"What is Literature?" and Other Essays
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"What is Literature?" remains the most significant critical landmark of French literature since World War II. Neither abstract nor abstruse, it is a brilliant, provocative performance by a writer more inspired than cautious. "What is Literature?" challenges anyone who writes as if literature could be extricated from history or society. But Sartre does more than indict. He offers a definitive statement about the phenomenology of reading, and he goes on to provide a dashing example of how to write a history of literature that takes ideology and institutions into account. This new edition of "What is Literature?" also collects three other crucial essays of Sartre's for the first time in a volume of his. The essays presenting Sartre's monthly, Les Temps modernes, and on the peculiarly French manner of nationalizing literature do much to create a context for Sartre's treatise. "Black Orpheus" has been for many years a key text for the study of black and third-world literatures.
itself. A novice painter asked his teacher, "When should I consider my painting finished?" And ject always the teacher answered, amazement and say that?" Which amounts "When you can to yourself Tm to saying "never." 39 look at it in the one who For virtually it is did WHAT :onsidering one's IS LITERATURE? work with someone eyes and reself-evident that else's pealing what one has created. But it is we are proportionally less conscious of the thing produced and more
did genius. not yet have the official impersonality of the prizes and decorations awarded by our republics. They retained the quasi-feudal character of man to man relations. And since he was, above all, an eternal consumer in a society of producers, a parasite of a parasitic class, he treated money like a parasite. He did not earn it since there was no com- mon measure between his work and only spent it. Therefore, even 101 if his remuneration; he he was poor, he lived in WHAT IS
has happened to the internal monologue; having become rhetoric^ that is, a poetic transposition of the inner silent as well as verbal it has life today become one method among others of the novelist. Too idealistic to be true, too realistic to be complete, the crown of the subjectivistic technique. It is within and by means of technique that the literature of to-day has become conscious of itself, that is, that literature is a double surpassing, toward the objective and toward it is this
the absolute gratuity of art, but at the same time he was involved in after A the utilitarian cycle of means-ends and ends-means. producer and destroyer at the same time. Divided between the spirit of seriousness that he has to observe at Cuver- Frontenac, Elbeuf, and, when he has to represent France, at the White House, and the holiday spirit of con- ville, 168 SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 testation that he finds as soon as he sits down before a blank sheet of paper; incapable of
The trouble makers have disappeared; all that remains are the little coffins that are stacked on shelves along the walls like urns in a columbarium. The critic lives badly; his wife does not appreciate him ungrateful; the first as she of the ought month is to; his children are hard on him. But it always possible for him to enter his library, take down a book from the shelf, and open it. It gives off a slight odor of the cellar, and a strange operation begins which is he has decided