Being and Nothingness is, more often than not, considered to be the Bible of Existentialism. Jean Paul Sartre has used this philosophy to narrate to his audience the existential way of life, which explains to an individual that our life is not a result of the way we think, our actions, or the way we feel. Rather, it begins with the human being itself. The impact of existentialism has had a large, and extremely profound impact, on the subjects of philosophy, psychology, art and literature. Summary of the Book Being and Nothingness has played a very crucial role in many aspects of our lives since the twentieth century. Sartre has managed to explain, in many ways and forms, the existential way of living, and how the human being is responsible for his own actions in every way. Though existentialism is a term that has been difficult and vast to define, Sartre has explained, using different situations, how the bodily being is the cause for itself. He has termed this as ‘ens causa sui’, which literally means ‘a being that causes itself’. He begins with the topic of Negation. He explains that negation is the feeling of 'nothingness' when what we expect to see in a given moment does not happen or exist during that given time. Non-being has always appeared within the limits of human expectation. Chapter two explains the existence of ‘Bad Faith’. One should not define himself or herself by the work that they do in their social lives. This constantly steers us from being what we actually are, i.e. human, and morphs us into the person we are portraying ourselves to be in our social environment. This is Bad Faith. Enlighten yourself with Sartre’s philosophy of 'The Look'. We all want to know and appreciate ourselves. We know ourselves better than anyone else. Yet, we look at ourselves from another person’s eye. We define ourselves by what a different individual, who has no physical connection with our being, thinks of us. We make ourselves their subject, and define ourselves using ‘the look’ of the other. He even goes on to explain the role of ‘the look’ in the act of sex. Intercourse is seen as an attempt to bring the body and conscious mind together. This may be done by bringing forth the conscious mind of the partner through gestures like caressing and kissing, but upon reaching orgasm, the being is back into itself, and the merging of the bodily being and the consciousness will only be an illusion. Sartre’s definition of Nothingness is very apt for the way each of us bodily beings live our lives today. We tend to portray our state of being through our conscious choices. Subjectivity has limited our choices, and framed how we must live our lives. In this way, we become unconscious actors - Doctors, Writers, Frenchmen, Indians, Party Members – whichever role we wish to represent or act. On the topic of Phenomenological Ontology, Sartre gives his opinion that the consciousness is actually ‘self-consciousness’. This sets aside the common idea of what consciousness is, and insists that the consciousness is constantly conscious of itself. As a result, the human conscious is always conscious of its surrounding and its physical self, and that the conscious is transparent. In other words, the conscious is basically self-conscious, and can be recognized as an activity of the brain to keep the bodily being constantly aware of their surrounding and oneself. About Jean Paul Sartre Jean Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He is recognized as one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology. He was also one of the leading figures in the 20th century French philosophy and Marxism. His works have influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies. His relationship with the well-known feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir is also known. Sartre was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in the year 1964 which he refused. He firmly believed that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.”
Being and Nothingness is without doubt one of the most significant books of the twentieth century. The central work by one of the world's most influential thinkers, it altered the course of western philosophy. Its revolutionary approach challenged all previous assumptions about the individual's relationship with the world. Known as 'the Bible of existentialism', its impact on culture and literature was immediate and was felt worldwide, from the absurd drama of Samuel Beckett to the soul-searching cries of the Beat poets.
Being and Nothingness is one of those rare books whose influence has affected the mind-set of subsequent generations. Sixty years after its first publication, its message remains as potent as ever - challenging the reader to confront the fundamental dilemmas of human freedom, responsibility and action.
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