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  • 12/6/2003

Gabriel Marcel

(12/7/1889- 10/8/1973)

Gabriel Marcel, generally regarded as the first French existential philosopher, was born in Paris in 1889 and died there in 1973. An only child in an upper-middle class family, Marcel early excelled in his studies and demonstrated an aptitude for philosophical inquiry. Shortly after Marcel began his academic career in philosophy, World War I broke out and he served in the French Red Cross, an experience that contributed to an increasingly humanistic aspect in his philosophy. In 1919 Marcel married Jacqueline Boegner, a professor at the Schola Cantorum; they adopted a son, Jean.
From 1914 Marcel kept a series of philosophical notebooks that reveal the evolution of his thought away from traditional academic philosophy and toward one influenced by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. These notebooks were eventually published in 1927 under the title JOURNAL MÉTAPHYSIQUE. Later Marcel continued this practice of publishing directly from his journals with ÊTRE ET AVOIR (1935) and PRÉSENCE ET IMMORTALITÉ (1959). The development of Marcel's philosophy led to his embracing Catholicism in 1929. His evolving "Christian existentialism" caused, in the years following World War II, his being contrasted in the popular press with Jean-Paul Sartre and the atheistic existentialism Sartre expounded and popularized.
Following his service in World War I, Marcel's academic career became an intermittent one, as he typically earned his living as a literary critic, editor, or publisher's reader. Marcel was, in these various capacities, instrumental in making contemporary foreign literature better known in France.
From an early age Gabriel Marcel evinced a keen interest in the dramatic, inventing dialogues with imaginary siblings. He had written plays as a schoolboy, and by the early 1920s Marcel had had his plays performed. His plays often demonstrated concerns manifest in his philosophical writings, and one, LE MONDE CASSÉ (1933), is accompanied in its published version by a notable philosophical essay, "Position et Approches Concrètes du Mystère Ontologique."
Music had been an integral part of the Marcel household in his childhood, and in his adult life Gabriel Marcel was fond of piano improvisations. It was only in 1945, however, that he undertook--with the assistance of his wife--formal composition, setting down his musical interpretations of the poems of, among others, Baudelaire andRilke.
Following the death of his wife in 1947 Marcel continued to write, teach, and travel. The major international recognition Gabriel Marcel received before his death was the German Peace Prize, awarded him at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1964.

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