Posts Tagged 'Existentialism'

Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy

Photo by James Andanson (Apis/Sygma/Corbis).

Christina Howell‘s writes about Sartre‘s place in contemporary philosophy:

Not only did Sartre’s critics of the sixties and seventies attempt, unwittingly perhaps, to fossilize him in the classical works he had himself by then outgrown, but they did not accord those works themselves a fair reading.  The decentered subject, the rejection of a metaphysics of presence, the critique of bourgeois humanism and individualism, the conception of the reader as producer of the text’s multiple meaning, the recognition of language and thought structures as masters rather than mastered in most acts of discourse and thinking, a materialist philosophy of history as detotalized and fragmented, these are not the inventions of Lacan, Foucault, Levi-Strauss and Derrida; nor are they to be found merely in Sartre’s latter works such as the Critique (1960), Words (1966) or the Idiot of the Family (1971-1972) where it could be argued that they should be attributed to his receptivity to the major trends of his age (though the Critique of Dialectical Reason would still predate most of the French Structuralists’ major works).  The notions are, rather, present from the outset: in the Transcendence of the Ego (1936), in Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions (1940), in Nausea (1941), in Being and Nothingness (1943), and even in his most polemical theoretical work, What is Literature? (1948).  This preoccupation with the deconstruction as well as the reconstruction of the human is also to be found in the posthumously published works…(Howells, 2)

I cover some of these early writings by Sartre in a podcast with xmabaitx.

Source

Howells, Christina.  “Introdcution.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Sartre, edited by Christina Howells, 1-9.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Simone de Beauvoir and Phenomenology

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Barbara S. Andrew writes about Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and her phenomenology and views of what it is to be a woman in a male-supremacist society:

For phenomenologists, “the world” usually denotes a combination of the natural world and human relationships.  A key aspect of phenomenology is the interaction between self and world, and The Second Sex may be best understood as a work of phenomenlogy in which Beauvior examines the interaction between the gendered self and the gendered world.  The Second Sex looks at how social ideas of femininity shape women’s experiences of self.  One of the most significant aspects of The Second Sex is its encyclopedic indexing of women’s lived experience: biology, psychology, the experience of living in a female body and developing and living with a feminine mind-set.  Many contemporary women’s first reaction to reading it is that they do not experience themselves in the way Beauvior describes.  But this is to miss the point.  Most of The Second Sex is a phenomenological, descriptive analysis.  Beauvoir is not claiming that there is one way that we who are women experience ourselves, our bodies or our minds.  Instead, she describes, and argues against taking as perspective, literary representations of femininity, biological sciences’ accounts of femininity, psychoanalytic theories about femininity, and so on.  It is easy, initially, to confuse her work as participating in negative stereotypes of femininity, rather than cataloging them and analyzing their effect.  Although Beauvoir’s descriptions of women’s bodies may seem negative, Arp argues that she is describing women’s experience of bodily alienation in understanding their social bodies, that is, the body as known through the experience of a sexist world. (Andrew, 30)

Source

Barbara S. Andrew.  “Beauvior’s place in philosophical thought.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir edited by Claudia Card, 24-44.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

The Worker, Scarcity, & Violence

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

Jean-Paul Sartre writes:

Engels was right to say that very often, when two groups engage in a series of contractual exchanges, one of them will end up expropriated, proletarianised and, often, exploited, while the other concentrates the wealth in its own hands.  This takes place in violence, but not by violence: and experiencing exchange as a duel in this way is characteristic of the man of scarcity.  Though the result is appropriated in violence by the dominant class, it is not foreseen by the individuals who compose it. (Sartre, 153-154)

Source

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume I: Theory of Practical Ensembles.  Edited by Jonathan Rée Translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  London: New Left Books, 1976.

Philosophy as Totalization of Knowledge

Sartre drawing

In the introduction to Critique of Dialectical Reason (which in America was published separately as Search for a Method) Sartre wrote:

If philosophy is to be simultaneously a totalization of knowledge,, a method, a regulative Idea, an offensive weapon, and a community of language, if this “vision of the world” is also an instrument which ferments rotten societies, if this particular conception of a man or of a group of men becomes the culture and sometimes the nature of a whole class-then it is very clear that the periods of philosophical creation are rare…If this movement on the part of the philosophy no longer exists, one of two things is true: either the philosophy is dead or it is going through a “crisis.” In the first case there is no question of revising, but of razing a rotten building; in the second case the “philosophical crisis” is the particular expression of a social crisis, and its immobility is conditioned by the contradictions which split society.  A so-called “revision,” performed by “experts,” would be, therefore, only an idealist mystification without real significance.  It is the very movement of History, the struggle of men on all planes and on all levels of human activity, which will set free captive thought and permit it to attain its full development. (Sartre, 6-8)

Source

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  Search for a Method.  Translated by Hazel E. Barnes.  New York: Vintage Books, 1968.

Sartrean Structuralism?

Sartre with Coffee

Peter Caws writes that Jean-Paul Sartre was not as opposed to structuralism as the media made him out to be:

Even in the Marxist period, though, the period of overt criticism, there is evidence of Sartre’s convergence with Structuralism.  Marxism, along with psychoanalysis, literary theory, history, and anthropology, was of course one of the recognized domains of Structuralism in its moment of glory, though, as we shall see, this is not as significant a fact as we might at first be tempted to think.  As far as that goes it should be noted that Sartre has some claim to contributions in each of these other fields as well: existential psychoanalysis; What Is Literature?; the long preoccupation with history in the Critique and the third volume of the Flaubert; the “structural anthropology” of Search for a Method.  This last looks like a clear candidate for a Structuralism of his own, and under some reserve I shall accept it as part of an eventual package.  The reserve derives from two observations: “anthropology” here does not mean Levi-Strauss’s discipline but rather what has come to be called “philosophical anthropology,” while “structural” turns out to be structurelle rather than structurale; if this contrast of suffixes is construed as parallel to Heidegger’s usage (of existentiell in opposition to existential) we would have to read Sartre’s “structural” as connoting activity rather than system. (Caws, 294-295)

Source

Caws, Peter, “Sartrean Structuralism?” in The Cambridge Companion to Sartre edited by Christina Howells.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.


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