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Jean Paul Sartre's Existentialism as Answer to Existential Crisis by Hatto Fischer

Ronald Aronson wrote in: "Jean-Paul Sartre at 100: Still troubling us today" (published in International Herald Tribune, June 22, 2005" that Sartre continues to irrate and to annoy because the truth is not perceived to be on either the side of determinists or those who claim absolute freedom, and therefore Sartre demands "that we see ourselves as active agents, even when we might prefer the irresponsibility of seeing ourselves as victims".

Thus some further thoughts about Sartre on his 100th birthday were written a few days after having read Ronald Aronson's contribution on June 26, 2005. Of interest is that Albert Camus 100th birthday followed in 2013, and this coincided with Marseilles being European Capital of Culture with reference to that Camus legacy which includes a broken friendship with Sartre. And ever since the debates have been divided due to different parties taking sides with only the one or other thinker / writer.

Existentialism can be defined by formulating a simple puzzle: “Now you exist! Now you don't!” How can that be? If compared to the play of a child which puts the hands in front of the own eyes, it can say that the other does see it and hence it does not exist. If blending out of reality as a deep, but unfulfilled wish can be ascribed to Existentialism as its prime motor, then that would reflect Sartre's philosophy stating that the existence of things depends on own decisions, but only – and that is an important qualification - as far as the imagination is concerned. Decisions in relation to the imagination can become an insistence that this exists but not that! If that is the case, then surely existence becomes the reality we want to see while our real existence is being determined by the way we look forward or rather into the future. This holds according to Sartre because only once we know the goals we wish to strive for in future, then we can live in the present and therefore exist. Reformulated it would mean existence is a degree of liveliness which alters our consciousness accordingly. Childhood is existing simply in reality without knowing the final end and therefore an undefined present. But maturation and the bringing about of consciousness makes it important how the past, present and future tenses of life can be related to. There is even the danger that the past and future can conspire against the present and thereby shut out the individual from a liveable present. In other words, Existentialism underlines the fact that we do need to know what we strive for in order to exist fully in consciousness of our present lives. Whether or not that is self consciousness, that is still another matter.



Jean Paul Sartre – Existentialism: an answer to existentialist crisis?


Although Jean Paul Sartre has been associated with Existentialism, hardly anyone thought to develop further thoughts with regards to the claim that 'life has become an existentialist crisis'.


Dostoevsky saw in such a crisis not merely the confusion of a mind, but the danger of an absolute break-down of 'morality'. In 'Brother Karamazov' he poses the crucial and critical question, “for what happens if God is dead – does that mean everything is then allowed?” 1


The linkage of morality to the existence of God was considered to be the greatest guarantee order. God was for this order to be established the highest level of abstraction and thereby gave power to a unification which made things possible, but not everything for only within the set limits man's actions were conceivable and possible. That led to the power of abstraction to enforce such unities upon others who could not challenge that abstract thinking. With this degree of abstraction goes the law forbidding to make any concrete image of God. The picture dispute the Roman Catholic Church waged with the Orthodox Church of the East was precisely that: nothing should appeal to the senses so that the belief in this all powerful God would be upheld by an order of things only accountable to itself: the church constituting its institutional practice around this belief. It defined among other things what the arts have to show, what not and therefore imposed limitations upon the language to be used. Definitely it could not be sensual, even though the church itself was not devoid of 'subversive practices'. 2 Nothing was to be trespassed if sanctions and even worse other, more extreme forms of punishment were to be avoided.


Of interest is what Giotto depicted in his paintings at the beginning of the Renaissance, namely a church which in past, present and future terms is incapable of comprehending another unity, namely the suffrage of people communicated by mere gestures. They involve everyone as it is a universal language. Consequently Giotto shows what traps power uses to deceive people: they look up at a cross just outside the church but this symbol of power and belief is only impressive in the direction of the people but seen from behind and out of the perspective of the painter, it is a cross dangling simply from a small wire.


Giotto's painting show how perception of reality was shaped according to the church having the power to deceive and thereby being able to make false claims as its legitimacy i.e. for being the sole guardian of truth over life here on Earth related to heaven, God and the holy Ghost. It is done in a clever way. Jesus is depicted as having been born inside the church and not in a cradle of Bethlehem and the persons to receive the Saviour first are the bishops of the church. Once such an institutional arrangement is set, it explains why the church shall shun any confrontation with reality, if only to keep its own advantages alive.


Philosophers like Ernst Bloch identified periods such as the one of Ancient Greece or of the Arab philosophy up to the 9th century as a 'belief in reason'. Such a thought system was based on interests in nature while men followed such philosophical teachings which made the way free to rational discourses. Prime topics were man's ideas, fears and assumptions about knowledge (Socrates). But once the spirit of the Orthodoxy began to rule, dogmatic belief started to shut out reason. It meant a fundamental interpretation of the core or original text over dominated any other kind of discourse. Thus it excluded a reality to be experienced only by having a plurality of opinions and by not taking any text literally as being the one and only reality. Rather freedom and reason would be combined to give way to different interpretations of the text(s) referring to man's reality.


Once Orthodoxy and fundamental beliefs set in, Aristotle's writing about politics and the need for a healthy constitution were largely ignored. After all, Orthodoxy makes a dogmatic claim on how a text is to be interpreted, or rather it requires none since it is plain to all what is meant. Thus it did not allow for any further going interpretation which could prepare the ground for a rewriting of the original text or for newer texts around which another value consensus could start to exist. Afraid of changes, dogmatic truths prevailed. They spelled out rules of behaviour while cementing in reality the religious power over the masses. It all dependent on the effective method of indoctrination and intimidation so that a few could teach the faithful ones how the community was to be kept together. It convinced because based on simple truths which apparently everyone could follow and yet it silenced very much the contradictions which it allowed. In the Arab world the profound change could be felt in the ninth century. Since then religion has become the determining factor of how state power is to be used to wield an unquestioned absolute rule of governance.


In looking back over history, and when comparing with present trends, one question seems to be an important departure for modern philosophy, namely what happens if people are no longer guided by a 'belief in reason' but rather hover in silent obedience to the spirit of Orthodoxy? The latter would impose a separation of belief and reason so that only belief would be the prime mover of all. Such a belief system would impose a strict rule by fear of the 'holy law' which would determine the fate of everyone. It was a method by which any 'pragmatic' challenge to the system was ruled out a priori and therefore would require if serious an absolute challenge. But not only would this make a dialogue with reason impossible, it would mean also strictly speaking violence since there was apparently no other way of overthrowing the existing system. In such a context of negative self understanding as people not free to think for themselves, truth was to be upheld as to what the religious institutions wish to force upon reality and the people forced to live within its confines.

Basically it means that everything is done to uphold a strong belief, and more so the strongest possible belief. For that one interpretation based on a dogmatic truth is needed. The justification for such a drive to use religious power in such a political way is that this is apparently the only way people can be unified, and this despite all their differences. Such an order ensures that contradictory opinions are excluded or even worse persons upholding another truth shall be persecuted and as Bruno experienced as well executed. By definition it rules out any plurality of opinion and does not safeguard either freedom of expression or dialogue. Since the two go together if human dignity is to be upheld, it says it all if that is not guaranteed. That is the case once the defining power of the church or religious order cannot be contradicted, never mind be defied. A first guardian against even the smallest hint of criticism will be to take ridicule as insult to the ruling power and therefore shall be punished even more severely than many other 'crimes'.


In philosophy, one can see this struggle on how to relate to the 'manifoldness of reality' while still being able to claim the possibility of governing with such concepts that make sense of unity per 'Anschauung' or perception. It resonates in Kant's dictum of the 'unity of apperception'. 3 Still, the way the religion of the church handled reality, that posed a challenge to him as well. He had to be very careful what he would say and write, lest he would meet a similar fate as Bruno who was burned at the stake.


However, Kant wanted to come to terms with not merely an immediate, but with the entire world. He followed the travels of Darwin and studied his notes he brought back from his trips. It was world already influenced by the spirit of the Enlightenment. As biggest obstacle to reason was man's fear. Consequently Kant foresaw that a strong belief in a secular world would be both conceivable and possible. Yet nothing should be rushed and claim a new cultural synthesis. Hence it became necessary for him to separate theoretical, practical and moral reasoning just as concept, principle and perception were needed to draw a circle by keeping the same distance from the point never to be described directly, but only could be circumscribed. Interestingly enough this prudence was reflected later on in the American constitution which outlined governance on the basis of a separation of executive, legislative and judicial power with President, Congress and Supreme Court the respective institutions to safeguard the rule of law.


Unfortunately Kant did not focus on the need of separation of power so much as on the ability of governments to pass such laws which were good for 'business'. It meant overlooking that governments should not serve an one sided interest seeking just a way to make 'good business' possible, but that interest in all people meant something else in terms of justice and law. 4 Consequently in his approach he ignored completely the wish of people to be governed in freedom, and not by a law favouring business while keeping them at bay at the same time. Kant's attempt to justify his approach was really horrific for he considered the common man as something like a crooked wood which cannot be bent straight. Hence, so his conclusion, it was imperative to impose some restriction.


It was really amazing to see Kant, after having laid free the entire psyche of man and showed it to be as open ended and wonderful as the universe with all its stars, that he did not trust this free psyche. Rather he mistook it as something like a lawlessness. He grew afraid that it could at any time do harm to others. For him this was the case if the other was no longer treated as an end by himself but was misused as means for one's own end. Equally he saw that he had no means to uphold this moral postulate. Consequently Kant responded in such a negative, equally absolute way that it terminated in slamming into the free psyche of man the 'categorical imperative'. Alone through such an act Kant created right there one of the deepest wounds ever inflicted on man's psyche in the entire history. What he did, that can hardly be forgiven, if ever be corrected. Surely it stems from a deep mistrust of common man but this is no justification for such a violent reaction.


Needless to say Kant had his own difficulties in feeling secure in his own identity. His servant had to dress up in uniform before waking up his Master. Later, but so punctual that the people of Königsberg where Kant lived his entire life, could set their watches according to when he went out for a walk. Together he and his servant would walk down the street, and the difference with the servant dressed in uniform reassured Kant people would recognize who was the Master and who the servant. The uniform made all the difference and allowed him to retain a distance so that his own identity could not be questioned.


