Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55: Every day during this exhibition at the tate Gallery, The Independent is running a short extract from letters, reportage and diaries of the period

I took your advice and read Les Temps Modernes from cover to cover (the only thing I skipped was the Andre Masson) well I agree with you that it's terribly good. Especially the piece by Dr Cohen; but the rest too, especially the Beckett. I also very much like la Nausee (except for the title) I read it all through very carefully and I shall read it again (to squeeze this particular lemon dry). I still haven't managed to get a very clear idea of what existentialism actually is, what its basic principles are, where it in fact belongs. Every so often I get a kind of fleeting glimmer of understanding and then once again darkness descends on me. I'm planning on asking you to enlighten me. But I know you'll only give me a laconic answer. You're often so laconic] Nevertheless, I feel and I declare myself to be enthusiastically existentialist, of that I'm sure, I have a positive presentiment of it, even if I only have a very vague idea of what it's all about, although I have enough of one to subscribe to it, and I'm sure it's going to turn out to be one of those doctrines that must be espoused rather than understood or even conceived of, and in any case espoused first of all. Besides, in every doctrine baptism precedes catechism. It's quite some time after baptism that people try to reach a definition and no one ever manages to reach a definition. The very fact of looking for a definition means that things are beginning to cool off. . .

Extract from a letter to Jean Paulhan from Jean Dubuffet published in Paulhan's A Travers Les Peintres, 1974, translated here by Barbara Wright.

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September.

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