Real Nowhere Man: Jean-Paul Sartre

He’s a real nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody. — Beatles, Nowhere Man

Clive James offers a scholarly deflation of Sartre’s ego along with his so-called philosophy (“Jean-Paul Sartre: The Nothingness at the Heart of His Philosophy“). Says James:

[Sartre] might have known that he was debarred by nature from telling the truth for long about anything that mattered, because telling the truth was something that ordinary men did, and his urge to be extraordinary was, for him, more of a motive force than merely to see the world as it was.

In the Sartrean universe, the ego is the only reality surrounded by nothingness. The self is relentlessly oppressed by objects (obstacles or limits) which frustrate its desires, resulting in alienation. In defiance, the individual asserts meaning through acts, regardless of the quality of those acts, since any universal reference point of good and evil has been eliminated. Indeed, the only “evil” lies in constraints placed on man’s activity. What makes Sartre appealing to others is that he “gets away with it,” or at least seems to. Again, to quote James

Sartre was called profound because he sounded as if he was either that or nothing, and few cared to say that they thought him nothing…. [I]n philosophy, the infinite regress is a sign that someone has made a mistake in logic. In ordinary life, it is a sign that someone is hiding from reality. Sartre hid. Of course he did; and if he did, anybody can, including us….

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