Interestingly enough this reoccurs in Hitler being only happy when everyone marches past him with all dressed in the same uniform. It was a way of squashing all differences with him being the sole exception. Also it can be reflected in what Sartre said about people recognizing each other in terms of how they show through their clothes their design of existence. A chimney sweeper who comes along the street will show it by wearing black clothes and carrying a ladder along with other tools a chimney sweeper needs like the long rope with a ball at the end and just above it a brush with which he sweeps the chimneys. Sartre added by contrast an intellectual does not show in the clothes he wears such a design by which he shall seek to exist i.e. earn his living. Looking down from a window onto the street and comparing who he can recognize, who not, Sartre already started to notice vast differences in how people seek to exist and by deduction it allowed him to anticipate who would potentially be in crisis due to not knowing how to exist, i.e. with what identity recognizable for others.


But to come back once more to Kant, his attempt to rationalize government as being advised by a philosopher to pass only a certain kind of laws meant he did want to resolve the problem with the church by showing governments have to be based on knowledge. He wanted really to resolve man's predicament of existence on earth but religion and the belief in the need for something absolute had still too big a sway on thoughts in general. Consequently Kant waited till he had reached a later stage in his life and only then did he set out to publish his writings. Although that 'one-sided' 5 approach to things can be explained by his wish to avoid a conflict with the church, nevertheless in so doing it revealed he had really no truth in man. He abandoned thereby prematurely the quest of the Enlightenment to free man from his own fears.


Even prior to Kant many philosophers had challenged religion. Their main contention was the church upholding such a hierarchy which ended up separating always the rulers from the ruled. Dostoevsky would portray the Grand Inquisitor as the only one who did not believe what he asked his followers to believe. Unfortunately many thinkers like Bruno ended up being burned at the stake for heresy but he was most unfortunate, since a businessman denounced him after he asked Bruno to teach all what he knows and the latter refused to teach him everything he knew about the universe and the beginning of physics. Ernst Bloch speaks about Descartes having only escaped the inquisition by drinking plenty of red wine which helped him 'scratch the curve' when formulating some crucial thoughts and which could have easily gotten him into trouble. Descartes saw that it was a critical matter how to connect the 'I' not as individual identity but rather as a human being to the collectivity of man and therefore to society and to the universe. Galileo had started to challenge the conventional wisdom that the earth was the centre of the universe and the church being at the centre of earth equally the central power of the universe. Through his theoretical perception and thesis that the earth was rotating instead around the sun, he challenged the very premise upon which rested the authoritative power of the church. In a way, he started the emancipatory process of sciences from religion.


But even then science was not the sole answer to man's quest for self knowledge. The Ancient slogan 'know thy self' was like a hurting piece of evidence in human flesh. At the same time, it can be acknowledged that not only in these times dominated by the church were philosophers persecuted and prosecuted. One needs to think only of Socrates and his fate when being judged by the Polis that he had been misleading young people and therefore had the choice of either going into exile or else drink the hemlock. Socrates opted for the latter since he knew going into exile was a far greater punishment. Thus to come a bit closer to the truth, many philosophers ended up in self exile even if they had managed to become professors like Hegel. Far worse a fate experienced Nietzsche since he was banned for life after ruining his academic reputation by holding speeches of Anti-Semitism due to Wagner's influence and therefore no university, not even the one in Athens, would accept him.


Nevertheless in this quest to establish man's own existence based on reason and freedom, philosophers started to identify religion as the most disturbing phenomenon. Belief became identical with being blindfolded; instead they wanted to perceive reality as it is and not shut down or suppress 'open questions' (questions which had no answers) about life by being referred to iconic pictures. The images conjured by the church to suit ritual practices were no longer considered to be source of truth. Rather they started to struggle in existential terms with man's own finite existence. Such a life had no meaning for the existence of death could not be denied. But still being gifted with the senses and a common sense, otherwise known as practical wisdom, they realized that life on earth had to be understood in such existential terms. Kierkegaard was one of them who started that quest but even though he would eventually prove to himself and others a loving relationship to the other was impossible, it meant exposing the self fully to what theological interpretations of life could not answer.


More so the dispute between Jacobi and Hegel brought out an even more precarious relationship between the role of the senses and what could be considered to be a 'certainty of knowledge' about life ahead. Predictability and lawfulness was to be experienced or rather to be approached at another level of conceptual perception and thus Hegel maintained the senses could not be a source of truth. Consequently he denied as well poetry and over looked thereby the main carrier of wisdom. At the same time, those who did not negate the senses, they realized ever more that if the senses are not spoken to in a way that people can understand the language being spoken, there would be no validity being given to the 'common sense'. It started throughout Europe with translating the bible first into English to prevent people there from falling victim to the Pope in Rom and was followed by someone like Martin Luther whose bible translation lay the ground work for the unification of Germany. Much later Marx would bring this to a point when he stated in the introduction to his dissertation that language has to bring together categories of productivity and creativity, for otherwise people could not address each other in such a language which was capable of addressing the 'human self consciousness'. That term 'self consciousness' became a crucial turning point in what had been already a problem in the philosophy of Kant, namely his constant reference to the concept of the 'self' without defining it very clearly (Adorno). And Kant knew about the contradictions between finite space and time and infinite space and time. To structure the disposition of man's thoughts in a way that could overcome these contradictions meant struggling with the 'infinite sense' revealed by the timeless non existence of any borders which could mark the end of the universe. There were none. How then to project man's thoughts into the future when there was this open gap in his knowledge?


But while Kant spoke about paradoxes between finite and infinite space and time, it was Nietzsche who pushed things in 'Thus spoke Zarathustra' to an absolute limit of another order. As if 'self belief' was an absurdity onto itself, he transformed the projection of the self in space and time into something people longed for and if spoken to in such self-related terms propelled by the wish to belief, they were prepared to listen and to go along with anything which would be said to them by the 'Superman'. It reflected a longing of people having grown afraid of the times they were living in and in believing not they, but some strong man can only save them from the desperate situation, they were prepared for another kind of following. Nietzsche started to speak in his diagnosis about the end of Christianity and in so doing converted the belief in God into a belief about a great man who would be different from a figure like Jesus. For such a man would keep his words and by following him they would collectively undertake actions for which alone they would never find the strength. Nietzsche named even the location where such immediate truths would be revealed to the people: the market place. A lot can be associated with that insofar as it reminds of the role the Agora played in Ancient Greece but also what Brecht would say later on as to the truth of the market place. In any case with Nietzsche the existential crisis had come to a full turn: without belief (and trust in the church), but also without any practical orientation (the dispute about the senses being questioned by those who uphold concepts by referring to an absolute spirit as did Hegel for them no longer comprehensible), people needed a leader or strong man who would safeguard them in their lives of which they had grown afraid of as if no longer liveable. 6


Clearly Nietzsche had branded life with a new term: 'Nihilism'. It resulted not so much out of failure of governance leading on to a lack of unity and no common belief in just one God, but was a direct consequence of loss of recognition and understanding of the 'self' in such a world gone astray. By anticipating the path of the would-be Superman (Übermensch), and provided conditions would allow people to follow that great person, 7 Nietzsche redefined consequently 'sanity' as a way to escape existential crisis or self-doubt. He defined man in the making as following the lead of the new 'superman' (Übermensch) and left no doubt in his own peculiar, equally negative way that no other knowledge may suffice to realize what shall happen in moments of a total break-down of morality.


Unfortunately for Nietzsche himself that moment of salvation through recognition and understanding of the self never came. Before sliding into a permanent state of 'insanity' – he vegetated for ten years and sat most often just in the showcase window of the Nietzsche Museum his sister had prepared to use him as living puppet in Weimar - “it was a semi consciousness state allowing him to look from a position of would be dead like back upon life” 8 - he ended up staying in Turin where the only person to understand him was apparently a woman selling fruits and vegetables at the market. In this illusion of empathy given to him by that woman he negated all others for not recognizing the greatness in him. It was, however, a terrible blow when he was informed through a letter from the University of Athens that they too would not accept him to teach there as professor. 9


A similar theme is touched upon by Thomas Mann in his Dr. Faustus. For this he used the composer Schönberg as model and took the advise of Adorno. In the story, Dr. Faustus, the composer leaves behind the city of Munich to spend his final years of creativity on a farm in the rural countryside of Baveria; when he finally invites friends from the city to hear his latest composition for pianco and which he plays himself, while doing so he breaks down. Presumably he senses prospects of silence since the guests remained silent while he was playing, a silence more like running directly into a wall, and thus is overcome by a similar state of 'insanity' as has been Nietzsche. Of interest is that the farmer's wife, who takes care of him, chases out the guests and claims she is the only one to understand a genius and not those high nosed, supposedly cultivated people from the city. That simple understanding resembles what Nietzsche found in that market woman in Turin.


What understanding so-called simple people convey, that is most interesting as it reveals something about sanity and insanity in terms of the deeper meaning of what is implied when someone enters or undergoes an 'existential crisis'. What Nietzsche through his life and Thomas Mann through Dr. Faustus illustrate is that simple people seem to understand something much better than those who are educated but most likely as well trapped in 'theories', life is easier when without too much doubt. However, they are without any real authority of society to give full recognition, hence while showing an understanding they can undertake very little to prevent a tragedy in the making. They can merely cushion the fall of the great ones or make more explicit the discrepancy in society when it is a matter of accepting (recognizing) new ideas (since Dr. Faustus was modelled after Schönberg, it reflects as well the difficulties he had with the twelve tone to be accepted just as Beethoven and Mozart struggled in their respective times to gain recognition for their music). For there is always some ambivalence involved, structurally speaking, since not accepting a new idea can also be linked to the fact that the individual forthcoming with such an idea is not necessarily convincing. Always creativity is equally a challenge to the system insofar as the latter is based on conventional, indeed routine thinking to ensure stability and therefore prone not to take the risk of doing something completely new, equally strange and therefore at 'risk' not to be understood. 10 Interestingly enough, the so called simple people do appreciate when someone does take the risk and becomes truly creative by working and acting outside any frame. By contrast, those who have the authority to decide, they usually tend to hesitate before deciding how to identify the new work: a break through or a complete disaster. They will reject it all the more if a challenge to their own way of thinking and therefore only to be understood they are willing themselves to change. At the same time, there has to be added the thought articulated by Robert Musil in 'Man without Attributes', for “far worse than criticism is for anyone not to get any response whatsoever.”


Indeed, what manifests itself as a barrier of silence between a creative persons and others who refuse to understand for different reasons (e.g. fear of change) gives itself a different meaning to silence. Especially an artist does depend not merely on whether or not he sells something when exhibiting his work, for the real risk is to show his works in public and not to get any response. Even criticism like someone saying not to like that black texture in the background or the expression that is a painting I would never hang in my bedroom gives 'orientation'. It is a way for the artist or creative person to stay in touch with reality. And it allows a way to go on. Some detail will become important in the next painting. The crossing over Adorno called the beautiful spots in music, that is when a side theme overtakes suddenly the theme which had been predominant before.


