The salient premise of No Exit is easy to pick out--Garcin, Inez and Estelle are consigned to the same small drawing-room in hell, each selected for their capacity for mental torture of the others and, conversely, their susceptibility to torture by the others. A second, arguably greater, premise can be read. That is, contrary to Dante's epigram, there is hope in hell. And, for those who have not yet arrived, there is even greater hope to avoid the hell that Sartre describes. This premise is based on Sartre's concept of being-for-others, which Joseph Garcin has in excess and which connects him with Kafka's Joseph K. Fear of the judgment of others drives them both and prevents them from living their lives to its full potential, as a being-for-itself. It is too late for K. in life and for G. in Act I of hell, but subsequent Acts will follow ad infinitum, allowing sufficient time to recover the balance between for-others and for-itself.
Sartre constructs an elegant triangle with Garcin, the deserter, Inez, the sadist, and Estelle, the baby killer. The lesbian Inez is attracted to Estelle, but Estelle is repulsed both by her gender and her working class status. Estelle is attracted to Garcin, but Garcin is put off by her insincerity. Garcin is attracted to Inez's frankness, but Inez hates men, Garcin included. A merry-go-round of failed connections, spinning in the other direction recovers no relief. Estelle needs Inez to be her mirror, but Inez uses that dependency for control. Inez needs Garcin to leave Estelle to her, but Garcin uses that dependency for retribution. Garcin needs Estelle for vindication, but Estelle just pretends in order to prop up her own dependency on him.
The triangle is not perfectly symmetric and may not have the permanence of eternity. All is not well in this part of hell. It is Garcin who breaks the symmetry. It is he who first suggests the possibility of an exit from their apparent situation and persists in pursuing it.He suggests that each should engage in self-examination, "that way we--we'll work out our salvation. Looking into ourselves." When that fails he suggests mutual examination of their sins, "if we bring our specters into the open, it may save us from disaster." After they have each disclosed their secrets, he says, "And now suppose we start trying to help each other." It is a hard sell, Inez and Estelle hold out no hope for themselves.
Garcin may not hold out much hope, but is driven to resolve his situation.Cruelty to his wife is the ostensible reason for his damnation, but he is troubled by that not at all, "I have no regrets." He is extremely troubled by his reputation as coward, among his living colleagues and among his present, eternal companions. He is obsessive in his need for vindication, first from Estelle, then from Inez.
Garcin is totally a "being-for-others," to use Sartre's own terminology in "Being and Nothingness." He defines himself exclusively as he is seen by others. This is evident in his relationship with his wife, whom he rescued from the gutter to be his vanity mirror. Because she reflected only the image of him that she needed to see, her saviour, he had no use for her. "The truth is, she admired me too much." He seeks vindication from Estelle but has no use for her after Inez points out that she will say anything to assuage him, to keep him with her.
Garcin realizes that the vindication he needs is from Inez who understands him fully from a deep and thorough examination of her own soul. When the door opens inexplicably, he cannot leave without that vindication. "So it's you whom I have to convince; you are of my kind. Did you suppose I meant to go? No, I couldn't leave you here, gloating over my defeat, with all those thoughts about me running in your head." She is not suitably disposed. "You're a coward, Garcin, because I wish it! I wish it--do you hear?--I wish it."
So where is his hope? Not with Inez. Not with Estelle. And, previously, not with his wife nor with his newspaper colleagues. His hope lies within himself, to care less about the judgment of others, to be comfortable in his own skin. When he is no longer vulnerable, then perhaps Inez will repeat the words she spoke before calling out his cowardice, "Don't lose heart. It shouldn't be so hard, convincing me. Pull yourself together, man, rake up some arguments."
Just as Joseph K. needed to stick up for himself and those near to him, so does Garcin need to stick up for himself. Then he may view his situation not with the finality of "no exit," but with the slightly more hopeful "huis clos." After all, the buzzer does work sometimes.
Tzolkin date: 5 Ahau, Long Count 188.8.131.52.0
It was 5 Eb the last time I checked in. The chronosynclastic continuum has been blasted by a foggy intrusion of the Web, closing off this channel for a while. The particular interference pattern came from LibraryThing.com, where the one-dimensional quest broadened into a 2-dimensional 6-lane highway. Distracting, but definitely worthwhile. LibraryThing finally cycled back to the blogosphere, reopening this channel. As with Clarissa Kinnison reaching out to her husband Kim throughout the farthest reaches of space, the path back easy once the connection was made, so it is with LibraryThing and blog space. The path back is easy once rediscovered.