Sartre and the Powers of Literature: The Myth of Prose and the Practice of Reading Author(s): Suzanne Guerlac

Reviewed work(s): Source: MLN, Vol. 108, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec., 1993), pp. 805-824 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2904878 . Accessed: 16/11/2012 22:33
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and the Powersof Sartre The Mythof Prose Literature: of Reading and the Practice
Suzanne Guerlac

Engagement has not been an issue in recent years. Sympathizers find the imperativeunambiguous and its legitimacyself-evident. Criticspreferto keep the notion in reserve.It providesa convenient or criticswhose presuppositionto turnagainst the work of writers For both or us. lives shock sides, engagement dissappoint political familiarnotion, one associated with an outremains a thoroughly dated cultural polemic that opposed estheticsto politics. But the tied up withour culis much more intimately notion of engagement tural and theoreticalsituationthan this characterizationsuggests. thatbecame associated withnotionsof The conception of literature was initiallyelaborated during the and transgression icriture, texte, 1950's in specificresponse to the ideological pressuresof engagement.1In 1960, the new reviewTel Quel opened withan imperious aimed at the position of defense of modernist poetics implicitly Sartre.Subsequently,of course, the verytermsof thispolemic-art vs. politics-will be theoretically bycritdisplaced and reconfigured du ics associated with Tel Quel.As we see in Kristeva'sLa Revolution claims are made formodernist, whererevolutionary langage poetique, or avant-garde, practices,the issue of engagementis ultisignifying On the surface,howmatelyabsorbed into the programof theory.2 in ever,it becomes a dead issue in the contextof post-structuralism radiwhich the rapprochementof philosophy and psychoanalysis cally challenged the statusof the subject. The question of engagePress MLN, 108 (1993): 805-824 ? 1993 by The JohnsHopkins University

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the familiarnotion of jected this term to close scrutiny. A number of questions remain unclear. court? betweenliterary engagementand engagementtout as is so oftensuggestedwithrespectto Sartre'sown career. then the two modes of engagement become continuous with one another. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Foucault. is an difference engaged writersupposed to write?Is there a significant Is the first. of an action. What. be said to have emerged in reaction to engagement.engagement If post-structuralism and multihas returnedto haunt post-structuralism. as Sartre But perhaps thisview is too simple. What if engagement. engagement has hardlybeen read.229 on Fri. Indeed. feminist culturalperspectives presuppose some versionof it.806 SUZANNE GUERLAC mentlost all urgencyin the face of the more comprehensivedebate concerninghumanismof any kind. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.It considered a cure forSartre's "neurosis." could Thus althoughwhatwe call "theory" in opposition to theory. As indicated by a recent MLA panel entitled "Feminist Engagement after Postsome criticstodayappeal to a notion of engagement structuralism.168.If committedprose is representational ent. and the difference between value) literary engagementbepolitical comes trivialon the condition that literaturebe subordinated to ostensibly higher ends. According to thisview c'estagirat face (one which appears to take Sartre'sformulaparler.byhis or her message. Today. a not it in is does What Literature?. later. in the otherthey the intended meaning. buried engagement. however.a preliminarystep towardsthe second in continuous progression?If so. of the event and identification an literary gagementdepends upon mechanismof were the very the absolute?What ifthisidentification not be of should In case this the theory engagement engagement? as he puts it in Les Mots. this between literary would implyan identification engagementand litand transpareraryrealism.forexample. depend upon rejectionof presents enthe estheticin favorof the political?What if.would proclaim "theend of man" in the dramaticconclusion of Les Motsetleschoses.An imperis now invoked in the name of a depassement ative of engagement historicallyframes the thinking of postWe have come full circle withoutever having substructuralism. Each would involvethe subordinationof "merelyesthetic"value to superiorvalues of an ethical or political nature.on the contrary. In one case such highervalues would be carried by the author's writwould determine ing.thatis. or aim." of Sartre's tendencyto regard literashould be read as a symptom ture as an absolute.engagement of theory.72.

"and "Europe" no longer function:". The "Situationof the Writerin 1947" explains that the link between speech and action said to epitomize the prose of literary engagement-parler. it cannot become engage.Moreover. "ils s'arretent a mithe impreschemin de leur sens" (280). toujours arretea mi-chemin comme un effort ciel et de la terre. that even ordinary as "Jew. c'estagir-has been broken by the war. Lanand can no longer guage has falleninto history along withthewriter This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. ment to be taken for granted. arrete a toujours (16)-in opposition to the ostensiblytransparent signifying powers of prose. same time: ".words are like Trojan horses. the opacity of painting and poetry-"un effort " mi-chemin.. Poetryis opaque. If. ". . 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . we recognize in the expression "ils s'arretenta mi-cheminde leur sens" the veryformulaSartre used in chapter one to characterize immense et vain.. For the last chapterof de l'ecrivain en 1947"Qu'est-ceque la litterature?-"Situation of the idea of the demystifies transparency prose language...is that"...We rememberthe thrust therefore tre's response to Gide.for example.it is anxiety. .. La realitelinguistiqueest aujourd'hui si compliwords such quee .229 on Fri. c'est une angoisse faite chose." (280). .Language is in crisis.Sartreexplains. contradicts sion Sartregivesin the opening pages of the first chapter.emerge clearlyfromeven a cursoryreading of the first chapter of Whatis Literature? But thingsbecome less clear as we read on."3 The opposition betweenprose.. elle n'est pas du toutlisible. ." "collaboration. and poetryand paintingon the other." Sartre writes.in the firstchapter..MLN 807 If literary that is easy to diagnose. the language Qu'est-ce que la litterature? no reading of of prose.pour exprimerce que leur nature leur defend d'exprimer .. does not yellowstreak [dechirure] and yellowskyat the signify anxiety. according to Sartre. It cannot signify..it is at least in part because Sartre's presentationof it in announces thatitslanguage.. . of course. of Sarit is required or even appropriate.168.and the superiorcapacityof prose to fulfilla Hegelian conception of art as cultural selfreflexion. Sartrewriteshere. engagementis not a symptom however. Poetryis closer to paintingand itsdisconthan to the signifying operations of prose. is so transparent thatno act of interpretation. Ils sont tombes en panne." What this means.. The certingmateriality in a Tintorettosky. . speech is portrayeddramaticallyas a tool ready to hand-"lorsqu'on est en danger on empoigne n'importequel outil" in the last chapter language is hardly an instru(26)-.72.c'est du immense et vain. . This. on the one hand.