The failure to be understood by others is equally a sign of a break-down in what upholds the equivalence of language and silence in the form of agreement with others as to when highly creative moments are allowed or can be included in the conversation. There is this search going on to connect with others and often it may take generations and centuries before something coming close to a liveable truth has been attained. This is especially the case when for centuries people work to make possible a non violent change possible and thereby evoke a transition in power, even though they know it takes a simple pistol shot and like the pigeons on the square that single bang can make all fly up out of fear. It will take ages thereafter for the dust to settle down for disturbed souls are plenty, calm waters rare.


All this is to say someone like de Chirico knew what risks are entailed when one steps outside society's ability and willingness to understand. His surreal projection upon a single statue in the middle of the square took on metaphysical dimensions but was meant to be the entry point for a dialogue with muse. It is a kind of contemplation under certain conditions, with the urban one an added one just like Piranesi would depict the vaults of Roman prisons as an indication of a robust culture having nothing to do with the pillars of Ancient Temples standing as near ruins in the bleaching sun of Greece. The Hellenistic ideal does not work for everyone with regards to that important question but what keeps society together.


Yet over centuries and time and history silence has become a realization of a terrible loss of human reality. It means to be in the end without a human language with which one can express oneself and feel to be understood. The worst part within such a silence is the loss of the 'self' and which can be imagined as having been thrown out of the house, expelled from the community of men and women, and forced to confront all alone an 'unbelievable silence'.


The nature of that silence is such that the creative person has to recognize as being someone who is unable to exist among the others. Kafka realized that when he wrote a letter to Felice and imagined her amongst all those businessmen in Frankfurt. He added that he can only exist in-between the lines he is writing to her. Similar Hölderlin who loved this woman Charlotte although she was married to a successful businessman who loved to entertain guests at his house, and Hölderlin, the poet and house teacher having a much lower status than all the other servants, could only marvel, but also feel the pain that this woman who could listen so attentively to his poems, that she could equally walk in between all these men and smile at them to make them feel to be welcomed at her husband's home.


There is a kind of self negation entailed which makes the punishment through silence all the more significant as it is linked to a full awareness as to who can exist in this kind of society, and who cannot. In recognizing what is needed to remain creative while being very clear under what threat that kind of existence stands whenever that other self steps away and disappears amidst that exclusive society, this then is not merely a self conjunction. Rather it is a 'self negation' by giving the others a unity of strength the creative person does not think to have since missing is that social recognition, a way to exist. Consequently it has all the makings of an 'existential crisis' and it happens usually at the wrong time, that is when the most agonizing moment has arrived insofar as the creative person knows the crucial difference between being a mere by-stander and what would make a difference to allow his or her self integration into society, and this without giving up the prerequisite for creativity. In Goethe's 'Suffrage of the young Werther' the poet commits in the end suicide as he realizes the woman he loves has decided to marry a practical man who knows how to exist in society by doing something practical, concrete i.e. what allows him to earn money.


Now it is most interesting to be side tracked like this when really wishing to reflect upon Sartre and Existentialism. But by following the narratives as revealed through biographies and their replicas in certain works of art, it does reveal something about the varied meanings of 'existential crisis'. They all begin to show a similar pattern, namely the understanding writers, artists, poets etc. seek from others and yet what highly precarious undertaking it is. When Klaus Mann heard about the publisher's refusal to publish his book about the actor Gründgens, he commits suicide. Here 'existential crisis' takes on a personal meaning: the experience made by a daring intellectual or creative artist who realises too late that he or she has gone too far out on a limb and therefore no longer feels (or never was) safeguarded by human support when dealing with harsh reality.


For many like Nietzsche it meant fore mostly to be left alone after being ousted from the academic institution. The latter is of importance for especially those who seek recognition in terms of knowledge and a validation of personal thoughts in a discourse which supposed to be a part of this search for truth. Here the tragedy of many, including Hölderlin, comes to mind. The latter is all the more tragic since he failed to gain support from persons outside the academic circles such as Goethe and Schiller. Both these poets did not support him when he made after returning from Paris a last ditch effort to launch a Journal for Poetry. It would have been something by which he could have dignified himself in a society which rarely supports poets, never mind someone who affirmed the French Revolution when political correctness at that time meant rather to be silent in that regard. The lack of response by Goethe and Schiller literally crushed this sensitive poet in not only his self esteem for he was already deeply wounded. Hölderlin ended up living his entire second part of his life confined to a tower in Tübingen. It was a kind of self imprisonment even though he would receive visitors and he would do his best sometimes to entertain them. At least he was a bit more active than Nietzsche at the museum in Weimar. And while cut off completely from society, and his true love having died already at the age of 24, Hölderlin did try to develop such a poetic language which could have contributed towards making the German language altogether much more humane than what it had become since Martin Luther's translation of the Bible. 11 Unfortunately Hölderlin was discovered only much later and by then had already been abused by the Nazis especially due to his 'fatherland' poem.


All this is to say that society's ability to safeguard itself from being questioned too much from within can be very subtle indeed. Definitely society wants to avoid being dragged down by everyone entering an 'existentialist crisis'. Even Sartre would express such a thought when mentioning that parents cannot talk with their children on how they plan to exist i.e. by what means, profession or job they shall earn their living, but they can ask of the children to commit themselves to a continuity of life – and not commit suicide. Still, the suppressive mechanism within society has to be understood before making any practical judgement about the outcome. For society shows continuously especially in periods of crisis where the priorities lie: the individual is not merely cut off from the 'self' through education and training, but is expected to give everything to the nation, the organization he or she works for and to the state. Socialization is geared towards excluding any self understanding since only then the individual shall follow orders and power can implement the law within the framework of predefined rules e.g. never question the authority of the police or judge since representatives of the state (Hegel, Philosophy of Law). That these representatives of the state should be accountable to the citizen, that never enters the mind of state philosophers who seek to uphold abstract power over concrete articulation of personal needs.


Most often these rules do not make any sense at all. Fresh recruits to the army learn that from day one since they are sent back and forth until they no longer comprehend either the command or themselves. They have become in the process completely malleable and shall follow henceforth commands without questioning them. Interestingly enough Adorno in reviewing what went wrong in Germany and which led to blind fellowship said if society commands as well the new generation to love, the only way to break that command is to love. Here then is named once again the precarious precondition to revolt and yet stay in touch with reality by not letting go nor being abandoned by the person loved. This was the case of Hölderlin for once confronted by the husband of Charlotte as to what is the relationship to his wife, Hölderlin fled to Paris. Literally it meant either he backed down or else did not stand his man. Giving up love so easily means already he thought not to have any chance in such a society to sustain a relationship not merely with Charlotte but presumably with any other woman.


Above all the rules forbidding to link the self with an understanding as to what one is doing are designed in such a way that they safeguard the hierarchical structure of well being not as an individual, but of society and of the state which exists to safeguard that society. It leaves reality to be only accessible if willing to live by and to follow these rules. It is definitely not that 'intelligible reality' Jean Paul Sartre would describe as being the prerequisite for any action.


If such governance by the defining power of rules and norms does not work by suppressing or rather cutting off the individual from any self-understanding, then there are institutions such as prisons and psychiatric hospitals which ensure an 'order kept as such by silence' best done by 'observing and punishing' in case that thoughts and questions prove to be too critical (M. Foucault). That point is reached if the institution is over demanded by more problems augmented than what it had been set up for to resolve. Indeed, by leaving out personal interests linked to knowledge about the 'self', and this most often in the name of objectivity and science. 12 replicated in a language of only concepts but no living subjects, the need to cut off persons from any self understanding becomes the institutional rule in order to safeguard both the institution and society from any personal fate. Continuity of life is transposed onto another level and the real discontinuities silenced permanently. The result for the individual is both hard and harsh. Once cut off from any self understanding as valid basis of knowledge means also to limit the ability to question things, and therefore it will mean in the end all but self exclusion from any scientific and political discourse. 13


In remembering the fate of various great poets and literary figures, Ingeborg Bachmann comes to mind. She burned to death after her bed caught fire apparently from a cigarette she had left burning while falling herself asleep. Something similar happened to Sylvia Plath who died most unfortunately. Some say she was panic stricken once she realized it was impossible to live as an emancipated woman. Likewise was tragic the ending of both Kleist and Günderrode since both committed suicide within a space of four years. Here is of interest how Christa Wolf would describe both in her novel 'Kein Ort! Nirgends!' - no place; nowhere! There was no place for them to exist. They did not belong to the salon where discussions about the future took place in the light of recent scientific discoveries nor to where common people existed, that is amongst the animals of the farm and continuously doing chores so that the upper class could follow their amusements or simply pass their boring times with many kinds of nonsense.


There are many others who like Uwe Johnson came from East Germany and then fled West Germany since he did not wish to be the expert of Eastern Germany. He went to the United States and fell in love with a woman only to discover that she was betraying him since she worked for the Stasi, the secret police of the East German state. Uwe Johnson published nevertheless 'Diaries of the Year' – a fantastic book describing day by day developments from August 1967 to August 1968, that is when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia (as it was still back then) to squash the Prague spring. But once back in England, Uwe Johnson went into retreat. He had automatic lights which would go on in the evening so no one noticed for two weeks when looking out the pub window and seeing his house up the hill being lit up that he had died a lonely death indeed. His 'existential crisis' came once he had lost the trust in the other and therefore ended up completely isolated. As Durkheim would describe most suicides are connected with complete social isolation: a 'self' cut off from the world and unable to do a simple thing like just stepping out the door and greeting the next best person passing by out of love for life.


All these fates connected to this term 'existential crisis' make an explanation necessary.


It seems non existence can best be described as being caught between two worlds. By realizing that oneself does not to belong to either one or the other world, namely neither to the one of the intellect or of the academia or to the world as defined by common people and their everyday chores while struggling to just survive, the impossibility to exist becomes a real threat. What outlets, alternatives or possible exists from such an 'existential crisis' can be found in time, that is before being too late, that depends on circumstances, mind set but also possibilities to discuss the issues with someone who seeks to understand first of all and avoids making any judgements, in particular crude ones.


