The Failure of Hate: Love, Hate, and Hope in Jean-Paul Sartre

By Smerick, Christina | Philosophy Today, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Failure of Hate: Love, Hate, and Hope in Jean-Paul Sartre


Smerick, Christina, Philosophy Today


From the outset, one must admit that "the failure of hate" is hardly a hopeful phrase - at best, it is a sort of double negative whereby one negates hate without necessarily moving toward a more positive statement regarding relationships between human beings. Indeed, when one reads Sartre's Being and Nothingness,1 one is also struck by the failure of love, and, in some ways, the failure of any sort of relational interaction between two "beings-forthemselves." The gaze of the other, whether cast in love or in hate, objectifies, seeks to possess or reduce, and perhaps even annihilate the other. Likewise, one both desires and fears that look, that gaze, directed upon oneself. Sartre himself acknowledges this impasse at the end of Being and Nothingness, and suggests that this question of authentic relations, or ethics, is his next project. We all know, however, that this project - the construction of an ethics-was never completed (or was left to us to complete),2 and thus we are left to sort through his notebooks, essays, and other works in order to piece together the possibility of an ethics emerging from the rather bleak landscape of Being and Nothingness.

I shall contend here that while Sartre does indeed move away from this double negative of the failure of hate via Marxism and a turn to a more socially oriented ethic, he does not fully escape the shadow cast by Being and Nothingness, nor does he aim to do so. In this essay, therefore, I sketch a portrait of hate according to Sartre, using not only Being and Nothingness, but also Anti-Semite and Jew and several fictional works; I bring alongside this analysis some reflections on hate as it appears in Notebooks for an Ethics, and ask what this indicates regarding a "Sartrean" ethic. I then examine What is Literature? and Hope Now in order to do justice to the more complex articulations of human relationships that Sartre explores in these works; articulations that indeed point toward a notion of human freedom that is more than merely ontological.3 What I hope to provide is a description of how hate operates viscerally both with regard to the gaze or look of others and in oneself in Sartre's early works, and to use such a description to illuminate the ongoing and unresolved complications that result when one tries to construct a coherent ethic out of Sartre's writings. Ultimately, what I think we find in the early Sartre is both a compelling portrait of hate, and an equally compelling image of its failure; but something less than an answer to or solution for the problem of such human interaction. This leaves us with an odd sort of hope, a recognition that hate is not total or totalizing, that there is always an escape, even into death; but it may not take us as far as we would like. I link this description to Hope Now, recognizing that the latter is controversial, and that its ownership is in question. Yet it is precisely in the questioning of the origins of utterances that we may find modeled a sort of being-together that does not annul Sartre's earlier work, but that nevertheless casts it in a light more along the lines of beingtogether as a sort of thrownness that cannot be helped and that constitutes my situation. This "being-together" in mutual recognition is certainly helpful and more hopeful than what we find in Being and Nothingness, but I contend that it is still less than a compelling and robust ethic.

Stones and Mirrors

One of the pleasures of studying Sartre is the wide variety of genres he provides his audience. In this section, I take advantage of both Sartre's theoretical and narrative works in order to develop a more multi-faceted account of hate and inauthenticity than one may glean from an isolated account of either his philosophical texts or his fiction. Specifically, by bringing Anti-Semite and Jew, along with Being and Nothingness, alongside "Childhood of a Leader" and "No Exit," I want to illuminate both abstractly and concretely Sartre's portrait of hatred and demonstrate his consistency with regard to its failures. …

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