The years of political and social despair in France-from the great depression through the Nazi occupation, Resistance, and liberation, to the Algerian War-forced French intellectuals to rethink the values of their culture. Their faltering attempts to break out of a psychological impasse are the subject of this thoughtful and compassionate book by a distinguished American historian. In this first treatment of contemporary French thought to bridge philosophy, literature, and social science and to show its relation to comparable thinking in Germany, Britain, and the United States. Hughes also assesses the work of other writers in terms of their emotional biography and role in society.
Hughes found those who struggled to find meaning and purpose amid chaos to be among the most brilliant minds of their century. They included the social historians Bloch and Febvre; the Catholic philosophers Maritain and Marcel; the proponents of heroism Martin du Gard, Bernanos, Saint-Exupery, Malraux, and DeGaulle; and the phenomenologists Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. They also included the strangely assorted trio of Camus, Teilhard de Chardin, and Levi-Strauss, who showed the way to a wider cultural community. Yet in nearly every case these scholars achieved something quite different from what they set out to do. For this self-questioning generation, the interchange between history and anthropology became most compelling and of greatest interest to the world outside.
The Obstructed Path blends H. Stuart Hughes' concern for the many ways in which historians define and practice their craft, his lifelong interest in literature, his fascination with the influence of Marx and Freud, and his empathy with the varieties of Christian thought. It also demonstrates his delicate grasp of singular personalities such as Bernanos, Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre and Levi-Strauss. His profound insight into the flaws of many elaborate philosophical constructions, and into the core of deep emotions, bold images, and searing passions that were often hidden in them, bring us close to these thinkers and makes this an enduring work.