does of language that it must honor or not presuppose a transparency of literatureto save accommodate. language needs to be cleansed engaged writing. Not only is Sartre's mythof prose compatible with his thinking the intellectualcore of about existential humanism. an "artwithoutart" Transparencythusbecomes a giftof literature. writing opening chaputopian ter of the book. (a classlesssociety)in the later chaprelegated to the end of history terof the essay. Finally. it is the responsibility language from ruin.post-war extentthatit provides. thatthe essence of literaturehe has been advancing could be realized onlyin a classlesssociety.168." Simone de Beauvoir has written The with the essays of Les Modernes. myth literature. of propagandisticdistortions and broadened to meet the needs of the contemporary situation(282). This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. What is more. review opens Temps ing group la Sartre's litterature? that now make up Qu'est-ce essay contribque de in mind to the Beauvoir has utes to the kind of post-war ideology of a new.c'estagir (27)."ForWhom Does One Write?". ature thatis called upon to perform then. literature de et la de l'antinomie laction" (163).it also furnishes the democratic socialism Sartre went on to advance officially the RassemblementDemthroughthe foundingof a political party."We wanted to produce a new ideology of the foundforthe post-war era. or even an achievement of styleblanche. impact portrays language Sartrereveals the precedingchapter.229 on Fri. Instead.808 SUZANNEGUERLAC To become an appropriate tool for be assumed to be transparent. Sartreaffirms here."Situationof the Writerin 1947" gives us an analysisof SarIt tre's own historicalcontext as the author of Whatis Literature? of the In in a state crisis due to the of war. "Whatis Writing?". For the antinomybetween speech and action. fulfills the utopian rhetorically or mythicmodel.it is literthistask.Literature. however.72.precisely. Revolutionnaire (RDR). justeor the mythicecriture somethinglike Flaubert's mot In Whatis Literature? Sartrewritesthat a society'smythof literature is a centralfeatureof its ideology as a whole. he writes. ocratique as To appreciate the mythic statusof Sartre's theoryof literature read is Literature? from back to we need What engaged prose. The parole "depasserait in "ideal.In such a society. only front. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." this essence of literature Write?" presents chapter "Why in the account of the terms. It is not hard to recognize prose-the transparentprose of literaryengagement -as itself just such a myth. in the Longinian sense.is resolvedhere defacto throughSartre'sformulafor the veryessence of literatureas committedprose: parler. to "restitueraux mots leurs vertus" (282).

then. Sartre goes on to suggest. this is where we mightexpect to find them. just when the reader expects a serious discussion of what the engaged author Sartremakes lightof the whole question in a manner should write.168. specificpolitical account of the Sartre's to should be It possible challenge critically. non-signifying. bethe of and its presumed identity corollary. ou les affectionshumaines.as we are suggesting. For as Sartre cizes it.M LN 809 in the serviceof a a myth If.The question of and literary tweenthe prose of engagement the author's message is a good place to begin such a reading.229 on Fri. then-what should Ifwe pursue the obvious line of investigation.critiSartre. reminiscent of Proustmockingthe youngMarcel forhis naive belief one musthave importantideas to express: that to be a greatwriter N'a-t-on de posera touslesjeunes gens qui se proposent pas coutfime d'ecrirecettequestionde principe:'Avez-vous quelque chose a dire?' il faut entendre: and he Par [Sartre asks. he acknowledgesthatit is legitimateto ask of the author "whataspect of the world do you wish to reveal [devoiler]?" But. . 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .either proceeds from cliche or ends up a cliche. he of the yellowstreakin minded here of the earlier characterization faite chose. We are re- This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. .. the committed author write?-we soon realize that Sartre never as "un certain mode answersthis question.If. the notion of an author's message implies the question of concludes is ultimately "." And we recogthe Tintorettopainting-"une angoisse author's of the criticizes the notion nize thatSartre message in the the earlier to he used opaque. parce qu'elles ne touchent plus. And forgood reason.as is to values does implya commitment commonlyassumed. engagement other than merelyestheticones. The author's message. sont passees au rang d'affectionsexemplaires. It is "tout un monde desincarne .and ultimately indicates throughhis sarcasticuse of italics in the passage already cited. adds:] quelque chosequi quoi ce qui en Maiscomment vaillela peined'etrecommunique. Having defined writing d'action qu'on pourraitnommerl'action par devoilement"(28). original emphasis). comprendre transcende valeurs a un systeme 'vautla peine' si ce n'estpar recours dents?(27) The author's message. et pour tout dire de valeurs"(34. be it should cultural and possible to read it agenda. the question of the author's message. transparency prose realism. prose is a myth.trivializes evades it. . disparage veryterms in opposition to the ostensiblesignifymodes of paintingand poetry ing powers of prose. une ame faite objet" (38).72.

