Thursday, November 21, 2013

Did Sartre Kill JFK?

The answer, alas, is no.

But because the French philosopher sat on a committee, in his own land, which questioned the lone-gunman theory -- and because J. Edgar Hoover was deeply committed to that theory -- it appears that the FBI spent a bit of time investigating a writer whose works its agents could not actually read in their original language.

We picked this up from a wonderful short essay by Andy Martin, published at Prospect.  Martin has looked at the FBI's still-redacted files on both Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (whom Hoover instructed his agents to investigate under the name of "Canus," presumably a homonym for our favorite watercraft).

In the funniest bit of historical journalism we have read since ... well, ever, Martin discovers in these files the traces of an emerging inter-service rivalry, between the FBI and its more worldly competitor, the CIA.  While Hoover's men were suspicious of anyone who had been in the Resistance, on the grounds that they might be Communists, the ex-OSS guys actually knew some Frenchmen and Reds.

But Martin's best bits come from his conclusion that the agents investigating the philosophers were forced, in the end, to philosophize themselves:
The FBI emerge from these files as neo-existentialists in the classic early Sartrian mould. ...  They don’t like meaning—they are on the look-out for it, especially secret coded meanings, but they don’t like it. They certainly subscribe to the “hell is other people” school of thought. And Hoover, in particular, would be greatly relieved if only everyone across the whole of the USA was an angst-ridden, anomic, introverted loner. In short, an Outsider. What they fear and object to is meaning, and finally, the plot—or narrative. They are anti-narrativists.
Of course!

We look forward to Thanksgiving, when we share some turkey with our favorite current  G-Men.  We plan to ask them whether it is still Bureau policy to refute teleological narrative.

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