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Critique of Dialectical Reason, Volume One Paperback – August 17, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The work is a landmark in modern social thought ... a turning point in the thinking of our time.”—Raymond Williams, Guardian

“The Critique is essential to any serious understanding of Sartre.”—George Steiner, Sunday Times

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Critique of Dialectical Reason (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; Revised edition (June 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859844855
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859844854
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Seeking to give Marxism what Michael McGee called "a more rigorous intellectual defense," Sartre wrote volume one of Critique of Dialectical Reason (CDR) between 1957 & 1960; it was published in France in 1960. The first English edition appeared in 1976. A second, unfinished volume appeared posthumously in 1982.

CDR was a massive attempt to describe the dynamic of various levels of human interaction & what characterizes these levels, from a mere chance collection of people to the social entity we call an institution. The ultimate objective was to show why Marx's categorization of "class" as some kind of hyperorganism was wrong. Its thesis statement can be drawn from its thematic antecedent, Search for a Method: cultural order is irreducible to natural order.

In CDR, life was endless occasions of totalizations, detotalizations, & retotalizatons on a field of scarcity. These various totalizations were instances of human groupness, whether people waiting @the bus stop, a soccer team, or the "mob" storming the Bastille. We called the temporalization of events "history."

First half of the volume, or Book I, is devoted mainly to ennui-provoking explanation of the dialectical investigation: hidden there in a footnote was Sartre's curt dismissal of Darwinism. However, he got wound up in Book II & showed how task assignments, division of labor, & the institution came about.

I know of no other original study, treatise, or even novel that uses the themes & concepts of CDR. A CDR-oriented examination of, say, American domestic relations court proceedings (with its forced as opposed to mediated reciprocity) might be a worthy endeavor.
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The CDR is by far Sartre's most original work, for beyond Being and Nothingness. As a theory of ensembles, the various groupings and reinterpretations of historical events and phenomena strike me as a call to re-evaluate our current situation. Though written in the 60s, and I am only referring to Volume 1, the chapter which is entitled "Matter as Totalized Totality" is the greatest articulation and criticism of Marxist materialism with regard to the environment, meaning, we are not merely determined by our materiality and circumstances, there is an interdependence between the person/group and the world: We mediate the world as the world mediates us. Nevertheless, the language is quite turgid, with a focus on praxis and the practico-inert, interiority/exteriority, etc. In the end at least this volume can constitute a building of a new method which is yet to be realized.
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Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, and political activist, who wrote many other books such as Being and Nothingness, The Transcendence of the Ego, Search for a Method, etc. The companion volume is Critique of Dialectical Reason: v. 1.

[NOTE: page numbers below refer to the 1976 one-volume hardcover edition.]

He says, "one can ask how the type of synthetic relation known as Power can set itself up as the bond between the separate molecules. And all means of interpretation but two have been foresworn a priori. These two are, that Power emanates from God, and that Power emanates from certain intermittent metamorphoses which transform society into a totalised-totality, and it expresses the constraints of collective representation, etc. Unfortunately, neither god nor the totalised group actually exist. If it were really necessary to find a foundation for sovereignty, we would be searching for a long time: for there is no such thing." (Bk II, Ch. 6, Sec. 4, pg. 609-610)

He asserts, "The real contradiction of the State is that it is a class apparatus pursuing class objectives and, at the same time, positing itself for itself as the sovereign unity of all, that is, in the absolute Other-Being which is the nation." (Sec. 5, pg.
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Sartre was primarily a moral philosopher - not a metaphysician, epistemologist, or political philosopher. Yet, he was a bit of all these. He is a political thinker by way of his profoundly thought moral philosophy. Thus, I claim: 1) While it may be his last extensive philosophic work, Sartre's CDR is not his "last great philosophic work" - big is not always best. The tragically neglected, "Saint Genet: Actor & Martyr" is perhaps the most important book of moral philosophy since Kant's "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals". This book was published in French in 1953, but for reasons evident to me but obscure to many, was not published until 1963 in English (i.e., America of the 1950's was for all it's extroversion, an uptight place - for all its "loss of innocence" - still is). There is a magnificent review of Saint Genet on this site to which I could not add more. Saint Genet, not Being and Nothingness is Sartre's magnum. 2) We're dealing with a generation who grew up in the heyday of Reagan's media robots - not only do they not understand Marx, his enormous stature and insight - they haven't dared to read him. The fact is the corporate/service divide which is really central to all our problems today - is none other than the reappearance of the old bourgeois/proletariat divide, "the antagonism of capital and wage labor" once again. Think about it at the pump. 3) Sartre was left with the problem of trying to reconcile his Marxism, with his very egocentric existentialism - really a syncretism - and he tries in this huge tome. (I am always amazed at how prolific Sartre was - and how good!Read more ›
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