I loved At the Existentialist Cafe. Perhaps it’s a Paris thing, perhaps it’s a cocktail thing, who knows. Who cares? It’s a pop history of Existentialism, along with the author’s reactions when she went back and re-read many of the seminal works on existentialism.
I’ve never read any Sartre or de Beauvoir (but I have read some Camus), and here’s what I learned.
Existentialism isn’t the depressing, disaffected Camus of The Stranger. It’s not black turtlenecks and sitting in cafés staring at your coffee, contemplating the meaning of life. The meaning of life is existing and getting out into the world, thinking about your experiences and your relationships with the people around you. You are nothing without the people around you and how you relate to them. Don’t sit back and expect things to happen! Make them happen! Be a part of the world.
I loved that message. I love it even more for not having to read Being and Nothingness and still learn something about it.
This version of existentialism is also totally applicable to the world we live in now: what are your circumstances? What can you do in those circumstances? What do you feel? How does it make you feel? What can you effect? Changing yourself changes your relation to the world, changing your relations to the world changes the world.
Anyway, go forth and be a part of things. You’ll make a difference.