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Is Hell Other People Or Is There Some Way Out? by Imran Haque

Is Hell Other People Or Is There Some Way Out?


One of the concerns of existentialists is whether existence precedes essence or whether essence precedes existence. This concern establishes that there are two types of being. Being-in-itself is that being which is an object such as a table, while being-for-itself is human beings. One human being’s essence comes from the gaze of the other, as it is impossible to access one’s-self through introspection which establishes that we are being-for-others. The epistemology of accessing ourselves through the view of the other is problematic, as it causes conflict, when the other tries to objectify my autonomous nature, by looking at me, which urges one to engage in mechanisms to control the other’s freedom. Sartre’s play, No Exit shows us the human condition of being, in which he portrays the experience of other people being hell. He illustrates this through the trickery of love in objectifying a being-for-itself, and with sadism objectifying autonomous beings. However Sartre’s main purpose, drawing his ideas most closely from Heidegger, in the wake of fascism’s defeat, is to free people from the experience of other people being hell, by ridding them of bad faith and advocating ethical responsibility.

Does existence precede essence or does essence precede existence? Talking about the disparity within existentialists Sartre says regarding people “what they [existentialists] have in common is simply the fact that they believe that existence comes before essence,” (Existentialism & Humanism, 1946, p26). This means, as Spade said in short “when the creator of a letter opener makes the letter opener, he already knows

what the letter opener will do. The essence of the letter opener precedes its existence. Sartre believes people have freedom, therefore God can’t exist, because that implies God knew what they would do, before he created them,” (1996, p73-74). Because people have freedom their essence can’t precede their existence as opposed to chairs.

Warnock talks about things that are a being-in-itself which must be understood to understand what being-for-others means. In the introduction she did to Sartre’s book; Being and Nothingness she says “if being is in itself, this means that it does not refer to itself as self-consciousness does,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, pxli). For example a chair is a being-in-itself which does not have the freedom people have to freely choose because a being-in-itself lacks consciousness. A chair can’t decide on its own to become a table, as the function of consciousness is absent in its being, therefore it is what it is. We know the purpose of the table is to serve as a table, and it does not have the capacity to independently change. In support Warnock says “we have seen indeed that it can encompass no negation… it knows no otherness; it never posits itself as other-than-another-being,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, pxlii). This means that a thing that is a being-in-itself, can’t, by itself be what it is not, because it is what it is due to the fact that it lacks consciousness, and therefore a being-in-itself lacks freedom.

Sartre wrote “the for-it-self looking deep into itself as the consciousness of being there will never discover anything in itself but motivations; that is, it will be perpetually referred to itself an to its constant freedom,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p83). From that statement, to understand what a being-for-itself is we must look at the following issues. A person is an individual being, and there are many components that make this person a whole. Therefore this autonomous human being can’t be fixated with one thing. People are conscious beings, aware of their fleeting motifs and emotions. This requires negation to any sort of fixation. Being-for-itself renders that the person has the freedom to choose what it is, and at a later point to not be what it currently is. In support Sartre wrote “the for-it-self, in fact is nothing but the pure nihilation of the in-it-self,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p617). This leads the idea of a being-for-itself to another issue of it becoming a nothingness, void of any content due to constant negation of what it is not, because of its changing nature along with its consciousness to maintain its freedom.

The self can’t properly be derived from within a person because there is no stable thing within us that has content which can truly tell us what we are. The self exists only with the gaze other people have on us and their resulting opinions. In support Sartre wrote “Shame is by nature recognition. I recognize that I am as the other sees me,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p222). This established that we can’t access our self without others. It is impossible to live in solitude and in support Myerson says “Sartre does not think true alienation is conceivable,” (2002, p61). No Exit portrays this with; “Garcin: the solution's easy…each of us stays put in his or her corner and takes no notice of the others. You here, you here, and I there…we mustn't speak. Not one word…I could stay ten thousand years with only my thoughts for company,” (No Exit, 1989, p11). However this idea does not work because the other two will not abide by his rules, and neither can he be satisfied without the other two helping him figure out if he was a coward or not. People for one another, being the radically other to the other, problematizes the concept of being-for-others, however without these radically different others, the thing that is the self within us ceases to exist therefore we prefer suffering instead of solitude as Garcin doesn’t leave when the door opens.

