Society

Jean-Paul Sartre, In His Own Words (Brace Yourself)

According to just released interviews, the famed existentialist and leftist activist was also a foul-mouthed taker of hard drugs who underestimated Hitler, insulted his French colleagues (and lovers) and praised international terrorism.

(NC Mallory)
(NC Mallory)
Michel Onfray

John Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre's only official biographer, is one of the lucky few to have spent hundreds of hours in the company of the French philosopher. He recently published a 500-page-book full of interviews conducted between 1970 and 1974. Here are a few excerpts:

Sartre admits that he never felt guilty for anything in his life. He confesses he was depressed in the period before World War II, and that at one point declares that he was followed by crabs in the street -- and would talk with them. He also admits that his experience with mescaline and amphetamines exacerbated things. He insults former French President Charles de Gaulle, alternately calling him a "reactionary pimp," "piece of sh-t," "pompous jerk," "monster," "f-ing bastard," and "pig."

Insults are common throughout the interviews. Sartre calls Andre Malraux, the French statesman and award-winning author, a "pig." His work, says Sartre, was "crap." The famous French existentialist uses the word "treason" five times to characterize his mother's second marriage with a much loathed stepfather, a "Gaullist through and through." Before the fateful day of the marriage, Sartre slept in his mother's bedroom.

Sartre goes after his longtime companion Simone de Beauvoir as well, saying she lied about him in her Mémoires. De Beauvoir wrote that Sartre escaped from the camp where he was held as a war prisoner, when in fact he was liberated. She also indicated that Sartre published just a single article, in June 1941, in Comoedia, a collaborationist magazine. In reality, Sartre published two articles in Comoedia: the second was a Feb. 5, 1944 funeral tribute to the writer Jean Giraudoux. On Beauvoir, with whom Sartre had a long polyamorous relationship, Sartre says her book about Maoist China, The Long March, was mostly written in the library, from books and articles rather than real-life observations.

As for politics, Sartre claims not to have understood Nazism in 1933, even though he was living in Germany at that time. He says he didn't vote in 1936 and regarded the parades of the Popular Front with indifference. He says he supported intervention in Spain, as long as he wasn't asked to participate in a concrete manner. He also supported the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and was apolitical during his stay in the German prisoner camp, where he was non-confrontational but used his docility as a "form of protest." He says that in 1947 he was not politically active.

Sartre sympathizes with the revolutionary violence of the century, supports the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Maoist China. He minimizes the number of victims of the Cultural Revolution and doubts that it could have provoked such tragedy. He admits having published 18 articles in favor of Castro, and celebrates illegal revolutionary acts and "blood baths' committed in the name of political ideals. In regards to Cuba, he extrapolates a general theory of government through terror: "To succeed, a revolution needs to go all the way. It's not possible to stop mid-way. The political right will always use terror to block the road, so the revolution must use terror to prevent that."

He legitimizes and justifies the use of the death penalty for political reasons. He supports the Palestinian terrorist attacks of 1972, saying that, "Palestinians don't have any other choice, because of a lack of weapons and supporters, than to turn to terrorism…The terrorist act committed in Munich, I once said, was justified on two levels: first, because the Israeli athletes in the Olympic Games were soldiers, and second, because the action was committed for an exchange of prisoners."

He defends the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang the Red Army Faction, as the gang is also known, was a German left-wing terror group most active in the late 1960s and 1970s, saying that, "from a moral and revolutionary point of view, the kidnapping and the deaths of German industrialists committed by the group are absolutely justified." He adds: "The Baader-Meinhof gang conducted itself well. They never killed a single innocent person. They hunted down vicious pigs within their society, and the American colonels that crawled before them."

He calls filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who directed the 1985 movie Shoah, "a good bourgeois' who "sings the praises of Israel" without seeing "what happens to the poor Palestinians, chased from their lands, their houses seized without compensation, their children forced out of school, harassed from morning to night, beaten by foreign armies armed to the teeth. Lanzmann sees Israelis as victims of the Holocaust. For him anyone who criticizes Israeli politics is anti-Semitic. Full stop."

Sartre legitimizes "revengism" as a basis of popular justice, saying that "the idea of revenge is a moral idea." He defends the North Korean dictator Kim-Il-sung, and blasts writers Edmond de Goncourt and Gustave Flaubert for not using their influence to criticize the repression of the 1871 French political Commune. "We should have killed them," says Sartre, who accuses Goncourt and Flaubert of being complicit with the power in Versailles.

Interestingly enough, Sartre fails to mention the fact that he himself did not write against the German occupation. His 1945 text Paris Under the Occupation, in fact, shows more empathy for German officers – amiable enough to have "offered their seat in the metro to old women, they were moved by children to caress their cheeks' – than for the allied pilots who he said put the security of civilians in danger.

Gerassi's conclusion to the interviews is the following: "Sartre is not only the most important moralist of our century. He is also its most important prophet." No further comment is needed...

Read the original article in French.

image - NCMallory

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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