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The Story I Tell Myself: A Venture in Existentialist Autobiography 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1422679878
ISBN-10: 0226037320
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Barnes first made Sartre and the French Existentialist movement available to American readers with her translation of Being and Nothingness (1956). Here she provides an engaging autobiography that spans not only her self-identified period of "flourishing" (1948-86) but virtually all the 20th century. With the clarifying approach she has brought to her scholarly works (e.g., Sartre and Flaubert, LJ 9/1/81), she reveals her autobiography as "a faithful copy of the 'I' that my consciousness formed." Barnes begins her story with her immediate ancestors (British and Danish, at home in small-town Pennsylvania, where the author was born in 1915) and progresses through childhood, college (where she became a Classicist), her professional career (which included Ohio State University and the University of Colorado), and her relationships with colleagues, students, prisoners, and her female companion of 40 years. This stellar work belongs in all libraries.?Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

The translation of Sartre's Being and Nothingness into English in 1955 was the first and perhaps most notable achievement of Barnes's long and scholarly career, on which she reflects in this autobiography. In tracing her career, she provides critical insight into the evolution of her own embrace of existentialism, the acceptance of challenge as the fertile ground of individual choice, as well as ``the experience of women who chose to pursue careers in the period between Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan.'' Barnes traces her early fundamentalist Christian background and the way in which it naturally led to her interest in philosophy and ethics. This existentialist autobiography expresses her life as the natural outcome of an ongoing involvement with a philosophy that spoke not only to contemporary issues (racism, existential feminism, the right to die) but also to her own need to decry cynicism, to designate ``a legitimate goal for ethics,'' to exalt in what Sartre saw as the right to difference as one of the ingredients of commonality. Barnes describes poignantly the important intellectual trends that have captivated academia over the last four decades. With acrobatic flexibility, she expounds on Sartre and de Beauvoir, on deconstruction, on teaching as a career, and on life in Boulder, Colo. Her views of today's students are insightful, and her humane reflections on relationships (gay and otherwise) and aging are soothing, considering how far into the storm of philosophical life she has gazed. Barnes challenged every aspect of the life expected of her. She never married and has had a single female companion for most of her adult life. She has lived intimately with the universal questions of our century without losing sight of the stuff of daily life. While often overly detailed and at times academic, her autobiography does provide an intimate record of our times and of the ongoing issues that challenge us to define ourselves over and over again. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226037320
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226037325
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By K. C. Thompson on February 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
A brilliantly written autobiography by an academic, who leaves her conservative Christian upbringing to discover that one can bring meaning and "significance" to one's life without the security and structure of organized religion. Written with wit and charm, she takes us on her own journey past the nihilistic despair that often is associated with existentialism, to a wonderful place that is tender and life-affirming. Her last chapter, reflecting on aging and mortality, may be her best. It may not be an easy read, but Hazel Barnes tells her story without a hint of academic hubris. A must read for anyone wrestling with the angst, it is a privileged peek into the life and mind of an extraordinary human being.
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Hazel Barnes did more than introduce a wider public to existentialism: she took the philosophy to heart and put it to use. Her remarkable book, The Story I Tell Myself: A Venture in Existentialist Autobiography, completed when she was eighty, is an autobiography that has as much to say about modern American life. The esteemed author speaks from the viewpoint of a scholar who lived by her lectures and practiced what she published.

While never the craze that it was in France, existentialism eventually found a following here and elsewhere thanks in large part to Barnes' English translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's Being And Nothingness. To the young university professor, "this thing called Existentialism" was hardly a philosophy of despair; on the contrary, Sartre's early work had a positive effect on her. His was a philosophy that spoke to her directly, a means to a "revelatory validation" that made freedom and "feminism a natural consequence."

As Barnes herself admits, the action begins in Chapter 5. Here she describes how she landed the translation serendipitously. Having accepted her request to write a book on existentialism, Philosophical Library in turn suggested she translate Sartre's tome. Looking back on the effort she holds some misgivings and wished she had been afforded "more time for checking." Barnes notes that although Philosophical Library was neither respectable nor generous, the publisher allowed her to quote from the book in perpetuity (as would Sartre in the French).
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As a recently retired professor of philosophy, with a long teaching interest in Sartre although my main focus was elsewhere, I found Hazel Barnes's "autobiography" fascinating. Not so much for the details of her life, although those were interesting enough, as for her observations on her experiences as a teacher, and on the nature of "retiring" and aging.
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Format: Hardcover
A very original autobiography and a demonstration of self-understanding and existential psychoanalysis at its best.

A very useful read for all who look for new ways in self-understanding and psychoanalysis.
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What is the exact need of academics to write their autobiographies? Case in Point: Hazel Barnes. An academic who was the first to provide a faithful translation of Sartre, she also wrote an excellent little study, An Existentialist Ethics. If she had left it at that, she might have been left with a nice little intellectual legecy, albeit, a mostly anomymous one as her books go out of print and more precise translations of Sartre become available. But she has to write her autobiography, and if there ever was a useless tome, this is surely it. Though well written, the reader will quickly come to the conclusion that there is nothing really to write about, nothing that couldn't have been captured in a magazine article for the New Yorker or the American Scholar, that is. I found it a surprise that she was, indeed, an existentialst, for she is surely among the most repressed people on the face of the earth. Not the stuff of existential heroism and certainly not the stuff to charge a person $20.00 or so dollars to read.
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