Friday, 19 June 2015

mauvaise foi

If not for coming across an indirect quotation, I would have gone on believing that the saying “Hell is other people” was a lyric from a rock-song (I’m confusing “Hell is for children” I think) and a rather throw-away sentiment and not a line, in translation, from Jean-Paul Sartre’s one-act play No Exit. Just as words might serve us better if the title of the play Huis Clos weren’t rendered as Closed Door—or rather in chambers in the legal sense of private counsel that the phrase carries in French, it would have been truer to the original if Hell was understood as the Other.

I have grown a bit fond of learning about quotes misattributed, misremembered and miseducated lately, and if one knows anything about the French existentialist, it is those words he never said. On stage three bourgeois souls are condemned to a dreary waiting-room—not as an anteroom for something yet to come since over the course of eternity we’d adapt and resign ourselves to torture and not so much when it comes to unending anticipation. Sartre’s intent behind the line, which was the subject of curiosity and consternation, was that our judgments that we project and deflect became torturous because they parroted outside influences. What would the neighbours think? This is the damning mechanism—a relation to self and others that’s insufficient and apt to mislead but not unavoidable. I think that there was certainly a miss connection between Sartre and one essayist and theatre-critic who wrote a hundred years prior by the name of William Hazlitt. Hazlitt held that man’s chief mistake was in the delusion that one’s future self was in any way different than any other present interaction with another person. One’s future self was non-existent, emergent and determined by any number of intervening contemporary, non-aspirational encounters and to act counter, in accordance with selfishness and insecurity, is what leads people becoming inauthentic. Hazlitt was a staunch materialist, which is to say that he had no truck with immaterially things like the soul or the Forms, problematically but such an approach that could have really proved to be a saving-grace for Sartre’s inmates.