Unwittingly enacting something central to Edward Thomasson’s exhibition “Other People,” I reflexively supplemented its title to constitute Jean-Paul Sartre’s familiar aphorism “Hell is . . .” Abstracted from its context, the line has become the meme-like slogan of misanthropes. Its separatist ideal, latently theological, envisions withdrawal into the self, the logical consequence of which is loss of intimacy or empathy.
This is inimical to Sartre’s philosophy of le regard: that we are dependent on and qualified by the Other. To be seen, Sartre writes, is to be “the instrument of possibilities which are not my possibilities,” to be constituted “as a means to ends of which I am ignorant.” If this enables actions it also prohibits them, representing a limit to freedom that Sartre goes so far as to characterize as slavery. If Sartre’s philosophy of relation was founded on the disembodied
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