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Book Review

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment

Thomas Meagher

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), 303 pp., $44 (paperback), ISBN: 9781538157046

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Constance L. Mui and T Storm Heter

Readers will recall that we devoted a special issue to anti-Black racism in 2021, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which gained momentum following the 2020 murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in Louisville and Minneapolis. The present issue continues to address the problem of racism from a Sartrean perspective, with an interview of the pioneering Black Existentialist thinker Lewis R. Gordon, followed by articles that take up related themes in freedom and oppression.

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Existential Philosophy and Antiracism

An Interview with Lewis R. Gordon

T Storm Heter

Lewis R. Gordon is Professor of Philosophy (and Head of the Department of Philosophy) at the University of Connecticut. His two most recent books are Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (New York: Routledge, 2020) and Fear of Black Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022). Since his first monograph, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (1995), Gordon’s many writings have challenged Sartre scholars to move beyond narrowly Euro-centric ideas of reason, humanity, and existence. The existential philosophy pioneered in Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (a revision of Gordon’s 1993 Ph. D. dissertation), placed the issue of antiracism at the heart of the study of existence. A prolific and highly visible philosopher, Gordon’s writings have inspired an explosion of interest in Africana Existentialism, an open-ended, creolizing philosophy. In the interview below, Gordon outlines the existential situations that face us today. How is human liberation possible given the soul-killing forces of white supremacy, capitalism, and ongoing colonization? Gordon insists on the importance of antiracist institution building, including the transformation of white spaces, especially in academic journals, at conferences, and in university philosophy departments. Importantly, Gordon reminds us that Sartre was one of the few European writers to offer “a genuine engagement with Black intellectuals.” Like Sartre’s famous assertion that “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Gordon’s message is that Black Existentialism is a Humanism. Challenging the Euro-centric notion that human existence is an abstract, color-less category, Gordon teaches us a new way of thinking and listening. Misguided by parochial notions of human reason, many white (and/or non-Black) philosophers have closed their minds and ears to the calls of Black liberation, thinking they have nothing at stake, or that they must remain mere “allies.” Gordon’s work shows us a different path: Black liberation is a universal ethical injunction. Existential philosophy dissolves the supposed contradiction between action and theory, between universal and concrete, between ally and freedom fighter. Done properly, existential philosophy is, in Gordon’s words, “a form of epistemological decolonial practice.”

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The Look as a Call to Freedom

On the Possibility of Sartrean Grace

Sarah Horton

While the traditional understanding of the look views it in terms of shame and oppression, I read Sartre’s Notebooks for an Ethics with Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity to argue that the look always gives me the world and inaugurates my freedom. Even the oppressor’s look reveals that I am free and that my existence is conditioned by the existence of other free beings. Because the look gives me the world as the arena within which I act freely, it is a means of grace, and receiving it only in shame is bad faith. Although my existence remains unjustifiable and this grace cannot promise salvation, the look calls me out of shame to the pursuit of my and others’ freedom, and this call is a gift.

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Edward O’Byrn

This paper examines Angela Davis’s 1969 Lectures on Liberation and her critique of Jean-Paul Sartre’s views regarding freedom and enslaved agency. Across four sections, the paper etches out Davis’s response to what she calls Sartre’s ‘notorious statement’ through her own existential reading of Frederick Douglass’s resistance to chattel slavery. Instead of interpreting Davis’s existential insights through the work of Sartre or other Western continental philosophers, the paper engages Lewis Gordon, George Yancy, Frank Kirkland, and LaRose Parris to develop an alternative frame for assessing Davis’s existential thinking. Embracing a diverse lineage of existential philosophy, the paper argues for Black-centered approaches to existential philosophy that resonate with, but are not reducible or indebted to, European existentialism.

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Sartre and Camus

In/Justice and Freedom in the Algerian Context

Ouarda Larbi Youcef

On July 5, 2021, Algeria celebrated the fifty-ninth anniversary of her independence. The eight-year war, which broke out on November 1, 1954, cost the country much blood and resulted in 1.5 million deaths. This article looks at this page of history. My objective is to show why the Algerians took up arms, and to reexamine the conflict between the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and the Algeria-born philosopher Albert Camus in light of the War of Independence. I argue that the friendship between the two philosophers can be seen as one casualty of this war, a friendship that had no chance of surviving given their different approaches to justice. Whereas for Sartre, justice was in no manner exclusive of freedom; for Camus, it was all that the Arabs needed, any demand for freedom being solely the work of a few militants “without any political culture.”

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Shuchen Xiang

This paper argues that Sinophobia and its relationship to American imperialism can be understood through Jean-Paul Sartre’s analysis of anti-Semitism, which is characterized by an evasive attitude. Under this attitude, the bivalent values of good and evil are pre-existing ontological properties such that the agent promotes the good insofar as she destroys evil. This evasive attitude can also be seen in the economy of the American empire. Revenue for the which exists through undermining the economies of non-pliant states, selling weapons and a disaster-capitalist industry that profits from the chaos that is created. The idea that the states to be imperialized are bivalent others both motivates and justifies this behavior whereby the agent evades self-critique and the need to cultivate her own value.

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Charles William Johns and Marcos A. Norris

Cox, Gary, How to Be an Existentialist: Or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses, (London: Bloomsbury, 2020) 144 pp. ISBN 9781350068988 £9.99 (paperback).

Wicks, Robert L. Introduction to Existentialism: From Kierkegaard to The Seventh Seal. (London: Bloomsbury, 2020) 240 pp. ISBN 9781474272520 £21.59 (paperback).

French and Italian Stoicisms: From Sartre to Agamben. Edited by Kurt Lampe and Janae Sholtz. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 237 pp. ISBN 978-1-3500-8203-8 (hardcover).

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Certainty as Insanity

Lacanian Misrecognition and Sartrean Bad Faith

Constance De Meulder

Abstract

I examine the Lacanian concept of misrecognition (méconnaissance) by comparing it with the Sartrean notion of bad faith (mauvaise foi). I focus on Jacques Lacan's 1946 article ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ in which Lacan criticises organicist psychology for misrecognising the cause of madness to be essentially organic and consequently failing to distinguish between ‘mad’ and ‘true’ ideas. I argue that bad faith, discussed by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness in 1943—and referred to six times in the Écrits by Lacan—has essential similarities with misrecognition in the Lacanian sense. By juxtaposing these concepts, I argue that this early Lacanian text is marked by an existentialist attitude which views human reality—and madness—as meaningful and grounded in being.

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Alfred Betschart

François Noudelmann, Un tout autre Sartre (Paris: Gallimard, 2020), 206 pp. ISBN 978-2-07-288710-9. €18/e-book €13.