In Sartre’s play No Exit, three people, Garcin, Inez and Estelle, have been sent to hell for various crimes. Their time in hell is spent mulling over their time on earth, and
how they as people were being judged posthumously by those that knew them. Even in death, they still cared about their reputation in life. Death itself brought no release from the gaze of others, no escape from the judgements of those whose opinions they cared about. The shame and guilt were incurable, magnified under the strain of sharing hell with others who suffered from the same fate. This is what Garcin means when he says ‘Hell is – other people!’
Sartre’s play was a brilliant counterpoint to certain strands of thought that put forward the isolated individual as a descriptive and/or normative account of modern life in the age of enlightenment and capitalist industry. Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, for example,
reflected a dream in which modern humans could and should transcend what he considered the squalor of recognition and the desire for respect, reputation and status.
Caring what other people thought of you was classic Untermensch, a sign of weakness that threatened to obscure the quest for personal freedom in a fog of envy, resentment and fear.
More to follow shortly…