Yoav Di-Capua‘s new book, No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonization (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is narrative intellectual history at its best: a tale...

Yoav Di-Capua‘s new book, No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonization (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is narrative intellectual history at its best: a tale of friendship and betrayal, of missed connections and surprising syntheses, of unfinished revolutions, Oedipal revolts, and angst-ridden meditations on the meaning of freedom. Di-Capua’s story begins in May of 1944 with a six-hour dissertation defense heard around the Arab world, in which ‘Abd al-Rahman Badawi demonstrated the compatibility of Heideggerian phenomenology and Sufism. The subsequent chapters of No Exit offer a tour of existentialist hotbeds across the Middle East, ending with a detailed account of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Claude Lanzmann’s visit to the region on the eve of the 1967 war. At each juncture, Di-Capua offers a lucid analysis of how the Arab intelligentsia struggled with a set of intertwined questions about decolonization: What does it take to “secure the physical liberation of the population and define its space?” What should be done to repair the “colonial destruction of the sociocultural fabric?” And “what does it mean to be a person after colonialism?” Our conversation focused primarily on the quest for being, the meaning of intellectual “commitment,” and the role existentialism played in the development of Palestinian political philosophy.


David Gutherz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His research centers on the history of the human sciences and revolutionary politics, with a special interest in Fascist and Post-Fascist Italy.”

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