This special issue of Sartre Studies International represents a selection of the papers presented at a conference held on the 30th and 31st of January 2015 at the Maison Française d’Oxford. Called ‘Thinking with Sartre Today/Penser avec Sartre aujourd’hui’, the bilingual conference with participants from across the world provided a forum for scholars studying Sartre in diverse intellectual milieux to dialogue fruitfully and forge new connections.
As well as presentations focusing closely on Sartre’s texts, we welcomed new approaches to Sartre which took his thought as a starting point to engage current issues – literary and philosophical but also political, religious, psychological. It has not been possible to publish all the conference papers here – nearly 40 were presented. But the articles that follow provide an excellent demonstration of the ways that Sartre – himself proficient in an enormous variety of intellectual domains and textual genres – continues to provoke readers from fields within and beyond philosophy and literature.
In her contribution, Juliette Simont reads the possibility of a deep Kantian filiation in certain of Sartre’s writings where ethics is concerned. She traces how Sartre initially shares some of Kant’s ethical views, and how he later departs from Kant by re-inscribing ethics in history. At first concentrating on philosophical texts, Simont goes on to show the way in which Sartre’s contemporaneous literary and dramatic pieces push the limits of his philosophical formalisations, where laughter becomes, in Simont’s productive reading, the existential experience of freedom and contingency in history itself.
Jean-François Louette argues that although Sartre remains inspired by ‘journalistic reason’ he also submits it to critique. With Le Sursis, says Louette, Sartre the novelist operates in neither the historical genre nor the journalistic, influenced by reportage. Rather, Louette shows how Sartre suggests an ironic subversion of historical and journalistic novels, and how he elaborates from his criticisms of them, combined with other diverse interests (for example, in cinema), a singular literary writing.
The articles by John Gillespie and Alexis Chabot both offer explorations of Sartre’s renowned but underexplored atheism. Gillespie argues that Sartre’s use of the imagery and language of ‘the death of God’ shows that Sartre, although atheist, continued to be ‘haunted’ by God. Chabot likewise problematises Sartre’s atheism, arguing that some of Sartre’s words – in particular his description of atheism as ‘cruel’ – have become too famous. Chabot writes that there is ‘a long path of possibility between the death of God and atheism’. Reflecting on this path of possibility shows us that atheism is a horizon of Sartre’s thought rather than its starting point.
Esther Demoulin surveys Sartre’s approach to dialogue, which is considered from a theoretical angle and in the form of a close study of Sartre’s prose. By delineating Sartre’s use of the dialogue-form from its use by a number of other writers, Demoulin sheds new light, for instance, on Sartre’s famous criticism of the unfreedom of Mauriac’s characters. Her insistence on the ‘pâteux’ in Sartrean dialogue in particular demonstrates the striking originality of Sartre’s prose style.
Chiara Collamati’s article confronts André Gorz’s influential critique of labour with Sartre’s approach to alienation. Insisting in particular on Sartre’s notion of ‘need’, Collamati demonstrates the possibilities that Sartre’s Critique opens up for an ethics of praxis that eschews the pitfalls of an essentialising view of ‘pre-alienated’ human nature and needs.
Gregory Cormann and Jérôme Englebert, in their jointly authored piece, provide astute insight into Sartre’s elaboration of the notion of ‘situation’. To do so, they carry out a double reading. On the one hand, they operate an archaeology of the Sartrean situation and trace its origins well before Sartre’s (second) reading of Heidegger during the Phoney War or even his reading of Husserl. They then also delineate the evolution of the notion in the 1950s in the conceptualisation of the progressive-regressive method.
Finally, Patrick Eldridge provides a ‘quasi-forensic’ presentation of Sartre’s theory of memory. In particular, he collects evidence from Sartre’s early texts, focusing on the complex temporal structures that memory involves for Sartre. His comparison of Roland Barthes’s notion of punctum and Sartre’s description of memory as consciousness, as Eldridge puts it, ‘mired in its own past’ presents an innovative rapprochement of two thinkers too often considered almost completely at odds with one another.
It is our hope that in and through this collection readers will discover stimulating new possibilities for thinking with Sartre – today.
Ârash Aminian Tabrizi