Les Mots by Sartre
I bought and read Eco’s On Ugliness last Christmas, and a couple of days ago, a Sartre quote collected in that book resurfaced. The quote was taken from Sartre’s autobiography The Words and considers the smells of his childhood; the pleasant odors of women and the unpleasant but more serious odors of men. And then the bad breath of his schoolmaster which Sartre relished as the odor of learning and virtue.
- “…Russell had such bad breath that Lady Ottoline Morrell refused to sleep with him for a while. Sartre was disgustingly dirty, and Connolly, left bathroom detritus in the bottom of his host’s grandfather clock ”
But here Doniger refers to the book Intellectuals by Paul Johnson which investigates the personal lives of philosophers and authors such as Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Bertrand Russell, Sartre and Edmund Wilson, to name but a few.
Sartre, Connolly and Russell’s peculiarities remind me of toilet philosophy and embodied philosophies, but also calls into question the supposed gap between art and life (i.e. the space where Robert Rauschenberg liked to work) and the conflicting views of the New Critics and later the neoformalists who wish to excise all autobiographical details from philosophical arguments; vs the hermeneutic and Freudian approaches, which dare to augment the text with its paratext.
I am all for the latter interpretive methods (also because of the prevalence of the former in Anglo-American philosophy), a key factor in this conviction was Colin Wilson‘s reading of Wittgenstein‘s philosophy in The Outsider. Conventional sources will point you to the Heidegger / nazism debacle, but the Wittgenstein example is much more enlightening because Wilson links Wittgenstein’s homosexuality with his reluctance to speak the unspeakable and his eventual arrival at the maxim in the Tractatus:
- “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”
This phrase rendered Wittgenstein famous but is due to his repressed sexuality argues Wilson via Bartley.
- “Bartley‘s comment [on Wittgenstein’s homosexuality] help us to understand Wittgenstein’s attitude to philosophy. Wittgenstein possessed the disposition that is often found in saints and ascetics: a powerful craving for meaning and purpose, and immense self-disgust at his own failure to find them. […] It was this sense of failure, of living on the brink of an abyss, that produced in Wittgenstein the craving for certainty that led him to create the philosophical system of the Tractatus.” —Colin Wilson via The Misfits
- “[In the Tractatus], Wittgenstein was led to define truth as tautology – a mere repetition of the same meaning. […] Wittgenstein agrees that there is such a thing as religious truth and ethical truth. But he insists that it cannot be put into words, and that any philosopher who thinks he is talking about these great universal truths is merely deceiving himself. —Colin Wilson via The Misfits