The Work of Sartre

The Work of Sartre

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The Work of Sartre
    Book Description:

    This landmark book, first published in 1979, met acclaim as a doubly important work of radical philosophy. Its subject, Jean-Paul Sartre, was among the twentieth century's most controversial and influential philosophers; its author, Istvan Meszaros, was himself establishing a reputation for profound contributions to the Marxian tradition, which would continue into the next century. The Work of Sartre was thus considered essential for its insights on Sartre and as a piece of Meszaros's developing politico-philosophical project. In this completely updated and expanded volume,Meszarosexamines the manifold aspects of Sartre's legacy - as novelist, playwright, philosopher, and political actor - and in so doing casts light upon the enture oeuvre, situating it within the historical and social context of Sartre's time. Although critical of aspects of Sartre's philosophy,Meszaros celebrates his unyielding commitment to the struggle against the power of capital, and elucidates what this means for the individual in their search for freedom.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-294-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Preface to the Expanded Edition
    (pp. 9-14)
  4. Introduction to the First Edition
    (pp. 15-30)

    JEAN-PAUL SARTRE IS A MAN WHO LIVED half his life in the limelight of extreme notoriety. An intellectual who already in 1945 had to protest against attempts aimed at institutionalizing the writer, turning his works into “national goods,” for which he had to exclaim: “it is not pleasant to be treated in one’s lifetime as a public monument.”²

    What must be equally unpleasant is to be constantly subjected to abuse. And the fact is that no writer in his lifetime has been the target of so many attacks, from the most varied and rather powerful quarters, as Jean-Paul Sartre. What...

  5. PART ONE The Unity of Life and Work:: Outline of Sartre’s Development
    • 1. The Writer and His Situation
      (pp. 33-46)

      A WRITER CREATES HIS WORK from the raw material of experience given to him by the contingency of his situation, even if, as in Kafka, the end result seems to have very little in common with the immediate ground from which the work emanates. Some writers, like Villon, throw themselves right in the middle of the turmoil of their epoch, and live through the events with great intensity at the level of particularized human conflicts and adventures. Others, like Schiller or Hegel, leave the ground of their direct experience much more radically behind them when they articulate in works their...

    • 2. Philosophy, Literature and Myth
      (pp. 47-66)

      THE IMPORTANCE OF “MYTH” is by no means confined to Sartre’s conception ofHuis Clos.He sees in the same termsBariona, Flies, The Trojan WomenandKean,as well asLucifer and the Lord, Altona,and others. ConcerningAltona,which he describes as a kind ofGötterdämmerung(“crépuscule des dieux”)⁶⁸ he stresses his aim as demystification through inflating its subject matter to the proportion of a myth.⁶⁹ And in a conversation with Kenneth Tynan he reveals that he would like to write a play on the Greek myth of Alcestis in such a way as to be able the...

    • 3. From “The Legend of Truth” to a “True Legend”: Phases of Sartre’s Development
      (pp. 67-88)

      BEING SIMULTANEOUSLY OUTSIDE and inside is also the task of a biographer, as Sartre himself clearly demonstrates on more than one occasion (Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Genet, Flaubert). Writing on someone is a specific relationship between two distinct “singular temporalizations” in which sometimes affinities, sometimes elements of contrast predominate. In the case of Flaubert, it is primarily the contrast that attracts Sartre’s attention: “Flaubert represents for me the exact opposite of my own conception of literature: a total disengagement and a certain idea of form, which is not that which I admire . . . He began to fascinate me precisely because...

  6. PART TWO Search for Freedom
    • 4. Search for the Individual: The early Works
      (pp. 91-142)

      DISCUSSING THE INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT of his generation, Sartre writes inThe Problem of Method:

      We plunged blindly down the dangerous path of a pluralist realism concerned with man and things in their ‘concrete’ existence. Yet we remained within the compass of ‘dominating ideas.’ … For a long time we confused the total and the individual. Pluralism, which had served us so well against M. Brunschwicg’s idealism, prevented us from understanding thedialectical totalization.It pleased us to decry essences and artificially isolated types rather than to reconstitute the synthetic movement of a truth that had ‘become.’”¹⁷¹

      Such self-description, with which...