Here Jean Paul Sartre left a definite mark by preoccupying himself with the difference between being determined by outer i.e. social, economic, political etc. conditions and still having a freedom of choices but which are not self understood by themselves the outcome of decisions made out the realization of being free. The freedom to decide was linked to the choices given by the situation, but one which could also be created by the self becoming active. The risk was always not to see the need to combine the two but to reproduce the situation in only a negative sense by presenting it merely as an 'either / or' alternative with either one being really wrong and thereby sealing the fate of that individual once that decision had been made. 14 This is all the more the case when the individual is so much weakened by the condition that the yearning for a change of fate takes on an unmeasurable desire for transformation. (Baudrillard)


By the way, it is said that Dürer spend more time in taverns to listen to talks about the latest discoveries than what his wife wished him to do, namely produce constantly drawings and paintings as if the equivalent of a cupboard ready for use and therefore of a definite market value. She was merely interested in what would safeguard their existence. Endless talks she saw as a direct threat and anyhow ordinary people would not understand what they were talking about. This split between here practice, there 'theory' was fatal. While the former was equated with doing something useful, the latter was just 'theory'. Even Kant had to address this issue. One of his writings carries a title which says it all: “It so nice in theory but in practice...”. That difference was all the more so significant since being useful meant it is understandable to common people and of much higher value than theory, since it would bring in money. Consequently the useful was made into the much more preferred concrete. As a matter of fact this allusion to being practical as opposed to being just 'theoretical' was praised so much as if far superior to anything else despite the fact that people were living under the rule of an abstract order and that they had all bus suspended any concrete understanding of their 'selves'.


This split between theoretical and practical knowledge had severe repercussions upon the life of many people and gave a taste as to how society would structure itself. Most telling was what happened to one taxi driver who would one evening drive home a customer who was a scientist of physics and who had just attended a conference. When he climbed into the car, he was most excited by what he had just heard, namely that time does not exist and is all but a definition. Once that customer had left the taxi, the driver kept wondering about this thought: time does not exist or only as a definition! He thought so much about this that he started to come late for work or would be unable to sleep. He could no longer keep time. In the final end he had a nervous breakdown and was delivered into psychiatry. Now often the diagnosis just reduces the problem of a patient to psychological phenomenon but it excludes the question of knowledge with which a mind has to struggle with. Interestingly enough the social inequality can be made explicit as well in this case. While the scientist is paid by society to have doubt in everything, even in time, a taxi driver has to stay 'cool', so to speak, if he is to exist as a normal human being in society bent to making sure some things have to be delivered on time and other things have to be completed in time, otherwise no pay and even worse that person who does not keep time shall be fired. In a Swiss bank in Zürich, it meant all doors were closed but one door once the watch turned to eight o'clock in the morning. Those who came late had to go through that one open door and register their name in a book. Three entries meant immediately an appointment with the manager and that had consequences. Thus the taxi driver could in reality not afford to think about time being a mere definition and why time did not really exist. He had to keep time if to exist. Otherwise he would not be paid. That means for common people forced to earn their living by pursuing a regular job, they know the formal rules and what they are obliged to fulfil. To them living in doubt, that is open ended, without certainty as to the outcome, that is to them literally a luxury, and also something they would be afraid of being exposed to for too long. Since they know intuitively what it means to go completely crazy i.e. someone who cannot keep time. They have seen enough such examples in their lives and did not want to touch that side at all.


Forgotten in the general denouncement of theory is that it entails perception and more so as Aristotle had pointed out a long time ago it is about knowing through the imagination which goals are worthwhile to strive for. That includes active anticipation of what lies ahead. It has been smothered unfortunately by the term 'vision' even though Anna Seghers would say people without a horizon i.e. future, cannot be creative. Yet she would have needed to take one further step and say creativity means precisely developing goals out of the imagination what else is possible aside from what exists in reality. Again it was Kant who had already tried to clarify things by specifying three different levels, namely besides reality and possibility as well the level of necessity: “Notwendigkeit”. The latter required the insight into what needed to be done to achieve something. In the case of the experiment, it meant postulating before letting two balls of different weights role down a slanted board to make a prediction which of the two balls would be down first. Since without such a hypothesis no learning would take place. That means something had to be set a priori in order to enter a world defined solely by time and space since the laws science was to discover like the law of gravity was independent from any concrete location. By suspending things within the time space framework it meant already not to relate any more to experiences made by the senses, but to experience as acknowledging and knowing that there is a lawfulness behind all of this. Unfortunately the next step, namely to enlighten people about these laws often only to be perceived by means of this deduction, was a complete failure. When two iron balls were glued together by taking the air out of them, and even many horses on either side did not manage to pull the two halves apart, people did not understand this as a demonstration of the law of gravity but thought there was magic involved. This mystification led Kant to conclude concepts without perception are blind and to which Hegel added people without perception (ideology) are blind. It meant simply that the way of looking at things and practical judgements based on what kinds of experiences made possible not in real life, but through experiments had altered the entire role of perception, and in reality it was impossible to understand this without further going reflection at theoretical level.


To come back to Aristotle, goals could only be perceived by means of the imagination making out the 'teleos' and this out of the wish to make something more perfect, more complete than what it was before. There was involved a change over time. It meant the complete being something which had been finished as far as the goal was concerned but which was incomplete in another context. For only a critical study thereof would detect the flaws and therefore realize whatever man did was never so perfect as imagined. It meant also man could never do an exact copy of nature.


Again it is crucial to point out here that Jean Paul Sartre maintained all along that one could only live then in the present once the goals were known. Translated into self knowledge meant was to know what one was striving or aiming for. All the more of interest is that Sartre is one of the few philosophers who devoted a lot of his time to studying the 'imagination'. He did so around 1937 when he stayed in Berlin and where he enjoyed discussions with students despite Hitler being in power. Whatever else took place, this experience set Sartre on his path of philosophy now called Existentialism. Since this is most difficult to reconstruct, something which Habermas said is anyhow impossible, it is assumed here that Sartre realized without the imagination anyone, himself included, could easily land in such an 'existentialist crisis' as has been described before. Simply said, man without imagination could not escape reality, or as any prisoner would know only by means of the imagination can the immediate walls be transformed into something else, or as if the wide open sea with oneself sitting in a boat. Maybe here the imagination comes close to one category of dreams which Ernst Bloch called 'day dreams' and which is the only way people can help themselves to get out of any crisis or critical situation, namely by dreaming or imagining something else. A counter point as in music can bring about a turning point.


Thus if any theory needs to be based on the imagination, in order to know how to apply it in reality, this means a philosophical method to find and to discover a certain way on how to exist in reality. Practically it requires escaping self infatuation by thinking knowledge of reality as being merely describing how it is. Rather in knowing what difference it makes once the imagination is added to the perception of reality, then the freedom to question the given would allow for 'resistance' as the discovery of what else is possible and even conceivable.


In practical terms, it would mean a woman does not give in solely to the thought that this man approaching her is going to rape her. She might be all alone in the street at night, but by not giving in to her inner fears of the inevitable, she would continue look into his face and search for possible clues in the eyes of the potential perpetrator. Once she notices just a mere flicker of doubt on his part, she would address him immediately and do it with a surprising question (Adorno would call it 'Deutung' – pointed interpretation): “are you thinking of your mother”. A moment of doubt can be the chance to humanize the person. By taking him by surprise, there is a chance to make him understand of what he is about to do without his 'self'. Like everyone else any violent act is only possible if cut off or separated from the humane self. Thus for the woman to give herself a chance to alter his disposition, she has to be in dialogue with her imagination so as to perceive not just the reality of the man but what else is possible so that any interaction with him can stay on the save side of the street, so to speak. Once he admits to his doubt, then he will not go through with his original intention but enter perhaps even a dialogue with the woman. In other words, to question reality means to learn to resist rather than give in simply as a passive victim. That meant for Sartre the essence of freedom.


Again it is crucial to point out in this context as to why Sartre maintained only once knowing the goals to be realized in future, then man can exist in the present. In the case of that woman just cited, only if she perceives what lies ahead and what is worthwhile to strive for, will she be able to resist. It is not a simple 'no' but also a 'yes' to the goals which gives the strength (resistance) to question what that man is about to do. Resistance is only possible within the larger context as one of the prime goals is to become human. It explains why Jean Paul Sartre started to work on the 'imagination' and in turn how it became the departure point for Existential philosophy.


Once the imagination has gone missing, and a writer or poet strives for a one to one relationship with reality by insisting his or her writing has to be published or else, it has all the making of an 'existential crisis'. Picasso made already the observation how easily the imagination, and therefore the abilities to draw, sing, dance etc. are lost in this transition from childhood to adulthood. Without the imagination also one important aspect is lost: empathy! Without empathy, there is not possible to uphold any meaningful relationship with the other. Man cannot easily escape such a crisis if without both the imagination and hence empathy since then there will instead of work with the imagination to keep memories and therefore a differentiated self understanding alive come into full force what Sigmund Freud had identified as 'death drive'.


The death drive is masked as mere repetition. It will and can outplay at any given time the efforts of the reality and pleasure drives to interrelate, in order to make possible a loving relationship. Indeed, resignation drives into repetition. It allows for no other but the sad conclusions that things “are just the same”. In other words, once nothing has changed that means all efforts are just in vain. Some suggest then like the philosopher Ernst Bloch that the principle of hope has to be invoked, and he made the distinction between conditional and unconditional hope for only the former would allow a further going learning process while the latter would mean landing in absolute despair if the last hope coming out of Pandora's box would be disappointed. This is why Camus was against hope. In his opinion hope leads to resignation. He stated 'to hope is to resign, but to live is not to resign'. Out of that he developed 'l'homme revolte' was one who does not give in to hope, but wants to live. Still, in 'Myth of Sisyphus' repetition is symbolized by the heavy stone rolling back down again the mountain after Sisyphus had succeeded in rolling the stone up to the top. That is in the eyes of Camus real punishment.


For Jean Paul Sartre the 'existential crisis' sets in once man denounces the very thing he needs to get out of the crisis, namely 'theory' based on the imagination. Once applied in reality, a way can be shown on how to reach a certain way to exist. In 'Dialectic of Practical Reason' Jean Paul Sartre shows how energy within the individual interacting in a group can reach the level of making history. This dialectical thinking will allow the existential design to be the force which can and does move everyone forward as they refine and alter the design once they begin to experience things and learn to make a difference. To remind that difference can already be recognized when walking through the streets and learning to distinguish between those who show already their existential design in what they wear like the chimney sweeper compared to the intellectual who may be not ready to commit himself to any such concrete design and intention of how to exist, but who shall find a role by mediating between the overall design and what is conceivable in reality at the moment.


