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Atwood, G.E. (1983). The Pursuit of Being in the Life and Thought of Jean-Paul Sartre. Psychoanal. Rev., 70:143-162.

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(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(2):143-162

The Pursuit of Being in the Life and Thought of Jean-Paul Sartre

George E. Atwood, Ph.D.

One of the generalizations to emerge from a series of studies in the psychology of knowledge (Atwood and Tomkins, 1976; Tomkins, 1965; Stolorow and Atwood, 1979) is found in the idea that the central construct in a theorist's account of human nature and the human condition mirrors his personal solution to the nuclear crises of his own life history. In this article, it will be shown that this generalization holds with particular force and vividness in the case of Jean-Paul Sartre.

The most salient themes of Sartre's formative years, as described in his autobiography The Words (Sartre, 1964), center around three closely interdependent features of his experience of himself in relation to others: (1) superfluity—a conviction that his existence was unnecessary and unjustified; (2) inauthenticity—an experience of his own conduct as always involving pretense and imposture; and (3) transparency—a feeling that he lacked a substantial self or identity, that he was at his core entirely devoid of content. Part 1 describes the context of Sartre's early years and discusses the sources of his distinctive mode of experiencing himself and the world. In Part 2, it will be shown how the dilemmas of his personal history and his solutions to them are mirrored and symbolized by the central ideas of his philosophy.

I. Early Years: A Dilemma of Self-Definition

Jean-Paul Sartre was born in 1905, the only child of Jean-Baptiste Sartre and his wife, Anne-Marie. Both father and son suffered from


* I wish to express my deep gratitude to Robert Zmitrovis, Professor Jeannette Haviland, and Professor Robert Stolorow, whose support and thoughtful suggestions and criticisms were indispensable to the completion of this project.

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