In this major new reading of Sartre’s life and work, Paige Arthur traces the relationship between the philosopher’s decades-long commitment to decolonization and his intellectual positions. Where other commentators have focused on the tensions between Sartre’s Marxism and his account of existential freedom, usually to denigrate one in favor of the other, Arthur shows how Sartre’s political engagement with global liberation movements and his philosophical framework developed alongside one another.
Closely following the postwar movements for decolonization, and then supporting the war of independence in Algeria, Sartre proposed an influential and uncompromising view of imperialism. Analyzing the Western attitude to the ‘subhuman’ colonial subject, he offered an account of the social constraints that applied to both ruler and ruled, and came to argue that political violence—on both sides—was a systematic consequence of the colonial order. Arthur’s rich and nuanced book locates Sartre within the political discussions of his time, whilst also looking forward to contemporary debates about new forms of imperialism and resistance.
It is no easy task to define the concept of imperialism. The same term is customarily used to designate diverse, and in certain respects antithetical, concepts. Indeed, theoretical controversy is often based on nothing more than a failure to grasp what is the object of reference.
This essay is excerpted from Sohail Daulatzai's Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue, published by the University of Minnesota Press. A new 4K restoration of The Battle of Algiers is currently touring theaters across the United States.
Though it is both troubling and telling, the screening of the film by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is only the latest chapter in the afterlife of The Battle of Algiers. In many ways, the film is a battleground and a microcosm of the enduring struggles between the West and the Rest, whiteness and its others. But in a post- 9/11 moment, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the centrality and omnipresence of the figure of the Muslim and the “War on Terror” have not only coded and shaped every aspect of social life but have also sought to undermine the power and politics of The Battle of Algiers.
At a recent talk in Crotia, Vivek Chibber discussed some of the major theoretical issues at the heart of his Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital, which has caused a storm of controversy that since its publication:
"One of the striking contradictions of postcolonial theory is that, even though it presents itself as the analytical framework of capitalist domination, it rejects the idea of a universal theory. Hence, it is in the awkward position of the acknowledgment that capitalism has been globalized, but denying that we can conceive a general theory of its functioning or its properties. This is a deep and devastating contradiction at the very heart of postcolonial theory. I will examine the sources of this dilemma and argue that the best framework for understanding capitalism remains a Marxian one, which I further defend from the accusations of weakness made by postcolonial critics."
The talk, moderated by Katarina Peović Vuković, was given at Cinema Europa, Crotia, for the 8th Subversive Film Festival, "Spaces of Emancipation: Micropolitics and Rebellions", 14th May 2015.
More from Vivek Chibber here.