It makes completely sense that 'existential crisis' had in the Classics and Romanticism the meaning of absolute failure. Jean Paul Sartre alters the perception thereof to explain rather such a crisis is brought about by a failure to connect the real with the imagined, and therefore in not finding the practice which would allow for the theoretical reflection of the existential design. Yet once people no longer sought to connect this themselves by doing the intellectual work, but joined instead political movements with the connection being made by the thought (projection) that particular party had found all the right answers, and this concerned mainly intellectuals who joined the Communist Party, then they were locked into something else. By thinking or rather believing that they could overcome the split between 'theory and practice' in joining a party which can never fail, their 'existential crisis' begins by having given up their intellectual freedom to live openly with doubt. The hidden programme (agenda) in the making was made explicit first of all with Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon' when a Communist dreams he has been arrested by Stalin's secret police for doubting the party having all the answers and he wakes up to find himself already in jail. It is significant that through the dream reality is communicated not in the form of anticipation but as ad hoc explanation, that is when too late to get out of that trap. This particular Communist made the experience that when meeting a German communist to pass on to him the orders of Stalin not to fight Hitler, they arrange for the rendez-vous a place surely no one would suspect: die alte Pinakothek in Munich. Since the German communist is a bit late, the man from the Soviet Union has time to look at the paintings on the walls. Suddenly he remembers how often he had come to the galleries with his grandfather and how often they talked endlessly about all the questions he had back then when still a boy. Suddenly he realized that the Party had not answered even one of the many questions he had back then, but when he joined and thought the Party had answered all questions, he forgot them, in particular the open ones. From that moment on he started to doubt the Party and not himself but this told him as the dream did, his fate was sealed.


What to do, intellectually and politically speaking, when people start to drive each other into false illusions by simply ignoring the 'open questions' and demanding just concrete actions? For it would imply that people give in to anything which would satisfy the illusion of being present here and now. They would allow themselves to be deceived by claims that only actions would do, not endless talks, never mind theoretical reflections. Jean Pierre Faye in 'Totalitarian Languages' shows how this prompted in Weimar Germany for 'Tat-Kreise' (circles of deed) to spring up everywhere with people believing only a deed would salvage them i.e. take them out of the period of unemployment. They demanded a political leader who would not only make promises but do what he says but do something. Thus they ended up accepting Hitler without any condition as he appeared to be more convincing than all the other politicians who were around at that time. The closure of the eyes as to what lies ahead when entering such a pact, this was not merely a repetition of Goethe's Faust, but far worse as Second World War and the Holocaust would reveal. And significantly almost all Germans would say afterwards that they had not seen the Jews to disappear. They spoke as if they had lived through that entire period with 'closed eyes'.


There is a lot of talk and speculation about Sartre's own entry and exit from the Communist Party. He left after the invasion in Hungary in 1956. He had joined after the end of Second World War. Convinced that only a party could muster the violence to counter the violence of the system, it underlined what it means politically and existentially, if the individual is perceived as not being able to resolve the major questions alone. That the individual enters then a new form of contradiction between party organization along with the discipline required to be followed by each member and all his open questions never really answered, that was not really problemized except for a few exceptions like Arthur Koestler who did enter the circle of Sartre and Camus, but ended up having a much closer relationship with Camus and not Sartre.


Naturally there are periods in life where it appears that goals are concretely given by the circumstances e.g. people out of work with many children starving, resistance during German occupation, post war recovery etc. but as one book seller said about post war Germany, many rebuild their houses but the book shelves remained empty and thus explained why someone like Herrmann Broch would come along and write about the death of Virgil. For there was a void due to a lack of good form. It left many thoughts and ideas to be without a real home. A lot of that has to do with not only an external crisis but with a loss of self belief, politically speaking. This then has to do with what power does to people, or how they come to believe only with violence that they can answer to all the injustices they suffer under. The strange thing is that these injustices are caused by the very power they wish to follow in the execution of revenge to restore justice – a contradiction in itself.


A philosopher like Husserl, although teacher of Heidegger, knew what had become of institutional reality once Hitler had seized power in 1933. 15 For it meant all other kinds of philosophies were abandoned, and only one existed, namely that of Heidegger. Gadamer would reaccount once 'Time and Being' had been published in 1929, then all discussions about Husserl and other philosophical directions stopped. According to Gadamer who was a student of Heidegger one reason for this was that Heidegger gave them arguments by which they could 'beat' their fathers. 16 This can be taken to mean that Fascism started as a kind of revolt against the father but as a total break between generations, it would mean the desire to evoke 'the new' leaves aside continuity in history and ignore the need to be consistent over time. The mistake being made is that “the new will want only the new but shall be forced eventually to flee back into the same old structures.” (Adorno)


Moreover, Heidegger gave in his book 'Time and Being' full justification both of a leader and for going to war. It was also a deeply anti humanist position which Heidegger tried to cover up after the war by writing a letter about Humanism. It can be interpreted as a bad imitation of the letter by Camus to his German friends prior to entering the resistance movement during Second World War and which showed a deep humanist compassion, something which was not really understood by Jean Paul Sartre and contributed among other things to a break up of that valuable friendship as described by Ronald Aronson. Naturally these were difficult, indeed testing times, and men were often a victim of their own vanities by assuming their positions were absolutely clear and full proof. It never occurred to them that there is a need for redemption even in the worse of all cases when in disagreement with the other. It should also be remembered that strangely enough many French intellectuals, Sartre included, could not but be fascinated by Heidegger even though his political philosophy endorsed so clearly the most crucial components which made possible Fascism. Not only did Heidegger oust all Jewish professors during the one year when director of the Freiburg University in 1933, but his philosophy empowered the mediocre civil service language over reality. In that sense he continued Hegel's saying if reality does not fit the concept, too bad for reality. Heidegger did it by a play of words. When it came to underline how an administration has to work i.e. recognizes something as legitimate, he made the distinction between 'Zuhandenheit' (ready at hand) and 'Vorhandenheit' (potentially existing). This meant in simple bureaucratic terms only a document with an official stamp and signature existed, but not anything else. It lead Brecht to say not the human being counts but the passport to be shown to the police or border control whenever demanded. By empowering this artificial way of giving recognition as to what can exist, he made the administration into a powerful agency which could decide over life and death just on the basis of that artificial distinction. Moreover, by not valuing the real potentialities of life, he ignored what Dostoevsky said about the planned city containing only three dimensional spaces in which people had to live and pay for it on top of it as if prisoners for life and forever indebted, namely that he does no justice to the human being having millions of possibilities to exist and this very potentiality would make all the difference between an ordinary and a rich and fulfilled life.


But to continue with Heidegger why he simply denounced the masses, the reason Heidegger gives is that they would not assume any responsibility for their actions best indicated by the fact that they would not say 'I did it' but rather flee into the anonymous form of 'one says that...' Moreover they were not willing to take any risks. Hence it followed for Heidegger that there had to be a leader who would be prepared to take the much needed risks, for otherwise, so the argument and justification by Heidegger, there would be no innovation in society. He went on to say it is then only consequential that a leader who takes on this responsibility must have as well the Right to make mistakes. Heidegger did not specify what kind of mistakes he meant but in what Hitler did this is not a trivial thing.


Typical for those who wish to flee reality rather than face the existential crisis by activating and enriching the imagination, they tend to cultivate a false sense of heroism. With it goes something like a mixture of vanity and self inflated egoism. Like Hegel, Heidegger wanted to stand at the top of the philosophical echelon. He did so by claiming no one before him had ever posed the vital question of 'being'. Moreover, he claimed that the question of being could not be resolved in peaceful times, for a real fight was needed to bring out that special being. It reminds of the film 'Jules and Jim' with the German Jules once back home still searching in letters he had written while in the trenches of World War II, because he could no longer sense those deep feelings for his wife he had experienced when in danger. Heidegger went on to admit at the end of his book 'Time and Being' that no one really wants a fight, therefore it has to be provoked artificially. This is best done as a saying goes by breaking the fence of the neighbour, in order to make him become really angry. Wisely and cautiously Heidegger added but before one would start a fight, one should make sure to be armed. It was a direct justification of Hitler's move to rearm Germany in violation of not only the Versailles Treaty signed at the end of First World War and labelled by the Nationalists as a great humiliation of the nation, but to prepare Germany for a new fight: Second World War.


With such false heroism go as well artificial feelings which can easily be insulted. Anyone questioning the claim of being a hero can be taken immediately as an offence to one's and the Nation's pride. But to ensure these false claims are never questioned, it is best to keep all of this at abstract or rather national level. These feelings and images of greatness are then conveyed by a maze of symbols and notions of greatness. It is fitting to this pattern but a mistake by Hölderlin that he wrote the poem 'fatherland' in which he stated that it did not wish to die an ordinary death but one fighting for the freedom of the fatherland. Hitler and the National Socialist misused that poem to the extent that they could abuse the poem to fortify their claim that it was worthwhile fighting for the fatherland. By the same token, it meant looking down upon those being engaged for peace in a non violent way. For a fight without violence was inconceivable.


Unfortunately that mistake is constantly repeated as there are always those who can easily exploit those who suffer under emptiness of an ordinary life. Such a simple life as explained by Manes, the wise man from Egypt in Hölderlin's Empedocles' fragment, means to do just that: eat figs, enjoy the sun, take your time etc. All that seems not to be convincing when real actions by real men are needed. Women would even go so far as to say only once a man is in uniform, then he is a real man. Why that is so leaves many more questions unanswered about projections and need to feel safe and secure. Indeed, there are many ways to evoke and make men and lately women wishing to become heroes. Hence they go to war and die if need to be. As long as they are perceived as heroes that is apparently enough a compensation for sacrificing their lives. Forgotten is the lesson of Homer who wrote about Achilles that he smelled only the grass when too late, he was already mortally wounded and fell into the grass to die. The same happened to King Arthur who only then confessed to his real love when already mortally wounded.


In reality, emptiness in ordinary life is just the other side of the same coin, insofar as any functioning system, including administration of the state, requires subordinates who are willing to play their role in a system and who serve the purpose of upholding a level of abstraction so that governance, rule of law, power of the wealthy and influential etc. can maintain the power needed to be in control.


