Sartre, Jean-Paul (Vol. 18)
Sartre, Jean-Paul 1905–1980
Sartre, a French playwright, essayist, philosopher, politician, and novelist, is considered by many to be the most influential thinker and writer of our time. The founder of existentialist philosophy, Sartre examined virtually every aspect of human endeavor from the position of a search for total human freedom. Early in his career he forged a philosophy of fiction revolving around the reader-author relationship which became a pivotal perspective of the New Novel school. Sartre called for the implication of the reader in fiction and the establishment of highly subjective points of view. He maintained that chronology could best be handled through a series of constantly unfolding and ongoing present moments. He refused the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 7, 9, 13, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 97-100.)
Laurence Gill Lyon
Both Malte Laurids Brigge and Antoine Roquentin are young writers living with dubious purpose in the shabby, if not squalid milieu of a large French city. Alienated from the past as well as from the environs, each begins a diary in response to a sudden intensification of perception. Both diaries stress Angst, angoisse, and the disintegration of personal identity, and each also documents attempts to reconstitute the integrity of self and world. These and other parallels in image, motif, and theme between Rainer Maria Rilke's Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910) and Jean-Paul Sartre's first novel La Nausée (1938) have already been recorded, but no one has investigated their relationship in detail. Admittedly, some of the parallels are trivial, while others represent concerns held in common by numerous twentieth-century authors. Yet close reading of several compact passages will demonstrate more than a casual similarity in setting or problematic. In at least nine major instances, La Nausée recapitulates neatly discrete metaphoric configurations and extended images prefigured in Malte.
It is not a new observation that Sartre derived important motifs in his first novel from his omnivorous reading. Can the identification of Malte as one more source for La Nausée have more than marginal interest? It can, I submit, if Sartre's creative response to Malte exhibits a...
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William V. Spanos
La Nausée (1938) is one of the most problematic works of contemporary literature. This is not only because of the uncertainties of its meaning, but also—and more important—because of the uncertainties of its place in the chronology of "modernism." The discussion of these matters is so tangled that it is impossible to categorize it without grossly oversimplifying the issues at stake. It can be said …—and this may be one of the fundamental sources of the uncertainty—that for a long time after the publication of La Nausée, the focus of critical interest fell rather heavily on its "existential" meaning. That is, early "criticism," assuming that the novel was radically autobiographical (i.e. that Sartre and Roquentin are virtually identical), disregarded the formal dimension, more specifically the temporal process of the text—to "explain" its philosophical significance and import. And since the primary thematic emphasis is on Roquentin's agonizing discovery of the viscous realm of existence, it was invariably concluded that Sartre's existentialism at the time of writing La Nausée was limited to a phenomenological description of the contingent realm of existence which is prior to essence, or, more fully, of the alienated, virtually solipsistic, consciousness of the terrible viscosity of the absurd world…. In … failing to develop the hermeneutic lead insisted on by the contrast between the inclusive...
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Neither for Sartre nor Camus is unbelief the cause of despair …; it is rather the starting point toward the only meaningful response to the wretched condition of man and the denial of human values—namely, revolt…. [This is the premise of] Sartre's dramatic explorations of the estate of man. "Existentialism," says Sartre, "is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position."… Both writers in their contexts mean to be optimistic in that they reject passive suffering and resignation to a higher will. But at the same time, giving to man the power to scorn, to appropriate, and even to shape his fate, they set the stage for their tragic parables adapted from myth, history, and politics. In these, man goes under because he deceives himself as to the nature of an alien universe in which he counts for nothing. His alternative is to create an intelligible world centered in himself through a free act of commitment, assuming the burden of guilt implicit in any choice or action.
Despite the obvious fundamental differences among them, there are certain motives common to the so-called existential theater, the Christian drama, and the late plays of Ibsen. The bid for freedom, deliverance from a state of captivity or paralysis, the desire to liberate and thereby define the self by means of an act of the will—the lines of the drama converge on this central moment in all three theaters. But if...
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Hugh J. Silverman
Jean-Paul Sartre continues to add to the file which he opened with the 1964 publication of his autobiography, The Words. At the time, those who expected that the philosopher-writer would reveal secrets of his adult life were doubtless disappointed by the self-portrait of his childhood. For the philosopher whose task is to "situate" the individual, The Words could at most be the first gesture. Yet in this account of the early years, much of his mature thought is presemt—albeit in an oblique and barely explicit form. By 1964, Sartre's thought had already undergone a significant revision from his early theory of consciousness. The young boy's "fundamental project" of becoming a writer is revealed in The Words as an autobiographizing which incorporates a theory of individual action as conditioned by, but attempting to overcome, social institutions and social class. (p. 142)
Life/Situations—will do more for those seeking to follow [Sartre's] philosophic-literary-political career than the whole series of minimally substantive remarks that have appeared here and there. Above all, these interviews help to complete the more systematic autobiographical account which Sartre himself has offered in The Words….
When making a plea for intellectuals in Between Existentialism and Marxism, he offers an account on his own behalf: the tools necessary for self-knowledge include Marxism,...
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Born in this century of "specialized knowledge," when the human sciences have divided themselves into ever smaller sub-disciplines, Sartre's thought was complete: In the end, its subject was always the totality of human experience. Though perhaps primarily a moralist, Sartre also provided an epistemology and a psychology, a theory of emotions and a theory of history, even a full esthetics. And, like all "philosophies" in the classical sense, his was unified by an ontological vision…. Juding from Nausea, and from the pace of Being and Nothingness, the discovery of what was to form the bedrock underlying the multiple levels of Sartre's later work had the quality of an intuition, the force of an illumination. In trying to explain the prime energy and simplicity of his vision, one risks being branded a popularizer.
Allowed only one word to characterize it, I would choose "anti-idealism"—meaning not an absence of "ideals," of course, but a refutation of the belief held by centuries of "idealistic" philosophers that values pre-exist and descend upon man according to some abstract and eternal gravity. Allowed a little more than one word, I would choose that tenet of Husserl and the German school of phenomenology, "All consciousness is consciousness of something." (p. 19)
[Sartre wrenched this tenet] from its original purpose to serve his great revolution: Consciousness...
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