Having established the nature of being and the origin of the self, to properly understand the existentialist idea we must understand where conflict fits into this discussion. By looking at the two different types of beings, humans were distinguished as beings; who are free entities in the sense that they can independently choose to be what they are currently not, as opposed to chairs. However if we leave the issue of being-for-others at this conclusion, the idea of existentialism is a vain project. By problematizing the origin of the self as an inseparable discussion with the issue of being, the existentialist idea becomes critically relevant in understanding the ontological nature of being in the world. Since self exists only with the gaze and resulting opinion other people have about us, and we share the world with other people, we live in a mode of perpetual and inescapable conflict. Each time others look at me, they develop an opinion about me and thereby the thing that is the self in me becomes accessible to me. In support Sartre wrote “by the mere appearance of the other, I am put in the position of passing judgement on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the other,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p222). The conflict is in the fact that I am an autonomous being, therefore I must not be restrained by the view of the others and become a being-in-itself, fixated to one identity for all of eternity. Without the view of the others

I am just a nothingness who has no content, although with the view of the others my freedom is curtailed, yet, by enjoying my freedom I sacrifice my only access to knowing myself. This inescapable mode of being-for-others means the original nature of being in this world is that we live within this everlasting conflict with our fellow yet radically other human beings, who are constantly trying to objectify us, making us into a being-in-itself although we are free entities, nonetheless we have to live with other people for sake of our own selves.

It is this experience that Sartre’s play, No Exit, is trying to demonstrate. Hell and damnation are metaphors for the human condition of being-for-others which establishes that being-for-others is; to be in perpetual conflict with the other because our consciousness negates objectification to maintain our freedom. The room in which the three characters are placed in is a microcosm of the world, which billions of people share together within its given space. Sartre said before a performance of No Exit as Contat and Rybalka noted “there are a vast number of people in the world who are in hell because they are too dependent on the judgement of other people,” and then he said “no matter what circle of hell we are living in, I think we are free to break out of it,” (1976, p199-p200). It seemed like the existentialist idea was making progress towards an end, but the play problematize the existentialist idea by making conflict inescapable, which when we understand we don’t really want to admit. Sartre wrote “GARCIN: Well, Estelle, am I a coward? ESTELLE: Don't be so unreasonable, darling. GARCIN: I can't decide. ESTELLE:…You must have had reasons for acting as you did,” (No Exit, 1989, p22).

This problem is that the view of the other is the view of the other which we have no way of ascertaining whether it is what it is presented as. Therefore Garcin turns to Inez with his question as he does not believe Estelle is telling him the truth, but only making him happy. We may attempt to manipulate the view the other person develops regarding us, but even then we can never truly know how true the view regarding us is because it is presented by the other who is just another autonomous being. Being unable to ascertain the view of the other, despite that we can only know ourselves through their views, even though they try to objectify the autonomous being we are, is the human condition which is portrayed in Sartre’s play, No Exit, that makes hell other people.

