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Anti-Racism and Existential Philosophy

An interview with Kathryn Sophia Bell

Kathryn Sophia Belle and Edward O’Byrn

Kathryn Sophia Belle’s (formerly Kathryn T. Gines’) publications engaged in this interview:

2003 (Fanon/Sartre 50 yrs) “Sartre and Fanon Fifty Years Later: To Retain or Reject the Concept of Race,” Sartre Studies International, Vol. 9, Issue 2 (2003): 55-67, https://doi.org/10.3167/135715503781800213.

2010 (Convergences) “Sartre, Beauvoir, and the Race/Gender Analogy: A Case for Black Feminist Philosophy” in Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy, pages 35-51. Eds. Maria Davidson, Kathryn T. Gines, Donna Dale Marcano. New York: SUNY, 2010.

2011 (Wright/Legacy) “The Man Who Lived Underground: Jean-Paul Sartre and the Philosophical Legacy of Richard Wright,” Sartre Studies International, Vol. 17, Issue 2 (2011): 42-59, https://doi.org/10.3167/ssi.2011.170204.

2012 (Reflections) “Reflections on the Legacy and Future of Continental Philosophy with Regard to Critical Philosophy of Race,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 50, Issue 2 (June 2012): 329-344, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2041-6962.2012.00109.x.

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Emma McNicol

The analogy Simone de Beauvoir draws between “les femmes” and “des Noirs d’Amérique” is a key part of the intersectional critique of The Second Sex. Intersectional critics persuasively argue that Beauvoir’s analogy reveals the white, middle-class identity of The Second Sex's ostensibly universal “woman”, emphasizing the fact that the text does not account for the experiences of black, Jewish, proletariat or indigenous women. In this essay, I point to multiple instances in The Second Sex in which Beauvoir endorses a coalition between workers black and white, male and female. When Beauvoir writes on economic injustice, she advocates for an inclusive workers party where racial and sexual differences become immaterial as workers come together in a collective struggle. I thus propose that Beauvoir’s Marxism is an overlooked, yet important, counterpoint to the intersectional critique of The Second Sex.

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Colonial Legacy

French Retirees in Nha Trang, Vietnam Today

Anne Raffin

Based on interviews with thirty-eight French retirees living in the seaside city of Nha Trang, Vietnam, this article queries their reasons for migrating and investigates how they make sense of their life abroad. I consider Vietnam’s historical connection with the French empire as a possible component of lifestyle migration and meaning. This small-scale study indicates that colonial memories and historical ties between France and Vietnam do influence many interviewees’ choice of place of retirement. However, for most, the personal and social amenities afforded by a tropical life in the present tend to eventually displace such memories.

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Decolonization as Existential Paradox

Lewis Gordon’s Political Commitment to Thinking Otherwise and Setting Afoot a New Humanity

Justin Fugo

This article offers a critical analysis of Euromodernity through an engagement with the Africana existentialism of Lewis R. Gordon. Drawing on Gordon’s recent work Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (Routledge, 2021) as well as Frantz Fanon, the author argues for the need to decolonize modernity by decoupling Europe and reason, freedom, knowledge, and power. Understanding what it means to be a human being involves an ongoing commitment understanding its relationship to the larger structures of reality, including social reality.

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Thomas Meagher

This article explores Sartre’s existential psychoanalysis as a phenomenological method for apprehending the fundamental project of the existent through an examination of the anonymous features of human desire. In grasping the anonymity underlying the “I want,” existential psychoanalysis seeks the meaning of freedom from a standpoint of alterity. I then analyze Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks as a work of existential psychoanalysis which hinges on his use of “sociogeny” to diagnose the alienation of Black existents. Finally, I conclude by examining the implications of a Fanonian existential psychoanalysis for anti-racism through a discussion of Michael Monahan’s critical reflections on the notion of being nonracist.

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T Storm Heter

This special issue explores how existential thinking can be a living, global force that opposes racist praxis and thought. We are used to hearing that the “heyday” of existentialism was the middle of the twentieth century. In truth, because existential thought is future-oriented, the heyday of existentialism may be yet to come.

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Hammer and Cycle

Communism’s Cycling Counterculture in Interwar France

Martin Hurcombe

This article explores the evolving relationship of the Parti Communiste Français to cycling in the interwar years. It argues that communist press coverage of the sport enriches our understanding of how the Party evolved from a marginal force in the 1920s to a mass party that had forged both an effective and affective bond with large numbers of the French working class. It examines attempts to harness and manipulate working-class enthusiasm for cycling and to project through its coverage of the sport an idealized image of the French worker. Reading sport history into the Party’s political trajectory in the interwar years reveals how the appeal to the emotions was fundamental to its evolving image as a national workers party, but also how the Party had to make accommodations between a Soviet ideal and the realities of French working-class sports culture.

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Imperial Farce?

The Coronation of Bokassa the First and the (Failed) Manufacture of Charisma

Jason Yackee

This article explores the appropriation and translation of historical notions of “empire” into the modern era through close examination of the short-lived Central African Empire, imagined and brought to life by the flamboyant Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Curiously, in an era in which the formerly colonized francophone African nations were increasingly seeking to signal rejection of their French heritage, Bokassa presented his empire as a modern corollary to the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. This article draws on original research in French and US diplomatic archives to argue that we can understand the empire as a failed attempt to manufacture charisma, approaching farce before devolving into horror.

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Mabogo Percy More

In an important article published last year (2020), Tal Sela asserts that Sartre’s contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa throughout the 1960s are overblown and overestimated. Sartre was motivated, Sela argues, by a desire for self-aggrandizement rather than by any genuine concern for the victims of apartheid racism. This article refutes those claims. In countering Sela’s arguments, I revisit in detail Sartre’s interventions denouncing the phenomenon of apartheid and establish the importance of Sartre’s tireless struggle against racism to highlight the force of his opposition to South Africa’s infamous policy and his equally firm commitment to freedom both in his philosophy and personal life.

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Elhadji Fallou Samb

Résumé: Cet article propose de comprendre la lutte contre le racisme dans laquelle Sartre s’est inlassablement engagé à partir des concepts clés de son existentialisme. Dès les premières formulations de la pensée de Sartre, la notion de liberté est à mettre en rapport avec la formule même qui résume l’existentialisme : l’existence précède l’essence. Je démontre dans cet article qu’à l’instar de son combat contre l’antisémitisme et contre la mauvaise foi de la pensée raciste, le combat de Sartre contre le racisme est construit sur l’idée que l’homme est libre de se définir et que sa race même ne saurait être un déterminisme contraignant cette liberté.

Abstract: This article will examine Sartre’s fight against racism in the light of the most basic concepts of existentialism. From its very first articulations, the notion of freedom is connected to existentialism’s founding tenet: existence precedes essence. My article demonstrates that just as in his fight against anti-Semitism and the Bad Faith of racist thinking, Sartre holds that every human being is free to determine herself and that race must never be constructed as a determinism constraining that freedom.