SARTRE TAKES ON DERRIDA

Sartre wanted to marry her.  de Beauvoir said, no.

SARTRE:

Each of our perceptions is accompanied by the consciousness that human reality is a ‘revealer,’ that is, it is through human reality that ‘there is’ being, or, to put it differently, that man is the means by which things are manifested. It is our presence in the world which multiplies relations. It is we who set up a relationship between this tree and that bit of sky. Thanks to us, that star which has been dead for millennia, that quarter moon, and that dark river are disclosed in the unity of a landscape. It is the speed of our car and our airplane which organizes the great masses of the earth. With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face. But, if we know that we are directors of our being, we also know that we are not its producers. If we turn away from this landscape, it will sink back into its dark permanence. At least, it will sink back; there is no one mad enough to think that it is going to be annihilated. It is we who shall be annihilated, and the earth will remain in its lethargy until another consciousness comes along to awaken it. Thus, to our inner certainty of being ‘revealers’ is added that of being inessential in relation to the thing revealed.

If I fix on canvas or in writing a certain aspect of the fields or the sea or a look on someone’s face which I have disclosed, I am conscious of having produced them by condensing relationships, by introducing order where there was none, by imposing the unity of mind on the diversity of things. That is, I feel myself essential in relation to my creation. But this time it is the created object which escapes me; I cannot reveal and produce at the same time. The creation becomes inessential in relation to the creative activity. First of all, even if it appears finished to others, the created object always seems to us in a state of suspension; we can always change this line, that shade, that word. Thus, it never forces itself. A novice painter asked his teacher, ‘When should I consider my painting finished?’ And the teacher answered, ‘When you can look at it in amazement and say to yourself, “I’m the one who did that!”

Which amounts to saying ‘never.’ For that would be to consider one’s work with someone else’s eyes and to reveal what one has created.

DERRIDA:

A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible. Its law and its rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they can never be booked, in the present, into anything that could rigorously be called a perception.

And hence, perpetually and essentially, they run the risk of being definitely lost. Who will ever know of such disappearances?

The dissimulation of the woven texture can in any case take centuries to undo its web: a web that envelops a web, undoing the web for centuries; reconstituting it too as an organism, indefinitely regenerating its own tissue behind the cutting trace, the decision of each reading. There is always a surprise in store for the anatomy or physiology of any criticism that might think it has mastered the game, surveyed all the threads at once, deluding itself, too, in wanting to look at the text without touching it, without laying a hand on the “object,” without risking—which is the only chance of entering into the game, by getting a few fingers caught—the addition of some new thread.  Adding, here, is nothing other than giving to read. One must manage to think this out: that it is not a question of embroidering upon a text, unless one considers that to know how to embroider still means to have the ability to follow the given thread. That is, if you follow me, the hidden thread.

Modern philosophy’s obsession with absence, lack, impotence, estrangement seems to spring from this little poem by Poe:

…I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand—
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—while I weep!
Oh God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all the we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Beauty, to be truly beautiful, needs to be partially obscured, or veiled, and Truth cannot be looked at directly either, and needs to be wrapped in riddles—the Divine Mysteries, from Oracles, Prophecy, and Fate, through Christian Exegesis and Parables, lands in the 20th century as Philosophy which Teases and Deceives—but the Ancient Philosophies and Religions which propounded their stories, their sciences and their devotions attended by actual spirits in actual settings, covered in mists of ignorance and beauty as they might have been, can be contrasted to 20th century Philosophy, which seems to tease us for no end; or, simply out of despair, or vanity, or some philosopher’s ambition.

Sartre (b. 1905), in his excerpt, evinces the Man-centered universe inherited from the Renaissance: “man is the means by which things are manifested” and, invoking the “speed of our car and our airplane,” he revels in “we know we are directors of our being,” but with it, also, comes the sad recognition that, “we also know that we are not [our being’s] producers” and we are “inessential to the thing revealed.” This is unfortunate, but why, philosophically, does Sartre need to assert this gulf between “directing” and “producing?”

Sartre does so for no other reason, it seems, than to produce a kind of balance: being and non-being.

But it doesn’t feel motivated by anything beyond a kind of philosophical or mathematical attempt at a tidy formula, and we see how it manifests itself in Sartre’s discussion of art: “I cannot reveal and produce at the same time; the creation becomes inessential in relation to the creative activity.”

Why this pessimism?  How is it true, for instance, that the painter or poet’s “creation” is “inessential” to his or her “creative activity?”  It is mere pedantry to fret whether a work of art is “finished,” or not, and Sartre’s explanation is an empty piece of cleverness.  Sure, we can always tweak our poem, but the gist, and the excellence of its entirety is not some illusion. Sartre had a political and a real world existence, as his fame will testify, but we should not therefore miss what is in front of us here: Sartre’s overly fastidious, overly academic, and feeble complaint, passed off as scary existentialism.  It brings to mind the famous anecdote in which Sartre finished first in his examinations to become an instructor, with de Beauvoir, second. Much was made of the “open relationship” between these two public intellectuals, but few bothered to point out that de Beauvoir did not want to marry him, or live with him.  Sartre’s philosophical fretting is merely academic, or perhaps just as bad, personal.

Sartre eventually argued that anyone making art was reactionary and hopelessly bourgeois—a political position almost inevitable, considering the major philosophical qualms he first lays out.

As for Derrida, as time passes after his death, and his reputation fades, his audacious hiding appears more and more as insufferable cuteness.

WINNER: SARTRE

3 Comments

  1. noochinator said,

    August 1, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Mac Donald takes on Derrida:

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

      Interesting. After her experience with Deconstruction (Derrida the “fraud” with rock star status in the 70s) at Yale, she said she got enlightened studying J.L. Austin at Cambridge. Austin, a lesser known figure, is in Scarriet’s Sweet 16.

  2. January 4, 2016 at 9:51 pm

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