Tag Archives: Sarah Bakewell

The obscure, the enigmatic, the elusive

One might think that, if Heidegger had anything worth saying, he could have communicated it in ordinary language.

The fact is that he does not want to be ordinary, and he may not even want to communicate in the usual sense. He wants to make the familiar obscure, and to vex us. George Steiner thought that Heidegger’s purpose was less to be understood than to be experienced through a ‘felt strangeness’. It is something like the  ‘alienation’ or estrangement effect used by Berthold Brecht in his theatre, which is designed to block you from becoming too caught up in the story and falling for the delusion of familiarity. Heidegger’s language keeps you on edge. It is dynamic, obtrusive, sometimes ridiculous and often forceful; on a page of Heidegger things are typically presented as surging or thrusting, as being forced forward, lit up or broken open. Heidegger admitted that his way of writing produced some ‘akwardness’, but he thought that a small price to pay for overturning the history of philosophy and bringing us back to Being.

Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

(more here) 


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The question and the answer

Unlike beings, Being is hard to concentrate on and it is easy to forget to think about it. But one particular entity has a more noticeable Being than others, and that is myself, because, unlike clouds and portals, I am the entity who wonders about its Being. It even turns out that I have a vague, preliminary, non-philosophical understanding of Being already otherwise I would not have thought of asking about it. This makes me the best starting point for ontological inquiry I am both the being whose Being is up for question and the being who sort of already knows the answer.

Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

This is from the chapter on Heidegger

(from here) 

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The ennoblement of shame

[The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre] interpreted Genet above all as a writer, who took control of the contingencies of his life by writing about them. But where did Genet get this ability to transform the events of his life into art, asked Sartre? Was there a definite moment when Genet, a despised and abused child abandoned by his unmarried mother and taken in by an orphanage, began to turn into a poet?

Sartre found the moment he was looking for in an incident that occurred when Genet was ten years old and living with a foster family. Such a child was expected to be humble and grateful, but Genet refused to comply, and showed his rebellion by stealing small objects from the family and their neighbours. One day, he was sticking his hands in a drawer when a family member walked in on him and shouted, ‘You’re a thief!’ As Sartre interpreted it, the young Genet was frozen in the gaze of the Other: he became an object slapped with a despicable label. Instead of feeling abashed, Genet took that label and changed its meaning by asserting it as his own. You call me a thief? Very well, I’ll be a thief.

. . . . he owned his outsider identity as thief, vagrant, homosexual and prostitute. He took control of his oppression by inverting it, and his books take their energy from that inversion . .

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails, p 219

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A philosopher speaks

[Simone de] Beauvoir sees every element of women’s situation as conspiring to box them in to mediocrity, not because they are innately inferior, but because they learn to become inward-looking, passive, self-doubting and overeager to please. Beauvoir finds most female writers disappointing because they do not seize hold of the human condition; they do not take it up as their own. They find it difficult to feel responsible for the universe. How can a woman ever announce, as Sartre does in Being and Nothingness, ‘I carry the weight of the world by myself ’?

Sarah Bakewell: At the Existentialist Café

(from here) 

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