Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida

Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida

Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida

Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida

Synopsis

Forms in the Abyss is a carefully written, complex book that seeks to essentially reconcile and "bridge" the work of Sartre and Derrida. Steve Martinot argues that Sartre set out a significant set of ethical precepts for living in - and of - the world, and Derrida threw into question the process by which one can find a truly ethical way of living. By demonstrating that there is a bridge between these two thinkers, and that one can use the critical tools provided by Derrida to arrive at Sartre's conclusions about ethics, Martinot contributes a new way of thinking about critical and social theory, and even more importantly, adds a new ethical and political imperative to post-modern thought that many critics have often found missing in the works of people like Derrida. A groundbreaking effort to find the "common language" between two of the most important philosophical thinkers of the twentieth century, Forms in the Abyss promises to be one of the most significant contribution to our critical understanding of western thought in recent memory.

Excerpt

In the half-century since the end of World War II, three philosophical currents have contested social thought in the West and thrown themselves against institutional ideology: Marxism, existentialism, and post-structuralism. While the Marxism of this period attempted to rejuvenate its nineteenth-century progenitor, and succeeded only in re-axiomatizing it in contemporary terms, the other two currents addressed and critiqued the structure of axiomatics and presupposition themselves, emerging as centers of non-ideological thinking. Surprisingly little has been researched, however, on a possible interface or conjunction between existentialism and post-structuralism; and in particular, very little attention has been paid to a possible relation between the two central (and most prolific) figures of these movements: Sartre and Derrida. What astonishes is that the two figures address some common socio-political questions in a significant manner from their different respective directions, in particular, the role of language in the techniques and technologies of social control, domination, and political manipulation. Yet this has not served to bridge the gap of their differences.

Indeed, so great a separation has been discerned between them that most commentary has been content to enhance it, as if the existence of the hiatus itself had some overriding historical importance. Nothing testifies to the intensity of this hiatus more than the paucity and hesitancy of discussion on it. Very few commentators or critical thinkers have ventured to address it as a critical space. Philip Wood, reviewing the state of dialogue between Sartre and the post-structuralists in 1989, finds it singularly sparse. “Extended confrontation with Sartre’s work has been noticeably absent in the post-Sartrean philosophy, being restricted, when reference has been direct, to scathing dismissals without recourse or argument, or when reference has been allusory, to superior scorn.” and conversely, “Sartre himself never bothered to develop the testy remarks proffered in the interview [in the journal L’Arc] into a sustained engagement with his critics.” (That Sartre and Foucault at least were on good terms personally seems to have had little effect on this generally tense philosophical stillness.)

Sartre seems not to have addressed Derrida in particular in writing at all. Until 1996, Derrida made only brief polemical mention of Sartre; specifically, in “The Ends of Man,” in Glas, and in two interviews. of course, Sartre was a dominant figure in the milieu into which Derrida stepped; he could pretend to the hauteur of the established in the face of young arrivistes. But could Derrida afford such a luxury? Nevertheless, Derrida consistently distances himself from Sartre, at times with what sounds like a certain bitterness (which is addressed below).

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