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This review is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

PARTING WITH THE WHOLE Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume Two, translated by Quintin Hoare (Verso) £34.95
Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (Routledge) £9.99 pb
Tony Bennett, Outside Literature (Routledge) £9.99 pb

Sartre's vision darkened in his last days. 'With this third world war which might break out one day, with this wretched gathering which our planet now is, despair returns to tempt me: the idea that we'll never be done with it, that there's no purpose, only petty personal ends for which we fight. We make little revolutions, but there is not a human end, only disorders ... the world seems ugly, bad and without hope'. Resisting this despair, hearing in it the voice of age, Sartre, however, affirmed: 'I know I shall die in hope, but that hope needs a foundation' (Le Nouvel Observateur, 25 March 1980). Both he and history had failed to provide that foundation: the temptation to despair related, not only to the thwarting, in a succession of cases from the Soviet Union to Cuba, of his political hopes, but to the foundering of the philosophical project of the Critique of Dialectical Reason, the last great epic of Western Marxism.

The overall aim of the Critique was to show that human history, despite its apparent antagonisms and diversities, is a unified, intelligible totalization - that it is one ongoing story, though not necessarily with a happy ending. But what makes it a single story? Sartre of course rejected the traditional totalizer, God, or the 19th century notions, Hegelian, determinist-Marxist, or evolutionist, of some essential spirit or set of laws unfolding in and holding together history. If the unity of history was to be comprehended ...


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