There are perpetual debates about the extent of freedom in politics. Are we free to choose? Are we overdetermined by our material conditions? Some hybrid between the two? What is more, how are we to comprehend ourselves as creators of history if freedom itself is a problematic concept? And what would it mean if self-comprehension were foreclosed by this problematic? In this text, Austin Hayden Smidt analyzes an oft-overlooked text by Jean-Paul Sartre in order to ground a logical framework for exploring this paradox.
In Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre sought to develop an historical and structural heuristic; one that would enable future theorists and activists alike to assess the pressing problems facing the various milieux of capitalist life. Through this heuristic, his intent was to develop an orientation enabling humans to transform their world in their perpetual creation of themselves (and vice versa).
However, the stylistic difficulties of the text, as well as a general agreement among previous interpreters, has prevented the richness of the investigation from taking root. This book sets a new course, and invites further collaboration as – together – we create society as a work of art.
Glossary of Terms
Introduction: Rediscovering Sartre in a Completely Natural Way
Part One: The Living Logic of Action in Critique of Dialectical Reason
Chapter 1: Dialectical Reason and the Paradoxico-Critical Orientation of Thought
Chapter 2: Dialectical Logic and The Pervasion of Seriality: Towards a Fresh Reading of Sartreʼs Critique of Dialectical Reason
Chapter 3: The Field of Possibles: the Practico-inert and the Exigency of Objective Conditions
Chapter 4: Pluridimensional Seriality
Chapter 5: Freedom and the Logic of the Group
Part Two: Toward an Imaginative Logic of Action
Chapter 6: The Logic of Poetic Imagination
Chapter 7: A Tale of Two Logics
Chapter 8: Creating Society as a Work of Art
Chapter 9: Prolegomena to Any Future Critique of Political Economy
Through a series of carefully executed and highly engaging analyses, Austin Hayden Smidt proposes an original perspective on Sartre’s philosophical project. Exploring in detail Sartre’s critique of dialectical reason and the way it allows us to rethink not just key issues in philosophy but also important aspects of political economy in the neoliberal era, he makes a strong case for the relevance of Sartre’s thought in the current moment.
Sartre, Imagination, and Dialectical Reason is an original and profound contribution to Sartre scholarship and contemporary critical theory. Against conventional readings, Austin Smidt argues meticulously and compellingly that Sartre’s second major philosophical treatise is better than a work of social ontology; it is a work of ‘formal logic,’ a transformative and liberatory logic of social creation. In keeping with Sartre’s lifelong and too often underappreciated fascination with the imaginary, Smidt reaffirms the centrality of imagination for critical theory, both in our efforts to understand the world better than we do, and more importantly, in our efforts to make the world a better place than it is.
This is an important and elaborate rethinking of Sartre’s all too often neglected Critique of Dialectical Reason. Through a patient and systematic unpacking of this work, set in dialogue with Marx and other critical thinkers, Smidt convincingly demonstrates the power, relevance, and utility that Sartre’s thought continues to hold for us today. Highly recommended!
Austin Hayden Smidt is a political philosopher, producer, writer, podcaster and performer. His research is most concerned with analyzing social life under the conditions of capitalism in order to envision better arrangements. He is the producer of the cinematic adaptation of the best-selling book Inventing the Future and co-host of the Show Me the Meaning and Owls at Dawn podcasts.