seemed to say it best, comparing their memory of war to holding a rotting corpse in their arms.  Of course, all other concerns seem absurd, compared to that memory.  And, self-determination does permit a person to drop the corpse and move on with their own life.

While I appreciate the author’s effort, because it does capture so much detail about the development of existentialism, I do not recommend the book to normal people, as it is a fountain of irrelevant names and details.  Sadly, she also missed the opportunity to discuss post-war Paris as the birthplace of the “free love” movement.

Normal, healthy people should stick with reading textbooks on economics . . .

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