Jean Paul Sartre Essay

"Sartre" redirects here. For other uses, see Sartre (disambiguation).

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre in 1967

BornJean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre
(1905-06-21)21 June 1905
Paris, France
Died15 April 1980(1980-04-15) (aged 74)
Paris, France
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure, University of Paris[1](B.A., M.A.)[2]
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, existential phenomenology,[3]hermeneutics,[3]Western Marxism, anarchism (late)

Main interests

Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, consciousness, self-consciousness, literature, political philosophy, ontology, atheism

Notable ideas

Bad faith, "existence precedes essence", nothingness, "Hell is other people", situation, transcendence of the Ego ("every positional consciousness of an object is a non-positional consciousness of itself"),[4][5]Sartrean terminology


  • Søren Kierkegaard,[3]de Beauvoir, Flaubert, Freud, Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl, Bergson, Kojève, Marx, Merleau-Ponty, Nietzsche, Nizan, Levinas, Proust, Céline, Lefebvre,[6]Rousseau[7]


  • Aron, Camus, de Beauvoir, Fanon, Guevara, Laing, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Rancière, Butler


Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (;[8]French: [saʁtʁ]; 21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

Sartre was also noted for his open relationship with prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir. Together, Sartre and de Beauvoir challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their upbringings, which they considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thought. The conflict between oppressive, spiritually destructive conformity (mauvaise foi, literally, "bad faith") and an "authentic" way of "being" became the dominant theme of Sartre's early work, a theme embodied in his principal philosophical work Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le Néant, 1943).[9] Sartre's introduction to his philosophy is his work Existentialism and Humanism (L'existentialisme est un humanisme, 1946), originally presented as a lecture.

He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature but refused it, saying that he always declined official honours and that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution".[10]


Early life[edit]

Jean-Paul Sartre was born on 21 June 1905 in Paris as the only child of Jean-Baptiste Sartre, an officer of the French Navy, and Anne-Marie Schweitzer.[11] His mother was of Alsatian origin and the first cousin of Nobel Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer. (Her father, Charles Schweitzer, was the older brother of Albert Schweitzer's father, Louis Théophile.)[12] When Sartre was two years old, his father died of an illness, which he most likely contracted in Indochina. Anne-Marie moved back to her parents' house in Meudon, where she raised Sartre with help from her father, a teacher of German who taught Sartre mathematics and introduced him to classical literature at a very early age.[13] When he was twelve, Sartre's mother remarried, and the family moved to La Rochelle, where he was frequently bullied.[14]

As a teenager in the 1920s, Sartre became attracted to philosophy upon reading Henri Bergson's essayTime and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness.[15] He attended the Cours Hattemer, a private school in Paris.[16] He studied and earned certificates in psychology, history of philosophy, logic, general philosophy, ethics and sociology, and physics, as well as his diplôme d'études supérieures (fr) (roughly equivalent to an MA thesis) in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure, an institution of higher education that was the alma mater for several prominent French thinkers and intellectuals.[2] (His 1928 MA thesis under the title "L'Image dans la vie psychologique: rôle et nature" ["Image in Psychological Life: Role and Nature"] was supervised by Henri Delacroix.)[2] It was at ENS that Sartre began his lifelong, sometimes fractious, friendship with Raymond Aron.[17] Perhaps the most decisive influence on Sartre's philosophical development was his weekly attendance at Alexandre Kojève's seminars, which continued for a number of years.[18]

From his first years in the École Normale, Sartre was one of its fiercest pranksters.[19][20] In 1927, his antimilitaristsatirical cartoon in the revue of the school, coauthored with Georges Canguilhem, particularly upset the director Gustave Lanson.[21] In the same year, with his comrades Nizan, Larroutis, Baillou and Herland,[22] he organized a media prank following Charles Lindbergh's successful New York City–Paris flight; Sartre & Co. called newspapers and informed them that Lindbergh was going to be awarded an honorary École degree. Many newspapers, including Le Petit Parisien, announced the event on 25 May. Thousands, including journalists and curious spectators, showed up, unaware that what they were witnessing was a stunt involving a Lindbergh look-alike.[21][23][24] The public's resultant outcry[need quotation to verify] forced Lanson to resign.[21][25]

In 1929 at the École Normale, he met Simone de Beauvoir, who studied at the Sorbonne and later went on to become a noted philosopher, writer, and feminist. The two became inseparable and lifelong companions, initiating a romantic relationship,[26] though they were not monogamous.[27] The first time Sartre took the exam to become a college instructor, he failed. He took it a second time and virtually tied for first place with Beauvoir, although Sartre was eventually awarded first place in his class, with Beauvoir second.[28][29]

Sartre was drafted into the French Army from 1929 to 1931 and served as a meteorologist for some time.[30] He later argued in 1959 that each French person was responsible for the collective crimes during the Algerian War of Independence.[31]

From 1931 until 1945, Sartre taught at various lycées of Le Havre (at the Lycée de Le Havre, the present-day Lycée François-Ier (Le Havre) (fr), 1931–36), Laon (at the Lycée de Laon, 1936–37), and, finally, Paris (at the Lycée Pasteur, 1937–39, and at the Lycée Condorcet, 1941–44;[32] see below).

In 1932, Sartre discovered Voyage au bout de la nuit by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, a book that had a remarkable influence on him.[33]

In 1933–34, he succeeded Raymond Aron at the Institut français d'Allemagne in Berlin where he studied Edmund Husserl's phenomenological philosophy. Aron had already advised him in 1930 to read Emmanuel Levinas's Théorie de l’intuition dans la phénoménologie de Husserl (The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology).[34]

The Neo-Hegelian revival led by Alexandre Kojève and Jean Hyppolite in the 1930s inspired a whole generation of French thinkers, including Sartre, to discover Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.[35]

World War II[edit]

In 1939 Sartre was drafted into the French army, where he served as a meteorologist.[36] He was captured by German troops in 1940 in Padoux,[37] and he spent nine months as a prisoner of war—in Nancy and finally in Stalag XII-D (fr), Trier, where he wrote his first theatrical piece, Barionà, fils du tonnerre, a drama concerning Christmas. It was during this period of confinement that Sartre read Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, later to become a major influence on his own essay on phenomenologicalontology. Because of poor health (he claimed that his poor eyesight and exotropia affected his balance) Sartre was released in April 1941. Given civilian status, he recovered his teaching position at Lycée Pasteur near Paris, settled at the Hotel Mistral. In October 1941 he was given a position at Lycée Condorcet in Paris, replacing a Jewish teacher who had been forbidden to teach by Vichy law.