Paradoxically. volves somethinglike a direct impositionof words upon thingsas comreferents. .Husserl in his account of signification suppressed the indicativesign in favorof the expressiveone ifit is in order to protectthe idealityof meaning. Wordsextend the capacityof thebody. ..It is a consciousness without interiority. Sartre has boras a paradigmforthe operrowed Husserl's notion of intentionality ation of signification. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The prose speaker uses words-se sertdes mots(25)-the way one would use a tool.72.however.discursive truth. They act more like for Sartre. for Sartre."4 For Sartre. Wordsare the "designations d'objets.remainspeculiarlyintentionless.however. Now if Sartre's notion of engaged prose implied expression. only throughfree Meaningfulvalues. to a in relation a from distinct as taken something referent. operates the "transcendental possibility Expressivespeech implies signified. not or words whether of is a matter indiquent knowing petence This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. values in the strongsense of pre-established. values. But as the essayExistentialism clear. theyprovide a kind of prosthesis. Instead." of hearingoneselfspeak throughan innervoice.where theyno longer seem to indicate anyin solitary thing. theymustbe generated. Derrida cites Hus. are ". According to Derrida's analysis.. can be affirmed action. They cannot be received.168." and linguistic ".inindicativesigns than expressiveones. To invoke pre-establishedvalues is a gesture of bad faith. [this is] the phenomenological project in its essence.and a representational(that is. Responsibility would stand expression of an intended meaning and transparency for a relation to ideality of meaning. even that"'expressions functionmeaningfully serl to the effect mental life.229 on Fri. for Sartre. Signification. indicateurs qui jettent [le prosateur] hors de lui au milieu des choses" (20). .thiskind of phenomenological suspension would be unthinkable.not the a "prolongementde notre mind.'" and he comments: "By a strangeparadox meaning would of its expressiveness isolate the concentratedpurity just at the moment when the relation to a certainoutside is suspended . . corps" (26). values in thissense are anathema to Sartre's concept of freedom. For the signified. is a Humanism makes dental. realist) use of language. Words.. Sartre's notion of intentionalconsciousness-that whichis nothingbut the outside of itself-leaves littleroom for the gestation of a vouloirdire.810 SUZANNEGUERLAC or transcenvalues. which. then the writer'smessage would be of preeminentimporwould attachto messagejust as or commitment tance.

229 on Fri. kind of transparency twicein his essay.. and hence an opacity. but itmustgo unnoticed: "dans un livre.Stylepolishes the glass of transparency language. What I am suggesting.then.and he adds: "il y a prose quand.into of language. the windowpane Sartrerepeats the same figurefortransparency.Sartre me le verreau travers has introducedan intertextual allusion. We are remindedof the Longinian requirementthatsublime language dissimulateits own use of figuresso that art might appear as nature. figureforthe materiality that of suggests language.Sartre'smyth verities thatSartreflatly the representationalpotential of an expressivesign but ratheron force of indication.faitla the glass is used in an unconventionalway. Sartre's use of the figure transparency is itselfa functionof style.le mot passe a travers du soleil" (26). For to the extent that expression presupposes an ideality of meaning. transparency windowpane suggeststhatwhat is obscured The figureof the dirty of when the glass is clean is the glass itself.. then. motssont transparents de glisserparmi eux des vitresdepolies" (30). He has also borrowed his figurefor the transparency frompoetryto characterizea conception of prose which ostensibly This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. is invoked here in the name of hiding. notreregardcompour parler comme Valery.."Sartreconcedes.or performative. The author's the pragmatic.Even thoughSartrechampionsa certain"transparency" of prose in the name of speech. Sartreintroducesthe metaphorof transparency once in relation to the question of styleand once in relationto the "etatd'esprit"of prose. Here. figure displaced attituded'esprit. on est sollicitepar un charme qu'on ne voit pas" (30-31). Styleseduces or charmsus by dissimuand he adds thisobservation:"Puisque les Sartreinsists. by citingValery. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .168. it suppressesthe role of the and post-structuralist signifiedas well.. his efficacy prose. latingitself.is thatifSartre'saccount of the as action play of the signifier(as modernist suppresses speech criticsmaintain). [la beaute] se cache . valeurde la prose." Sartrewrites. Now. it remains to be seen what he has in mind. it relies upon something like those eternal of prose relies not on refuses. Paradoxically.not revealing. In each case the conventionalmetaphorof bien sur.MLN 811 correctementune certaine chose du monde ou une certaine notion" (25).72. the of of the in discussion or glass. however."Le style. est d'abord une "La in a is prose peculiar way. il seraitabsurde et que le regardles traverse. because his message is so problematicin Sartre'saccount of writing force of prose is not one of expressive model for the signifying communication.

