NEGATION AND IMAGING CONSCIOUSNESS: A STUDY IN JEAN-PAUL SARTRE'S PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE IMAGINARY

MAUREEN LOUISE EGAN, Fordham University

Abstract

Probably one of Sartre's most original philosophical contributions has been in the area of theorizing about the imaging act. As a novelist, playwright and essayist, as well as philosopher, he placed himself early on in the privileged position of both theoretician and practitioner in this matter. His interest in the imagination has derived originally from an interest in phenomenology. L'Imagination and L'Imaginaire represent early attempts to lay the foundation for a phenomenology of the imaginary, but the most thorough treatment of the topic was to appear only decades later in the mature works, especially Saint Genet, Comedien et Martyr and L'Idiot de la Famille. ^ This dissertation arose out of a longstanding interest in Sartre's work and out of an appreciation of his extraordinary command of language. However, this very linguistic appeal, it turned out, provided some of the most difficult challenges to the study. In reading Sartre one encounters not only the usual problems associated with translation--the difficulties of conveying content from one language to another without undue violence to the uniqueness of each language--but also the richly nuanced diction in which Sartre's philosophy is often expressed, the words which he coined when he can find no suitable work already in existence, and the occasional grammatical vagary which seems to him necessary, in order to convey his meaning.^ These problems aside, there then needed to be considered the very enormity and extent of his writings and the sizeable bibliography that his often controversial views have engendered. This study was accordingly restricted to the early works on imagination, to the concept of negation as developed in L'Etre et le Neant, and to the literary psychoanalysis of Jean Genet and Gustave Flaubert. This series of texts clearly suggests a thoroughgoing study, on Sartre's part, of the "nature" and function of the imagining consciousness whereby the human existent is enabled, as he puts it, to choose to affirm what is not the case or to deny what is. This ability derives directly from the character of human consciousness, or l'etre-pour-soi, as fundamentally negation. One is led to infer that the imagining function, being quintessentially negative, is therefore also most particularly human. Perhaps, then, the pour-soi is most "human" when imagining.^ Sartre's work suggests that the artist, whose task it is to create imaginary "worlds" and to people them with fictitious characters, is the prototype of l'homme imaginaire, and quite possibly of humanness at its most authentic. Genet and Flaubert are two such artists, and it is to an examination of their consciousness that Sartre directs his attention. ^ Sartre leaves himself open to criticism on many counts, but the long evolution of his thought, which brought him far afield of the early phenomenological ideals to which he had addressed himself, served to widen his perspective to include historical materialism and therefore the broadest possible social context for the pour-soi. Then pour-soi finally breaks free of the original dyad in which it had been bound to the en-soi or to the Other, toward greater freedom in the "personing" process, or becoming, which it carries out in response to the world in which it finds itself. This it does by the exercise of its absolute freedom in the act of imaging consciousness. Sartre seems to have taken a giant step in the direction of a substantially unified conception of the phenomenology of the imaging consciousness in L'Idiot de la Famille. Flaubert, by his silent refusal of society, becomes the eloquent spokesman of the hommes imaginaires which all human existents are capable of becoming, just as Genet is the mirror image of their negative being. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

MAUREEN LOUISE EGAN, "NEGATION AND IMAGING CONSCIOUSNESS: A STUDY IN JEAN-PAUL SARTRE'S PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE IMAGINARY" (January 1, 1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8123543.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123543

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