After coming back to Paris in May 1941, he participated in the founding of the underground group Socialisme et Liberté ("Socialism and Liberty") with other writers Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Toussaint Desanti, Dominique Desanti, Jean Kanapa, and École Normale students. In spring of 1941, Sartre suggested with "cheerful ferocity" at a meeting that the Socialisme et Liberté assassinate prominent collaborators like Marcel Déat, but de Beauvior noted his idea was rejected as "none of us felt qualified to make bombs or hurl grenades". The British historian Ian Ousby observed that the French always had far more hatred for collaborators than they did for the Germans, noting it was French people like Déat that Sartre wanted to assassinate rather than the military governor of France, General Otto von Stülpnagel, and the popular slogan always was "Death to Laval!" rather than "Death to Hitler!". In August Sartre and de Beauvoir went to the French Riviera seeking the support of André Gide and André Malraux. However, both Gide and Malraux were undecided, and this may have been the cause of Sartre's disappointment and discouragement. Socialisme et liberté soon dissolved and Sartre decided to write instead of being involved in active resistance. He then wrote Being and Nothingness, The Flies, and No Exit, none of which were censored by the Germans, and also contributed to both legal and illegal literary magazines.

In his essay "Paris under the Occupation", Sartre wrote about the "correct" behavior of the Germans had entrapped too many Parisians into complicity with the occupation, accepting what was unnatural as natural, writing:

"The Germans did not stride, revolver in hand, through the streets. They did not force civilians to make way for them on the pavement. They would offer seats to old ladies on the Metro. They showed great fondness for children and would pat them on the cheek. They had been told to behave correctly and being well-disciplined, they tried shyly and conscientiously to do so. Some of them even displayed a naive kindness which could find no practical expression".

Sartre noted when Wehrmacht soldiers asked Parisians politely in their German-accented French for directions, people usually felt embarrassed and ashamed as they tried their best to help out the Wehrmacht with led Sartre to remark "We could not be natural". French was a language widely taught in German schools and most Germans could speak at least some French. Sartre himself always found it difficult when a Wehrmacht soldier asked him for directions, usually saying he did not know where it was that the soldier wanted to go, but still felt uncomfortable as the very act of speaking to the Wehrmacht meant he had been complicit in the Occupation. Ousby wrote: "But, in however humble a fashion, everyone still had to decide how they were going to cope with life in a fragmenting society...So Sartre's worries...about how to react when a German soldier stopped him in the street and asked politely for directions were not as fussily inconsequential as they might sound at first. They were emblematic of how the dilemmas of the Occupation presented themselves in daily life". Sartre wrote the very "correctness" of the Germans caused moral corruption in many people who used the "correct" behavior of the Germans as an excuse for passivity, and the very act of simply trying to live one's day-to-day existence without challenging the occupation aided the "New Order in Europe", which depended upon the passivity of ordinary people to accomplish its goals.

Throughout the occupation, it was German policy to plunder France and food shortages were always a major problem as the majority of food from the French countryside went to Germany. Sartre wrote about the "languid existence" of the Parisians as people waited obsessively for the one weekly arrival of trucks bringing food from the countryside that the Germans allowed, writing about how: "Paris would grow peaked and yawn with hunger under the empty sky. Cut off from the rest of the world, fed only through the pity or some ulterior motive, the town led a purely abstract and symbolic life". Sartre himself lived on a diet of rabbits sent to him by friend of de Beauvior living in Anjou. The rabbits were usually in an advanced state of decay full of maggots, and despite being hungry, Sartre once threw out one rabbit as uneatable, saying it had more maggots in it than meat. Sartre also remarked on conversations at the Café Flore between intellectuals had changed, as the fear that one of them might be a mouche (informer) or a writer of the corbeau (anonymous denunciatory letters) meant that no-one really said what they meant anymore, imposing self-censorship. Sartre and his friends at the Café Flore had reasons for their fear; by September 1940, the Abwehr alone had already recruited 32, 000 French people to work as mouches while by 1942 the Paris Kommandantur was receiving an average of 1, 500 letters/per day sent by the corbeaux.

Sarte wrote under the occupation Paris had become a "sham", resembling the empty wine bottles displayed in shop windows as all of the wine had been exported to Germany, looking like the old Paris, but hollowed out, as what had made Paris special was gone. Paris had almost no cars on the streets during the occupation as the oil went to Germany while the Germans imposed a nightly curfew, which Sarte to remark that Paris "was peopled by the absent". Sartre also noted that people began to disappear under the occupation writing about how:

"One day you might phone a friend and the phone would ring for a long time in an empty flat. You would go round and ring the doorbell, but no-one would answer it. If the concierge forced the door, you would find two chairs standing close together in the hall with the fag-ends of German cigarettes on the floor between their legs. If the wife or mother of the man who had vanished had been present at his arrest, she would tell you that he had been taken away by very polite Germans, like those who asked the way in the street. And when she went to ask what had happened to them at the offices in the Avenue Foch or the Rue des Saussaies she would be politely received and sent away with comforting words" [No. 11 Rue des Saussaies was the headquarters of the Gestapo in Paris].

Sarte wrote the feldgrau ("field grey") uniforms of the Wehrmacht and the green uniforms of the Order Police which had seemed so alien in 1940 had become accepted, as people were numbed into accepting what Sartre called "a pale, dull green, unobtrusive strain, which the eye almost expected to find among the dark clothes of the civilians". Under the occupation, the French often called the Germans les autres ("the others"), which inspired Sartre's aphorism in his play Huis clos ("No Exit") of "l'enfer, ć'est les Autres" ("Hell is other people"). Sartre intended the line "l'enfer, ć'est les Autres" at least in part to be a dig at the German occupiers.

After August 1944 and the Liberation of Paris, he wrote Anti-Semite and Jew. In the book he tries to explain the etiology of "hate" by analyzing antisemitic hate. Sartre was a very active contributor to Combat, a newspaper created during the clandestine period by Albert Camus, a philosopher and author who held similar beliefs. Sartre and de Beauvoir remained friends with Camus until 1951, with the publication of Camus's The Rebel. Later, while Sartre was labeled by some authors as a resistant, the French philosopher and resistant Vladimir Jankelevitch criticized Sartre's lack of political commitment during the German occupation, and interpreted his further struggles for liberty as an attempt to redeem himself. According to Camus, Sartre was a writer who resisted; not a resister who wrote.

In 1945, after the war ended, Sartre moved to an apartment on the rue Bonaparte which was where he was to produce most of his subsequent work, and where he lived until 1962. It was from there that he helped establish a quarterly literary and political review, Les Temps modernes (Modern Times), in part to popularize his thought.[52] He ceased teaching and devoted his time to writing and political activism. He would draw on his war experiences for his great trilogy of novels, Les Chemins de la Liberté (The Roads to Freedom) (1945–1949).