The level of abstraction capable of transforming human life into an experiment started around First World War when scientists developed technologies with the aim of having power over masses of people. It included the experimentation with gas as a weapon. 17 The reality which followed such a horrific war 18 expressed itself through certain terms and more so in specific movements of the intelligentsia e.g. Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism etc. What characterized the years immediately after the end of First World War in 1918 is that aside from countless wounded soldiers as portrayed by Käthe Kollwitz or else those with wounded prides due to the nation having suffered a defeat (something highly inflated to suppress the fact that the war was anything but a victory and in reality a highly costly one on both sides in terms of loss of human lives – Andre Breton), there were suddenly highly motivated, extremely intelligent people on the move. All of them turned to science in order to develop technology further. For the First World War had brought with it the insight that technology entailed a lot of power over the masses of people. But despite of being highly intelligent, Bertrand Russell attested this development as having one huge problem, namely everything was done without any 'morality'. He attributes this to what led to Fascism. 19


Philosophically speaking, Jean Paul Sartre sought to deal with such a reality in a most imaginative way. He knew that he could not step out of it but he tried not to remain endlessly within the conceptual language. The only chance he had was to confront it both individually and philosophically. That is why human experience counts, and the interrelationship between all kinds of expressions. For Sartre ended up not only writing philosophical treatises, but as well theatrical plays besides political declarations, essays, and editorial work. His treatment of Flaubert demonstrates at the same time how an anthropological and ethnological examination with a touch of psychoanalysis can undermine assumptions of both freedom and determinism assertions.


In that sense, Existentialism takes on quite another meaning. As a response to the crisis in human existence, it is usually understood, that it amounts to “not knowing how to exist in society”. The 'no knowing' of Socrates is herewith extended into an acknowledgement as to what can curtail the freedom to exist. At the same time, it relate to ontological statements about 'crisis' as a 'negative revolt of the senses'. Finding no meaning in life is but a hint what such a deep crisis entails. Jean Paul Sartre kept in mind “not knowing how to exist in such a society” can also mean boredom or in not having any money. Since he was interested in the social aspect of that, it allowed him to wonder whether this crisis was now due to being without work or to something else? The latter could well mean having a character which squanders away money. The reason could be that over time such bad habits were adopted that the person became a gambler, and like an addict he can never stop.


Such a gambler Dostoevsk described. and even meant himself, if only to be rescued by a woman who loved him so much, that he finds the strength to write himself literally out of the crisis. That then throws an interesting light upon the real function of writing. It can be a way out of the crisis since an extension of an action which was not conceivable to be possible as long the crisis was also self produced. There is the term 'animated' by a strong will, alas in a wrong way. However, if the writing takes the person beyond the present moment with all the dilemmas, and allows to be carried forward, into a conceived, equally imagined future, after that a return to the present would allow to a difference in how that reality identified by the crisis is and be approached.


Jean Paul Sartre himself illustrates the importance of writing as a way of not giving up even when near total despair. It becomes his method to find a way out of the crisis, and in so doing he gains in strength especially in terms of moral, political and philosophical convictions. Once these are translated into practical actions, then knowing things is no longer so arbitrary as the subject of knowing begins to free itself from whimsical wishes e.g. how to appear in society. Rather the knowing subject of action has the knowledge based on own dignity and on the lawfulness of the action itself. Since writing as existential philosophy makes possible the sublimation of the imagination, freedom is attained in the sense of not having to analyse all the time the phenomenon.


It was Sartre's take from Husserl and explains at the same time why he did not stay within the phenomenological school. He had observed how Merleau-Ponty would define the problems of perception in a most brilliant way any philosopher had managed so far. Nevertheless Merleau-Ponty did not manage to go any further. For he lacked that link to the future and therefore never entered as did Sartre the terrain beyond the given and the pre-determined.


What is in German philosophy 'Bestimmung' – determination – can be characterized as having multiple meanings for it includes fate, destiny, condition (in the sense of conditions being posed under which the city has to surrounder) etc. Presumably Sartre knew about this and so he wished to make a distinction between knowledge being pre-determined, i.e. independent from action and human experience, and self-determined knowledge which includes knowledge of the conditions under which such a knowledge can change. Especially with regards to social and political situations in which many things can happen and change, it was existential to be open to these changes. At the same time, the knowledge acted upon was in need to be revived, and this constantly since every new action brought about some new knowledge. Such a knowledgeable perception of reality – Sartre called it 'intelligible reality' - had to be treated with imagination entering a knowledge based on experience, in order to ensure awareness. This conscious awareness of things and people, but also events and developments has to be made possible in the present sense of time. Otherwise knowledge would fall into disjointed categories as had been distinguished by Kant as necessity, possibility and reality.


In short, imaginative knowledge based on an existential pre-conditioning of actions was pre-determined by what can be called 'attentive awareness'. It entails anticipation as much as evaluation of risks if certain developments would materialise and corresponding to that certain decisions are taken. Here has to be added such an awareness seeks to do away with dangerous illusions, especially the case if apparently nothing decisive could be done, in order to prevent undesirable developments. For example, Jean Paul Sartre warned a lot about the resurgence of the Right after Second World War to happen if the Left would not take a decisive step. By the same token, 'attentive awareness' explains why an enormous difference existed between Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus when it came to respond to the approaching crisis and eventual war in Algiers.


But to return for a moment to 'existential crisis', the term has many connotations. There is Orwell's description of his life as journalist in Paris in his book 'Down and Out in Paris and London'. Since the editor of the newspaper for which he worked at the time did not forward any money, he had to little money to go by. Once that was finished, he loaned his coat in exchange for a few coins. After that he had no other way of surviving but take up work as dish washer for a kitchen of a hotel. This is when Orwell discovered the dishonesty of waiters for while serving people at the tables, they were all smiles and most polite, but once through the swing doors to unload the trays with the dirty dishes and then to fetch the food to be taken to the front, they were different personalities. They cursed the customers behind their backs, and made most disgusting remarks about them. In that sense, Orwell experienced another reality while he was pushed down to that job as dish washer. Naturally once money arrived from London, he could step out of the hole. Such a chance not all have who end up caught up in the vicious cycle of poverty.


Once back in London, Orwell continued to see another facet of poverty. Society had created a system in order to keep the poor and the homeless at bay. They could stay for one night at special places prepared for people with such needs. Once allowed to step inside, they had to strip naked and then received a shower with a hose. Afterwards they were assigned one of the bunks. The next day they had to move on and thus was created the wandering beggar who knew how to make the rounds in order to ask for entrance at the same place he had stayed before one year ago. Orwell concluded by keeping people in existential crisis on the constant move, society did not have to confront really their plight. The system followed the simply motto that a 'rolling stone does not gather moos!'


In other words, existential crisis can be extended till it is not longer just a crisis or rather it has become a permanent crisis and therefore no longer perceived as a crisis. This is the case if people are forced to live continuously at the brink of society and literally know any more how to help themselves. There is the incredible film by Kenneth Loach about 'Cathy come Home'. The film shows how devastating can be a series of mishaps so that a family is evicted and then the spiral taking them ever more downwards begins to turn. The film prompted in the UK a movement called 'shelter'. An association with that name was created, in order to help precisely those who risk falling so deep that they can no longer afford sustaining a home of their own. And that is like not having any real identity in society. An existential crisis begins with such a loss. Brecht put it bluntly when he said you can kill a human being as if hitting him with an axe when taking away his home. The homeless reflect this existential crisis as a systematic failure of a society no longer able to uphold such a level of sustained social justice that everyone has access to the resources needed, in order to sustain life in such a society. Since this is a tall order to work out while for many social justice is an elusive goal, the famous 'false consciousness' as Marx would have named it, implies that there are people who have worries of their own, and therefore they forget about the others. Keynes said even if one has found an economic solution for oneself, that does not mean one should stop thinking in such economic terms that society would be heeding the needs of others and be giving resources to such tasks as needed to resolve this issue of poverty and existential crisis.


Interestingly enough, the figure of the clochard was an elevated figure of a homeless person who was someone like Diogenes more a philosopher of the street by his own choice rather than having been ousted. He wanted to live outside society, in order to see how society really was. This matter of wishing to see existence of man in terms of how society really is, namely hard, inhuman and superficial, something to be detested completely, turned out to be a different case once experiences made especially during Second World War filtered through and affected perception. Martin Jay described it as a process of de-totalization of theory mainly due to the 'disenchantment of the eye'. It meant what Adorno said as rejection of Hegel's claim that the 'whole is the truth', namely the 'whole is not the truth'. Still, at street level, seeing and not seeing compounded in a universe of not being clear what people wanted and instead let things happen, such as the disappearance of the Jews. Many Germans claimed after the war that they had never seen Jews to disappear. It invoked in a Dutch theologian a series of lectures held under the title: “ethics of seeing”. While it inspired Sartre to go one step further and to link seeing to 'action', in order to know what was happening in reality. Without the readiness to become involved, and that implies a way of throwing oneself into the existence of the others, nothing can be really known as to the fate of others. For actions means overcoming fear of consequences.


For example, Leona Bielitz, while working for the School Museum of Leipzig, published a book with the title: 'Geteilte Erinnerungen' (divided memories). It shows reflections by children after they made interviews of survivors of the same class but naturally well after Second World War. The division pertains to the fact that one part of the class consisted of Germans, while the other part were Jewish people. Thus just one interesting detail to note is the story of one man who had survived Auschwitz. Always he had been curious. Even when still a boy, he would not obey orders, but followed groups of Jews taken by the Gestapo to find out to where they were taken: the freight trains. Or else he would dare to go by train into the hinterland of Leipzig after a farmer had offered him a chicken for his family, but he must fetch it himself. He did it even though it was forbidden for any Jew to leave the town. This curiosity to take one step further means not to be solely indifferent to what happens to other people. Unfortunately many censor their perception of reality by not wishing to get involved. The fear of consequences for themselves leaves them ready to be blinded by what propaganda or the media wishes them to believe.


Jean Paul Sartre would call this 'political action' for once the neutral self or the position of a mere by-stander is given up, then quite another involvement in affairs of society comes about. It is exemplified by the fact that Jean Paul Sartre undertook it upon himself to visit the Baader-Meinhof group when imprisoned already in Stammheim by Stuttgart. It made explicit a morally inspired seeing 'by myself' what was happening in reality. The exposing of the self to reality was the Existentialist answer to any crisis. Moreover, he never problematized as much as had done Merleau-Ponty perception at philosophical level, but rather sought answers in the literary and philosophical response to the ethical demand for action.


Among the many other ways to understand 'existential crisis', there is as well the case of Albert Camus. As writer who emerged out of Second World War with a different moral view of the world, Ronald Aronson when discussing why his friendship to Sartre broke up to leave a big gap within the Left, mentions the approaching crisis of Algiers as being a surprising reaction by Camus. Instead of telling his own people the truth about the approaching disaster, he fell 'silent'. As if he had no words to speak about the situation. While Jean Paul Sartre was convinced that the colonial system will tend to violence and war, Camus did not wish to tell such stark truth to the people even though he had a voice not only as a well known writer, but as someone who came from Algiers. Somehow Albert Camus might have believed some kind of reconciliation between colonists and those struggling for freedom could be found at a humanist level. Yet the extreme positions taken up by both sides ruled that out completely. Any reconciliation was doomed to fail, but Camus apparently did not want to see that. Of interest is here what Sartre interpreted as a predictable failure, namely that Camus had not learned since Resistance and Liberation “to live in history.”


