A Recording of this course exists. If you're interesting in gaining access to a past MSCP course please email admin@mscp.org.au .

Sartre’s Critique: The Dialectical Logic of Existential Marxism

Lecturer: Austin Hayden Smidt

Originally Taught: Summer School 2020

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason (CDR) is often overlooked as a valuable text of post-Marxist political philosophy. This series of seminars will seek to correct this by introducing the central concepts in CDR and by indicating the text’s relevance for both present and future socio-political concerns. Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between freedom and determinism, the formation of political groups out from stale and mimetic social environments, and how we might be able to use our imaginations to create society and ourselves as works of art. 

This series will consist of a close-reading of CDR from within a fresh frame of interpretation. We will explore how CDR is a work of existential, dialectical logic. That is, it is a text primarily concerned with humanity’s inability to comprehend itself accurately and adequately under the serial pressures imposed by this particular historical timeline. Only when an Event breaks the stranglehold of this historical seriality can the seeds of true humanity begin to flower.

Seminar readings will be excerpts taken from Critique of Dialectical Reason, Vol. One, and from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason: Creating Society as a Work of Art (Rowman and Littlefield International). Electronic copies of the excerpts will be provided in advance of the start of the course.  

Lecture 1: Analytic v. Dialectical Reason

The first seminar will address Sartre’s criticism of analytical reason and its encroachment into Marxism in the form of “positivism.” The stakes of this error will be drawn as we then tack towards an elaboration of dialectical reason and Sartre’s defense of why and how dialectical reason must found itself as both method and movement so that Marxism might be able to (perhaps for the first time) “speak the truth.”

Reading:

  • Excerpts from CDR (Vol 1), Introduction
  • Excerpts from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason, Chapter 1

Lecture 2: The Logic of Matter/Practico-Inert

Seminar two will explore the mediatory conditions of the (in)human predicament by examining Sartre’s revised considerations on the thrownness of the (in)human.

Reading:

  • Excerpts from CDR (Vol 1), Book 1
  • Excerpts from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason, Chapters 2 and 3.

Lecture 3: The Logic of Seriality

Seminar three will examine the serial effects of mediated sociality in a field of practico-inert objects. Seriality must be understood as diachronic, synchronic, and Kairotic. This latter term brings the former two together and designates that it is always the opportune moment to revolt against serially alienating conditions.

Reading:

  • Excerpts from CDR (Vol 1), Book 1
  • Excerpts from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason, Chapter 4

Lecture 4: The Logic of Freedom

Seminar four will explore how and in what ways the “apocalypse” (as Event) tears a hole in our serial conditions. This is the moment of rupture that makes human constitution possible from out of the inhuman predicament of serial existence.

Reading:

  • Excerpts from CDR (Vol 1), Book 2
  • Excerpts from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason, Chapter 5

Lecture 5: The Imaginative Logic of Action

The final seminar will be a bit more speculative, exploring how and in what ways the imagination can be freed from serial entrapment in order to aid free subjects in the perpetual dialectical process of creating society as a work of art by transforming themselves through transforming their world (and vice versa).

Reading:

  • Excerpts from Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason, Chapters 6-8