or Int&ieur.Ordinarily. au travers mesregards entre [c]omme passe le verre du soleil" and not the otherway here." and "le verre [passe] au travers the between revery." The notre regard"as le verre . the difference characterizes Valery's poem and the outerworldof perception of the title.168. Here is the textof the poem: from Charmes. sansbriser Passe entremesregards du soleil. her presence in interiority. and reason. however. a une punition."In the poem. Here. we go in the opposite direction: "le mot passe a traversnotre redu soleil.. dansma reverie leurabsence.. In Sartre'sdepiction of prose the word occupies the place of the woman." here "le mot passe a [c]omme passe le verre au travers " du soleil. Whereas in the poem the woman passes "entremes regards du soleil. it uses language to evoke presence in absence. In the manner of Mallarme.although withValery's poetic reversal. The inner vision escapes the lucidityof pure reason and remains secure within. which the Robert of the expressionpasserau travers. innerlife." gard. . This timeno figurative meaning can This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. au travers Commepasse le verre Et de la raisonpure6pargne l'appareil. gives as "echapis a figure per a un danger. glacesprochaines.when it was a question of style.the vision of the woman [p]asse It is striking.. and a realistliterary use of the figure. consistent glass remainsa figureforthe word. What Sartrehas found in Valery'spoem is a reversalof the conventional topos of transparency-language as window onto the world -usually invoked to support claims for representationallanguage as we saw in Sartre's own esthetic. du soleil.72. thatthe glass "passe au travers around..meaning passes throughthe word as lightpasses throughthe glass.the glass passes throughthe lightinstead of the otherwayaround. the verre forthe woman who does indeed escape froma danger-the danger of the lucidityof pure reason-which threatensher apparition in and in absence. prodigue au milieude ces murs Elle metune femme avecdecence. "Interieur" de molleschaines Une esclaveaux longsyeuxcharges aux de mes l'eau fleurs.229 on Fri..812 SUZANNEGUERLAC for the allusion is to Valery'spoem stands in opposition to poetry. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . revery. au travers travers here again. plonge Change ses doigts Au litmyst6rieux purs. as is usuallythe case when it is a question of the figureof The poetic reversalisjustifiedbya figurative meaning transparency. errant Qui.

It merelysets the stage for the identification action.Danger. The word entreprise deux entre of attackor aggression. on (myemphasis). c'etaitun sixieme jambe. And 'onesten nextsentence: "Lorsqu yet.. bref doigt. nous nous sommes une purefonction langage: que il nous protegecontreles auest notre carapace et nos antennes. the lifeor death struggleforrecognitionof Hegel's master/slavedialectic." sense of "to escape fromdanger. uses language as a weapon in the violentencounter The prosateur betweenselfand other.168.as which parency in the we have seen." Sartrecontinues: Et ou une bfiche.It eruptsin thevery outil" .72. instrumentality munication. and the theme of associated withan action model of comor efficacy.229 on Fri.The danger that suddenlypresents itselfhere is the threatof intersubjective violence. has nothingto do withtransparency of speech with perse. borrowed fromValery. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . But thereis somethingmore specificto thisscene of danger. And danger empoigne n'importequel fromhere Sartre develops the theme of the pragmatic. Sartrecharacterizesit as "une entreprisesoit de moi sur les autres carriesthe meaning soitde l'autre sur moi" (26).. The vectorof this renvoi by the gestureof This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. of course.exinvolvedin the sudden intrusionof plains the apparent nonsequitur the scene of danger.... This scene is veryimportantin Sartre's essay because it marksa associated betweenthe rhetoricof transparency.danger lurks."seems not to be at playhere.attachesto of an what is fundamentally instrumentality language-the language of designation considered as a tool of action and an inThis occurs because of the parallelismbeof self-defense. of signification.value of language. is figured.. tres. il fallaittoutjuste un prolongement de notrecorps.a "difference personnes" in the sense of a conflictor struggle. crucialarticulation with a contemplativemodel of consciousness. The figurative meaning of "passer au travers. then.MLN 813 be invokedtojustify the reversalof the conventionaltopos of transhimself Sartre uses in the usual mannerelsewhere.une troisieme il Ainsi du assimilee. on ne se rappellememeplus si c'etaitun marteau d'ailleurson ne l'a jamais su.or instrumental.A rhetoricof transparency. strument tween the intentional structureof consciousness-consciousness as consciousness structured ofsomething-and the semioticstructure where it is a question of referenceto something.. "Ce danger passe. or performed. (26) To this extent the passerau travers de.

