The Poverty and Richness of the Imaginary

Sartre on (Anti-)racist Ways of Seeing

in Sartre Studies International
Author: Laura McMahon1
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  • 1 Departments of History and Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies, Eastern Michigan University, USA
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There is an ambiguity in Jean-Paul Sartre's The Imaginary (1940). On the one hand, Sartre describes mental images as impoverished in contrast to the fullness and depth of the world of perception. On the other hand, Sartre identifies the imagination with human freedom, and in this sense the imaginary can be seen as an enrichment of the real. This paper explores this ambiguity and its import for understanding both racist and antiracist ways of relating to others. Part One explores Sartre's argument for the “essential poverty” of the image through examples of racist images. Part Two discusses the enriching power of the imaginary for cultivating more just social and political arrangements in the context of racial oppression. Part Three argues that bad faith can take the form either of fleeing from reality into the impoverished world of the imaginary, or of failing to see the imaginary possibilities implicitly enriching the real.

Contributor Notes

Laura McMahon is Associate Professor in the Departments of History & Philosophy and Women's & Gender Studies at Eastern Michigan University, where she teaches courses in 19th– and 20th-Continental Philosophy, Social & Political Philosophy, and Feminist Philosophy. Her research is devoted to the phenomenological interpretation of liberatory political transformation. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Chiasmi International, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Human Studies, and Puncta; in the edited volumes Phenomenology and the Arts (Lexington) and Perception and Its Development in Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology (University of Toronto Press); and on the Women in Philosophy Blog of the APA.