“Le héros. Un homme coincé contre le mur par le doigt de Dieu »
Jean Paul Sartre
(The hero. A man stuck against the wall by the finger of God)
“Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, ‘You were also with Jesus of Galilee.’
But he denied before them all, saying, ‘I do know what you are saying.’
And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.’
But again he denied with an oath, “ I do not know the Man.’
And a little bit later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.”
Then he began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the man!’
Immediately a roster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the roster crows, you will deny ME three times.’
So he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26: 69-75.
This reproduction of Caravaggio’s The Denial of Saint Peter was taken from Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Denial_of_Saint_Peter-Caravaggio_(1610).jpg
In an article of The Washington Post, Sebastian Smee discussed the symbolic value of The Denial of Peter, painted by Caravaggio a few months before his untimely demise in 1610—now believed to be due to heavy exposure to the lead in painting. He said: “The scene takes place at night. Firelight lends the image its atmosphere of flickering contingency. Caravaggio, who had a talent for making enemies, was interested in all the ways humans are not rocks—all the ways in which we are flimsy, inconstant and not to be depended upon. Since he was no saint himself…we might extend the idea to say that he was beguiled by all the ways in which—not wishing to be martyrs to virtue—we crave transformation.” Saint Peter the Apostle, the First Pope of the Catholic Church, eventually overcame his fears, spread the Gospel of Christianity and became a crucified martyr. Caravaggio, l’enfant terrible, also painted the painful scene where Peter was being crucified upside down.
Note. This reproduction of The Crucifixion of Saint Peter was taken from Wikimedia Commons.
In his long intellectual/ political career—that brought him from being a Communist Party member to later denouncing the atrocities of Joseph Stalin—Jean Paul Sartre always believed that, in all major crossroads of our lives, we, humans, have a choice. In an article detailing an interview with Sartre, Ian Birchall said: “It is scarcely surprising that the Second World War had an enormous impact on Sartre’s thinking. It thrust him into the army, detention in a German prisoner of war camp, then return to Paris and involvement with the Resistance. For Sartre, all this brought home the reality that questions he had previously considered as purely intellectual matters involved choices and alignments in the real world. Choices, which under the Nazi occupation, could be matters of life and death.” Thus Sartre started his lifelong political commitment—based on his intellectual work—that prodded him to fight against all that he, and his companion Simone de Beauvoir, considered as social injustices. His participation in Resistance against Nazism, was modest but all too real.
We confess that in the beginning of the fascist Military Dictatorship of Uruguay in 1973, we felt a crushing sense of impotence and betrayal of our core ideals. Only when we started to engage in political activism during our tumultuous stay in the Pre-Medical Program of the Universidad de la República, did we regain our freedom. In those dark days of authoritarian control of our activities, we had the exhilaration of deliverance when, overcoming our natural fears, we jumped into the street with our companions to protest in earnest. Echoing that fabulous sentiment, Sartre wrote in La République du Silence that : “we have never been so free as under the German Occupation.”
Moreover, we believe that these unique experiences enrich the creativity of humans, not only by giving us with original experiences but also refreshing insights into us. When rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters start whizzing past you… you wake up. And if you had “the privilege” of mercilessly being beaten up with a wooden baton, you stay that way…And it does not matter that your back (expressly exposed to protect your head) keeps reminding you later about the follies of your youth…
During the May 1968 Revolt in the streets of Paris, Sartre—then a furibundus Maoist—participated in all the protests staged by his students at La Sorbonne. He irritated the members of the De Gaulle administration so much that one of his cabinet secretaries said:
-“Mon Général, we have to arrest Sartre to quell the demonstrations…Right now.’
After demurring for a few seconds, De Gaulle said: “We cannot arrest Voltaire.”
Human Betrayal and subsequent Spiritual Redemption is the fertile soil for Artistic Inspiration.
Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.