Tuesday, February 16, 2016

No Exit and Three Other Plays

by Jean-Paul Sartre

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • The fascinating ideas. It's all about that, really.
  • Although I found most of them surprisingly entertaining in their own right as well,  There was some well done creepiness and tragedy and even characters.

And Why You Might Not:
  • These are existentialist plays, and every one is depressing.
  • Did I mention depressing?

Thoughts: This is not the kind of book I usually review on this blog, and frankly, I'm not quite sure how to go about this. I want to be able to discuss the ideas of freedom and individualism and meaningfulness and all that, and I think I could under different circumstances (namely, in person as opposed to written). But though I had the beginnings of many interesting thoughts, I feel totally inadequate writing about something as famous and philosophical as this without experience or training or university philosophy courses. So I suppose I'm just going to do what I always do and write a couple random notes about a couple random things that influenced my enjoyment, and ignore any in-depth analysis.

--"No Exit": the origin of the "hell is other people" quote. Some of the ideas I got from this reminded me of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis (an awesome book, and rather influential for me). Of course, unlike TGD, "No Exit" doesn't discuss heaven or goodness or anything not depressing. But both get across the idea that it's one's own pettiness and pride and sinfulness that makes it hell, more than anything else.

--"The Flies": A retelling of the Greek myth of Electra. I really enjoyed the creepiness. Flies are terribly creepy creatures when used properly. And Zeus was very creepy. I suspect Sartre was intending to critique religion, and especially Catholicism, the religion of his country, with Zeus and the town's relationship to him. But even as a Catholic I found it a fascinating and mostly truthful critique of wrong worship, rather than Christian worship in general. This is the one that most made me want to expound on interesting philosophical ideas. It was full of interesting quotes on guilt and repentance, on horrible but necessary freedom.

--"Dirty Hands": Hoederer was by far my favourite part. He was extremely likeable, in sharp contrast to every other character in every one these plays. (Also I kept saying his name like Hodor from GoT, which amused me a lot because Hoederer is so quick thinking and eloquent and Hodor...yeah.) Hugo was quite annoying, although I'm thinking that might have been intentional. And like pretty much all the other women in all the plays, I didn't like Jessica much. Too... I'm not sure, flighty, I guess? (The main exception was Inez from "No Exit", whom I found quite interesting. Also, I wonder how much Hoederer's attitude toward women reflected Sartre's? Possibly not at all, but I'd be interested in researching that.)

--"The Respectful Prostitute": I don't have much to say about this one. It was about racism and was sad and depressing. He got across well a horrible feeling of being unable to fix events that should be so easily fixable if people just didn't choose the wrong option.

In short, I think I actually have a certain fondness for existentialist works, at least ones that are in a shorter format, like plays and short stories. The shortness makes it more pointed, which works well for me. And depressing things, if short and well-written, intrigue me.

Grade: 4 stars

If You Like This, You Might Also Like: This isn't exactly my standard fare, but here goes:
--The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis: if you liked "No Exit", you might like this. See my discussion of it above. It has Lewis's usual gift of making goodness seem terribly attractive and evil boring and completely undesirable. (Much better done than in "No Exit", where the people in hell were still fairly interesting.)
--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard: because it's also an existentialist play, although very different in tone than Sartre's, being much, much funnier and not half as depressing.

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