Cold War politics and anticolonialism[edit]

The first period of Sartre's career, defined in large part by Being and Nothingness (1943), gave way to a second period—when the world was perceived as split into communist and capitalist blocs—of highly publicized political involvement. Sartre tended to glorify the Resistance after the war as the uncompromising expression of morality in action, and recalled that the résistants were a "band of brothers" who had enjoyed "real freedom" in a way that did not exist before nor after the war. Sartre was "merciless" in attacking anyone who had collaborated or remained passive during the German occupation; for instance, criticizing Camus for signing an appeal to spare the collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach from being executed. His 1948 play Les mains sales (Dirty Hands) in particular explored the problem of being a politically "engaged" intellectual. He embraced Marxism but did not join the Communist Party. For a time in the late 1940s, Sartre described French nationalism as "provincial" and in a 1949 essay called for a "United States of Europe". In an essay published in the June 1949 edition of the journal Politique étrangère, Sartre wrote:

"If we want French civilization to survive, it must be fitted into the framework of a great European civilization. Why? I have said that civilization is the reflection on a shared situation. In Italy, in France, in Benelux, in Sweden, in Norway, in Germany, in Greece, in Austria, everywhere we find the same problems and the same dangers...But this cultural polity has prospects only as elements of a policy which defends Europe's cultural autonomy vis-à-vis America and the Soviet Union, but also its political and economic autonomy, with the aim of making Europe a single force between the blocs, not a third bloc, but an autonomous force which will refuse to allow itself to be torn into shreds between American optimism and Russian scientificism."

About the Korean War, Sartre wrote: "I have no doubt that the South Korean feudalists and the American imperialists have promoted this war. But I do not doubt either that it was began by the North Koreans". In July 1950, Sartre wrote in Les Temps Moderns about his and de Beauvoir's attitude to the Soviet Union:

"As we were neither members of the [Communist] party nor its avowed sympathizers, it was not our duty to write about Soviet labor camps; we were free to remain aloof from the quarrel over the nature of this system, provided that no events of sociological significance had occurred".

Sartre held that the Soviet Union was a "revolutionary" state working for the betterment of humanity and could be criticized only for failing to live up to its own ideals, but that critics had to take in mind that the Soviet state needed to defend itself against a hostile world; by contrast Sartre held that the failures of "bourgeois" states were due to their innate shortcomings. The Swiss journalist François Bondy wrote that from based on a reading of Sartre's numerous essays, speeches and interviews "a simple basic pattern never fails to emerge: social change must be comprehensive and revolutionary" and the parties that promote the revolutionary charges "may be criticized, but only by those who completely identify themselves with its purpose, its struggle and its road to power", deeming Sarte's position as "existentialist".

While a Marxist, Sartre attacked what he saw as abuses of freedom and human rights by the Soviet Union. In 1954, Sartre visited the Soviet Union, which he stated he found a "complete freedom of criticism" while condemning the United States for sinking into "prefascism". Sarte wrote about those Soviet writers expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union "still had the opportunity of rehabilitating themselves by writing better books". He was one of the first French journalists to expose the existence of the labor camps, and vehemently opposed the invasion of Hungary, Russian anti-Semitism, and the execution of dissidents. About the Hungarian revolt of 1956, Sartre wrote: "In spite of everything, the Rakosi regime stood for socialization. Only it did it badly and that is worse that not to do so at all". Sartre came to admire the Polish leader Władysław Gomułka, a man who favored a "Polish road to socialism" and wanted more independence for Poland, but was loyal to the Soviet Union because of the Oder-Neisse line issue. Sartre's newspaper Le Temps Moderns devoted a number of special issues in 1957 and 1958 to Poland under Gomułka, praising him for his reforms. Bondy wrote of the notable contradiction between Sarte's "ultra Bolshevism" as he expressed admiration for the Chinese leader Mao Zedong as the man who lead the oppressed masses of the Third World into revolution while also praising more moderate Communist leaders like Gomułka.

As an anti-colonialist, Sartre took a prominent role in the struggle against French rule in Algeria, and the use of torture and concentration camps by the French in Algeria. He became an eminent supporter of the FLN in the Algerian War and was one of the signatories of the Manifeste des 121. Consequently, Sartre became a domestic target of the paramilitary Organisation armée secrète (OAS), escaping two bomb attacks in the early '60s.[62] (He had an Algerian mistress, Arlette Elkaïm, who became his adopted daughter in 1965.) He opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and, along with Bertrand Russell and others, organized a tribunal intended to expose U.S. war crimes, which became known as the Russell Tribunal in 1967.

His work after Stalin's death, the Critique de la raison dialectique (Critique of Dialectical Reason), appeared in 1960 (a second volume appearing posthumously). In the Critique Sartre set out to give Marxism a more vigorous intellectual defense than it had received until then; he ended by concluding that Marx's notion of "class" as an objective entity was fallacious. Sartre's emphasis on the humanist values in the early works of Marx led to a dispute with a leading leftist intellectual in France in the 1960s, Louis Althusser, who claimed that the ideas of the young Marx were decisively superseded by the "scientific" system of the later Marx. In the late 1950s, Sartre began to argue that the European working classes were too apolitical to carry out the revolution predicated by Marx, and influenced by Frantz Fanon stated to argue it was the impoverished masses of the Third World, the "real damned of the earth", who would carry out the revolution. A major theme of Sarte's political essays in the 1960s was of his disgust with the "Americanization" of the French working class who would much rather watch American TV shows dubbed into French than agitate for a revolution.

Sartre went to Cuba in the 1960s to meet Fidel Castro and spoke with Ernesto "Che" Guevara. After Guevara's death, Sartre would declare him to be "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age"[64] and the "era's most perfect man".[65] Sartre would also compliment Guevara by professing that "he lived his words, spoke his own actions and his story and the story of the world ran parallel".[66] However he stood against the persecution of gays by Castro's régime, which he compared to Nazi persecution of the Jews, and said: "In Cuba there are no Jews, but there are homosexuals".[67]

During a collective hunger strike in 1974, Sartre visited Red Army Faction leader Andreas Baader in Stammheim Prison and criticized the harsh conditions of imprisonment.[68] Towards the end of his life, Sartre became an anarchist.[69][70][71]

Late life and death[edit]

In 1964 Sartre renounced literature in a witty and sardonic account of the first ten years of his life, Les Mots (The Words). The book is an ironic counterblast to Marcel Proust, whose reputation had unexpectedly eclipsed that of André Gide (who had provided the model of littérature engagée for Sartre's generation). Literature, Sartre concluded, functioned ultimately as a bourgeois substitute for real commitment in the world. In October 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature but he declined it. He was the first Nobel laureate to voluntarily decline the prize,[72] and remains one of only two laureates to do so.[73] According to Lars Gyllensten, in the book Minnen, bara minnen ("Memories, Only Memories") published in 2000, Sartre himself or someone close to him got in touch with the Swedish Academy in 1975 with a request for the prize money, but was refused.[74] In 1945, he had refused the Légion d'honneur.[75] The Nobel prize was announced on 22 October 1964; on 14 October, Sartre had written a letter to the Nobel Institute, asking to be removed from the list of nominees, and warning that he would not accept the prize if awarded, but the letter went unread;[76] on 23 October, Le Figaro published a statement by Sartre explaining his refusal. He said he did not wish to be "transformed" by such an award, and did not want to take sides in an East vs. West cultural struggle by accepting an award from a prominent Western cultural institution.[76] After being awarded the prize he tried to escape the media by hiding in the house of Simone's sister Hélène de Beauvoir in Goxwiller, Alsace.

