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116 the minnesota review Fredric Jameson On Aronson's Sartre Roland Barthes' last book, Camera Lucida, carries an epigraph from an early book by Sartre, The Imaginary. Barthes had an uncanny sense for impending changes in intellectual fashion, as his own varied career testifies; and this seemingly insignificant gesture signalled the end of the long ban of silence that hung over Sartre's work in France during the "structuralist" period. (It also, with Barthes' customary intelligence, designated the seemingly minor theme of the "imaginary" as the center and guiding thread of any new view and réévaluation of Sartre's lifework .) Such réévaluation is long overdue, both in France and in the anglophone world, where a rather different kind of silence greeted the later Marxist or extraparliamentary Sartre, whose 1960 Critique of Dialectical Reason (translated by New Left Books in 1976) never left its mark on theoretical debates here, and whose three thousand page study of Flaubert, The Family Idiot (1972), has only just begun to appear in English in a five-volume series which will take some eight years to complete . ' The passions aroused by Sartre's work were of course always complicated and, at least in this country, always overdetermined by the Cold War and the general absence of a Marxist culture and a Marxist intelligentsia . One remembers, for instance, the obligatory 1950's discussions of that then seemingly global yin-yang opposition between Sartre and Camus: we were told endlessly that Sartre, while brilliant, was rather inhuman (read, on one level, a technical philosopher, hard to understand ; and on another level, that alien thing, a Communist fellowtraveller ), while Camus "loved people." In retrospect, this is a palpably ludicrous characterization of the haughty Camus, with his machismo and his pro-Americanism, whose final political stance turned out to be the plague-on-both-your-houses refusal to support the cause of Algerian liberation ("it would mean repudiating my own mother," the Oran-born Camus explained). As for Sartre, those of us in his camp in those days always had some trouble explaining to the uninitiated what it was we felt about him, namely, that Sartre and Beauvoir were always closer to us than our own best friends. It is still hard to explain, even now, when I am older than Sartre was when he wrote Being and Nothingness (to use a characteristic Sartrean trope). At that time, it did not seem to have much to do with existential thematics. Proust, after all, was far more deeply "subjective"; but the incomparably more vivid Proustian "intermittences of the heart," which met a "shock of recognition" far more disturbing than anything in Sartre or Beauvoir, still left you locked up in the monadic 117Jameson solitude and isolation of the old 1950's psychological self and, indeed, reinforced it even further. What we discovered in Sartre and Beauvoir was rather a different kind of secret: that all of those seemingly private matters — what used to be called the "personal problems" of anxiety, inferiority before other people, above all the feeling of inner "nothingness," what American popular psychology used to call "lack of self-confidence," what that other great proto-existentialist Witold Gombrowicz called "immaturity" (in his stunning Polish anticipation of La Nausee, Ferdydurke) — Sartre and Beauvoir let us in on a terrible secret about all those agonizing things, namely, that everybody else felt the same way! That, as a parish priest told Malraux during the Resistance, "really, you know, there are no grownups"; nobody on board has a train ticket — their justification for existence, as the great fable of Words puts it. With one stroke we were liberated from the monad, the personal problem , and psychology itself: how could we not be grateful to the people who did that for us? They could do no wrong. The French turn away from Sartre during the long "structuralist" period was therefore at least generationally distressing, but in some ways no more than that. At least between contiguous historical periods, one can probably assume that many of the same distresses and experiences are "recoded" in what at first glance seem to be very different terminological systems. In his recent book, After the New Criticism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 116-127
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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