    • 5. Freedom and Passion: The World of Being and Nothingness
      (pp. 143-222)

      “FUNDAMENTALLY MAN IS THE DESIRE TO BE” (565)²⁸¹—states a cryptic phrase inBeing and Nothingness.To understand it, we must realize that in the world ofBeing and Nothingnessall the principal categories hinge on “being,” including “the desire to do,” which is reduced either to “having” (576) or to “being” (581). Furthermore, “having” itself is turned into being through “possession” which is said to be “a magical relation:I amthese objects which I have” (591), for “In possessionI am my own foundationin so far as I exist in an In-itself” (592). Thus when two years...

  7. PART THREE The Challenge of History
    • Introduction
      (pp. 225-238)

      AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR Jean-Paul Sartre’s direct participation in politics changed beyond recognition. As he modestly wrote about his role in the resistance movement during the war: “all I did was a few errands.”¹ After the war the role assumed by him in politics could only be described as ever more prominently active.

      Indeed, for some time Sartre even maintained the idea of exercising a seminal influence in the establishment of a fully independent political movement which was supposed to assemble under a large electoral umbrella the individuals who would openly distance themselves from the political parties—in a...

    • 6. Material and Formal Structures of History: Critique of Sartre’s Conception of Dialectical Reason and Historical Totalization
      (pp. 239-278)

      AS MENTIONED IN CHAPTER 2 ofThe Dialectic of Structure and History,it was one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s great merits as a thinker and exemplary militant to address the fundamental question of historical totalization in the post-Second World War period. His famousCritique of Dialectical Reasonwas dedicated to the subject, announcing in its already massive first volume the “soon to be followed” completion⁴¹ of this project.

      It is important to bear in mind that Sartre’sCritique—as published by Gallimard in Paris in 1960, with the subtitle ofTheory of Practical Ensembles—was never intended to offer the complete...

    • 7. Lévi-Strauss against Sartre
      (pp. 279-294)

      CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS—eulogized by one of his devotees as “structuralism personified”¹²⁷—admitted in an interview which he gave in 1971 to the prominent French weekly journal,L’Express,that “since 1968 structuralism went out of fashion.”¹²⁸ In fact what was remarkable in this respect was not the fact that in the 1970s structuralism started to fade away, being pushed out of the limelight by “post-structuralism” and other similarly oriented “post”-denominations, like “post-modernity.”¹²⁹ Rather, the somewhat astonishing circumstance was that after the second world war the ideology of structuralism had actually acquired an extremely dominant position, and maintained it for well over...

    • 8. The Role of Scarcity in Historical Conceptions
      (pp. 295-306)

      IRONICALLY, THE WIDESPREAD IDEALIZATION of the established reproductive order as a “natural system” takes care of everything, even of the problem of potentially most destructivescarcity,when scarcity is acknowledged as part of the overall scheme of difficult but workable solutions. For once the supreme authority of nature itself is postulated¹⁷⁸ by the ideological representatives of the bourgeoisie as an integral part of the universal explanatory framework and justification of the given relations and processes, even what might appear at first sight as a major contradiction can be readily spirited away.

      In this sense, the liberal theory of the state...

    • 9. The Missing Dimension
      (pp. 307-324)

      IN HIS LAST INTERVIEW, published inLe Nouvel Observateur,Sartre expressed both his extreme pessimism (called by him in the same interview alsodespair) and his hope to find a way out of it. He admitted at the same time that “this hope must be founded.”²⁰⁴ Accordingly, he promised at the end of that March 1980 interview to dedicate himself to the task of “founding hope” not simply in personal terms but with justifiable claim to general validity in the years remaining of his life, but as we know its achievement was denied to him. For unexpectedly he died two...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 325-330)

      SARTRE FOR A LONG TIME REFUSED to assign any limit to freedom in his conception of the human reality. His refusal was so categorical that when he revised his views after the war, under the “experience of society,” he had to confess that he felt “scandalized”²³¹ by the unreality of his earlier position. Nevertheless, even when he acknowledged the “force of circumstance,” he always continued to reassert his firm belief that “one is alwaysresponsiblefor what is made of one.” In this sense, the same way in which against the “rigorous conditioning to be a thief Genet became a...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 331-374)
  9. Index
    (pp. 375-380)