Though his name was then a household word (as was "existentialism" during the tumultuous 1960s), Sartre remained a simple man with few possessions, actively committed to causes until the end of his life, such as the May 1968 strikes in Paris during the summer of 1968 during which he was arrested for civil disobedience. President Charles de Gaulle intervened and pardoned him, commenting that "you don't arrest Voltaire".[77]

In 1975, when asked how he would like to be remembered, Sartre replied:

I would like [people] to remember Nausea, [my plays] No Exit and The Devil and the Good Lord, and then my two philosophical works, more particularly the second one, Critique of Dialectical Reason. Then my essay on Genet, Saint Genet.... If these are remembered, that would be quite an achievement, and I don't ask for more. As a man, if a certain Jean-Paul Sartre is remembered, I would like people to remember the milieu or historical situation in which I lived,... how I lived in it, in terms of all the aspirations which I tried to gather up within myself.[78]

Sartre's physical condition deteriorated, partially because of the merciless pace of work (and the use of amphetamine)[79] he put himself through during the writing of the Critique and a massive analytical biography of Gustave Flaubert (The Family Idiot), both of which remained unfinished. He suffered from hypertension,[80] and became almost completely blind in 1973. Sartre was a notorious chain smoker, which could also have contributed to the deterioration of his health.[81]

Sartre died on 15 April 1980 in Paris from edema of the lung. He had not wanted to be buried at Père-Lachaise Cemetery between his mother and stepfather, so it was arranged that he be buried at Montparnasse Cemetery. At his funeral on Saturday, 19 April, 50,000 Parisians descended onto Boulevard Montparnasse to accompany Sartre's cortege.[82][83] The funeral started at "the hospital at 2:00 p.m., then filed through the fourteenth arrondissement, past all Sartre's haunts, and entered the cemetery through the gate on the Boulevard Edgar Quinet". Sartre was initially buried in a temporary grave to the left of the cemetery gate.[84] Four days later the body was disinterred for cremation at Père-Lachaise Cemetery, and his ashes were reburied at the permanent site in Montparnasse Cemetery, to the right of the cemetery gate.[85]


See also: Being and Nothingness

Sartre's primary idea is that people, as humans, are "condemned to be free".[86] This theory relies upon his position that there is no creator, and is illustrated using the example of the paper cutter. Sartre says that if one considered a paper cutter, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus: "existence precedes essence".[86] This forms the basis for his assertion that because one cannot explain one's own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. "We are left alone, without excuse." "We can act without being determined by our past which is always separated from us."[87]

Sartre maintained that the concepts of authenticity and individuality have to be earned but not learned. We need to experience "death consciousness" so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge.[88] Death draws the final point when we as beings cease to live for ourselves and permanently become objects that exist only for the outside world.[89] In this way death emphasizes the burden of our free, individual existence.

As a junior lecturer at the Lycée du Havre in 1938, Sartre wrote the novel La Nausée (Nausea), which serves in some ways as a manifesto of existentialism and remains one of his most famous books. Taking a page from the Germanphenomenological movement, he believed that our ideas are the product of experiences of real-life situations, and that novels and plays can well describe such fundamental experiences, having equal value to discursive essays for the elaboration of philosophical theories such as existentialism. With such purpose, this novel concerns a dejected researcher (Roquentin) in a town similar to Le Havre who becomes starkly conscious of the fact that inanimate objects and situations remain absolutely indifferent to his existence. As such, they show themselves to be resistant to whatever significance human consciousness might perceive in them.

He also took inspiration from phenomenologist epistemology, explained by Franz Adler in this way: "Man chooses and makes himself by acting. Any action implies the judgment that he is right under the circumstances not only for the actor, but also for everybody else in similar circumstances."[90]

This indifference of "things in themselves" (closely linked with the later notion of "being-in-itself" in his Being and Nothingness) has the effect of highlighting all the more the freedom Roquentin has to perceive and act in the world; everywhere he looks, he finds situations imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence. Hence the "nausea" referred to in the title of the book; all that he encounters in his everyday life is suffused with a pervasive, even horrible, taste—specifically, his freedom. The book takes the term from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where it is used in the context of the often nauseating quality of existence. No matter how much Roquentin longs for something else or something different, he cannot get away from this harrowing evidence of his engagement with the world.

The novel also acts as a terrifying realization of some of Immanuel Kant's fundamental ideas about freedom; Sartre uses the idea of the autonomy of the will (that morality is derived from our ability to choose in reality; the ability to choose being derived from human freedom; embodied in the famous saying "Condemned to be free") as a way to show the world's indifference to the individual. The freedom that Kant exposed is here a strong burden, for the freedom to act towards objects is ultimately useless, and the practical application of Kant's ideas proves to be bitterly rejected.

Also important is Sartre’s analysis of psychological concepts, including his suggestion that consciousness exists as something other than itself, and that the conscious awareness of things is not limited to their knowledge: for Sartre intentionality applies to the emotions as well as to cognitions, to desires as well as to perceptions.[91] "When an external object is perceived, consciousness is also conscious of itself, even if consciousness is not its own object: it is a non-positional consciousness of itself."[92]

Career as public intellectual[edit]

While the broad focus of Sartre's life revolved around the notion of human freedom, he began a sustained intellectual participation in more public matters towards the end of the Second World War, around 1944-45.[93] Before World War II, he was content with the role of an apolitical liberal intellectual: "Now teaching at a lycée in Laon [...] Sartre made his headquarters the Dome café at the crossing of Montparnasse and Raspail boulevards. He attended plays, read novels, and dined [with] women. He wrote. And he was published."[94] Sartre and his lifelong companion, de Beauvoir, existed, in her words, where "the world about us was a mere backdrop against which our private lives were played out".[95]

Sartre portrayed his own pre-war situation in the character Mathieu, chief protagonist in The Age of Reason, which was completed during Sartre's first year as a soldier in the Second World War. By forging Mathieu as an absolute rationalist, analyzing every situation, and functioning entirely on reason, he removed any strands of authentic content from his character and as a result, Mathieu could "recognize no allegiance except to [him]self",[96] though he realized that without "responsibility for my own existence, it would seem utterly absurd to go on existing".[97] Mathieu's commitment was only to himself, never to the outside world. Mathieu was restrained from action each time because he had no reasons for acting. Sartre then, for these reasons, was not compelled to participate in the Spanish Civil War, and it took the invasion of his own country to motivate him into action and to provide a crystallization of these ideas. It was the war that gave him a purpose beyond himself, and the atrocities of the war can be seen as the turning point in his public stance.

