We live in fractious times. In America today people have fewer friends, fewer people are getting married, more people are chronically lonely, our partisan politics are becoming more polarized, and we trust and socialize with our neighbors less. The sociologist Robert Putnam describes these trends in terms of declining social capital and cites technological shifts, suburban sprawl, and intensified work and time pressures as being chief among the causes. But is that really it? Why can’t we get along? Is it technology? Is it politics? Is it inevitable?
“Hell is other people,” says Garcin in Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic existentialist play, No Exit (1944; French, Huis Clos). The play tells the story of three deceased souls, two women and a man, who find themselves sharing the afterlife together locked in a small room furnished with antiques. As the drama unfolds the characters find themselves at odds with each other as a rivalrous love triangle forms between them and as they get on each others nerves. Eventually one ghost tries to stab another to death (futilely, they are already dead) in order to have some privacy with her would-be lover. There is no escaping it. For Sartre, wherever you have other people you will inevitably have pettiness and bitterness and estrangement and jealousy and strife. The community that many of us long for is but a pipe dream.
But is that really true?
If you’re a graduate student at New York University, you are cordially invited to join us this Wednesday evening to grapple with these questions and more over hors d’oeuvres and wine. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for location details and to RSVP.