Sartre and the United States: 'A series of adventures in America'

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Abstract:

Sartre's name has often been associated with blatant anti-Americanism. This article rejects this one-sided representation and shows Sartre's early fascination with American art forms (cinema, literature and jazz) associated with his interest in modernity in general. He became a vigorous promoter of American culture in France and many of his literary works from the 1930s and 1940s display this American influence. His passion developed when he travelled to the United States in 1945 and 1946; on one hand, Sartre's familiarity with Protestant values confirmed his sympathy with the basic tenets of American democracy; on the other, witnessing racial discrimination in the southern states initiated his career as ethical militant and, later, Third World activist. After 1952, at the height of the Cold War, Sartre's tone changed: he delivered a political critique of the U.S. government, culminating after the Rosenberg Trial and during the Vietnam War. In his role as universal conscience of a global civil society, Sartre claimed the right to condemn the 'most powerful country in the world', which nevertheless did not represent 'its centre of gravity'. The article concludes by discussing the centrality of the United States as an object for Sartrean intellectual engagement in three different phases: fascination, complicity, political condemnation.

Keywords: ANTI-AMERICANISM; RACIAL DISCRIMINATION; RUSSELL TRIBUNAL; SARTRE; THIRD WORLD; VIETNAM WAR

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/147335306780579714

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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