The war opened Sartre's eyes to a political reality he had not yet understood until forced into continual engagement with it: "the world itself destroyed Sartre's illusions about isolated self-determining individuals and made clear his own personal stake in the events of the time."[98] Returning to Paris in 1941 he formed the "Socialisme et Liberté" resistance group. In 1943, after the group disbanded, Sartre joined a writers' Resistance group,[99] in which he remained an active participant until the end of the war. He continued to write ferociously, and it was due to this "crucial experience of war and captivity that Sartre began to try to build up a positive moral system and to express it through literature".[100]

The symbolic initiation of this new phase in Sartre’s work is packaged in the introduction he wrote for a new journal, Les Temps modernes, in October 1945. Here he aligned the journal, and thus himself, with the Left and called for writers to express their political commitment.[101] Yet, this alignment was indefinite, directed more to the concept of the Left than a specific party of the Left.

Sartre's philosophy lent itself to his being a public intellectual. He envisaged culture as a very fluid concept; neither pre-determined, nor definitely finished; instead, in true existential fashion, "culture was always conceived as a process of continual invention and re-invention." This marks Sartre, the intellectual, as a pragmatist, willing to move and shift stance along with events. He did not dogmatically follow a cause other than the belief in human freedom, preferring to retain a pacifist's objectivity. It is this overarching theme of freedom that means his work "subverts the bases for distinctions among the disciplines".[102] Therefore, he was able to hold knowledge across a vast array of subjects: "the international world order, the political and economic organisation of contemporary society, especially France, the institutional and legal frameworks that regulate the lives of ordinary citizens, the educational system, the media networks that control and disseminate information. Sartre systematically refused to keep quiet about what he saw as inequalities and injustices in the world."[103]

Sartre always sympathized with the Left, and supported the French Communist Party (PCF) until the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. Following the Liberation the PCF were infuriated by Sartre's philosophy, which appeared to lure young French men and women away from the ideology of communism and into Sartre’s own existentialism.[104] From 1956 onwards Sartre rejected the claims of the PCF to represent the French working classes, objecting to its "authoritarian tendencies". In the late 1960s Sartre supported the Maoists, a movement that rejected the authority of established communist parties.[3] However, despite aligning with the Maoists, Sartre said after the May events: "If one rereads all my books, one will realize that I have not changed profoundly, and that I have always remained an anarchist."[69] He would later explicitly allow himself to be called an anarchist.[70][71]

In the aftermath of a war that had for the first time properly engaged Sartre in political matters, he set forth a body of work which "reflected on virtually every important theme of his early thought and began to explore alternative solutions to the problems posed there".[105] The greatest difficulties that he and all public intellectuals of the time faced were the increasing technological aspects of the world that were outdating the printed word as a form of expression. In Sartre's opinion, the "traditional bourgeois literary forms remain innately superior", but there is "a recognition that the new technological 'mass media' forms must be embraced" if Sartre's ethical and political goals as an authentic, committed intellectual are to be achieved: the demystification of bourgeois political practices and the raising of the consciousness, both political and cultural, of the working class.[106]

The struggle for Sartre was against the monopolising moguls who were beginning to take over the media and destroy the role of the intellectual. His attempts to reach a public were mediated by these powers, and it was often these powers he had to campaign against. He was skilled enough, however, to circumvent some of these issues by his interactive approach to the various forms of media, advertising his radio interviews in a newspaper column for example, and vice versa.[107]

The role of a public intellectual can lead to the individual placing himself in danger as he engages with disputed topics. In Sartre's case, this was witnessed in June 1961, when a plastic bomb exploded in the entrance of his apartment building. His public support of Algerian self-determination at the time had led Sartre to become a target of the campaign of terror that mounted as the colonists' position deteriorated. A similar occurrence took place the next year and he had begun to receive threatening letters from Oran, Algeria.[108]


Sartre wrote successfully in a number of literary modes and made major contributions to literary criticism and literary biography. His plays are richly symbolic and serve as a means of conveying his philosophy. The best-known, Huis-clos (No Exit), contains the famous line "L'enfer, c'est les autres", usually translated as "Hell is other people."[109] Aside from the impact of Nausea, Sartre's major work of fiction was The Roads to Freedom trilogy which charts the progression of how World War II affected Sartre's ideas. In this way, Roads to Freedom presents a less theoretical and more practical approach to existentialism.

Despite their similarities as polemicists, novelists, adapters, and playwrights, Sartre's literary work has been counterposed, often pejoratively, to that of Camus in the popular imagination. In 1948 the Roman Catholic Church placed Sartre's oeuvre on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books).


Some philosophers argue that Sartre's thought is contradictory. Specifically, they believe that Sartre makes metaphysical arguments despite his claim that his philosophical views ignore metaphysics. Herbert Marcuse criticized Being and Nothingness for projecting anxiety and meaninglessness onto the nature of existence itself: "Insofar as Existentialism is a philosophical doctrine, it remains an idealistic doctrine: it hypostatizes specific historical conditions of human existence into ontological and metaphysical characteristics. Existentialism thus becomes part of the very ideology which it attacks, and its radicalism is illusory."[110] In Letter on Humanism, Heidegger criticized Sartre's existentialism:

Existentialism says existence precedes essence. In this statement he is taking existentia and essentia according to their metaphysical meaning, which, from Plato's time on, has said that essentia precedes existentia. Sartre reverses this statement. But the reversal of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement. With it, he stays with metaphysics, in oblivion of the truth of Being.[111]

The philosophers Richard Wollheim and Thomas Baldwin have argued that Sartre's attempt to show that Sigmund Freud's theory of the unconscious is mistaken was based on a misinterpretation of Freud.[112][113]Richard Webster considers Sartre one of many modern thinkers who have reconstructed Judaeo-Christian orthodoxies in secular form.[114]

Brian C. Anderson denounced Sartre as an apologist for tyranny and terror and a supporter of Stalinism, Maoism, and Castro's regime in Cuba.[115] The historian Paul Johnson asserted that Sartre's ideas had inspired the Khmer Rouge leadership: "The events in Cambodia in the 1970s, in which between one-fifth and one-third of the nation was starved to death or murdered, were entirely the work of a group of intellectuals, who were for the most part pupils and admirers of Jean-Paul Sartre – 'Sartre's Children' as I call them."[116]

Sartre, who stated in his preface to Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth that, "To shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remains a dead man and a free man," has been criticized by Anderson and Michael Walzer for supporting the killing of European civilians by the FLN during the Algerian War. Walzer suggests that Sartre, a European, was a hypocrite for not volunteering to be killed.[115][117]

Clive James excoriated Sartre in his book of mini biographies Cultural Amnesia (2007). James attacks Sartre's philosophy as being "all a pose".[118]


Plays, screenplays, novels, and short stories
Philosophic essays
Critical essays
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in Beijing,1955
Sartre (third from left) and other French journalists visit General George C. Marshall in the Pentagon, 1945
Jean-Paul Sartre in Venice in 1967

