Sociology as a Skin Trade: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

7: Situation, Action and Language

In this essay I shall restrict myself for the most part to Sartre's essays collected in the volumes, Situations,1 since what follows is intended largely as an introduction to Situations IV,2 and in particular to the long essay therein on Sartre's relation to Merleau-Ponty. The ultimate purpose of the discussion is to suggest that there is perhaps a greater similarity in the views of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty on the phenomenology of action, expression, and history than is likely to appear if one relies upon a number of conventional interpretations of Sartre and then turns away in order to study Merleau-Ponty. I am aware, of course, that the two friends became enemies over their differences. But I am suggesting that Sartre's tribute to Merleau-Ponty and his later work in the Critique de la Raison Dialectique represents an ultimate comprehension which was always present. It has been argued that Sartre's identification of consciousness and imagination condemns individual consciousness to a comedy of errors, degeneration,

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1
Situations I-III, Paris, Gallimard, 1947- 1949. Essays from Situations I and III translated by Annette Michelson have been published as Literary Essays, New York, Philosophical Library, 1957, and most of Situations II translated by Bernard Frechtman as What is Literature? New York, Philosophical Library, 1949. Quotations are from the English translations.
2
Situations IV, Paris, Gallimard, 1964, translated by Benita Eisler, Situations, New York, George Braziller, 1965. There is a fascinating history of an alternating conception of environment as a deterministic force (milieu) and as a beneficent shell or field (ambiance) to which the thought of Heidegger, Sartre, Marcel, and Jaspers might be related. I refer to the essays of Leo Spitzer, "Milieu and Ambiance: An Essay in Historical Semantics", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. III ( 1942- 1943), pp. 1-42 and 169-218.

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