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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Beans and Nothingness: Sartre’s lost Cookbook

November 2, 2017
Isaac Emmerson, inspired by various creations of Sartre’s diary, explores the great Sartre’s lost cookbook.

Before he was France’s most beloved existentialist, Sartre wanted to write a cookbook that would transmute his daily bread into the radiant body of everliving life, laying to rest all notions of flavor forever. These early ambitions were unknown to scholars until 1987, when

The lost diaries of a young Sartre were found in the office of an Oregon newspaper, who revealed the news:

We have been lucky to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Apparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write “a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavour forever…’

The diary is full of small insights into the difficulties of Sartre’s pursuit, featuring cameos from Albert Camus and Malraux. Below are excerpted some of the finer entries:

October 3

Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula for a Denver omelette.

October 4

Still working on the omelette. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelettes one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelette that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

October 6

I have realized that the traditional omelette form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is still long.

October 25

I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.

The piece is available in full here. Those who enjoy it may want to see the New Yorker’s take on Jean Paul Sartre’s blog: Le Blog De Jean-Paul Sartre, which also never existed, here.

Words, Isaac Emmerson