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  • 1 Ulster University, UK
  • 2 Mansfield College, Oxford University, UK

If Descartes’ soul was always thinking, Sartre's soul (if we may put it this way) was always not just thinking but putting those thoughts on paper. It is an indication of the enormous fertility of his thinking and writing across many decades that we continue to find food for our own thinking and writing in the whole span of his philosophical works, from his books on the imagination to his reflections on Marxism, as this issue of Sartre Studies International exemplifies. And in a year in which we seem to have rediscovered the value of dialogue with others, many of the contributions to this issue exemplify that value as well: we see here Sartre in dialogue with Husserl, with Beauvoir, with Badiou, and with Lacan.

If Descartes’ soul was always thinking, Sartre's soul (if we may put it this way) was always not just thinking but putting those thoughts on paper. It is an indication of the enormous fertility of his thinking and writing across many decades that we continue to find food for our own thinking and writing in the whole span of his philosophical works, from his books on the imagination to his reflections on Marxism, as this issue of Sartre Studies International exemplifies. And in a year in which we seem to have rediscovered the value of dialogue with others, many of the contributions to this issue exemplify that value as well: we see here Sartre in dialogue with Husserl, with Beauvoir, with Badiou, and with Lacan.

First, Di Huang delicately untangles the threads of thinking which anchor Husserl's and Sartre's different conceptions of the ‘quasi-presence’, or quasi-bodily presence, which characterises our lived experience of imagination. He argues, however, that their different interpretations of this phenomenon, Husserl's within a ‘fulfilment-oriented’ theory of the imagination, Sartre's within a ‘possession-oriented’ theory, are complementary rather than contradictory, and points the way toward a possible integration of the two.

In recent years there has been growth in a previously neglected area of Sartre studies, namely his relation to God and religion. Daniel O'Shiel, taking account of this scholarship, advances a novel interpretation that Sartre's ontology in Being and Nothingness contains three different concepts of God: God as Nature, God as radical Otherness, and God as Absolute Value. He then uses Sartre's concept of the imaginary to explain how these concepts take on anthropomorphised forms in popular religions, maintaining that Sartre's three existential and dynamic concepts of God, in their philosophical form, are infinitely preferable to dogmatic religions that cause conflict and strife, and that they form a basis on which to build a moral and humane society.

Next, Mary Edwards provides new insights into how Sartre's mature work can be a fruitful source for the feminist debate on the role of the imagination in women's psychological oppression. Outlining his masculinist bias in Being and Nothingness, she shows how he moves to follow the Beauvoirian notion of the ‘situation’ in his thinking on gender in The Critique of Dialectical Reason and The Family Idiot, now taking account of how social, economic and political conditions can inhibit freedom. Edwards then focuses on Sartre's account of how imagination's role in helping women endure and resist oppressive situations, and its limitations, provides a powerful new tool for feminist scholars.

Then, Duane Davis explores some comparisons and contrasts between Sartre's and Merleau-Ponty's thoughts on revolutionary consciousness, in both politics and art. He argues that, perhaps despite himself, Sartre seems to have been committed (in Search for a Method) to what Merleau-Ponty called ‘a history without shadows’, at least as an ideal, with none of the ambiguity which characterises actual lived history. Davis’ discussion then mainly focuses on Merleau-Ponty, calling attention to illuminating structural parallels between his treatments of revolutionary politics (in Humanism and Terror) and revolutionary art (in ‘Eye and Mind’).

Finally, Andrey Gordienko returns to Badiou's critique of Sartre: one cannot be responsible for a generic multiplicity, says Badiou: ‘One can only be its militant’. Gordienko responds by arguing that Badiou actually needs Sartre's notion of collective responsibility: he needs the Sartrean ethics encapsulated in his famous phrase ‘One and one make one’, and that requires that the ‘militant’ heed the demands of the new proletariat.

The books reviewed in this issue show yet further evidence of the continuing inspiration which Sartre's thinking provides to our own, and of the continuing value set on dialogue. Robert Boncardo, who reviews Gaye Çankaya Eksen's Spinoza et Sartre: De la politique des singularités à l'éthique de générosité, admires her attempt to demonstrate that ‘incompatible metaphysics need not imply incompatible politics’; even if that attempt is not entirely successful, it at least ‘forces us to articulate more clearly than ever what makes Sartre's Critique truly unique’. Jean-Pierre Boulé reviews François Noudelmann's Un tout autre Sartre, which explores the Sartre who emerges from the archives of Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre (Sartre's adoptive daughter); Boulé praises the complexity and richness of the portrait of Sartre which emerges. Nik Farrell Fox jointly reviews two enormous collections of essays in the Routledge Philosophical Minds series, The Nietzschean Mind edited by Paul Katsafanas, and the more recent (and much longer) The Sartrean Mind edited by Matthew C. Eshleman and Constance L. Mui; as Fox puts it, where the Nietzsche volume ‘casts out its net at a close range and catches many fish of the same kind’, the Sartre volume ‘casts its net much wider and captures a dazzling and kaleidoscopic array of different marine creatures’, and expresses a preference for the latter approach. Daniel O'Shiel, in his review of Caleb Heldt's Immanence and Illusion in Sartre's Ontology of Consciousness, finds himself unpersuaded by Heldt's case for finding, and understanding, egological activity on the pre-reflective level. John Gillespie reviews Francis Walsh's En lisant, en s'écrivant: La drôle de guerre de Jean-Paul Sartre, which explores a key period in Jean-Paul Sartre's intellectual development, examining his experiences of mobilisation during the Drôle de guerre (Phoney War); he finds it ‘a book of impressive breadth, erudition and insight which will repay careful study’.

This issue provides clear evidence that Sartre's influence on contemporary philosophy remains considerable. Indeed, in recent issues of Sartre Studies International, the majority of articles relate to his philosophy, his influence on or relation to other philosophers, and their reactions to his thought. Since 2014, sixty-six per cent have focused on Sartre and philosophy, nineteen per cent on his political thought, and just fifteen per cent on his literary work, principally his theatre. As we have said, Sartre was always writing, not just philosophy, but also short stories, novels, plays, film scenarios, and so on, and this continued throughout his whole career. Does this imbalance suggest that his contribution to philosophical thinking has been the most significant aspect of his work, and that his literary production is of lesser value (or merely illustrative of his thought), or is it merely that more philosophy specialists have chosen to write on him?

Of course, this is a narrow statistical survey which could be dismissed as too incomplete a sample on which to base a judgement. However, it seems to indicate a trend. Sartre is one of the few modern thinkers who have demonstrated this breadth of achievement (as has de Beauvoir) and there is no question that his literary works played a major role in his impact. So, it seems reasonable to challenge Sartreans to consider submitting more studies of his literary writing, even, perhaps, on how he philosophises through literature.

Be that as it may, we are pleased that the COVID emergency has not stemmed the flow of excellent Sartre scholarship of whatever kind, and we look forward to receiving what colleagues have been able to produce during the emergency. Nor has COVID prevented us from producing this issue. Thanks to all concerned.

Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture

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