After an early dalliance with existentialism, Foucault is assumed to have moved away from the thought of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. As he explained in an interview with Madeline Chapsal: “We had experienced Sartre’s generation as certainly courageous and generous with a passion for life, politics, existence.... But we had discovered some- thing else, another passion: passion for the concept and for what I shall call ‘system.’”1 Of course, the career of that passion for system as well as the structuralist and poststructuralist phases through which it passed is a matter of record. But it is commonly believed that Foucault left Sartrean existentialism far behind during most of his subsequent career.
Thomas R. Flynn
After decades of separation between Sartre's philosophy and Foucault's philosophy, we are now in a position to offer an analysis free from all dogmatic presuppositions. On the basis of certain themes, such as the study of the mechanisms of power, systems of marginalization, and how subjectivity is constituted, it is now possible to create links which go beyond the sterile polemics which have so often marked French philosophy. Today, Sartre and Foucault can be re-read as two very important tool-keys for giving us a way to understand the developments arising during our time. Their personal polemic of the mid-1960s must be re-read as a mutual misunderstanding. Notwithstanding some of the acerbic remarks the two philosophers said about each other, we will see that in these same pages can be found ways of thinking, especially regarding the conception of subjectivity, which can bring together these two intellectual itineraries.
French Après quelques décennies de séparation académique entre la philosophie sartrienne et foucaldienne, nous pouvons maintenant déployer une analyse qui se détache de tous les préjugés dogmatiques. À partir de certaines thématiques particulières comme celles de l'étude des mécanismes du pouvoir, des systèmes de marginalisation, de constitution de la subjectivité, il est possible aujourd'hui de construire des liens qui dépassent les stériles polémiques qui ont souvent marqué la philosophie française. Aujourd'hui Sartre et Foucault peuvent être relus, en fait, comme deux boites-à-outils très importantes pour donner une clé de lecture des évènements marquants de l'époque contemporaine. Leur polémique personnelle du milieu des années soixante doit être relue, en effet, comme une incompréhension réciproque : malgré les échanges acerbes entre les deux philosophes, nous verrons dans ces pages que certaines considérations, surtout à propos de la conception de la subjectivité, peuvent rapprocher les deux parcours intellectuels.
Although most of the contemporary debates around subjectivity are framed by a rejection of the metaphysical subject, more time needs to be spent developing the implications of abandoning the meta-physics of constraint. Doing so provides the key to approaching our pressing problem that concerns freedom, and only once invisible, ideal "constraints" have been adequately understood will all of the contemporary puzzlement that concerns intentional resistance to power be assuaged. While Sartre does not solve the problem of freedom bequeathed to us by Foucault, it is clear that he struggled with similar issues, and that his work sheds important light on the issue of ideal constraint. Once more, on Sartre's second view, power and freedom are not mutually exclusive, and in this he advances over much contemporary liberal thought. Thus, on the approach of what would be Sartre's hundredth birthday, I invite others to take this opportune moment to reevaluate the early work of this once shining philosophical star, only recently and perhaps prematurely eclipsed by anti-humanism, and recognize that now, more than ever, Sartre's thought is relevant to our very pressing concerns.
The impetus for exploring the relationship between Sartre and Foucault may be informed more by Foucault than by Sartre, as it would seem to be geared toward a Foucauldian determination of the discursive parameters of a particular dimension of modern philosophy; that is, of the history of philosophy, including, by extension, the history of existentialism. But insofar as this determination opens up a significant dimension of the situation of philosophy today - of our situation and of the situation of existentialism - it is also Sartrean in nature, as are the effects of this determination, a determination situated somewhere between Sartre's philosophy of freedom and the freedom afforded to Foucault and to us all by the practice of philosophy, and by its future possibilities, which include the possibility "… that I do not believe a word, not one little word, of all I've just scribbled."
I believe that Sartre's theory of groups, coupled with the suppressed social ontology of BN, does provide an account of how positive and constructive social relations are possible, theoretically and practically. This explicates and makes intelligible the aspect of his concept of authentic existence that requires us to act on behalf of the freedom of all. Sartre's theory of the group does provide a basis for practical union and common effort in our social world, whereby "common" individuals can enrich their concrete freedom.
Thomas R. Flynn
“Dialectical” stands in parentheses because I wish to discuss both authors in terms of a critique of reason as such in addition to specifying the issue in terms of their respective assessments of the dialectic. But I shall first consider how each employs the term “critique.” So my remarks will focus on Critique, Reason and Dialectic in that order. Of course, each topic understandably bleeds into the others. In view of the occasion, I shall conclude with a brief sketch of four milestones along Sartre's way from Being and Nothingness to the Critique.
Let me start with an apparent aside. In the midst of his dialectical demolition of Foucault’s Histoire de la folie, in “Cogito et histoire de la folie,” Derrida argues that although Foucault wants to do an archeology of madness’s silence, an archeo-logy is a logically ordered work (465), and that even though Foucault wants to protest against reason’s sequestration of madness, “reason in the classical age” can only be brought before the tribunal of Reason in general (466), which could then rule on the unreasonableness of classical reason.
Some years ago, at a meeting of the Groupe d’études sartriennes in Paris, one of the editors made the claim that to understand Sartre one had to view him as a person who constantly measured himself against the leading lights of the past, of his age, and that at the same time, he foreshadowed the coming age. The contributions in this issue reveal the extent to which recent Sartre scholarship illustrates this point since they emphasize to what enormous degree Sartre remains pivotal to the understanding of ethical questions, postmodernism and such thinkers as Marcuse, Foucault and Fanon, but also such stellar figures from the past as Goethe and Nietzsche.
Ian Birchall, Steven Hendley, and Phyllis Morris
Noureddine Lamouchi, Jean-Paul Sartre et le tiers monde, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996, 346 pp. ISBN 2-7384-4179-3, Ffrs.180.50 Review by Ian Birchall
Thomas R. Flynn, Sartre, Foucault, and Reason in History, Volume 1: Toward an Existentialist Theory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, 340 pp., ISBN 0-226-25468-2, $18.95 (paper). Review by Steven Hendley
William L. McBride, ed., Sartre and Existentialism: Philosophy, Politics, Ethics, The Psyche, Literature, and Aesthetics, Garland Publishing. 8-volume set $583/or by volume. Toll-free (U.S.) 800-627-6273 Review by Phyllis Morris
Thomas R. Flynn
We are celebrating the centennial year of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). His death and the huge funeral cortege that spontaneously gathered on that occasion marked the passing of the last of the philosophical "personalities" of our era. Contrast, for example, his departure, which I did not witness, with that of Michel Foucault, which I did. The latter was acknowledged in a modest ceremony at the door of the Salpêtrière Hospital; his private funeral in the province was even more stark. The two passings exhibit the distinction graphically. Foucault, the most likely candidate to become Sartre's successor as reigning intellectual on the Left Bank, exited the institution that had figured in several of his books attended by a small crowd of a couple hundred, admittedly assembled without public notification, on a damp morning to hear Gilles Deleuze read a brief passage from the preface to The Uses of Pleasure. Describing philosophy as "the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself," the message had an ironically haunting Sartrean ring.