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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

14 - Self-making and alienation: from bad faith to revolution



In the autumn of 1933 Sartre took leave of absence from his teaching position at the Lycée François Premier in Le Havre and travelled to the French Institute (Maison Académique Française) in Berlin to begin a fellowship to study phenomenology. He cut short what was to be a year's stay, returning to France in June 1934. This was a politically tumultuous time in Germany, as Hitler had taken over nine months before Sartre's arrival. It was not, however, the political situation that hastened Sartre's departure. Sartre's full-time commitment was to philosophy and literature, reading Husserl on his own, appropriating ideas and writing furiously. His biographer, Annie Cohen-Solal, remarks on Sartre's lack of concern with politics during this time:

The students of Le Havre had watched him scribble away, for hours, at the café, in the public library, between classes; his colleagues in Berlin now watch with great astonishment as he busies himself in his research at bars and in his first-floor bedroom, oblivious to the book burnings of 1933 and van Papen's speeches in front of Humboldt University.

(Cohen-Solal 1987: 95)

In an interview, Sartre, looking back on this time, acknowledges his former apolitical attitude:

Before the war I thought of myself simply as an individual. I was not aware of any ties between my individual existence and the society I was living in. At the time I graduated from the École Normale, I had based an entire theory on that feeling. I was “a man alone”, an individual who opposes society through the independence of his thinking but who owes nothing to society and whom society cannot affect, because he is free.

(Sartre 1977a: 45)