Sunday, July 16, 2006


I woke up this morning to a fretful day.

Was reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre today. Maybe it’s my subconscious longing for some moral clarity and unambiguous conviction that sent my mind that way.

Here’s Sartre on two favourite interests of mine:

On defeating anti-Semitism:

“The cause of the Jews would be half won if only their friends brought to their defense a little of the passion and the perseverance their enemies use to bring them down.In order to waken this passion, what is needed id not to appeal to the generosity of the Aryans- with even the best of them, that virtue is in eclipse. What must be done is to point out to each one that the fate of the Jews is his fate. Not one Frenchman will be free so long as the Jews do not enjoy the fullness of their rights. Not one Frenchman will be secure so long as a single Jew – in France or in the world at large – can fear for his life”

It has a nice, contemporary ring to it, doesn’t it? Too bad the honourable Frenchman de l'Elysée can’t seem to recall these august sentiments.

On the condition of love:

“An infant plunging its hands into a jar of honey is instantly involved in contemplating the formal properties of solids and liquids and the essential relation between the subjective experiencing self and the experienced world. The viscous is a state halfway between solid and liquid. It is like a cross-section in a process of change. It is unstable but it does not flow. It is soft, yielding and compressible. Its stickiness is a trap, it clings like a leech; it attacks the boundary between myself and it. Long columns falling off my fingers suggest my own substance flowing into a pool of stickiness. Plunging into water gives a different impression; I remain solid. But to touch stickiness is to risk diluting myself into viscosity. Stickiness is clinging, like too possessive dog or mistress”

Anne Carson explains Sartre's idea of romantic love. The subjectivities he talks about are very much in line with Buber’s I and thou, mentioned earlier in my blog (though Buber applies them to all human experiences and not just romantic love) and the way he describes the relaying of the surrendering selves between the lovers is somewhat Austenian, as well. But you can't overlook a certain panic in Sartre's formulations, such as: "clings like a leech" or "clinging, like too possessive dog or mistress". I think he is more of a Plato man in his attitude then an Aristotelian.

"For Sartre, the ideal of romantic love is a prolonged state of mutual subjectivity — a state of mind enjoyed by two persons which involves each of these persons seeing the world "through the eyes of the other." An ideal lover "puts himself in the shoes of his beloved" in abandoning his outlook on the world for hers. He thinks as she would, sees, touches, and feels as she would, and affirms as valued all the principles and goals to which she is herself attached. As such, he renounces any critical standpoint with respect to his lover — any standpoint from which she would be constituted from without as an object having such and such properties; e.g., as basically honest but not without some self-delusions, pretty but not beautiful, open but yet not altogether uncomplexed, and so forth. Such properties are discernible only from a point of vantage which our ideal lover, in loving, has left behind. He now tastes of her subjectivity, and no longer of his own. However, an ideal love is not unrequited. In affirming the other as subject, a lover affirms a subjectivity which is in turn affirming him, as subject, and so something like the normal situation with which we began is re-established. The lover subjugates his own consciousness to that of his beloved in constituting the world through her eyes, yet finds (since she is reciprocating) that the world so constituted is his own. She has returned the gift, as it were — unopened, yet bedecked with her ribbon and seal. Fitting enough, she would avow, since on her account of things she was only responding in kind to the return of her gift, unopened yet personalized. Much like Kierkegaard's Abraham, lovers have first to give the world away in order that they might receive it back again, enhanced. Sartre would talk easily in terms of the metaphor of the returned gift, adding that the nature of the gift is that of freedom — not the freedom by which we choose, say, between A and B, where A and B are two alternative courses of action, but rather the more basic, constitutive freedom by which we let there be a world of choice to begin with. For his, romantic love has for its ideal the permanent exchange of two such freedoms — each freedom affirming the other, which is in turn affirming it, and so forth. Love thus becomes that primordial partnership which all other partnerships have for their ground, or basis. It is the partnership by which a God would enter in contract with another God, or with His mirrored image."

From: Anne Carson “Eros, The bittersweet”.


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