229 on Fri.has littleto do eitherwiththe idealityof meaningwe associate use of language. to the vectorof consciousness itself. in the sense thatthe model forthe pragmatic or efficacioususe of language is the efficaciousglance-voir.the word does pass throughthe glance.. thereforeparler. this action par devoilement. mot passe a traversle reor vouloir dire. un peu davanpeu plusdans le monde. tagepuisque This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.paracyassociatedwiththeinstrumentality the tool of selfitself.et du memecoup.The figure whatthe eye sees to the movementof the intentionalglancefrom the eye of consciousness itselfas consciousness ofsomething. l'atteins coeur. etje la fixesous changer. and not the otherwayaround. of transparency beOnce focussed on the eye.or representational.as we know." then.withthe opacityof the instrument has been displaced oftransparency defenseor aggression.then. c'est attaches. Speech is action. What is called "transparency. or witha withan expressive. doxically.thisoperation is epitomized by the glance. Prose intervenesin this secondaire de l'entreprise ." of consciousness. afterthe regard The glance. but The word is "transparent.168. c'est agir-in the quite specificsense of thissecondaryaction.For the signifying deployment of a word is construedas overlappingwiththe movementof intentional consciousness. In in is inevitably the master/slave dialectic) Hegel theviolence of the strugscene of danger.. It initiates the inter-subjective encounter.72. If "le interiority subject's is itselfmodeled is it because Sartre as it. something.however. this is embodied in the glance considered as an intentionalmovementof the eye.is also the instrumentof recognition.en parlant. myemphasis) je le d6passeversl'avenir. par mon projetmeme de la je d6voilela situation .The transparenof devoilement whichthefigure change76-to ofsignification coincides.j'en emerge (28. however. Sartre'sfictional gle for recognitionis verballysublimated. a pr6sentj'en dispose. le scene of danger as a "structure is defined as one who has chomomentverbal" (27). which for Sartre (as for a violent one. the devoilement comes an act of transpiercing: Ainsi.not to a meaning or a signified. signification puts gard. je plein je la transperce un a chaquemotqueje dis. To put this another waywe could say that the word's homoindication of a thing is at the service of. en .814 SUZANNE GUERLAC designation. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." then.jem'engage lesregards. For Sartre. occurring logous For Sartre. The prosateur sen "un certainmomentde l'action secondaire qu'on pourraitnommer l'action par devoilement" (28). and structurally consciousness as consciousness of with.

structure) gift This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. involvedthe sublimationof intersubjective here to an ontological mode. The the the characterize see. as its corollary. violence which. the literary work.we remember.The game is one of se voirvu.MLN 815 What is transpierced. in relation to an inscription of the master/slavedialectic. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The action of literary engagement-of proseviolence . If laninvolves a verbal sublimation of intersubjective lies at the heart of the Sartrian guage as action (not transparency) of prose-it was a question. a kind of ironic (because in the disempowering)versionof the momentof self-consciousness seen by master/slavedialectic. and of potential mastery withthe The articulationof the apparent theme of transparency (in the sense of pragmatic effect. smudges whitepaper. shifts calls on question of the coming into being of the work. glance parler. however.in whichthe mastermustsee himself the slave in order to validate his powers of negativeconsciousness over nature as well as over the slave. we see that speech is action-the sublimatedaction of an "action secondaire" to the death. For once we take this allusion into account. the entire relation to the figureof the visible or adeincluded) has littleto do withrepresentation (transparency is the truth.The writer the reader to complete the cominginto appearance of theworkand to thisextentappeals to the freedomof the reader. subject or consciousness throughreading.earlier.72. It structure of c'est that detervoir. It is a into language as action.of overcomingthe myth of step in the constitution antinomyof speech and action-a first this mythis achieved thanks to the subtext of the master/slave dialectic. No wonder the -because the scene is one of struggle question of an enduring authorial message seemed trivial. agir.is not a meaning or a thing (a referent) by a sign but rathera situationto be changed. then. Thus. The motifof devoilement. changer quational It is the word as that c'est mines. in the next chapter of Qu'est-ce que la litterature?. The reader who completes the workthroughthe responds to the writer'scall freely of uses the metaphor (and. in the end.and not merely unveiled another he it must be on by argues. I have given so much weightto the subtextof the scene of recognition in the mythof prose because it returns. Here addresses the Sartre question of the literary "Pourquoi 6crire?" black a For work to be workas text.in a substantially corrected mode. as we shall act Sartre totalizing reading.168. in a situation of referentnor a signifiedbut another subjectivity recognition. The targetit aims at is neithera corresponds to the pistolet charge.229 on Fri.or question of instrumentality action) occurs. of to this exchange.

