Sipping Whiskey in Memphis

A Conversation Between Robert Bernasconi and Jonathan Judaken on Racism and Existentialism

in Sartre Studies International
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  • 1 Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies, Pennsylvania State University, USA
  • | 2 Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities, Professor of History, Rhodes College, USA
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Robert Bernasconi (RB): Jonathan, to get us started, tell me about your background and what brought you to focus on the intersections of existentialism and racism?

Jonathan Judaken (JJ): Well, I grew up in a Jewish family in Johannesburg in Apartheid South Africa. And I think all of those very specific facets of my upbringing are important to the trajectory of my work. My work has been a process of unthinking and dismantling and coming to terms with a past, a family, a legacy that very much defines who I am. I'm attempting to understand myself within the broader frameworks within which I grew up. I left South Africa permanently when I was twelve. This was in the immediate aftermath of the Soweto Riots that were steered by the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa, under the leadership of Steve Biko, a thinker whose framework is so clearly influenced by existentialism.

Contributor Notes

Robert Bernasconi is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He specializes is Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Continental Philosophy, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Social and Political Philosophy. Bernasconi is the author of Heidegger in Question: The Art of Existing (Humanities Press, 1993), How to Read Sartre, (Norton, 2007) and co-editor of Race, Hybridity, and Miscegenation (Thoemmes, 2005), Race and Anthropology (Thoemmes, 2003), Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy (Indiana University Press, 2003), The Cambridge Companion to Levinas (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Jonathan Judaken is the Spence L. Wilson Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. Judaken's research focuses on representations of Jews and Judaism, race and racism, existentialism, and post-Holocaust French Jewish thought. He is the author of Jean-Paul Sartre and ‘the Jewish Question’: Anti-antisemitism and the Politics of the French Intellectual (University of Nebraska Press, 2006), and co-editor of Race After Sartre: Antiracism, Africana Existentialism, Postcolonialism (SUNY Press, 2008), Situating Existentialism: Key Texts in Context (Columbia University Press, May 2012) and The Albert Memmi Reader (University of Nebraska Press, 2021).

Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture