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Re: [Sartre] Sartre and... online dating

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  • sava
    Hi Tommy, your e-mail raises a great number of questions, and as you say, one could spend years and yet not even come close to properly question those
    Message 1 of 31 , May 29, 2007
      Hi Tommy,

      your e-mail raises a great number of questions, and as
      you say, one could spend years and yet not even come
      close to properly question those questions, let alone
      come up with answers.

      I will just hand-pick a few points here and there.

      So the problem seems to be that of communication. Let
      us make things simple before we try and deal with the
      complicated ones. The problem of communication is
      essentially that of language, so let us try and ask
      language because it is in language that the problem is
      best and first brought to light.

      We say: "I communicate". Now, wait a minute, we got a
      problem here. "I" is me, my being unique, my being
      distinguished from anybody, being irreplaceable by
      anybody, being my own individuality, the "I" points to
      the sphere of the "proper" in the German sense of "das
      Eigen" or the french "le propre" as opposed to the
      general, the common. Now here this "I" is
      communicating, it is entering a conventional system
      good for everybody, where this "I" is confused, can be
      confused with anybody, replaced by anybody.

      But this unique "I", which is unique because it is
      alive, it is a living "I", and as a living form has
      therefore the uniqueness of each and every life form
      on this planet (isnt this mind blowing, each
      individual life form on this planet is unique has its
      unique signature....), this unique "I" then, wouldnt
      be unique for it wouldnt be alive, were it to be
      alone. In order to be alive, and so unique, it needs
      to be TOGETHER, therefore to somehow, I stress somehow
      - how exaclty, we dont know yet - to somehow
      commmunicate. The famous saying of Heraclites comes
      here to mind: "Those that are awake are together, and
      those asleep alone." If we are alone then we are dead,
      and if we are to live, we have to be together.

      But to be together, we have to find a means for being
      together. And from the moment we say means, we say
      mediation, we say machine, we say tekne. From the
      inner of my unique life to the inner of another unique
      life, the way goes out there, through the exterior,
      through the machine, through "the valley of death",
      through that machine that is not just good for me and
      you, but is a good machine of communication for
      everybody. In order to go from my home to your home, I
      have to take the subway that everybody takes.

      And so the problem with communication then becomes
      much more complicated. We cannot simply say that
      communication is "bad", that technology is "bad", that
      technology is the fall from authenticity, from the
      interiority of subjectivity into the exteriority of
      the object, that technology is death. We cannot say
      that, because we see now that technology, the logos as
      tekne, is embedded with life, that life from its very
      beginning is woven together with technology, with
      death. "At the beginning there was the word".

      And so now, we have this communication with the
      internet, internet seems to facilitate this exchange
      now, but we feel that there is something that has gone
      wrong when the internet is trying to facilitate the
      birth of a love relationship between two persons. As
      before the time of the internet, people felt that
      there was something artificial, something wrong, with
      pre-arranged marriages. If love is the source of life,
      then we would want love to have the same character of
      providential chance as life. Isnt it amazing, that
      this amazing thing, life, where things all seem to fit
      together as if by design, it first happened by chance.
      Isnt life more divine if precisely it didnt happen by
      divine pre-arrangement?

      And so we would want love, as life itself, to be
      spontaneous. Pre-arrangement means comfort, and love
      of comfort simply cannot be brought in unity with
      LOVE. Love implies concern for the other, love as
      spontaneous, implies freedom, implies active work to
      bring about love as unity. Hence love is not
      "compatible" with compatibility - for the very term
      implies passivity, the passive waiting of harmony.
      Love as concern for the other cannot passively wait
      for the other to conform with me, I should make an
      effort to reach to the other, to try and conform with
      her instead, that is, to change myself, and in this
      effort we together change into one.

      Love is the most altruistic feeling. But here again,
      we run into problems. For love is also the most
      egoistical feeling - for love is at the service of my
      life. So again this paradoxical coupling of the Same
      and Other, the source of all thinking, raises here a
      new series of questions.

      --- Tommy Beavitt <qualityconstructs@...>

      > Hi Sava,
      > This is a very interesting point you are making. I
      > am especially glad
      > you have drawn this question of communication,
      > technology and
      > identity from Sarte. Its not an obvious theme, but
      > for me it jumps
      > straight out of his work, as much from what he
      > doesn't say as what he
      > does.
      > I am currently researching for a project that has
      > this as one of its
      > central themes.
      > Our age (post-Sartre) has been characterised,
      > perhaps above all else,
      > by the proliferation of communication devices such
      > as the Internet,
      > which facilitate among other things this discussion
      > group and online
      > dating. But what do we mean by "communication
      > device"?
      > It seems clear that when we talk about communication
      > and
      > communication devices (cd), we can be certain that
      > it is not the
      > devices themselves that are doing the communicating.
      > For example, I
      > am writing this email using words (cd) drawn from
      > the vocabulary of a
      > language (cd), typing them on the keyboard (cd) of a
      > computer (cd)
      > which is connected to the Internet (cd) via a mobile
      > phone (cd).
      > This is by no means an exhaustive list of the number
      > of communication
      > devices linked together purposively to facilitate
      > this particular
      > communication, and communications generally. But we
      > can, I think, say
      > that communication devices are a necessary but not
      > sufficient
      > precondition for communication.
      > For example I can digjty dilsyt giok djidosp
      > gyegquicj and there is a
      > breakdown in communication! Most of the devices in
      > the chain that
      > leads from my mind to yours are still functioning
      > correctly, you
      > could even say that the above gibberish is expressed
      > in the form of
      > words - its just that there is no recognisable
      > language to which they
      > can be allocated.
      > On a first reading, we might easily conclude that
      > every communication
      > contains as an absolute necessity two things: a
      > practically infinite
      > number of communication devices chained together
      > linearly, and two or
      > more communicatees.
      > I think it would be necessary to use the word
      > "communicatee" rather
      > than communicator, to acknowledge the reflexive
      > nature of all
      > communication. For example, if I had gone to the
      > extent of typing
      > this email but then failed to post it, or posted and
      > nobody bothered
      > reading, it wouldn't really be classed as a
      > communication, would it?
      > To the list of required preconditions for
      > communication, we might add
      > "context", because the communicatees will only be
      > able to understand
      > the content of the communication, its "whatness", if
      > it is placed
      > within a meaningful context. We can probably assume
      > that all contexts
      > are social in nature.
      > So far, so good, but I think that there is a much
      > more troubling
      > problematic to any attempt to systematise
      > communication. Not only is
      > all communication inherently unstable, because the
      > line between the
      > initiator and recipient is so fuzzy (simple
      > informational
      > transactions aren't really communication per se),
      > but we also find a
      > great deal of fuzziness whenever we try to terminate
      > the
      > communicational loop, e.g. by placing two or more
      > communicatees at
      > either end.
      > What are we to make of the human role of messenger,
      > for example? Or
      > interpreter/translator? Could there be such a thing
      > as simple (i.e.
      > dual) communication between exactly two
      > communicatees, utilising one
      > or more messengers/translators/interpreters as mere
      > communication
      > devices? The logic of international relations and
      > commercial
      > transactions often assumes this as a precondition,
      > but Sartre
      > wouldn't have been happy with this. In ancient
      > times, messengers were
      > often tortured or executed for bearing messages that
      > the recipient
      > didn't want to hear. Was this simple savagery,
      > illogicality, or did
      > the ancients have a point? Is it possible as a human
      > subject to
      > transmit a message without having a bearing on its
      > content?
      > On the other hand, telecommunications and
      > information engineering
      > generally assumes the attainability of distortion
      > free communication
      > devices. The concept of error correction, for
      > example, is used to
      > engineer zero loss transmission of digital
      > information.
      > Another quality of communication devices is
      > responsivity. A lot of
      > the work involved in improving the responsivity of
      > communications
      > devices is aimed at the design of the interface. A
      > keyboard can be
      > more or less amenable to accurate typing, a computer
      > program's
      > interface can be more or less transparent to the
      > intentions of the user.
      > In the digital realm, greater bitrate (bandwidth)
      > allows the
      > representation of graphical and audio information at
      > a higher
      > resolution. There may be linguistic nuances in the
      > spoken delivery of
      > words in a communication, that wouldn't be
      > discernible at lower
      > resolutions.
      > I think that the most controversial area remains in
      > the closing of
      > the communicational loop. When a person responds to
      > an invitation
      > from another person on an internet dating (or sex!)
      > site, what is the
      > existential status of that response? Such a response
      > could lead to
      > two-way personal "communications" of the most
      > intimate nature, but is
      > this "true" intimacy or merely its simulacrum?
      > Let's say I as a submissive fetishist contact a
      > dominatrix and she
      > performs the "personal services" I seek. Are both of
      > us equal
      > communicatees in a true communication, or am I using
      > her as a mere
      > device? Is she using me as a mere device? Perhaps
      > she is
      > professional, and her main communication is with her
      > bank manager! A
      > Christian might say that the two communicatees in
      > such a transaction
      > are me and the devil!
      > Or to take another example, let's say that I am
      > working as a
      > researcher and my boss asks for some information. I
      > provide the
      > information requested. But this information was not
      > produced by me,
      > it already existed in the public domain. The boss
      > could have laid her
      > hands on the self same information without my
      > services, but she was
      > too busy filing her nails! Am I acting as a
      > communicatee or merely a
      > communication device?
      > The question of information is an interesting one.
      > If my son asks me
      > what is 1+1 and I tell him 2 have I really been
      > providing
      === message truncated ===

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    • Eric S
      Ian, I m sorry I m a little late responding to your very interesting email, but I ve been having computer problems lately. Rather than discuss Sartre in
      Message 31 of 31 , Jun 9, 2007

        I'm sorry I'm a little late responding to your very interesting email, but I've been having computer problems lately. Rather than discuss Sartre in relation to other figures such as Nietzsche, Heidegger or Pascal, it might make sense instead to talk about Sartre in relation to the various three incarnations you mention, which for me aren't as ironclad and impermeable as you make them out to be. I certainly don't see anything ever approaching an epistemological break a la Althusser.

        Hell, even the befuddled Sartre of Hope Now still seems to be rotating in the same phenomenological orbit of Levinas (the first translator of Husserl in France), whose main contribution to philosophy, appears to have been, taking the Sartrean category of our being-for-the-other for a absolute ethical imperative. In other words, a return to the very theme Sartre himself announced at the end of Being and Nothingness!

        Does a trace remain throughout the various writings or does the earlier trace come to be obliterated in the very praxis of writing the new?


        Ian Buick <buickian@...> wrote:
        Hi Tommy,

        As a prolegomena to my answer to your arguments, I want to state my general
        position to Sartre based on a distinction you draw between the early and
        later Sartre. I know I've already mentioned this in discussions with you
        several years ago but for the sake of new members I'd like to restate the

        I think it is necessary to draw some borders in Sartre's thinking. I see a
        definite epistemological break in Sartre (to borrow a concept from
        Althusser, used by him to differentiate the works of the young from the
        mature Marx) and this break marks his move from existentialism to
        existential Marxism.

        The key theoretical work of the early period is Being and Nothingness - a
        work of phenomenology, ontology and metaphysics - while the two volumes of
        Critique of Dialectical Reason plus Search for a Method constitute the key
        theoretical work of his second phase - a phase dominated by political

        (We could also posit a third phase when Sartre was in his dotage and wrote
        'Hope Now' under the influence of his secretary, Benny Levy, where he seems
        to accept the idea of a Judaeic God.)

        I mention this because I don't think it is legitimate to mix ideas from
        his different periods. For example, to assume he is a Being and Nothingness
        Existentialist when he criticises the Vietnam war; or to assert that his
        early opinions are those of the true Sartre.

        Anyway, to return to the argument. I stated that in asserting that language
        constricts thought you were employing a form of linguistic determinism which
        ran contrary to Sartre's concept of freedom. If our thoughts are
        constricted how can we be free.

        There were at least four possible gambits open to you:
        1. You could try to show that Sartre's original concept of freedom was
        compatible with thought being constricted by language.

        2. You could try to show that Sartre changed his concept of freedom to
        assimilate the possibility that thought was constricted by language.

        3. You could abandon the view that thought is constricted by language.

        4. Or accept that Sartre's view of Freedom was undermined by your assertion.

        I must admit I have some problems following your argument. I'm not sure
        where you are going with your examples of Bad Faith. I thought you were
        going to argue for position 2 that the later Sartre changed his concept of

        >the later Sartre
        >seems to have rethought this youthful position. His concept of
        >engagement in concrete social reality in the Critique of Dialectical
        >Reason (Search for a Method) really does undo the individualistic
        >conception of freedom stated in Being and Nothingness

        Your statement is of course true and Sartre dis indeed find his earlier
        positions on freedom ridiculous, but this is not going to be your position.

