5. More on the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre: Freedom and Responsibility and ecorhetoric. (Ecorhetoric: the progressive learning about composition environments or PLACE)
Now, let’s explore further the writing of Jean Paul Sartre, who, like Kenneth Burke, explored “ways of being in the world” through his plays, novels, essays, and other literate action before and after World War II. In his collection What is literature? and Other Essays, edited by Steven Unger, Sartre notes that all literature is a call to action to disclose the problems the world.
Sartre and Freedom
“To write is to make an appeal to the reader that he lead into objective existence the revelation which I have undertaken by means of language…Thus the writer appeals to the reader’s freedom to collaborate in the production of his work” (54). Sartre views this freedom as situated in the social bond that demands and bestows this freedom as it compels action and reciprocity in our human relationships. It exists in the realm of social communication and discourse and is meant to promote social justice, for Sartre’s essay on Black Orpheus is written to demonstrate empathy for the African American story of slavery and emancipation that relies on this reciprocity of freedom.
Sartre on Freedom and Responsibility
“The book does not serve my freedom; it requires it” ( Sartre 55)…it is a Passion, in the Christian sense of the word; that is, a freedom which resolutely puts itself in a state of passiveness to obtain a certain transcendent effect by this sacrifice” ( Sartre 57).
Yet this literate freedom of expression does not end with the book, or the article, or the newspaper, or any form of written discourse; and it should not end with access to the various multimodal technologies. For the Sartrean existentialist, the essential paradox at the heart of the human freedom versus conservation debate, speaks to the very core and foundation of democracy. And democracy for Sartre, on a surface level, is more concerned with the individual freedom of human existence and free nations than the existence of the prairie grouse as competition for developing commerce and habitat for the human being.
So invested is Sartre in this freedom that he determines the inevitable exigency out of which humans must take action. “A day comes when the pen is forced to stop, and the writer must then take up arms” (69).
Taking up arms, for the contemporary existentialist, refers not only to the need for defense in traditional forms of just war, but in all areas of literate action. Yet literature for Sartre is meant for free men and women to make choices about the direction of our culture, and one can easily speculate that the call to disclose problems of the world also involves the management of the environment.
“The book does not serve my freedom; it requires it” (55). Likewise, this freedom should not end with the various multimodal technological forms of discourse for the Sartrean existentialist. Ultimately, Sartre argues that “One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning: democracy” (69).
Paradoxically, this is precisely the freedom that is simultaneously demanded and relinquished in order to bring about ecological awareness and beneficial change through the various modes of ecological discourse and rhetoric.
This is precisely the freedom, both literate and literal, that demands action and sacrifice, by any moral standard, concerning the need to promote the rhetoric of sustainability; conservation management; agricultural planning and harvest; and ecological preservation for all life forms on the planet. Dobrin and Weisser concede this point in arguing for “preserving nothing but the integrity and resources of the space traveled in for others to experience and learn from” (See Dobrin, Owens). Thus, these writers give credence to existentialist freedom as one that adopts a purposeful plan of stewardship through conservation of the natural world through discourse and literate action.
Others who likely support assuming the responsibility inspired by Sartre’s treatise on litereracy, freedom, and sacrifice include those who support sustainability and conservation management. One such scholar in favor of sustainability and conservation is Derrick Owens, author of Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation (NCTE). As noted by Dobrin and Christian in Natural Discourse, Owens argues for restraints on addictions and materialism. The work of Dobrin and Christian as well as Owens challenges us to practice discipline as we concern ourselves with taking up arms against catastrophic exploitation of both local and global ecosystems.