Friday, April 10, 2015

I = Intelligentsia and Existentialism, French Faves - A to Z Challenge

Paris was the centre of learning in the western world in the mid-nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

Palais de la Cité with the Sainte Chapelle rising above the rooftops c. 1400

I = Intelligentsia (and Existentialism)

Intelligentsia: A class of intellectuals regarded as possessing culture and political initiative.

The history of Paris, France, goes back over 10,000 years, during which the city grew from a small mesolithic settlement to the largest city, and capital of, France. It also developed into a center of art, medicine, science, culture and high finance.

The Greater Journey,* by David McCullough, is an engaging story of the many adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others aspiring to increase their knowledge who set off for Paris. The time was between 1830 and 1900. These same visitors took new ideas and a broadened sense of the world home with them when they returned.

*My review of The Greater Journey



Four men: Kierkegaard-Dostoyevsky-Nietzsche-Sartre

(in image following, read L-R, and upper to lower)

Existentialists: Kierkegaard-Dostoyevsky-Nietzsche-Sartre

Existentialism: A theory emphasizing the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent isolated in a deterministic world. Or expressed more simply: Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice.  The belief is that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe.

The theory originated with 19th Century philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzche, even though neither used the term in their writing.  In the 1940s and 50s, French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir wrote fictional works that popularized existential themes. I have read some of the fiction of all three writers, but none of their philosophy. I have read all of de Beauvoir's novels. The existential themes were dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment and nothingness. (sounds like the basis for a futuristic novel)

There are many who do not agree with Existentialism and find fault with how this philosophy is explained. Is it for us who live in a different time to make our judgement of philosophers and thinkers of that time? I think not.  We can educate ourselves about the paradigms of an era, but we cannot understand that time unless we ourselves experienced it. 


Café de Flore

Café de Flore, Paris, by DG Hudson

At 172, boulevard Saint Germain, Paris, Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magot, nearby, served many of the famous intellectuals who formed the intelligentsia in Paris. It was in these two bistros/coffee houses that the pro and cons of philosophy were discussed and ideas for novels developed. Even Juliette Greco was here.  


Did you know about Existentialism? Have you read The Greater Journey? Did you know so many Americans sought knowledge in France? Have you heard of or know about The Café Flore or Les Deux Magots?

Please leave a comment to let me know you stopped by, and if you are part of the A to Z Challenge. I'll be sure to check your blog, and reciprocate. If you're not in the challenge, thanks for stopping by to visit! I try to reply to all comments.


The A to Z Blog Challenge is brainchild of Lee, at Tossing It Out.  Please visit the A to Z blog site to find out more information and the participant list.  There are also Twitter and Facebook presences if you want to check those!

*** History of Paris



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