Hell is other people and love is a mechanism by which people overcome the anxiety of recognizing that we can’t control the freedom of another person. Because I’ll never know what others really think of me, I enter the project of becoming the most important object for the other, hoping that the other is so besotted by me that I know with certainty what their opinion about me is. I thereby obscure the fact that in reality I have no control over the freedom of the other, whose views about me generates the self in me. Love is wanting to be loved by the other, because it feels like one has achieved the impossible of controlling the freedom of another autonomous being. This enables me to think I have control over knowing myself as I have the ability to manoeuvre the freedom of the other regarding their views on me. Sartre wrote “these projects put me in direct connection with the other’s freedom. It is in this sense that love is a conflict… the other’s freedom is the foundation of my being… precisely because I exist by means of the other’s freedom,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p366). The impossibility of love is that it objectifies a being-for-itself as rhetoric around love shows lyrics such as you are the sunshine of my life, although a being-for-itself is not an object. It is impossible for me to freely give up my freedom for another autonomous being to think of me as I would like to be thought of because it is their freedom to think of me as they freely wish to, that gives me access to myself. Therefore even in love we remain in a mode of perpetual conflict as we are beings-for-others, but due to our desire to find out who we are which is problematic because the view of the other is beyond our control, hell is other people.

Sadism is the opposite idea to that of love in the notion that hell is other people, as in sadism a being-for-itself tries to make another being-for-itself an object so the sadist can gain control over the other’s freedom for the purpose of knowing with certainty what the view of the other is regarding the sadist. The problem with sadism is that it wants a being-for-itself to be a pure object such as a being-in-itself, however it simultaneously wants this being-in-itself to admit that it is a pure object, in order to validate the sadist, so the sadist knows what the self within it is. In support Sartre wrote, “the [being-for-itself] becomes an instrument in his [sadist’s] hands,” and he also wrote “what the sadist tenaciously seeks…is the other’s freedom,” and also “the sadist will want manifest proofs of this enslavement of the other’s freedom,” (Being and Nothingness, 1972, p402-403). This is impossible because the idea is contradictory, because objects do not speak to admit anything, therefore the sadist can never know what their self is, and they can never find fulfilment and therefore hell is other people.

Therefore are we trapped within hell is other people with perpetual conflict being the original meaning of our being-for-others? In the play Inez says “you’re a coward Garcin, because I wish it…You have no choice but to convince me… Estelle: Garcin! Garcin: What? Estelle: Revenge yourself. Garcin: How? Estelle: Kiss me darling – then you’ll hear her squeal,” (No Exit, 1989, p44). This is hell being other people, but what does Sartre want to achieve by communicating this to the world? Sartre said “hell is other people has always been misunderstood… because other people are… the… means we have… for our own knowledge of ourselves,” and he continues “if my relations [with other people] are bad, I am situating myself on total dependence on someone else… then I am indeed in hell,” (Contat and Rybalka, 1976, p199). This refutes any ideas of Sartre being a pessimist rather his ideas are the opposite.

The idea Sartre has been advocating was perfectly illustrated in the recent boxing match between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. They did not act in bad faith trying to objectify a being-for-itself as Inez and Estelle do as shown in the start of this paragraph. The boxers didn’t resist the original meaning of being-for-others, but they accepted the fact for what it was and were ethical in getting about their business. Because they were respectful of the other, Klitschko in the post-fight press-conference said [in short] “I think it was a good fight… AJ [Anthony Joshua] did a good job… it is what it is… things work out in sport in the way how they work out… I feel actually pretty good considering even if I lost.” Klitschko didn’t not feel like he was in hell even losing the fight as his relationship with Joshua had been so ethical he could sense Joshua’s opinion about him so Klitschko’s ego – self had not been humiliated. In support Sartre discusses this in length in the part titled Freedom and Responsibility, that we must not resist the nature of being-for others in bad faith but we must accept our freedom and get on with our everyday business ethically without creating a hell like experience, since we can’t escape that being-for-others originally means conflict.

Conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others because our existence precedes our essence, and we can’t have an essence unless the other has a view on me, which is objectifying and creates conflict as that curtails my freedom. No Exit show some

mechanisms people engage in to overcome the fact that it is the other through which we know ourselves, but here we create the environment of hell, by trying to force or manipulate other people’s freedom. There is nothing that can be done about the nature of conflict being the original meaning of being-for-others, other than to take responsibility and stop acting in bad faith, and getting on with everyday life ethically without making the experience hell, because we are free.


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