Sartre, Jean-Paul 1905–

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 father of existentialist philosophy, Sartre has examined virtually every aspect of human endeavor from the position of a search for total human freedom. Early in his career Sartre 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, the establishment of highly subjective points of view, and he said that chronology could best be handled through a series of constantly unfolding and ongoing present moments. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 4, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

A valuable prescription for those who would understand Sartre's notion of freedom should be: Don't confine your reading to Being and Nothingness and Critique of Dialectical Reason. Although Sartre deals with a wide range of subjects in the former, earlier work, he largely emphasizes individual freedom and aloneness. In the latter work, he encourages concerted social action. This seeming paradox requires a survey of the Sartre oeuvre to decipher, for only in this way can one fully appreciate the progression of Sartre's thought on the crucial matter of freedom. (p. 144)

The primary components of Sartre's thought may be said to form a triumvirate: Freedom-Responsibility-Action. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre insists that the major consequence of the fact that God does not exist, a consequence which man must recognize and accept, is that man is completely free. It is he who represents, through his freedom to act, the only destiny of mankind, and, through the acceptance of his freedom-responsibility, the legislator of all values.

Initially, the emphasis on freedom had a strongly personal nature—with Being and Nothingness and Sartre's first play, The Flies, many readers determined that for Sartre the individual must assume his own freedom as ultimately and exclusively important. His second drama, No Exit, was viewed as a vivid revelation that men cannot engage in cooperative endeavors due to inevitable conflict. At this stage of his writing, however, Sartre produced his essay, Existentialism is a Humanism. Many critics prefer to forget this brief work and fervently wish that Sartre had done the same. Still Sartre refuses to reject any of his works; thus, we must accept the fact that he does not now reject nor did he reject in 1946 the premise of this essay—each man, desiring freedom above all, necessarily wants and strives for the freedom of the Other as well…. Sartre had not sufficiently elaborated in his first work the extent of the limitation to project and freedom afforded by the Other. Again, he did not sufficiently elaborate in Existentialism Is a Humanism how the former difficulty could be superseded in favor of a striving toward freedom for both self and the Other. Was it possible, in fact, that the critics were justified, that there was no solution to this dilemma?

Here a study of the drama provides a much needed and indispensable supplement to Sartre's philosophical works. The careful reader of Sartre's oeuvre cannot help but be struck by the fact that Sartre wrote a play subsequent to each progression of thought concerning his system. Yet, with the drama, he seems to be released from a good deal of the abstraction peculiar to his philosophical work. Proceeding as it does from within the inner sphere of his imagination, the drama not only quotes the key ideas of its father philosophical or critical work but expands upon the ideas, and, in fact, often foreshadows ideas to come. Such is the case with regard to the dilemma of freedom in the context of human projects.

Looking at Sartre's first drama, The Flies, written after Sartre's first great philosophical work and during the occupation, the reader finds an emphasis on the recognition of individual freedom on the part of one man, Orestes…. The play demonstrates quite clearly that the Other, in this case, the people of Argos, are necessary in order to give meaning to the act which Orestes performs; clearly, Orestes performs the act to free the people and to show them their freedom; however, the reader cannot escape the point that Orestes initially desires the act and the communion with the Argives as a means of personal commitment and to give his own life meaning. Thus, the individual in search of his own freedom and identity through commitment is primary and the devotion of the effort for the Other, while very important, is secondary to this factor.

Sartre's second play, No Exit, focuses on the conflict basic to human relations. Unfortunately, with one line of this play, Sartre has allowed himself to be "hung on his own catchphrase." "Hell is other people" is a line so vivid and memorable that it permits critics to handily make of the play itself an object which teaches, "Hell is [always] other people." There is, however, much more to this play than meets the eye of the person who prefers to be captivated by this catchphrase. (pp. 145-46)

[It] is the misinterpretation of Sartre's view of human interaction emanating from this play which tends to color the view of this phenomenon in the whole of his drama and perhaps the whole of his thought. Critics tend to view Sartre's play as a reflection of life as it is; they assume the fact that the characters are dead and in "hell" is only symbolic. This is partially true, but the fact of death is too important to Sartre to attribute only incidental meaning to that state in his three characters. The result of death is that man ceases to be a subject and becomes an immutable object over which the living are the guardians…. This condition is also comparable to the state of persons in bad faith—a condition of lying to oneself in order to escape responsible freedom. Thus, "dead" characters offer Sartre twofold advantages. First, he can show the immutable total antithesis of authentic existence. He can hold the condition of bad faith suspended in time. The characters can be shown as condemned, since they are dead, to repeat all of the errors which become an object lesson for the audience. Secondly, the fact that the characters are dead permits Sartre to represent the failings of those individuals who are their counterpart in life, those who are dead on earth before they are buried because they fail to choose and act. At the same time, this fact confirms that another course is possible, that life is for the living if they exist authentically. If they do not, then they are as surely dead, objectified, and meaningless as the inhabitants of that hellish Second Empire drawing room.

From this interpretation, it is easy to see the actual significance of the line, "Hell is other people." Each character has died in bad faith and can no longer change. In one way or another, he is totally dependent upon the others for even his meagre and meaningless existence. (p. 146)

The play is never meant to indicate that conflict per se is an evil. Obviously, when two conscious beings, two freedoms, come together, there is the potential of conflicting freedoms…. [Sartre] has not indicated that this basic conflict with the Other is a negative thing, but rather that for those who would live authentically, those who reject bad faith and embrace freedom, it is through such encounters with the Other that freedom is expressed and values are created. Indeed, outside of its relation to the Other and the world, freedom does not exist. Franz Gerlach of Sartre's play, The Condemned of Altona, vividly affirms this concept. He refuses to confront the Other and the world and to strive to give meaning to the world around himself. Even without his locked room, he would be imprisoned, for without placing himself in choice situations with the Other, his freedom is nothing. In the same sense, Garcin, Estelle, and Inez were "dead" long before they reached their "hell" [in No Exit]; they had created a hell on earth through their bad faith, through their failure to act in a manner which gave meaning to freedom. Thus, it is through action in relation to the Other and the world that each man gives meaning to his freedom and to his life. This is, of course, the way which requires bearing the burden of freedom-responsibility; it is not the way of a Garcin or an Estelle.

While conflict is shown in No Exit as a primary factor of existence, unresolved conflict of projects is demonstrated as inherent only in relationships fostered of bad faith. It must never be overlooked that only the characters of No Exit of all the plays written by Sartre, are unable to change; only they are irremediably as others see them…. [Even so,] the small suggestion is there that a course is possible which feasibly resolves the conflict of projects, a course which requires working together with mutual respect for the Other's freedom and his project.

