Jean-Paul Sartre—The Study Of Being/Experience

Beach Reading– Nothingness Lies At The Heart Of Consciousness
June 12, `73

I’ve been working my way through Sartre’s Being And Nothingness. It
hasn’t been easy. The following is my take on what I think I
understand. Stay tuned, it may change, but for now here it is: Being
And Nothingness is a “study of being” in which the existence and
contingencies of being are examined. For Sartre, an examination of
being must start from our experience of it. It is through experience
that the “how” and “what” of being is made manifest to the moment. As
I continue to read, I hope to become clearer on this subject, but
for now I will try to summarize the interdependent relationship of
what Sartre calls being-in-itself and “being-for-itself.” First up,

The description of this being is Sartre’s attempt at poetry, for
being-in-itself escapes all definition. It is a comfort to know that
not understanding this concept is equivalent to understanding it.
Language, with its inherent limitations, is not able to penetrate
being-in-itself. It is self-identical being without gaps. It does not
act on consciousness. It knows no otherness, but, without it
being-for-itself could not exist.

I wonder if Sartre was influenced by Parmenides’ poem. In that poem
he, the pre-Socratic Greek, utilized motifs similar to Sartre’s—the
regression of being to “it is,” the concept of a non-spatial,
non-temporal being, being minus a subject, the coincidence of
knowledge and being, and the plenitude of being. Parmenides’ reduction
of the “all” to “oneness,” could very easily be compared to Sartre’s
being-in-itself. On the lighter side, this “oneness motif” could
hardly be called original. It goes back to the time of the Vedic oral
tradition where “tat twam assi” (I am that) got passed down from
generation to generation before the written word.

Being-for-itself is the subject’s own consciousness, a conscious
awareness of being-in-itself as being “other” than itself. But, here’s
the kicker, being-for-itself is “other” than it’s own being also.
According to Sartre, we have consciousness of an object only through
the negation of that object, which, in turn, means that
being-for-itself manifests consciousness by being its own negation.
That negation separates me from myself. Nothingness then, lies at the
heart of consciousness. Man is thus described by Sartre as “the being
by which nothingness comes into the world.” Being-for-itself can
never, in any final sense, be conscious of itself. It carries within
itself the rift of nothingness that negates that very possibility.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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7 Responses to Jean-Paul Sartre—The Study Of Being/Experience

  1. Mèo Lười Việt says:

    According to Sartre, we have consciousness of an object only through
    the negation of that object

    I think so too.

  2. frizztext says:

    thanks for sharing!

  3. frizztext says:
    I tried to write about Sartre too, maybe I should translate that …

  4. Pingback: SARTRE « Flickr Comments

  5. frizztext says:

    thank you for inspiring me to update my thoughts about SARTE:

    • bwinwnbwi says:

      Thanks for your encouragement on my take on Sartre. Hawaii was my introduction to Being And Nothingness. I continued my studies, though. In fact, Sartre’s for-itself (or my extrapolation on the for-itself) is at the heart of my philosophy of divinity. Here’s a bit of that extrapolation:

      Identifying Sartre’s philosophy as structuralism is, I am aware, pushing the envelope. However, an authority on structuralism has proposed this option (without, I might add, elaborating on it.) “One might go as far as to say…that structuralism is analogous to Sartre’s view of consciousness — it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, A Structural Revolution, 1975, p. 1] In Sartre’s book Being And Nothingness, his chapter on Being-For-Itself is subtitled “Immediate Structures of the For-Itself.” [Jean-Paul Sartre, Being And Nothingness, 1966, p. 119] Structure is not hidden in Sartre; it’s just that on the whole Sartre’s book is a polemic against reading structure as anything more than appearance.

  6. bwinwnbwi says:

    The ego is not the owner of consciousness; consciousness is the owner of ego. The for-itself can never be conscious of itself, but it is conscious (can be conscious) of a lack of self. The “inner ego of consciousness,” for Sartre, is bound up with this nothingness and is called “being-for-itself.” Quote from above-whoops, sorry, this quote is from the May 13 post–the next post, close to the bottom.

    The ~bb of b~b~bb, or the experience of “inner ego,” is only part of our conscious experience. ~bb, however, is embedded in b~b, embedded in the rest of our conscious experience—the emotional experience of beliefs, concerns, intentions, and deeds. That part of consciousness where “ego” is embedded is the aesthetic continuum, the continuum that embeds universe (~~b), life (~bb), and the symbol-generating movement of free thought (b~b~bb), i.e., the continuum that not only embeds our “inner ego,” but also liberates knowledge of God– the “face of God” (our emotional experience of beliefs, concerns, intentions, and deeds). Absent the “face of God” knowledge—language with its lexical, syntactical, and contextual designations, science, ethical behavior, existential meaning, religion, and the questions: how, why, when, and where did human consciousness/freedom come from—would not/could not exist.

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