For Sartre that means to be fully committed and willing to take risks. In his last letter to Albert Camus, and which signalled the end of their friendship, Sartre parts with the question why Camus, “though born into the working class, has ignored since the war, 'the struggle of man'”:


“You rebelled against death, but in the industrial belt which surround cities, other men rebelled against social conditions that raise the mortality rates. When a child dies, you blamed the absurdity of the world and the deaf and blind God that you created in order to be able to spit in his face. But the child's father, if he was unemployed or an unskilled labourer, blamed men. He knew very well that the absurdity of our condition is not the same in Passy as in Billancourt.” 20


Sartre ended his friendship with Camus by 'refusing to fight him'. By burying this personal relationship in silence, he provoked the very 'existential crisis' feared by all writers or creative individuals. Rightly so Ronald Aronson characterizes this as a 'violent act' by Sartre. It crushed Albert Camus more than what could have been imagined. The pain it created became a barrier for any attempt to re-enter the kind of friendship, never mind dialogue he had with Sartre.


Important is what Ronald Aronson points out what turned out to be the negative consequence of this break-up of an invaluable friendship not only for Camus himself, but for the entire political Left. Suddenly they were without an important debate which should not have fallen silent despite so many atrocities being committed against humanity. Such crimes against humanity occur repeatedly for various reasons but once the Left fails and remains silent, then people seem unable to contradict and to halt the very mechanisms which bring about this horrific violence.


For Albert Camus the most agonizing moment came when he decided to join resistance against German occupation since it meant to him, as expressed in his letter to his 'German friends' that it amounted to sanctioning violence out of moral necessity. The reluctance itself explained his rather late joining up with the resistance.


In the case of Jean Paul Sartre, the most obvious case of turning to violence as part of political action was his over identification with the Communist party after 1945. He did so out of a desire to become politically active and after realizing that a struggle without violence was impossible. However, he did leave the party once the Hungarian uprising in 1956 was crushed by Soviet troops. He felt that he could no longer support a party that evokes suppression instead of emancipation. In that sense, 'existential crisis' takes on a political meaning. In his philosophy, and even more so in his other writings, Sartre begins to reveal what such a crisis can and does provoke in the mind. It amounts to a forceful confrontation with the contradiction between human ideals and violence springing out of such actions that this cannot be bridged any more by being linked to the former ideals, but which has to be confronted be anew.


But then there is the 'existential crisis' provoked, as was the case of Nietzsche, by being thrown out of the Academic world or never having been accepted in the first place. As said before, Nietzsche spoiled his relationship to the academic world by holding highly outrageous speeches insofar as they contained a strong taint of anti Semitism. He did that under the influence of Wagner. Nietzsche suffered under this lack of recognition and it became an 'existential crisis' once he felt no one understood him. He made several attempts to re-enter the academic world. For example, he applied for a teaching position at Athens University, but was refused.


Now here Jean Paul Sartre differs greatly when it comes to the academic world. Although he was always chided by academic philosophers that he was not a philosopher of much validity, but merely an activist, Sartre answered back by taking philosophy to mean political action. This alone makes Jean Paul Sartre unique and very different from Nietzsche. Sartre did not seek so much the understanding of others as he was himself the protagonist of an intellectual movement he started after Second World War and this like someone would put similar to a rock star who would fling himself into the situation he found at the moment to be given by a crowd of followers.


An interpretation of Sartre would be that existence begins by drawing a personal circle around oneself and by just turning around to see how the shadow one casts realizes this shadow would stand still if one remained so or else flirt with the movements just like oneself would do by pretending to leave the circle while in fact remaining in that same spot. And this self reflection with one's own shadow would take place by acknowledging the one prime source of light, namely the sun. By comparison, Albert Camus would use the shadow of personal existence to examine perception as deception as he did in his book L'Etranger. It follows that no deception was possible, equally given when the sun stands the highest and therefore no shadow would be cast. In Algiers and in the Mediterranean culture to be without a shadow means 'death', that is when a person no longer casts any shadow. The steady reduction of shadow implies as metaphor the growing existential crisis that the person has entered and which shall end in death. For the significance of personal existence does lie somewhere in-between this light and material something, a something which exists as long as that person does not go away.


Of interest is that the image of a personal circle of understanding which the own person draws while looking at the own shadow, as referred to by Sartre, brings him very close to what Gadamer has described as the Hermeneutic method. The latter is a method used to understand better the context in which words were used in the original text and then can be translated into the present. But again Sartre would dance out of the academic and very much sophisticated realm (and out of the shadows of towering greatness of former philosophers) and speak first of all about the difference between imagining and seeing first in real terms the shadow and then, second, the self as body and mind living in a certain moment and thereby realizing that existence is the situation in which one finds oneself to be in. It is not the abstract interpretation of the text which matters as material, but rather the personal existence only realized if you live in the situation.


Jean Paul Sartre sees 'situation' not as predicament but as having material substance or more precisely a 'built in inertia' and tension. What resonates in the situation is the 'energy of existence' as would Michael Foucault formulate it later as to what would mean transgressing before being able to think about oneself. Yet this would be a misunderstanding of Sartre whose philosophy does not need to trespass borders – implied in the act of transgression – in order to think. 21 Rather Jean Paul Sartre comes much closer to Descartes' dictum: “I doubt, therefore, I am,” although he approaches the 'I' from a very different angle, and not necessarily as a question of identity, but rather as form of existence within the own circle of awareness. This becomes evident when Sartre differs in nuances from Descartes by describing the 'self' as physical existence through which the 'self' provides itself with energy, in order to exist. This energy Sartre understands as a real power to live and to do things and thereby makes possible that the 'self' can and does exist in reality.


Sartre seems to suggest everything depends on making that link between 'energy' and 'I exist', and this without the I having to become assertive. Rather the 'I' begins to exist in reality by letting the relationship to reality be formed by the situation the 'I' finds itself to be in. Of importance is not what Kant called 'drawing out of the self by posing good questions' or what became in Heidegger's philosophy 'the bringing out by what has been brought out already' ( a good example of word contortions). Rather of importance is to Sartre that only once freedom enters the link between existence and being, then there is no absolute necessity – a coercive principle – needed, but solely 'a becoming a free person in the situation', and thereby relate to the world not just as it exists, but how it can be changed through actions making a difference in the knowledge thereof. 22


How important that philosophical premise of existence of the self is, that can only be understood much better when compared to Kant who relates to the 'self' through a mind affected only when deducing the lawfulness of existence out of something not necessarily identical with the personal 'I'. In one of his most important criticisms of Kant, Adorno remarked that Kant used over and again the term 'self' without having ever defined this term anywhere in his writings. This is because Kant wanted to abstract from any concrete locality (by Sartre: situation) and redefine knowledge as the result of experience made within an experiment confined solely to time and space. As in any experiment, lawfulness becomes a matter of what insights into laws can be gained by predicting and then experimenting according to certain premises. Learning would take place even if the experiment fails since it was a matter of setting the hypothesis.


Karl Popper would make that later into the key characteristic of science since based on the 'method of falsification', and therefore refute any theory which could not be falsified. But there is no theory which can or should refute the existence of the individual as human being. This is then the case made by Sartre. How to become true in self knowledge depends, however, not so much on introspection as would advise psychoanalysis, but rather on how the I relates to the situation it finds itself in. In short, Karl Popper who followed Kant much closer than any other philosopher, did not offer anything as to the need of the individual to discover a 'self' which is not arbitrary, but exists and continues to do so despite being faced by different situations. For there is the matter of 'continuity of identity' or rather how the self remains consistent to itself despite all the changes in need to be faced.


Kant had discovered to his dismay that the self could not follow the imagination – transformed into an abstract thinking confined to time and space – everywhere, although he started out from the premise: “ich denke, ich kann meine Vorstellung überall hin begleiten.” (I think that I can accompany my imagination everywhere.) That split between personal self and someone moving within social and physical structures which exist independently from the individual prepared precisely the ground for the disasters that would follow i.e. persons becoming soldiers who would leave their 'selves' behind and undergo 'countless deaths' (Shakespeare). They would do so not to realize themselves, but they followed orders because someone else had the power over them and which gave them no other choice to exist but within that given order. As a matter of fact, they had given up their personal freedom and thereby abandoned their 'free conscience'. The latter term was most critical for Sartre and meant he had understood what the dialectic of securalization had left unresolved, namely how the separation of church and state would guarantee the 'freedom of conscience' of the individual, especially when the state would order and the church blessed the soldiers prior to going to war?


The consequence of power over people being gained by splitting social actors off from their personal 'selves' has not been grasped fully as of yet, although those who know how to use power show a capacity to manipulate over and again situations which bring then individuals into that dilemma by having to make an either/or choice. It was merely circumscribed as being caught up in a process of dehumanization i.e. when soldiers were caught up in a dirty war and end up killing made possible by despising their enemies and thereby forgetting that the others are like themselves just ordinary human beings.


But thanks to Jean Paul Sartre, 'dialectic of securalization' was brought up to a significant level, insofar as he made tangible the relationship between individual and society. To Sartre only at that level can be found the most crucial and decisive moment. It goes without saying that Sartre applied the dialectical way of thinking that Kant has also foreseen, but then left behind due to adopting solely the analytical approach for he aimed for a reasoning which was freed from any paradoxes. Dialectical thinking is the Existentialist way to connect the individual to society and vice versa this through various situations created by different forces especially when seeking to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to settle differences not by violent actions, but peacefully i.e. through dialogue and discourse. To Sartre that meant freeing above all and before anything else the individual's 'conscience' as it is the only way to give certainty to any attempt to unify the senses, and therefore to come to an understandable perception of the situation to be faced in reality.


Of interest is what Habermas has to say in response to the split between personal and scientific ways of thinking, and which prepared the way for technology being seized upon to gain power over the masses. It was best done without any concern for morality (Bertrand Russell) and by refining the methodology of organization (from Max Weber's bureaucracy being victorious where Marx was not, according to Susan Bucks-Morss, to Cornelius Castoriadis definition of technology having replaced 'theory of society' in order to organize society by silencing everything else which does not affirm technology). For Habermas points out that psychoanalysis is the only science which allows for 'self understanding' to be developed by the individual over time and by reflecting upon the experiences made in different situations. Freud developed this method of self understanding as an interesting counter example to the usual claims that individuals would end up being alienated both at work and in inhumane urban environments. Again Sartre takes this a step further by stepping out of the negative curtailment marked by an absence of self-understanding, for that can mean but one thing: the need to step out and into such a situation that frees the conscience as best indicated by the imagination becoming able to question reality in a dialectical manner only possible if the individual is really present, hence alive and does exist with the full capacity to decide on how to exist.


