Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method
Vintage | 1968 | ISBN 0394704649 | 224 Pages | English | PDF | 27 MB
'Search for a Method' is a separate and introductory essay published together with 'Critique of Dialectical Reason'. It is the search for a method by which the existentialist Marxist may hope to understand both individual persons and history.
As the quote on the cover suggests, this may very well be "the most important work of Sartre's to be translated since Being and Nothingness." To be sure, The Critique of Dialectical Reason may be also, or even The Family Idiot. But it must also be recalled that Search for a Method, while first published as an occasional piece for a Czech journal, was latter published as the introduction to The Critique, and, moreover, Sartre states that The Family Idiot is in fact the sequel to Search in the preface of the former tome. Indeed, both of these works are much more comprehensible after having read Search. The reason being is that Search outlines the method and general strategy utilized in both of those books (and in Saint Genet to some extent even though it came out prior). The method is of course the progressive regressive method and the strategy is a quasi anthropology mixed occasionally with a new hybrid of existential psychoanalysis. As the two major works that came out of Search can attest - those being The Critique and FI - his method is equally accessible to both large scale cultural descriptions (the Critique) and in depth profiles of a single individual. The former case asks 'what are the conditions that have created modern western man as we know him,' the latter asks what are the conditions that have created this particular individual.'
For those who are acquainted with Sartre's earlier existential writings, this kind of thinking may seem altogether foreign. The old Sartre would have been loathe to suggest any form of conditioning or that one has been made in some way or other. But, this is part of the reason why many feel he abandoned his existentialism. I, on the other hand, do not feel that he did at all. In fact I suggest his existentialism is richer and his arguments more tenable in his later phase. As Sartre himself suggested in an interview late in his life, "life taught me the force of circumstances." It will be circumstances, both grand and minute, that all go into forming the people we are, both collectively and individually. Circumstances are, in other words, the factical moments out of which our contingent choices are made. Thus, Search sets out to examine a methodology that can account for both the factical and contingent, the necessary and the random, in the making of a people, person, or culture.
By Sartre standards this is a relatively easy read with a big payoff. As I mentioned, it is crucial to understanding the major works that would follow, as well as the occasional and literary works that would follow, e.g. his many writings on politics and even plays such as Condemned of Altona. But I also feel it stands well by itself and I do not feel that the reader necessarily have a background in Being and Nothingness or earlier Sartre to get something out of it. Indeed, it is also an excellent source for those seeking alternatives to the various more popular forms of psychoanalysis as well as cultural studies. Sartre was a maverick, no doubt, and often he failed in his attempts to construct a solid theory. But here, in Search, I believe that Sartre is at his best and most profound.
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