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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

5 - Consciousness as imagination


The Imaginary

In many respects this book summarizes and expands the arguments and applications of the previous two. As such, it is the apex of Sartre’s phenomenological psychology. If one excludes his increasingly extended studies in “existential psychoanalysis,” never again will he treat a major issue in psychology at such length or in such depth. In the “Philosophical Introduction” to his excellent translation of L’Imaginaire, Jonathan Webber judges it “the most sustained and detailed account of the nature of imagination in Western philosophical literature.” In view of Sartre’s attention to imaging consciousness heretofore, it can be read as a compendium of his early philosophy and a gateway to the properly “ontological” phase of his concerns in Being and Nothingness. He alludes to that “existential” opening when he claims that “imagination is … the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom” (Ire 186). In this sense, it also previews his multivolume study of Flaubert’s life and time, which he once described as its sequel.

As we suggested above, Sartre divides parts one and two of his work into the “Certain” and the “Probable,” according to the Husserlian differentiation between the data of reflection that are grasped immediately at the end of an eidetic reduction, in this case the “essential structure” of the image, and the probable conclusions hypothesized on the basis of inductive claims about that essential structure. He will then address our understanding of the “psychic life” and our imaginary life in terms of this structure and these probabilities. Sartre’s concluding observations about the role of imaging consciousness in the aesthetic realm serve to synthesize his ongoing interest in the imaginary and the conceptual in our aesthetic consciousness of the work of art.

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The Family Idiot, trans. Cosman, Carol, 5 vols. [University of Chicago Press, 1981–1993]
Sokolowski, Robert, Introduction to Phenomenology [Cambridge University Press, 2000], 20–21
Alain, (Émile Auguste Chartier), Système des beaux-arts, new edn. (Paris: Éditions de Nouvelle Revue Française, 1920), 342
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. Bien, Joseph (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 105
“Jean-Paul Sartre répond,” L’Arc 30 [1966]: 87
“Cartesian Freedom,” Literary and Philosophical Essays, trans. Michelson, Annette [New York: Crowell-Collier, 1962], 180–197
Warnock, Mary, The Philosophy of Sartre (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967), 114
Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, trans. Macquarrie, John and Robinson, Edward [New York: Harper & Row, 1962], 373, n. 4)
Sartre, ’s theory of history in my Sartre, Foucault and Historical Reason, vol. i, Toward an Existentialist Theory of History (University of Chicago Press, 1997
Sartre, observed: “Diderot is right that the actor does not really experience his characters feelings; but it would be wrong to suppose that he is expressing them quite coldly, for the truth is that he experiences them unreally” (Contat, Michel and Rybalka, Michel [eds.], Sartre on Theater, trans. Jellinek, Frank [New York: Pantheon, 1976], 163