Existentialist Reformtation

George Pennefather poseidon at SPAMeircom.net
Sun Dec 26 02:01:42 MST 1999

Yoshie: Instead, Sartre insisted upon the isolation and freedom of the abstract

"In fact, if...the being of my consciousness is strictly irreducible to
knowledge, then I can not transcend my being toward a reciprocal and
universal relation in which I could see my being and that of others as
equivalent.  On the contrary, I must establish myself in my being and posit
the problem of the Other in terms of my being.  In a word the sole point of
departure is the interiority of the _cogito_" (Sartre, _Being and

Sartre's work is a good example of how and why starting with the consciousness of the
abstract individual leads to a dead end (for Marxists), for the abstract individual as
point of departure already implies the negation of history.  The same goes for
circular reasonings about "the subject."

George: I'm not as sure about this as you are. Your criticism above is an obvious one
one that has been commonly made. But it is all too easy to make such observations.

What we have to look at is the kind of society from within which Sartre conceived of
things in this way. If we see that he was coming from an alienated society -capitalist
society- his conception may make more sense. We live in an alienated society in which
social relations are reified and stand independent of us. There is essentially no
communal relations obtaining between individuals under such conditions --alienation
abounds. Under such conditions it is impossible to form meaningful direct social or
communal relations with other individuals. Many people are not fully aware of this and
consequently engage in the Sisyphian task of striving to form directly social,
and fullfilling relations with other individuals. They go from one relationship or set
relationships to anoer in the hope of achieving this when all the time it cannot be
achieved which is why there is Christmas --the quintessential expression of reified
relations in concentrated form. The harsh fact is that there can never be meaningful
fullfilling deep close relationships with other individuals. A lot of us dont know this
and consequently give ourselves and others much pain in the process. We just have to
accept this fact. Much of capitalist culture tries to deceive us into thinking
othewise as
a means of both oppressing  and further tormenting us thereby rendering us all the more
ineffective in the fight for more fulfilling relationships by the struggling to
capitalism. This is how Sartre could say "hell is other people."

So from within capitalist society Sartre, in many ways, is correct when he conceives of
society as consisting of a population of individuals irrevocably alienated from each
in which the social bond only exists in a reified estranged way --consider his example
a serial group involving a group of people queing for the same bus --very perceptive.

In short it is not so much, as you suggest, that Sartre's views lead to a dead end as
capitalist social relations that lead to a dead end. Sartre, in a sense, brutally
expressed this horror. Many of us persistently refuse to face this fact. Many os us are
afraid to face this painful truth and prefer mauvais fait --inauthentic existence.

And finally this takes me back to the conceptual relationship that may exist between
French existentialism and Reformation theology. Both in effect understood the alienated
(sinful) character of human relations. The Reformation theology saw this defect finding
transcendence through salvation and heavan --through Utopia. Sartre was perhaps --the
earlier guy-- more pessimistic and less utopian than the Reformation. Perhaps, then,
through its Utopianism the Reformation was a massive example of mauvais fait.

Sartre possessed an intellectual and moral courage. What was it Nietzsche said --got
tot. Yet, as he argued, we want rto go on as if he is not dead. Sartre, it would seem,
prepared to face this fact in some fashion which  may establish  a distinct continuity
between  Nietzsche and he.

Warm regards
George Pennefather

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