        You then go on to sketch a sort of model of the function of language, which
        I don't wnat to go into here

        Finally, you conclude with what I see as position one: 1. Sartre's original
        concept of freedom is compatible with thought being constricted by language

        >In conclusion, I would argue that the constriction of thought by (any
        >particular) language is by no means equivalent to "linguistic
        >determinism" because thought - to the extent that we can interest
        >ourselves in it as philosophers - can only take place within a
        >context defined by such constrictions.

        I accept that this is a defensible position. I don't know if I'm
        interpreting you correctly but you seem to be saying that language belongs
        to the realm of facticity: that which just is and cannot be changed by the
        individual. Like the effects of gravity which exercises a determining effect
        on our bodies. language exercises a determining effect on our thought and we
        have just got to get on with it.

        The question remains if this position is true. Linguiistic research throws
        doubt upon it. Chomsky's position is that all minds operate in similar ways,
        and beneath the vastly different language structures of the world there is a
        universal grammar that reflects this similarity in thought.

        More empirically, I also think it would be difficult to argue that Hume ,for
        example, suffered greatly from having his thought constrained by his

        Is it legitimate to draw the conclusion from our discussion that Sartre's
        concept of freedom is not threatened by the possibility that language
        constricts thought because the language one speaks is not subject to free
        choice and therefore cannot be viewed as determining?

