Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Sartre's Itinerary from Self-Presence to "Abandon"

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Sartre's Itinerary from Self-Presence to "Abandon"

Article excerpt

Simone de Beauvoir warns us in the preface to the printed text which appeared as an appendix to La Ceremonie des Adieux as Entretiens avec Jean-Paul Sartre, and which is the transcript of the interviews which she conducted with Sartre during the summer of 1974, that these yielded no "unexpected revelations" (Beauvoir 1981, 163). I find however, that the term abandon ("letting go"),' which Sartre uses repeatedly in a certain section of his dialogue with Beauvoir, is rather new and unexpected in his usual vocabulary, which, as a whole, greatly privileges the rational and action. And the candid remarks which he makes to her about the ideal role of "abandon" in love relationships, and the lack of it in his own life, has led me in this essay to search for the path that led him to that surprising position.

The term "abandon" first comes up when Beauvoir is interrogating Sartre about his subjective relation to his body (la saisie subjective du corps, 396). He explains to her that whereas many of his friends spoke about the joy of skiing or of swimming, he experienced only fear, of falling when skiing and of getting tired when swimming. For, he never felt good in his body, never enjoyed it. She then reminds him that he always hated what he termed "abandon," relaxing on the grass or on the beach, much preferring to sit on a hard, sharp block of stone in a rather painful manner. "You seem to have had a moral refusal to abandon yourself to your body, and to have reacted to any possibility of it by a certain crispation," she tells him. And he agrees that indeed, abandon did not at all use to fit into his ideal of "what one should be," which greatly favored action dealing with the objective world (397).

Same also tells Beauvoir of his fear of selfabandon in his relationship with women. He explains to her that whereas in a good sexual relationship, each one takes and is taken, he took but did not allow himself to be taken. He performed the active, objective part of the act, but left out the passive, subjective aspect that would have involved self-abandon and jouissance on his part. For, in order to abandon oneself one must first be oneself, be one with oneself. This leads to the possibility of oneness with the other, that is reciprocity with that person. But, Sartre explains that there existed within him a cleavage (une coupure) which made him resist self-abandon. And this led to a "cleavage between what the other could receive and give" in relation to him, and to the impossibility of reciprocity between both of them (400).

When Beauvoir tries to pinpoint the reason for the refusal of "all passivity," of all self-abandon, of all jouissance on Sartre's part, he concedes that as a child he had a horror of his mother's abandon. He does not specify in what this abandon consisted-only that it was a very rare occurrence, "Poor woman!" he sighs. Beauvoir suggests, and Sartre acquiesces, that it may have been indulgence in food as in the case of Madame Darbida in his short story "The Room" (Sartre 1948). It certainly seems, however, that Sartre's great fear of abandon all his life, must have had deeper roots than his mother's fondness for sweets! We must therefore take seriously his mention in Les Mots of his desire as a child to have incest with a sister, most obviously his sister/mother. Were not he and his mother not treated as children by her parents, and did they not sleep in twin beds in the same room for ten years? And Sartre writes that the war years (during which he was a pre-adolescent) were heavenly for him: "My mother and I were the same age. . and we were always together. She called me her knight attendant, her little man. I told her everything" (Sartre 1964b, 177). He also writes of their intimacies, their linguistic rituals, and their adolescent complicities. Fifty years later, he comments that "incest is the only family relationship which moves me" (54). And Sartre's biographer Annie Cohen-Solal, is quite clear about Sartre's incestuous tendencies (1987, 29, 34, 38). …

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