Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent
Kalle Pihlainen - Jean-Paul Sartre and the Post-1968 Ethic of Anti-Representationalism
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Jean-Paul Sartre and the Post-1968 Ethic of Anti-Representationalism
Abstract In this article, I examine Jean-Paul Sartre’s later thought in relation to the advent of post-structuralism, and, in particular, the avowed refusal of representational practices by its proponents. I argue that this refusal, most persuasively presented as the principle or ethic of anti-representationalism by Todd May, is, in fact, reflected in Sartre’s move from committed writing and active social engagement to manifestly apolitical concerns. Reading Sartre’s later work in light of this principle permits seeing these apparently purely intellectual concerns as part of an effort to come to terms with the ethical problematics of representation.
Around the time of the publication of his autobiography The Words in 1963, Jean-Paul Sartre began to withdraw from his well-known doctrine of committed literature as an effective means to social change and, more broadly, to view intellectual activity as politically irrelevant. His growing disillusionment regarding the effect of his own writing has been seen by many commentators, as well as by his own admission, as having led him temporarily to a more direct (and insistently practical as opposed to “intellectual”) engagement in political activity. My interest here is to examine Sartre’s struggles with the impact and significance of intellectual work—and writing specifically—in light of the advent of post-structuralism and post-structuralist politics. Although the abandonment of the idea of committed literature as a medium joining “man to man” in favour of the opposing...
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