Call for Papers for «Studi Sartriani»

Previous issue 2019

SARTRE AND EXISTENTIALISM IN AMERICA

Ever since the liberation years, America exerted an irresistible fascination on existentialism and vice versa. Simone de Beauvoir did not deny this attraction – made up of a peculiar combination of mistrust and wonder – when she wrote in her La Force des choses (1963) that America was “abundance, infinite horizons; […] a jumble of legendary images.” American fashion, cinema, and music had been deeply embedded in the socio-cultural fabric of France beginning in the 1940’s as demonstrated by the subculture of the so-called zazous, a response to the heavy restrictions of the German occupation. It was in this period that writers of novels in the ‘hard-boiled’ genre such as James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Dashiell Hammett became famous, coinciding with the vast success of detective stories on the big screen. Jean-Paul Sartre and Beauvoir were great admirers of this literary genre and Albert Camus was openly inspired by American noir for the prose of L’Étranger (1942). Nor can one minimize the existentialists’ predilection for authors such as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Wiliam Faulkner. Sartre even went so far as to define John Dos Passos as the greatest writer of his time. American reality, despite its contradictions and diversity, could be a fruitful source of both interchange with and critical analysis of European culture, and this was immediately understood by Sartre and the movement that he was part of. The resources for this encounter were in abundance: America was in fact no stranger to the existential meditation on the gratuitousness and contingency of existence, as evidenced by the work of those who could rightly be defined as precursors of the American current of existentialism: from Jonathan Edwards, through Herman Melville, to Emily Dickinson and William James.

Sartre was undoubtedly one of the most influential intellectuals on the European scene throughout the twentieth century, and it was not long before his influence – as well as that of Beauvoir and Camus – was felt upon the American continent. Sartre was in fact the first of the existentialists to undertake a trip to the USA in mid-January 1945, joining, at Camus’ suggestion, a delegation of journalists writing for Combat and Le Figaro. From that moment his relationship with America became so profound that the philosopher would return three more times up until the end of the 1940’s. Not only did Sartre refer several times – usually in a polemical manner – to the economic, political and social system of the United States of America in his contemporary and posthumously-published work, he was also interested in what was happening in Cuba in the 1960’s, having even met with Ernesto Guevara in person. Sartre’s serious consideration of the theme of racism and racial segregation is also evidenced by his contributions to Le Figaro and the drama La Putain respectueuse (1946).

Moreover, more generally speaking, it is possible to trace an existentialist influence in literature, philosophy, and in various artistic and socio-political movements leading up to the most recent mass movements calling for more social rights. Some writers who were strongly inspired by existentialist culture include Richard Wright (a friend of Sartre and a Gallimard author), Saul Bellow, Paul Bowles, William Styron, Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer and thinkers of the calibre of Walter Kaufmann. The same can be said for photography (one may think of Robert Frank, for example), the feminist currents strongly indebted to Beauvoir’s positions, and the youth revolt movements that exploded in the 1960’s.

Fundamental indicators of the absorption of existentialism into American culture were, from the beginning, the newspapers and cultural magazines preferred by the intellectual cultural elite: The New York PostHarper’s BazaarPartisan ReviewThe New Yorker. In these newspapers it was possible to find articles on Sartre’s philosophy with extracts from his work and those of philosophers close to him. A sign of this great interest was the appearance not only of serious presentations of existentialism – for example, the essay written by French exile Jean Wahl which was published in New Republic in October 1945 – but also of parodies such as the one published in The New York Times Magazine in 1948, written by the British humourist Paul F. Jennings and entitled “Thingness of Things.”  

This issue of Studi Sartriani would like to deepen and broaden research on this mutually influential relationship between existentialism (particularly Sartre’s) and American culture through an interdisciplinary methodological approach integrating disciplines such as philosophy, comparative literature, the history of ideas, and cultural studies.

Contributions of interest for this issue will therefore be essays, which intend to take up some of the following suggested lines of research:

– Sartre and Che Guevara: Cuba’s «third way»;

– Influences of existentialism on American literature;  

– Influences of existentialism on American art (painting, photography, music, etc.);

– American countercultures and subcultures influenced by existentialism;

– French countercultures and subcultures influenced by American culture;

– Criticisms of Sartre and the existentialists in the United States;

– Existentialist analyses of the American working class and racism against African Americans;

– American existentialist authors (writers, philosophers, critics, filmmakers, etc.);

– Political movements that were influenced by Sartre and existentialism (feminism, the youth protests of the 1960’s, etc.);

– The reception of existentialism in American mass culture (fashion, parodies, influences).

Contributions must be sent no later than June 30, 2020 to russo.maria@hsr.it. All articles will undergo double blind peer review. Notification of acceptance or refusal – including indicationsfor major or minor changes – will be sent no later than July 30, 2020. Contributions will be published by the end of 2020. The maximum length of each article, including spaces and notes, is 50,000 characters.

We accept contributions written in Italian, English and French. Two files must be sent:

– a .doc file in anonymous form with the essay. The text must be preceded by an abstract of maximum 300 words in English with five keywords;

– a second .doc file with the author’s personal data: name, surname, academic affiliation, title of the essay, and e-mail address.