Thursday, June 13, 2013

Existentialism and “figures of alterity”

I’m reading Jonathan Judaken’s Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question: Anti-Semitism and the Politics of the French Intellectual (2007)

and enjoying it. In addition to its interesting arguments, it makes the political context, especially the anti-Semitic movements of the era, really vivid. I recently read Nancy Bauer’s 2001 Simone de Beauvoir, Philosophy, and Feminism

which is an insightful if not a great book.* I like that both address the way that existentialism (and this is true of the secular humanist tradition generally) has been positively constituted, distorted, and challenged to develop by “figures of alterity” – women, Jewish people, colonized people, gay people, etc. My primary interest is in animals as the quintessential figure of alterity, but it all comes together in fascinating ways.

**Its major fault is that, in a work ostensibly about Beauvoir, it spends far too much time talking about Hegel and Sartre. I remember being at least 2/3 of the way through and thinking “She’s running out of time! When’s she going to focus on Beauvoir?!”

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