.qu'ils reconnaisqu'ilslui retournent et qu'ils la sollicitent a leur tourpar un appel creatrice sent sa liberte 1'autre Ici apparait en effet et inverse. who seeks essentiality.229 on Fri."Sartre writesin thissecond chapter of Whatis Literature?: de et il la requiert a la liberte des lecteurs l'auteur ecrit pours'adresser faireexister son oeuvre. Literature is a "ceremonie du don" (60).then. paradox Hegel's the scene of recognition:the factthatbecause he needs the confirmation (or objectification)of his statusas subject by another. part of these two subjects of each other's freedom. quite specifically.the reader gives the reading that completesthework-"le don de toutesa personne" (57)." the writer For the "master." the reader. Bataille found this comic. the writerand the a reciprocalrecognitionon the reader. for recognition-recognition of his or her own essenas artistor creatorand recognitionof the objective being of tiality the work. more specifically. It involves. pour l'atteindre il n'est and reading.But the writer."il faut la reconnaitre .7 Sartre appears to exploit this paradox. is the fact that it makes such a collaboration possible throughthe This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. a reciprocal recognition of freedom.72.and to make needs the reader in order to a freegiftof thisfreedom. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . What is writing? It is "une certainefacon de vouloir la liberte"(72) which involves"la reconaissance de la libertepar elle-meme" (65). to the fact that literaturerequires a collaboration between twofreesubjectsin order to exist (or occur) at all. he needs the reader to be free.are qu'un procede: la reconnaitre"(54). myemphasis in the As is well known. This is the essence of the literary eventas ceremonyof the gift. ) (58." Sartre insists. so influential in of latent account called attention to the 1930s.168. needs the "slave.816 SUZANNE GUERLAC writergives the giftof the work. Writing a collaboration that involve not only a shared experience of freedom but.Kojeve's reading of Hegel. unlike the Hegelian master.then. a ritualof generosity.then.6 work requires a For Sartre.Mais il ne se bornepas la et il exigeen outre cetteconfiance qu'il leura donnee. the presumablyautonomous master actuallydepends upon the slave. The corollary. paradoxedialectique symetrique celle de notre liberte de la lecture:plusnouseprouvons plus nousreconnaissons l'autre.The writer He to the reader to undertakethistask the work. "Pour s'adresser a une liberteen tantque telle. complete appeals hence and to thisextentnecessarily to (and recognizes) the appeals reader's freedom.requires that the other not be a slave. the veryexistence of a literary special collaboration between two free agents. "Ainsi.

ustensiles-mais .for Sartre.each vying frontation will relegate the other to the object statusof slave. "L'oeuvre d'art est valeur parce qu'elle est appel" (55). literature. The work itself-the text as third termviolence that resultsfrom the conneutralizes the intersubjective forthe positionof subjectwho of twosubjects. Sartre is not value because of the value of writes. The dialectic of reading.car a l'ordinaire meraimodification esthetique de notre commela distance mondeapparait commel'horizon situation. du la totalite comme infinie synthetique qui nousseparede nous-memes. then. or ground.72. of of value in general in estheticvalue. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . thatis.dialecticallyresolvingthe opposition between subject and object.168..it establishesthe basis eventis of anykind. positionnelle accompagne humaine.Estheticjoy. "La reconnaissancede la libertepar elle-memeestjoie" (65). it is value in itsverystructure..It is the commitment eventitself as dialecticof freedoms.It is as a commitment in thissense thatthe freechoice said to ground the writer's engageto engage ment is the verydecision to write. ". the necessarycondition for the inventionof value throughaction. des et des obstacles comme l'ensemble donne. une harmonie rigoureuse entre subjectivityet objectivite" (66). It engenders. it is an absolute experienced as esthetic joy. writing or essence. c'estce que je noma-dire une tacheproposeea la liberte le du projethumain. jaa notreliberte. .is an absolute. to freedom. The workmediates the intersubjective encounter. Sartre writes. As we have seen. To the extentthatthe corrected the literary act involves "la version of recognition that structures reconnaissance de la liberte par elle-meme" (66). . dialectic of reading. that value here means freedom.229 on Fri. It is a condition of possibility the sense that. he continues: c'estla conscience que le mondeestvaleur.groundingvalue in freedom.. maisune exigencequi s'adresse (66) of experience thatgivestheworldto It is the estheticmodification us as project.MLN 817 whatSartrecalls the paradoxical dialectic of reciprocalrecognition. to the extent its message.Such a commitwiththe literary It is the extraordia la liberte.-the verymode of being of the literaryevent-is not only an origin. in Sartre's words. The literary and responsibility forcommitment to transcendental a paradigmforengagementnot as a commitment values (the kind thatmightbe carried in an author's message) but to the inventionof value.. and to thisextentcorrespondswiththe fundamentaltermsof a romanticesthetic. ment is always-and only-engagement This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.

and.. while the of on the meditation the abstract reader. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . requires [exige]a in order to certain socio-politicalreality. as we have already seen.In Sartre's historical argument. introducedin event of the model the elaborates institutions..in its essence.The essence ofliteraturereinvention of the and writing a regulativeidea both for concrete la litterature formelle-provides forengagementin the social or concrete-and literature-la litterature of his schematicsocial histoAfter the presentation politicalregister. typede public-c'est-d-dire societe qu'elleexige(155-56.72. historical.. The thirdchapter of Whatis Literature? ("For Whom Does One historical a analysisof literary Write?"). For thisreason the positionof the reader in chaptertwo-the thisrecreader recognized in his or her freedomand reciprocating concrete the for not the historically only paradigm ognition-is public but for society as a whole. restituerle mouvementde cette dialectique dans les dercomme ideal.It requires it structurally fulfillits essence concretely. "nous pouvons. exteriority the absolute like because withinliterature(or writing) something the is itself art of notion a with associated value conventionally pure of verymechanism engagement. that gives us the naryworld of art. At thispoint the problem This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. trying dialectique a literary history [histoire des belles lettres].229 on Fri.the writer'spublic marksthe concrete.which presents concrete. en acte ne peut s'egaler a son essence pleniere ".that is. It also provides a kind of paradigm for societyat large. freedom. But. la litterature sans classes" (160). "ces considerationsdemeurent comments: Sartre of ry literature. quintessentially. It is literatureitself.equivalent of the abstract(or formal) position of the reader analyzed in the preceding chapter.818 SUZANNEGUERLAC of text. myemphasis). position expands the discussionofsocial or politicalfreedomconcretizesthe themeof freedom-the freedom of the inventionof moral or metaphysical ofreading. appel libre et inconditionnea une liberte" (154). une sortede nous ont permisd'entrevoir He adds: "nos descriptions to write without such de litterature" l'idee de that. Only afterthe revolution une societe dans que of end at the history)would the abstractfigureof the reader (only become actualized as a universalpublic. conjointement.then. c'est-a-dire. I'essencepure au bout. that.. literary and concretizes the of discussion The second the public chapter.168. si on ne les replace pas dans la perspectived'une oeuvre arbitraires d'art.fft-ce nierssieclespour decouvrir de le et de l'oeuvre litteraire.In a sense there to relation of this conditionsof possibility to engagement no not is art that is no literary engage.

