Making imaginative use of the insights of some of the most important contemporary French thinkers (notably Jacques Derrida), Dominick LaCapra seeks to bring about an active confrontation between Sartre and his critics in terms that transcend the opposition between existentialism and structuralism. Referring wherever appropriate to important events in Sartre's life, he illuminates such difficult works as Being and Nothingness and the Critique of Dialectical Reason, and places Sartre in relation to the traditions that he has explicitly rejected. LaCapra also offers close and sensitive interpretations of Nausea, of the autobiography, The Words, and of Sartre's biographical studies of Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert.
"I envision intellectual history," writes laCapra, "as a critical, informed, and stimulating conversation with the past through the medium of the texts of major thinkers. Who else in our recent past is a more fascinating interlocutor than Sartre?"
A recurrent motif of the book is the role of the sacred, its problematic status in sacrifice, its virulent manifestation in social and political violence (notably the Nazi genocide), its role or transformations in literature and art, and its multivalent expressions in "postsecular" hopes, anxieties, and quests. LaCapra concludes the volume with an essay on the place of violence in the thought of Slavoj Zizek. In LaCapra's view Zizek's provocative thought "at times has uncanny echoes of earlier reflections on, or apologies for, political and seemingly regenerative, even sacralized violence."
Making selective and critical use of the thought of such important figures as Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, and Mikhail Bakhtin, in Understanding Others Dominick LaCapra investigates a series of crucial topics from the current state of deconstruction, trauma studies, and the humanities to newer fields such as animal studies and posthumanist scholarship. LaCapra adroitly brings critical historical thought into a provocative engagement with politics and our current political climate. This is LaCapra at his best, critically rethinking major currents and exploring the old and the new in combination, often suggesting what this means in the age of Trump.