It would appear that little hope in this direction would be forthcoming from the oppressive atmosphere of The Dead without Burial…. [Still], Canoris, one of the prisoners, has several speeches which mark his character as the transition between the early Sartre absorbed in the notion of personal freedom as exemplified by Orestes and the later Sartre concerned with unified human effort…. Canoris insists that the prisoners must determine to subordinate their own desires and their attempts to justify their own existence in favor of lives useful to others.

This viewpoint, of course, is the driving force behind the character of Hoederer [in Dirty Hands], whose numerous speeches concerning his dedication to mankind mark him as engaged in a truly authentic existence. Hoederer [is] surely Sartre's most authentic man…. Goetz [in The Devil and the Good Lord] comes to realize that the only authentic existence lies in giving up his own vain attempts at perfection and self-justification and his former beliefs in God, Good, and Evil in an all-out effort to achieve the liberation of man. He will become the man Hoederer and the prisoners of The Dead without Burial were prevented by death from becoming. He will be the man that Orestes had never considered becoming. (pp. 147-49)

Sartre began to focus more diligently on limitations to freedom of which he was becoming increasingly aware….

The plays begin to show that poverty and social class structure particularly are responsible for much that is oppressive and limiting in the world. (p. 150)

The new emphasis in Sartre's work is reflected in his focus on the concept of "need."… Sartre says of this new emphasis since his early writing, "Over against a dying child Nausee cannot act as a counterweight." Sartre, then, has come to believe that man is more limited in his freedom than Sartre himself originally anticipated. While each man is free within his own situation, some circumstances, such as poverty or war, make the situation so oppressive that genuine liberation is impossible without constant revolution to maintain freedom. This revolution must proceed from unified effort within which individual talent is utilized and the individual freely "relinquishes" a degree of his freedom in the sense that he is willing to engage in concerted effort with other men. (pp. 150-51)

This more recent recognition by Sartre of those factors in life which tend to limit freedom must not be construed, however, as a significant deviation from Sartre's original premise that man is free within his own situation…. For Goetz and the peasants, poverty and the division among classes which limits their freedom does not eliminate their freedom nor does it offer an excuse for inaction. It is merely the playing court in which they will engage in a contest whose rules they now know. (p. 151)

This progressive awareness, which the reader of Sartre's drama may witness groping for and gradually reaching the light, seems more abrupt when the perusal of the works is limited to Sartre's statements of philosophy. Still, what appears to the reader of Being and Nothingness as an inconsistency in Existentialism Is a Humanism and a complete break in Critique should appear to the reader of the entire works of Sartre as rather a constant movement and development of thought. The conflict between peoples and the necessity for individual resistance is developed in Being and exemplified in the action of The Flies and No Exit. The need for a shift from concerns with individual freedom to a striving for universal freedom is suggested in Existentialism Is a Humanism but not explained. Gradually, the explanation is accomplished in The Dead Without Burial, Dirty Hands, and reaches its culmination in The Devil and the Good Lord, the logical predecessor to Critique. With the play, The Condemned of Altona, which expresses the notion of "need," the entire effort is toward an awareness of twentieth-century problems which must be corrected at all costs in order to facilitate the true liberation of man.

There is, then, nothing violently new, no break with previous thought, in this present notion of unified striving for mankind's liberation. As Sartre describes his shifts of emphasis, it is change "within a permanency." In the present order of things, Sartre endeavors to encourage an examination of situation in order that man may recognize which elements are of his own choosing and which are simply conditions of his existence. Once he has done this, he can choose the method of procedure and make his own history. There is no fate, no bad luck, no excuse; simply man, his choices, and the situation in which he finds himself…. Goetz passes through stages of awareness which Hoederer has evidently already achieved; each realizes the limitations of the possibilities of action open to him, accepts those limitations, and determines to act to the utmost within the context of these limitations. It is this recognition and this determination plus movement to action which affords these two men the opportunity to become real, existing human beings; which gives them and the world around them a true identity, a reality.

The individual freedom so crucial to Sartre's early thought is still important (all acts are necessarily initiated from the individual's awareness and abilities), but another aspect becomes equally crucial, respect for the freedom of all. Another principle likewise comes into play—no man is indispensable. (pp. 152-53)

That which Sartre requires of today's authentic man is … more heroic than the requirement for any Orestes. The unified action will not serve to defend each man against the anguish of life …; quite the contrary. Each authentic man of today, each man who would lead in the revolution, must be willing to take a heavier burden than that of Orestes. He remains alone in his choices as the characters Hoederer and Goetz demonstrate….

[Success] is possible, if highly difficult of accomplishment, when each man recognizes that difficulty is inherent in human relationships but that this difficulty must be overcome. It must be overcome because the principle of freedom should receive greater emphasis than each man's self-concern. It can be overcome because man makes himself through his free choices, thus he can create his relationship with the Other in whichever method he chooses, just as he creates his own individuality. Goetz and Hoederer forsee a chance, remote though it may be, and they determine to try it as the only authentic course. They are responsible for the weighty decisions and for the acts which they perform and their aloneness presses down upon them—the Sartrean free man is still responsible and very much alone. Now, however, his efforts are to obtain and cultivate his freedom and the freedom of the Other. (p. 154)

Judith Zivanovic, "Sartre's Drama: Key to Understanding His Concept of Freedom," in Modern Drama (copyright © 1971, University of Toronto, Graduate Centre for Study of Drama; with the permission of Modern Drama), September, 1971, pp. 144-54.

We now know from Simone de Beauvoir's description of Sartre's attitude to literature and from Sartre's own analysis of his childhood that the esthetic solution, far from being a mechanical device to finish off the story, is the very substance of La Nausée. (p. 152)

Being, which holds forth the promise of salvation, can be attained only when pseudo-Being—inauthentic Being—is unmasked and its falsehoods repudiated. Since Roquentin is obliged to explore not only the uncleanliness of Existence, but also the shifting forms of Being, it is proper to consider La Nausée as, among other things, a study in the avatars of Being.

Inauthentic Being takes two forms: deliberate inauthentic Being, and accidental inauthentic Being. In relation to the former, Roquentin is a lucid and caustic observer; to the latter, an honest, if bewildered and erring seeker.

Roquentin identifies deliberate inauthentic Being with the Salauds, the bourgeoisie, a class Sartre has all his life hated with fierce consistency. The Salauds are the chief and unforgivable offenders since they have manufactured inauthentic Being through their bad faith. As Sartre showed in "L'Enfance d'un chef," the bourgeois is he who refuses to accept responsibility for the creation of his identity through acts freely chosen, but prefers rather to believe that what he does corresponds to a preestablished framework in which he need only insert himself and to a preestablished code of values he can unthinkingly follow…. (pp. 153-54)

To believe we have fixed, immutable Rights that establish our essence once and for all and that need never be called into question is to deny that terrifying reality whose name is Existence…. Inauthentic Being, as brought into the world by the Salauds, is therefore intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice, willful choosing of false perceptions and conscious distortion, through fear and laziness, of the revealed truth. (p. 154)

Humanism is not only the property of the Salauds; it is also the point of view advocated by that pathetic figure, the Autodidact. Roquentin's attitude toward the Autodidact is ambivalent. He is disgusted by his philosophical position, but he cannot help pitying him as an eventual victim of the Salauds. Unlike the bourgeoisie who uses Humanism both to avoid facing reality and to justify its position as a ruling class, the Autodidact uses Humanism to escape from his loneliness…. Thus, the presence of the Autodidact allows a more subtle delineation of inauthentic Being. Inauthentic Being is not always the result of vicious error; it can also be caused by good-natured weakness and basic emotional needs. (pp. 154-55)

The triumph of Existence seems complete. Roquentin, incapable of accepting the inauthentic Being of the Salauds or the Autodidact, is equally incapable of living by the inauthentic Being of adventure or of historical reconstruction.