72.mais elle est toujours caracteriseepar l'invention de solutions nouvelles" (292). Revolution requires what Sartre calls invention." he writes. withinhistoricalembeddedness or situation."L'action historique. the event itself. In the next chapter the motif limation of intersubjective the inherentneed of a text was displaced to an ontological register. "L'ecrivain n'a qu'un sujet: la liberte" (70).Whatis more. but a reconfigurationof it.in Kojeve's reading of Hegel. then. providesthe model forthe utopian goal in social relations. Here inventionitselfis a formof unveiling. man in the world (this much Sartre tells us.that of class struggle. litical action that would be dictated by those values. sponds withthe history to write in a transparent the author literary engagement enjoins social or in order to political ideas. and of the event as mutual recognition of freedom. and insistsupon) would coincide the universalpublic in the mode of freedom. correIt is not the case. withfreedom associated a It is historical of figure becoming. process thatis. This for the devoilement was the basis of the paradoxical dialectic of reading.168. valid and legitiexpress prose and to encourage the responsiblesocial or pomate in themselves. structureof the literary involvesnotjust a sublimationof the scene of recHere devoilement ognition.literaturecan potentially This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. "lorsqu'un objet est de toutespieces pour pouvoir cache a tous les yeux.229 on Fri.il fautl'inventer le decouvrir"(292). withhis interlocutor. then. of reading to bring it into objective being. And he adds. In the third section.MLN 819 of the message would vanish."It involvedthe unveilingof situationand a verbal subviolence. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "For is displaced to the the figureof devoilement Whom Does One Write?".In the is a leitmotif the figureof devoilement first chapter the essence of prose was defined as "l'action par devoilement. Rather. The essence of literature.to the extentthatit resolve can engender its own readership."ne s'est jamais reduite a un choix entre des donnees brutes. As such it calls forits own concrete realizationthroughrevolution.as foundingmoment of value ontologyof the literary for the as condition of possibility of freedom value absolute (the inventionof any value. "la reconnaissance de la liberte par ellememe"). Freeor withthe literary or situationis thusidentified dom withinhistory creativeprocess itself-invention. that two chaptersof Whatis Literature? We have seen in the first in Sartre's argument.withrevolution. For the writer'ssubject.which.a bringinginto appearance (or being) of somethinghidden. yields the utopian social model violent and oppressivemodel of the to the preciselyas correction master/slavedialectic.

involvesthe shiftfroma one. History is now duces the essence of literature considered as a process of totalization(like reading) insteadof as an accumulation of past eventsor relations. Sartrehad alreadyintroducedthe themesof the This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.Sartre's theoryof the collectiveagent of praxis. or mythic.Dans une telle societe l'antinomie et de l'action" (163. "la the antinomiesof class contradiction."that Sartre introinto history as process. la bonne volonte du lecteur.develops his treatment of the three-term relation (writer-text-reader) introduced in of mediated and reciprocal recogThe structure Whatis Literature? at core of his conception of the essence of which the nition. practico-inert group which operates in a mode of totalization. this effect ry.and the thirdparty. plays ideological.the group in fusion.72.activates the literary event (the relationwriter-text-reader) in relation to the invention-or co-creating-of history throughcollectiverevoluaction.other. Everyone can occupy that position withrespect to another. par essence.To thisextentwe could saythatrevolutionary praxis."Sartrewritesin "II fauthistorialiser But it is not until the Critique Reason Whatis Literature? ofDialectical and the analysisof praxis as "logic of freedom.820 SUZANNEGUERLAC "En un mot."Sartrewrites. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ."Literatureis political digm in its But. la d'une societe en revolulitterature est. myemphasis). revolutionary and public. relation of the reciprocal recognitionof freedom (writer-textfeltin Sartre'sargument.168. ontologically. the hishis sketchof concrete relationsbetweenwriter of self toricalprocess itselfunfoldsin termsof the binarystructure ofwriter and public playout relationsof and other. The functionof this to neutralize termis to mediate reciprocity (CDR 106) and thereby the self-alienating.Only the result. sion. Sartre emphasizes that the difference between the series of the in the free subject of praxis and the fusion. The position of third partyis mobile and relative.Withrespectto historeader) makes itself the role of regulative idea.The vicissitudes of the three-term alienated recognition. tionary As we have seen. or oppositional.or effect. feature of the intersubjective encounter.8 For the fusedgroup is definedas to a ternary binarystructure a three-term relationwhichincludes self. subjectivite elledepasserait de la tion permanente.229 on Fri.the the ternary structure of collectiveaction of a group subject. parole In Whatis Literature? the literary absolute remains merelya parafor the social or end-"la cite des fins. lay of the group in fureturnsin the dynamicmultiplicity literature.as Sartredepictsit in essence.