        Ian Buick

        >From: Tommy Beavitt
        >Reply-To: Sartre@yahoogroups.com
        >To: Sartre@yahoogroups.com
        >Subject: Re: [Sartre] Re: The power of words
        >Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2007 14:38:02 +0100
        >Hi Ian,
        >Its good to hear from you again.
        >On 4 Jun 2007, at 08:24, ibuick wrote:
        > > There is a thesis running through this debate that I would say runs
        > > counter to one of the basic tenets of Sartrean existentialsm - that
        > > man
        > > is free. What Sava has proposed and what Tommy has formulated into a
        > > particularly strong form is what I would term linguistic determinism.
        >I can see what you are driving at here. However, I am concerned to
        >attempt to refute two of your assertions here: first that my
        >arguments construe an attempt to counter Sartrean freedom with
        >linguistic determinism, and second, that Sartre's notion of
        >existential freedom could exist in a communication vacuum, stemming
        >from the independent thought of individual egos.
        > > For example, Tommy says "English is an analytical language and as such
        > > it tends to constrict the thought of those who write or speak in a
        > > particular way."
        > >
        > > By advocating this position he implies that the thought of English
        > > speakers is less free than speakers of synthetic languages, but it
        > > would seem to insert a significant wedge into Sartre's system because
        > > if our thoughts are constrained by language, how can we said to be
        > > free.
        >I don't know if you willfully edited my piece to try and make your
        >critique stronger, or whether you in fact missed altogether the
        >paragraph following the one you quote. Let me requote myself.
        > > French, on the other hand, is a synthetic language, which also
        > > constricts the thought of those who write or speak in it, but in a
        > > different way...
        >I have already conceded that it was incorrect of me to describe
        >French as a synthetic language. I should have instead referred to it
        >as "more synthetic than English".
        >But to your main point, that "if our thoughts are constrained by
        >language, how can we be said to be free".
        >It seems to me that Sartre's existentialist concept of freedom in
        >Existentialism is a Humanism and Being and Nothingness is less the
        >phenomenological description it purports to be than an idealisation
        >of what it WOULD mean to be free IF the deterministic shackles of bad
        >faith COULD be thrown off.
        >I am quite sure that the early Sartre indeed considered himself to
        >have discovered how not to be in bad faith, but the later Sartre
        >seems to have rethought this youthful position. His concept of
        >engagement in concrete social reality in the Critique of Dialectical
        >Reason (Search for a Method) really does undo the individualistic
        >conception of freedom stated in Being and Nothingness. This is not,
        >of course, a return to living in bad faith for Sartre, but rather an
        >acknowledgment of the very real implications of being-with-others.
        >To employ a couple of the famous images used by Sartre in B&N to
        >illustrate this point: we have first the description of the waiter
        >whose exaggerated behaviour illustrates that he is "playing at being
        >a waiter in a cafe" with "the inflexible stiffness of some kind of
        >automaton" whose essence is to be a waiter. (Routledge ed. p. 59)
        >This is the quintessence of bad faith, of believing oneself to be
        >determined by one's essence.
        >To be fair to the poor waiter who is used in this illustration, the
        >man was simply doing his job (as Sartre himself admits), and as such
        >is required by his bourgeois customers like Sartre to conform to
        >certain prior expectations. You wouldn't tip a waiter who bounded
        >towards you on all fours carrying your sandwich on his back and then
        >proceeds to piss on your table in a demonstration of his existential
        >freedom and refusal to be bound by "bad faith" determinism! Indeed,
        >you might very well complain to the management, resulting in the loss
        >of the waiter's livelihood.
        >The second famous image is used to illustrate being-for-others in the
        >section on the Look that confirms the Existence of Others when a
        >person who "moved by jealousy, curiosity or vice" has "glued [his]
        >ear to the door and looked through the keyhole" and is surprised in
        >this act by "footsteps in the hall" and is consequently "suddenly
        >affected in [his] being and that essential modifications appear in
        >[his] structure–modifications which [he] can apprehend and fix
        >conceptually by means of the reflective cogito". (ibid., pp 259-60)
        >I would say that the function of language, whether or not it is
        >developmentally prior to thinking (in the narrow developmental sense,
        >it seems pretty clear that thought is prior to language), is to
        >facilitate communication with others.
        >It seems probable that a very young child (think back to your
        >earliest memory and then try to conceptualise TO WHOM belong the
        >impressions to which the memory refers) has a sense of self that is
        >quite distinct from the sense of self that is inculcated by
        >education, mental development and living in society, described under
        >the general heading of "ego". We could simplistically, but in
        >conformance with linguistic and societal norms, and for the purposes
        >of distinguishing it from "ego", label this prior entity "soul".
        >The atheistic Sartre would certainly have had no truck with this
        >term, fearing its religious connotations. Maybe there is a parallel
        >here to his "prereflective consciousness"?
        > > This position, however, has had a powerful effect on linguistics under
        > > the name of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis - the thesis that systems of
        > > language can determine the thought of speakers. When I studied
        > > liguistics the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis was generally held to be false -
        > > the paradigm being Chomsky's view that a Universal Grammar underlay
        > > all
        > > languages.
        > > More recently, Stephen Pinker in the Language Instinct has asserted
        > > that thought is completely independent of language - that we think in
        > > mentalese and translate this mentalese seamlessly into language.
        > >
        > > So are we free or are we determined by our language?
        >In the (more or less) seamless translation of mentalese into
        >language, according to Pinker, different languages will have
        >different effects on the how the translation is effected, no?
        >So my claim, that an analytic language will constrict the thought of
        >those who write or speak in a different way from how synthetic
        >languages constrict thought, isn't necessarily incompatible with
        >Pinker's hypothesis. Unless the term "seamless" is central to his
        >hypothesis rather than a mere adjectival suggestion?
        >In the process of communication, utterances or writings are always
        >interpreted according to a particular perceived context. This is a
        >completely uncontroversial statement, isn't it? So we cannot state
        >that there could be such a thing as original thought independent of
        >context. Whether we prefer to think of thought as prior to language
        >or language as prior to thought: either way, all thought is
        >contextualised by language, and it is only to the extent that thought
        >is contextualised by language that we can make any comments
        >whatsoever regarding its nature.
        >In conclusion, I would argue that the constriction of thought by (any
        >particular) language is by no means equivalent to "linguistic
        >determinism" because thought - to the extent that we can interest
        >ourselves in it as philosophers - can only take place within a
        >context defined by such constrictions.
        > > I would also be interested in seeing some examples of the superio rity
        > > of German or Ancient Greek as a vehicle for philosophical thinking. I
        > > would accept that the Greeks and the Germans have produced a greater
        > > number of top class philosphers than the English speaking countries
        > > and
        > > the former have produced more significant individual works, but it is
        > > by no means certain that this superiority is due to the nature of the
        > > language used.
        >I agree that it is not easily provable that different languages
        >constrict the thought of philosophers in ways that can be described
        >as "better" or "worse".
        >Personally, I find the "analytic" philosophical thought produced by
        >the Anglo-American school shallow and uninteresting relative to the
        >"synthetic" thought tending to be produced by the Continental school.
        >But this may be simply a matter of taste.
        >It is interesting to consider whether these distinct forms of
        >philosophical thinking are in any way constricted or contextualised
        >by the languages in which they are articulated.
        >Best regards
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