There is, however, in La Nausée, one realm in which Existence has no power. It is the esthetic, the realm of the work of art, the only authentic incarnation of Being. Intimations of the esthetic appear throughout the novel, in the very formulation of pseudo-Being itself. Indeed, the inauthenticity of certain forms of Being lies precisely in the fact that esthetic criteria are wrongly applied to lived reality, and lived reality, judged by such criteria, is found wanting. (p. 156)

La Nausée, as do all of Sartre's significant literary and philosophical texts, bears witness to the presence of two antithetically different modes of reality: the reality of Existence and the reality of Being. Yet La Nausée occupies a particular position in what will one day be the Sartrean canon. Although Sartre deals with the work of art in other contexts, nowhere but in La Nausée does he allow it such a privileged role. Nowhere else is it permitted to monopolize the world of Being in quite the same way.

It is La Nausée's deification of the work of art that makes Sartre, at least in the early part of his literary career, the reluctant disciple of a writer for whom he has expressed considerable dislike—Marcel Proust. The esthetic solution is the raison d'être of La Nausée just as it was the raison d'être of A la recherche du temps perdu. In both cases, salvation comes from the work of art. Marcel was offered the possibility of escape from Time through the recapturing of lost Time, and Roquentin, the possibility of substituting for the Time of Existence the Time of Being.

Yet neither in A la recherche du temps perdu nor in La Nausée did the protagonist come to his knowledge of salvation lightly. Marcel had to painfully learn to renounce the illusion of the social world before the definitive esthetic revelation was given him. Roquentin was prepared, by a series of overwhelming experiences, for a new and dearly-bought awareness of the double nature of reality: Existence, concommitant with nausea, and Being, limited to and concommitant with the work of art. (p. 157)

Eugenia N. Zimmerman, in MOSAIC V/3 (copyright © 1972 by the University of Manitoba Press), Spring, 1972.

[Situations, X, the] tenth volume of Jean-Paul Sartre's collected essays and interviews, published in his seventy-first year, is quite fascinating, both for the light it throws on his present political attitudes after all the twists and turns of the past quarter of a century, and for the revelation of his personality in its ultimate or penultimate phase….

[Someone] who is not prejudiced in Sartre's favour, as I have always been, might conclude that his constant exercising of his Existentialist freedom to change his mind at any point is not so much a sign of intellectual scrupulousness as proof of an inability to understand that morality in action supposes some anxiety about consistency through time, and therefore means that each radical change in policy should be experienced as a genuine anguish. But I have never, for my part, attached any importance to Sartre's role as a political activist….

I have always admired him as a prodigious juggler of ideas, as the archetype of the impractical intellectual whose one and only function is to be a superb moulin à paroles. He is an Apostle of the Word, just as much as Mallarmé and Valéry, although his talent is copious and rather coarse, whereas theirs was hesitant and refined.

The four political pieces which constitute Part 1 of this volume show, with great clarity, how Sartre, after trying for years to fuse Existentialism with Marxism, has eventually arrived at a position almost identical with that of the nineteenth-century anarchists, such as Proud'hon and Bakunin, who quarrelled with Marx precisely on the issue of authority and party discipline, which Sartre has tried to accept and then always rejected in the end because it conflicted with Existentialist freedom. He himself states, incomprehensibly, that the modern anarchism or "socialisme libertaire" that he believes in at present is quite different from the anarchism of the late nineteenth century, but I cannot see in what way. To move back from this book to the old anarchist writings is to find oneself in essentially the same emotional and intellectual atmosphere….

[In the first essay] Sartre argues brilliantly in favour of wholesale devolution, without however considering in any detail the enormous practical problem of reconstituting viable linguistic and cultural communities in the modern world. The idea of devolution has an instant appeal for the lover of freedom and authenticity, but would Sartre be happy, for instance, if the Basques and the Bretons, obeying a spontaneous impulse after being granted their freedom, reverted to monarchical systems based on religion?…

He himself is thinking confidently in French universalist terms and postulating singularity as a good thing in abstracto for other people, while leaping over the concrete difficulties in the usual anarchist way….

[In the other three essays,] Sartre writes about the tyranny of the French parliamentary system in terms not unlike those used by Solzhenitsyn to castigate the Soviet bureaucracy. He describes, with an irony that may be more double-edged than he himself realizes, the comedy of his attempts to get himself arrested and the cat-and-mouse game played by the wily political animals of the Fifth Republic, who persistently refuse to grant him exemplary martyrdom.

Here again he makes many penetrating remarks, but he cannot escape from his role as the respected enfant terrible of the bourgeoisie, enjoying freedom of speech and movement because he can exploit the Western market economy, as embodied in La Maison Gallimard, and invulnerable because even authoritarian Frenchmen usually have the wit to realize that they need a few concrete, external incarnations of the anarchism which lurks within themselves. Sartre has never been realistic; he has attached himself at various times to different political entities that he considered to be more or less on the side of social good….

He now places such hope as he has in that mystic entity, mass spontaneity, which the romantic, good-hearted bourgeois tends to believe in as a last possible resort….

But when we turn to Part 2, the personal interviews, we may ask whether, in fact, Sartre believes in any general principles at all, in the normal sense of belief…. Sartre has never bridged the moral gap between his Absurdist analysis of the human situation and his itch to be socially effective. Perhaps what has kept him going is a sort of stoical determination to carry on regardless, and to accept the futility of all human behaviour, including his own, with ruthless serenity….

If I have a reservation about him, after reading this latest volume, it is that he is always so imperturbably sure that he is now in the right, even after changing his mind so many times…. [What others] say, or have said, has no relevance to Sartre's intimate conviction that the only relative truth is represented by his own ideas, as they can be formulated at the moment…. [He] is a changeable dogmatist, and an ideological authoritarian who does not really accept le dialogue. In spite of his anti-elitist remarks and his repeated assertion that we are all equal, he is very much a French elitist in his bland assumption of intellectual supremacy, which is so deep-rooted that it is not even accompanied by vanity, but by a brand of self-deceiving modesty.

John Weightman, "Sartre at Seventy," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), June 25, 1976, p. 761.


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