Jean Paul Sartre comes to this conclusion because from an analytical point-of-view understanding (empathy) does not go very far nor does it allow for resistance against false arguments such as 'if God is dead, then everything is allowed.' His answers Dostoevsky by applying 'dialectical thought' to bring about human self-consciousness so that the person knows in which situation he or she finds him- or herself in. In such a situation 'free conscience' becomes the guidance. Above all, the quality of that conscience alters when it is constituted by such a human language which is touched by 'universal pain' (as Sartre contrary to Adorno saw especially in Jazz, the music of the Black people). It means emancipation not only of the self but of all others is at stake. Emancipation without consciousness of this human pain is therefore inconceivable. Rather this pain is a crucial link within this dialectical thought linking conscience to action since no situation ever allows everything. It is not a 'categorical imperative' that Sartre implants in the mind as did Kant, but the very opposite: to become free from any coercive principle means seeing already oneself to be free in the imagination when facing the morality of the situation. Sartre sees in such a moral situation freedom as not being something random or arbitrary but as expression of 'human existence'. In his philosophy, it is related to 'le vecu' – the lived through experience of the situation – which makes everything said and thought authentic once conscious of the limits since expressions thereof are stated in terms of self referential existence.


'Le vecu' is the reality of existence in which the 'I' can trust. Out of such a trust develops the dialectic of perception and recognition (Jean Amery). It is not to be perceived as a mere sum of experiences – here a trace of psychoanalytical approach becomes noticeable – but as thinking in terms of 'memory track' (Sigmund Freud). This has to be worked through in terms of contradictions (not the same as unfulfilled expectations) often expressed as dilemmas, conflicts or even difficulties to make decisions, and which is encompassed by the philosophical method of 'dialectical reasoning'. In realizing the importance of such a philosophical approach, Sartre spend a great deal of his efforts to ensure an answer to the above mentioned philosophers and in particular to Kant, insofar as a 'critique of practical reasoning' would be the best possible answer to the 'existential crisis'.


In other words, if upholding freedom is to be considered as a first answer to any 'existential crisis' that man has to face, then it should be remembered what Sartre said about Existentialism: it is a philosophy dedicated to working out the special conditions needed if the theories of Marx are to be implemented. But while discussions about the relationship between Existentialism and Marxism have faded out since 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 'existential crisis' in a global situation has shifted ever more attention to what Sartre had in mind when writing extensively about his understanding of a 'critique of practical reasoning', for it concerns the dialectic between abstract and concrete richness not to be linked solely to money everyone has or not concretely in his hand or pocket, but to what upholds the purchasing power. That part of the philosophical work of Sartre has yet to be understood and be applied to a world faced by the challenge of globalization and which works solely on money circulation and such institutions which are set up to regulate, influence and more importantly attempt through speculations to determine the purchasing power of money not merely in circulation, but potentially available to cover all the risks entailed in speculation and over speculation. For Capitalism is after all a well calculated risk undertaking.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 27.6.2005



1It echoes a fear of 'moral relativism', if not a complete break down of 'law and order'. It is based on the negative belief that once there is no longer an absolute power upholding not merely belief in God, but also the belief in the power of the church and state to uphold not only a certain type of law, but also a morality that goes with the observance of such a law, then everything shall be lost to chaos and violence.

2Umberto Eco's “Name of the Rose” gives an account of forbidden books containing false or hidden truths.

3In the case of Sartre, it is interesting to note that he uses the term 'intelligible reality', that is a reality only to be understood and conceived if really lived through as man's intelligence is made only accessible through the senses and by means of lived through experiences: 'le vecu'.

4See Kant's 'Dispute of the Faculties' in which philosophy deduces from the three classical sciences – theology, medicine and law – what advice to give to the government so that only such laws are passed which are good for business. It leaves out any public debate since the advise of the philosopher would be based on having access to the inner circle of power.

5Ronald Aronson addresses in his article about Sartre on his 100rds birthday that this apparent 'one sideness' was perhaps a key factor contributing towards a possible misunderstanding of Sartre's approach to things. See Ronald Aronson, “Jean-Paul Sartre at 100: Still troubling us today.” in International Herald Tribune, Wed. June 22, 2005

6Hölderlin's 'Empedocles', as adopted by the Schaubühne in Berlin 1976, had as a stage design on the right side Empedocles alone with his slave at the peak of the Etna while on the left hand side the audience could see people waiting in a train station because no trains arrived or departed. They were stranded. But more important their endless wait reminded strongly of those people who waited for the Master and which got them into the problem of war by following Hitler, and since located in time after the war, their waiting reminded in turn the audience that this over dependency upon a leader had not been resolved as of yet. It was reflected as well in the dilemma of the slave who had given up everything to serve his master, namely Empedocles. And the master was frustrated by not being able to free himself from this over dependency of the slave. There is no freedom in such 'mental chains' which are created in the absence of any valid meaning in life. Purpose in life can be found apparently solely by serving a master. Such disturbing features as 'blind devotion' played out in the theatre to understand the more subtle points in not merely Fascism, but in slave like attitudes people have adopted over centuries. This existence without any freedom was what created 'fear' in the 1970's. Despite the Student Revolt which had started with the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California, developments after 1968 seem to confirm once more the 'failure of Enlightenment' about which Adorno and Horkheimer had already written in 1944. They said that even when Fascism has been defeated, there will be still the xenophobic forces in need to be dealt with.

7Heidegger justified a leader under very different terms: society needs progress, hence innovation but since common people are not willing to take this risk, a leader is needed and therefore by risking things, he should be given the Right to make mistakes. That freedom (or fear) to make mistakes was not given to common people and thus it merely heightened their fear – the best way to construct over dependency upon the leader or authorities who would judge what is right or wrong, a misstep or a mistake. Primarily it meant a mistake would be to ignore the wishes of the leader. It left contradiction as a method to recognize a lack of truth in what was being claimed – Hegel had located contradiction in concept, in the relationship between concept and reality, and in reality itself – outside any philosophical scope and instead followed in the case of Heidegger a new kind of assertiveness of being.

8This is something the artist Herbert Distel said about Nietzsche when contemplating what sort of film he could make about him.

9Nietzsche had been misused all along by Wagner who preferred Nietzsche to stay at the University of Stuttgart instead of becoming his assistant (something Nietzsche wanted in order to be close to Wagner's daughter) since a professor carries much more weight when speaking to people than an assistant. Wagner wanted simply that Nietzsche propagates his music, nothing else. Still, under Wagner's influence Nietzsche adopted as well a position of Anti Semitism. After he held a speech in that spirit, his academic reputation was ruined forever.

10This was something Jean Paul Sartre was acutely aware of and characterizes, as shall be shown later, a major difference between him and Albert Camus.

11In Russia Puskin had succeeded in becoming a fountain for future writers, and this because he recorded in his writings how Russian farmers and peasants would speak. By contrast Hölderlin did not like the coarse language of those rough and tough men. Since a child he had always fancied that it was much better to be in dialogue with the Gods. Still, his poetic language might have altered the German language, provided his poems would have found their way into the daily life of Germans at his time.

12The sociologist Ulrich Beck translated in his Ph.D. thesis scientific objectivity into 'normativity' and shows how a scientist making inquiries into trade unions and their degree of involvement in shady businesses leads to following sequence of events: a boss from the trade union makes a telephone call with the director of the institute where the scientist is conducting his research and he in turn calls this scientist into his office to talk with him about how he is getting along with his research work. After listening shortly to the scientist's account he tells the assistant that “you seem to be doing a great job, but it seems as if he has taken on a vast field and therefore if it would not be much wiser to limit the scope of his research to validating the history of the trade union, itself a huge topic and therefore best to leave out the last ten or twenty years, for otherwise he will never finish his thesis. Just a friendly advise!” Discouragement while showing exactly where the border exists means in the scientific field over and again scientists risk to internalize those rules of self limitations and which are basically in the end self censorship.

13The dispute about Freud's Psychoanalysis being scientific or not prompted Adorno to examine the concept 'unconsciousness' whether or not this term could withstand scientific scrutiny and qualify as a valid term to be used when making scientific inquiries.

14Jürgen Habermas would say all either/or options are wrong alternatives.

15Sartre would come to Berlin to take inspiration from Husserl and to conduct research on this matter. His prime question was what allows people to be cut off from life and live in all kinds of abstractions? He turned to the imagination as his prime subject. Still Sartre was often chided and was criticized for not having paid any attention to what power unfolded around Hitler although he was in Berlin around that time. Ronald Aronson gives some answers to that critical questioning of Sartre as being at times not merely 'one sided' but outrageously blind himself as to what things were happening all around him.

16Gadamer made this statement during a seminar attended in Heidelberg in the semester 1972/73.

17Andre Malraux describes how gas was used for the first time in a battle in Eastern Europe during First World War. Suddenly the wind picked up and turned in another direction. Panic struck the armies facing each other. In the end, no one knew any more in which direction to run. Some carried on their backs enemies or they did not know if dead or alive. A mass confusion was sown by use of this first weapon of mass destruction.

18Worringer describes this best in his book 'Abstraction and Empathy' to predict that at the beginning of the 20th century art movements would be split between these two poles. Paul Klee expressed why abstraction became necessary after the experiences made during First World War with all its violence. It had destroyed any real sense of beauty so that if he tried to express that as an artist any expression thereof would be by necessity 'abstract'. As a counter move came those who prepared the ground for the Fascist definition of aesthetics. For them art had to be concrete and understandable for simple people, for otherwise it would destroy their 'creativity'. This lead to Hitler's exhibition in 'Haus der Kunst' in Munich about 'degenerated art' and it was no surprise then that it included as well the works of Paul Klee.

19Bertrand Russell formulated these thoughts in his small essay called: “The fathers of Fascism.”

20Ronald Aronson, „The Explosion“ in: Camus and Sartre, Chicago Press, 2004, p. 153

21Ernst Bloch defined thinking as trespassing: „Denken heisst Überschreiten“ (thinking means transgressing)

22Such freedom makes also a God no longer necessary, and therefore explains the atheism of Sartre whereby a definition of atheism by Ernst Bloch should be kept in mind, namely as someone who believes in God but outside any kind of institutional framework.

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