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New Left Review
Introduction to Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique de la Raison Dialectique appeared in France in 1960. It was entitled Volume i—‘A Theory of Practical Ensembles’. Its object was the abstract relationships between individuals, groups, series and collectives which Sartre called the ‘formal elements of any history’, in a world dominated by scarcity. It ended with a promise that Volume ii would proceed to a study of the concrete combinations of these elements that constituted the process of history itself. In the event, no second volume of the Critique was to appear. For long, it has been thought that Sartre in fact abandoned the project after writing at most a few fragments of it. The most reliable account of the incomplete work was to be found in Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka’s excellent study Les Écrits de Sartre (Paris 1970), which reported the existence of two chapters. To coincide with the appearance of the English edition of Volume i of the Critique, however, Sartre authorized the publication in nlr of a brief section from the—now somewhat legendary—manuscript of Volume ii. The text below is the excerpt selected by the Review.
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