Said and Sartre

Daniel O'Connell dpoconnell at
Sat May 27 10:32:52 MDT 2000

Louis, Jim, et al.,

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.

Like it or not, in 1979, Sartre (still the Sartre of "Anti-Semite and Jew") couldn't
have cared less about the Palestinians: If you were a person of his generation in
France (born in 1905 as he was, and having lived through WWII), you would be inclined
toward the Zionist position, whether out of guilt or because of a subtle (seperatist)

What is more, at that time in his life, I doubt there was much he cared about. He was
pretty far gone, and it sounds like Benny Levy and the others organized the conference
and, through the help of de Beauvoir and Elkaim-Sartre, secured Sartre's totemic
presence at it. It would have been better if Said would have simply related his
experience of meeting Sartre, perhaps lamented his condition and the way he was so
obviously being manipulated by those around him, and refrained from criticizing him
directly for matters in which any observer could have told you he bore no (or very
little) responsibility.

After all, that's the real story of the last few years of Sartre's life---the extent
to which he was manipulated by those around him. Perhaps that's why it's taking Tito
Gerassi so long to write volume II of his biography.

I would eagerly welcome some substantive discussion of Sartre as a Marxist (though
I'll have to hold off for a week or so while I finish up a paper I'm working on, the
deadline for which is June 5.) Where would you want to start? I haven't read "The
Critique of Dialectical Reason" all the way through, but we might start with his early
article in Les Temps Modernes called (if I remember rightly) "Marxism and Materialism"
or something like that. I'll look up the reference on that at the library this

If there is to be a discussion, I think it might help to get it off the ground if we
either looked at a specific passage in his work or posed a very pointed question that
could be answered by reference to his writings and speeches. What did you have in mind
as a starting point, Jim? Could you be more specific?


>From: farmelantj at
>To: marxism at
>Date: Sat, 27 May 2000 08:20:25 -0400
>Subject: Re: Said and Sartre
>Reply-To: marxism at

Since this is a Marxism List, I wonder if anyone here is interested in
a discussion of Sartre as a Marxist?  What do people think of his *Critique of
Dialectical Reason* and other Marxian writings?

Do people here think that Sartre was successful at reconciling Marxism with
Existentialism?  Said in his article alludes to the shifts in French intellectual
fashions that made Sartre's work seem to be suddenly obsolete.  One of those fashions
that had seemed to cast Sartre as being out of date was the rise of  structuralism in
early 1960s in the work of such diverse people as Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and
Althusser.  Levi-Strauss as I recall debated with Sartre in the pages of Les Temps
Modernes while Sartre and Althusser are said to have held an improptu debate at  the
Ecole Normale Superieure. Regis Debray as I recall thought that Althusser gave Sartre
a good thrashing, although having been a favorite student of Althusser, his account
may have been a bit biased.

Although, we might view these debates from the '60s and '70s as old hat, the
underlying issues such as humanism versus anti-humanism are still of relevence to
Marxism where the issue of agency versus structure continues to be very much a live
issue with profound implications for practice.

Jim F.

On Fri, 26 May 2000 08:32:41 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at> writes:
>> My Encounter with Sartre
>> Edward Said


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