Sartre & God (was Re: the mature Marx?)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Tue Dec 26 19:05:50 MST 2000


Daniel wrote:

>The Said article is interesting but, ultimately, it's criticisms strike me
>as rather fatuous: Since he was visiting Sartre in 1979, the year before
>his death, Said's leveling of criticisms vis-a-vis Algeria/Palestine seems
>like visiting one's somewhat-senile grandfather in a nursing home when
>you are 25 and then badmouthing him to anyone who will listen because he
>didn't take you on his knee and explain the world to you like he did when
>you were 8.

Daniel's missing the point here.  Edward Said wrote:

*****   There is one obvious exception [to what Said thinks of as
Sartre's otherwise admirable political & intellectual
accomplishments], which I'd like to describe here.  I'm prompted to
do so by two fascinating, if dispiriting discussions of his visit to
Egypt in early 1967 that appeared last month in _Al-Ahram Weekly_.
One was in a review of Bernard-Henry Lévy's recent book on Sartre;
the other was a review of the late Lotfi al-Kholi's account of that
visit (al-Kholi, a leading intellectual, was one of Sartre's Egyptian
hosts)....'For example,' B-HL intoned, 'Sartre's record on Israel was
perfect: he never deviated and he remained a complete supporter of
the Jewish state.'  For reasons that we still cannot know for
certain, Sartre did indeed remain constant in his fundamental
pro-Zionism.  Whether that was because he was afraid of seeming
anti-semitic, or because he felt guilt about the Holocaust, or
because he allowed himself no deep appreciation of the Palestinians
as victims of and fighters against Israel's injustice, or for some
other reason, I shall never know.  All I do know is that as a very
old man he seemed pretty much the same as he had been when somewhat
younger: a bitter disappointment to every (non-Algerian) Arab who
admired him.  Certainly Bertrand Russell was better than Sartre, and
in his last years (though led on and, some would say, totally
manipulated by my former Princeton classmate and one-time friend,
Ralph Schoenman) actually took positions critical of Israel's
policies towards the Arabs.  I guess we need to understand why great
old men are liable to succumb either to the wiles of younger ones, or
to the grip of an unmodifiable political belief.  It's a dispiriting
thought, but it's what happened to Sartre.  With the exception of
Algeria, the justice of the Arab cause simply could not make an
impression on him, and whether it was entirely because of Israel or
because of a basic lack of sympathy -- cultural or perhaps religious
-- it's impossible for me to say.  In this he was quite unlike his
friend and idol Jean Genet, who celebrated his strange passion for
Palestinians in an extended sojourn with them and by writing the
extraordinary 'Quatre Heures à Sabra et Chatila' and _Le Captif
amoureux_.   (Edward Said, "My Encounter with Sartre," _London Review
of Books_ 22.11 [1 June 2000], at
<http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n11/said2211.htm>)   *****

In other words, Said's criticism concerns Sartre's position on
Palestinians (& non-Algerian Arabs in general) which dates back _at
least_ to his _1967_ visit to Egypt & Israel:

*****   After leaving Egypt, the trio visited Israel.  And the issue
of Les temps modernes appeared just as war broke out in June 1967.
The timing could not have been worse.  Many Arab intellectuals were
shocked; others were disappointed in their new friend.  Sartre had
not been quick to condemn Israeli aggression.  Furthermore, in May he
signed a declaration in support of Israel and condemned the Arab
regimes as "fascists."   (Amina Elbendary, "Of Words and Echoes,"
_Al-Ahram Weekly_ 477 [13 - 19 April 2000], at
<http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/2000/477/bk5_477.htm>   *****

Yoshie





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