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Response to Archard’s Review of Sartre’s Freud Scenario

Philosophy and Medical
Under the auspices of the Royal Institute of Philosophy
the Philosophy Department, University of York (UK) is
holding a conference on Philosophy and Medical Welfare
from 11 to 13 September 1987. Speakers will include
Martin Hollis (University of East Anglia), John Harris
(University of Manchester), Michael Lockwood (University
of Oxford). Further details and booking forms are
available from Philosophy Conference Secretary,
Department of Philosophy, University of York, Heslington,
York YOl 500, England.

Dear Comrades,
Dave Archard’s review of Sartre’s Freud Scenario
(Radical Philosophy 44) caused me severe mental
disturbance. After years of SUbjection to deconstruction
and discourse theory I had come to think that I was the
only person left in the world who believed that literary
texts were actually about the real world (that Zola’s
Germinal, for example, is about a miners’ strike).

Now, however, I discover that there is someone even
more trapped in the categories of ‘classic realism’ than
myself; Archard launches his diatribe of sneers against
Sartre on the basis that Sartre was not sufficiently
accurate in his treatment of biographical ‘facts’.

Archard’s animosity extends beyond Sartre himself to
the ‘Sartreans’ (it is not clear who these are – we aren’t
exactly a democratic centralist organisation). These
apparently nourish ‘a favoured legend’ about the genesis
of the scenario. But Pontalis’s introduction to the text
does not go against the account given in Contat and
Rybalka’s Les Ecrits de Sartre (pp. 492-94). And if
‘Sartreans’have any characteristic feature in common, it is
probably that they know their Contat and Rybalka.

Archard is apparently shocked by the scene where
Freud is subjected to anti-Semitic abuse by his fellow
doctors (p. 321); it is a ‘wild distortion of the truth’ to
suggest they would engage in ‘open abuse’. Archard’s
fai th in the good manners of the professional classes is
touching; but if he really believes that ‘educated’ people
do not indulge in overt racist abuse he should read the
history of the Dreyfus case. Sartre’s contempt for the
intellectual chiens de garde of the established order
makes a telling contrast with Archard’s indignant defence
of his professional colleagues.

A new left journal (yes, another one), Interlink, hit the
newstands in January. Set up jointly by the Socialist
Society and the Conference of Socialist Economists, it
aims to fill the information-gap left by the journals. The
aim is to provide an independent non-aligned voice for
socialist ideas and to provide a platform for the many
campaigning groups on the left (hence the name). Issues
and 2 are available from Interlink, 9 Poland Street,
London WIV 3DG.

Amid such quibbles Archard has lost sight of the real
point of the scenario. In confronting the determinist Freud
Sartre is dramatising the paradoxes of his own theory of
freedom. For Sartre’s claim that we are responsible for
our own destiny can, as Michel Con tat pointed out in his
seventieth birthday interview with Sartre (Situations X, pp.

222-23), be easily transformed into a conservative
argument – the claims of a Tebbit or an Archer that the
unemployed have chosen their own situation. Yet if we
abandon a belief in freedom, we abandon any hope of
changing the world. (One senses that Archard would not
think this was much of a loss.)
The paradox is vividly concretised in the opening scene
of the film, where a blind old woman is carted round a
hospital, rejected by the medical staff in charge of each
ward. For current medical opinion judged that such
victims of hysteria were not ill but had consciously
chosen to malinger.

It may indeed be, as Archard claims, that Sartre has
portrayed a ‘heroic intellectual “adventurer” battling
against racial prejudice’ rather than the real ‘historical’

Freud. The question Archard leaves unaskes:f is whether
Sartre’s Freud might not be preferable to the ‘real’ Freud.

In a recent survey French students were asked which
thinker had made the greatest impact on them (Le ~onde
Campus, 20 November 1986). The most frequently cited
was Freud (14 per cent); Sartre was runner-up with 8 per
cent. If that proportion had been reversed, the recent
French student struggles might not have been so
emphatically ‘unpolitical’, nor ended so quickly.

To opt for Freud against Sartre is to opt for determinist
passivity against freedom; for seeking solutions inside
one’s own skull instead of changing the world. It is, I
suspect, to opt for Kinnock and against Marx. It is to
reject the best of what Radical Philosophy used to stand

Yours fraternally,
Ian Birchall

The graphics on pages 11 , 38 and 42 by George Grosz are: ‘The Capitalist and General wish each
other a “Happy New Year”’; ‘The Day of Reckoning is Coming!’; and ‘Song of Intellectuals’. Grosz,
The Day of Reckoning, from which these pictures are taken is published by Alison and Busby,
1984, £2.95 pb.



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