Every so often I will share my thoughts on the Parallel Truths I find in movies, song lyrics and books that I read. Today’s is a confluence of existential mystical magical angst and love laden thoughts. You see, at the same time that I was reading Jean Paul Sartre’s Concrete Relations with Others I read Laini Taylor’s e-novella Night of Cake and Puppets. An inspired combination. Like chili and dark chocolate.
So I read the dark, convoluted Sartre straight after enveloping my senses in an e-novella about a shy tiny girl luring a violinist to dare to love her. Enticing him on a journey to experience her by following a bespoke treasure map and magic puppets, a journey to love and Mozart and sacher torte in Prague, in the dark, in the snow: pure seduction, pure for-itself anxiety desperate to know how the for-other was seen by the Other and whether she/he could find freedom in being known, being seen and being loved. Oh the agony of fear, the angst when all is inverted and the observed twists the trap and lures his puppetess with music and desire.
A Night of Cake and Puppets had a happier ending than Concrete Relations with Others, but it is fiction. Delectable fiction, black chocolate, dripping fiction. Back to Sartre.
For the angst ridden JPS, all of our relations with others express the for-itself’s awareness of being-for-others in a world populated by Others – it is as though the for-itself’s idea of self goes out from itself and returns as an image moderated by the gaze of others.
The for-itself is the encapsulated, separated, isolated, nihlated in-itself, situated, trapped in time, straining forward trying to find self-realisation, to find its own meaning within the in-itself, which of course it can never know. Did you ever read Ladyhawk? By night he is a wolf, by day she is a hawk, they are cursed to love but never be together, painfully aware of each other but utterly separated. Terrible movie. As the for-itself strains into and for a future where it can find itself the for-itself becomes more than its past and its body (its facticity), now it incorporates possibility. In this impetus and longing the for-itself is both what it is and what it is not.
But, brought into being by the potential look of the Other, the potential to be seen and known, the for-itself is fixed into being by the Other, even its flight to self-actualisation is anchored in its facticity by the look which brought it into being, which separated it from the in-itself. Even its flight to self-actualisation is never its own but belongs to the Other.
The for-itself’s relation with the Other is based in the for-itself’s attitude to the for-other, but the for-itself cannot know the for-other, cannot conceive it or make it its own. The for-itself is imprisoned in an absence of self knowledge and in doubt. The for-itself can only reject the for-other as having meaning, or try to look at the for-other through the Other’s subjectness and freedom, using the Other’s transcendence to achieve self-realisation.
I am very much reminded at this point reading Sartre, of Moebius strips: two sides of the one loop, never reaching the end, not having an end, neither side existing without the other. “I am the proof of the Other” Sartre said, circling in reciprocity, entangled: the for-itself made by the look of the Other, possessed and in-itself nihlated, simultaneously stolen and created.
And yet, the for-itself is responsible for its facticity as perceived by the Other. To understand, to see itself, the for-itself needs to see itself as though it was the Other, but without becoming the Other. The for-itself seeks the same transcendence and freedom to see and make itself that the Other has, and that freedom must be freely given by the Other as love, it cannot be forced.
To be truly known, seen, is to be defined by the Other – it is terrifying as the for-itself is responsible for but doesn’t know the for-other. And to make it worse, the Other-defined for-other includes all the transcendent possibilities of the flight, of the future: to be loved, to be defined into existence as valuable is in the transcendent perception of the Other. This is anxiety. This is existential terror. To feel safe, the value of the for-other must be the foundational value of the Other’s world view. For it to be meaningful, the Other must give this value to the for-other, the Other’s very reason for being must be to see (and therefore create) the for-itself as an object for-other (with faciticity). Our reason for existing is because the Other has loved us, it is the Other’s freedom to love which founds our existence: Our existence is mutually assured (destruction, MAD).
We need to love but cannot force ourselves either to love or to be loved. So the for-itself is forced to attempt to seduce the Other. But doesn’t that coercion negate the freely given nature of love? Seduction is a desperate attempt, but utterly flawed AND it risks making the Other the object. AND the for-itself doesn’t know if what it’s doing in the aim of being seductive is actually perceived as seductive by the Other – ANXIETY.
Love is impossible as a means of achieving self realisation, seeing yourself as you are seen by your lover, imperfect as that lover is, will never be a reliable source of self knowledge: love is “ a contradictory ideal of the for-itself”. The argument becomes circular, love offers no salvation from not-knowing who you are as for-other or as the for-itself or for finding self-realisation in the in-itself.
Oh and masochism, sadism, and self obsession are no more help for JPS, offering just more delusion, and ocean of guilt and separation by an abyss of empty nothingness. At least love and seduction offer delusions of ecstasy and happiness.
I loved this reading and this book.