By Marilena Chauí (auth.)
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Extra info for Between Conformity and Resistance: Essays on Politics, Culture, and the State
The present, deprived of all negative force, closes in on itself, the ruling order appears self-legitimized and justified because nothing seems to contradict or oppose it and ideologues can delight in speaking of the end of history or celebrating capitalism as the end point of mankind’s evolution. The decline of the engaged intellectual, or the silence of the intellectual, is, therefore, a symptom of something that is more profound: the absence of a way of thinking that is capable of exposing and interpreting contemporary contradictions.
Nothingness, on the other hand, is a consciousness that is insubstantial, pure activity, and spontaneity; it is the for-itself (pour soi), subjectivity. Here, the others, while presumed to be humans, are the world, and, therefore, beings or things. Hence the celebrated expression from his play, No Exit (Huis Clos): “hell is other people,” since each of them, consciousness or subject, reduces others to the condition of things and is reduced by others to the condition of a thing. Although situated in the world, consciousness, as Nothingness, is not conditioned by it and cannot be determined by things or facts; on the contrary, it has the power to negate them, making them exist as ideas, images, sentiments, and actions.
Our experience is unaware of any sense of continuity and it exhausts itself in a present that is lived as a fleeting instance. This situation, far from stimulating an interrogation of the present and the future, leads to the abandonment of all connection with the possible and to the celebration of contingency and its essential uncertainty. The contingent is not perceived as an indeterminacy that can be determined by human action, but rather as the mode of existence of people, objects, and events, leading to discontinuity, for by losing temporal difference, we lose not only a sense of the past, but also a sense of the future as a possibility inscribed The Engaged Intellectual ● 31 in human action, as the power to shape the indeterminate and overcome given situations, understanding and transforming their very meaning.