The poverty and richness of the imaginary: Sartre on (anti-)racist ways of seeing
History and Philosophy
Sartre Studies International
There is an ambiguity in Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Imaginary (1940). On the one hand, Sartre describes mental images as impoverished in contrast to the fullness and depth of the world of perception. On the other hand, Sartre identifies the imagination with human freedom, and in this sense the imaginary can be seen as an enrichment of the real. This paper explores this ambiguity and its import for understanding both racist and antiracist ways of relating to others. Part One explores Sartre’s argument for the “essential poverty” of the image through examples of racist images. Part Two discusses the enriching power of the imaginary for cultivating more just social and political arrangements in the context of racial oppression. Part Three argues that bad faith can take the form either of fleeing from reality into the impoverished world of the imaginary, or of failing to see the imaginary possibilities implicitly enriching the real.
Link to Published Version
McMahon, L. (2021). The poverty and richness of the imaginary: Sartre on (Anti-)racist ways of seeing. Sartre Studies International, 27(2), 87–100. https://doi.org/10.3167/ssi.2021.270210