he explicrelation of the fused group with the anitlyidentifiesthe ternary structure of the potlatch." (60). This was preciselythe essence of the literary event. Sartrewrites." Praxisis a "logic of freedom"whose peculiar logic. This was the thrust This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. where the discourse of prose was related to a subtextof intersubjective violence.72. of seriesin the fieldof the practico-inert. "L'art est ici une ceremonie du don.MLN 821 but he did so more giftand of generosityin Whatis Literature?." (CDR 109-10). he argues.. inherentin the collectivity of the fused group." rhetorically of the potlatch. and a phase betweena literary/intellectual and militant Sartrewho realizes his engagementas a Marxistactivist read as a crucial is theoreticianon the other. or mediated. whichSartreconsiders however." which he defines as relations of "free exchange between two men who recognize each other in theirfreedoms. Literary engagement withregard to the powdemystification step in Sartre'sprogressive of Sartre'sclaim in Les Mots:to ers of literature. it is the thropological free. he proclaimed in a passing allusion to the structure il a "et le seul don opere une metamorphose: y quelque chose comme la transmissiondes titres et des pouvoirs dans le ma. than substantively.we mightsay.168.with its harmoniousresolutionof thattensionin the reciprocalrecognition of freedom which is the veryessence of literaturefor Sartre. In the Critique.We could saythatthe giftof literaof engagement. The Reasonin relatermsof this shiftreturnin the Critique ofDialectical tion to the distinctionSartre draws between alienated reciprocity.. to the second chapter. and the reciprocal. of material object of the giftwhich "sets reciprocity in the of as the second chapwas role the text course.was adumbrated in the paradoxical dialectic of reading as Sartre preFor praxis. tronymat "a prolegomenon to anyfutureanthropology"(CDR 68).9 ture enables the generosity is usually considered to mark a transitional Whatis Literature? Sartre. from In our reading of Whatis Literature? we remarkedthe shift the firstchapter." This.The dialectic as logic of freedomwas alreadyin place as the paradoxical dialectic of reading."determines sents it in Whatis Literature? bonds of reciprocity. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . reciprocity Indeed Sartre'sanalysisof praxis as logic of freedomrefersus back to writingas precisely"une certaine facon de vouloir la liberte.where. gift precisely The Critique both makes explicitthe importerof Whatis Literature? of the gift to Sartre'sanalysisof the essence of tance of the structure literatureand suggeststhe importanceof Sartre's theoryof literature to his theoryof praxis.on the one hand.229 on Fri.

We could saythatthe depassement... du as ceremonie of literature role the This is ance. of a societyin permanent the energies of literatureas subjectivity revolution-"Dans une telle soci6et elle [la litt6rature] depasserait l'antinomie de la parole et de l'action" (163). . type of the historical a of as a is rewritten agency myth praxis." Gift ence in the "integration to allifromhostility the transition "effects in his words exchange.recoignes. precisely which.The mythof praxis comof the myth prose.we of its own concrete fulfilment.returns.. More fora time. passessous silence. in Sartre's analysisof praxis in Reason.168.72. la tete ilsrelevent instant au premier ilsguettent: d'inattention.as project. the second part of the Critique ofDialectical the event of literature.12 .occurs in the passage from Whatis Literature?to the Critique ofDialecticalReason. In his analysis of the giftexidentifies Levi-Strauss Structures ofKinship.822 SUZANNEGUERLAC as an absolute. mon imposture. dans le pleinjour sous un deguisement.disguised.and the structure.le litteraire of a social model--l'essence the myth purede l'oeuvre this Reason Dialectical In the societe de . . .As we have seen. through presented in Whatis Literature? of the gift-literatureas ceremonie the metaphor. du don-are central to Sartre's thinkingof engagement.. throughthe mediation of the thirdtermof the text. It is not esth6tiquede l'experience" onlythe case thatit is the "modification thatfirst givesthe world to us as task. Uses. pletes absolute is presentedas a myth. passe soussilence. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .This exemplary into introduces which returnsin the revolutionary history group.. dans La plupartdu tempsils s'aplatissent chez le quinquagenaire.11He specifically of the opposition of self and other..0l et penetrent The powers of literature. l'ombre.and as value.withitsritualof reading. the literary In Whatis Literature? et.c'est aussi mon caractere .229 on Fri. change in the Elementary of characteristic essential as the of the "positiveaspect reciprocity" influremedial to its attention calls the potlatch.ifit occurs. specifically.enables the revisionof the recognition scene. have been cured of the neurosis of takingliterature But Les Motsconcludes withthese words: sontrestes de l'enfant tousles traits lies.by the the giftof literature. of Critique qu'elleexige.humi- This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.transposesthe scene of the violentencounterbetween the twotermsof selfand other into one of exemplarycollaboration-a reciprocal recognition of freedom. effaces. inscribes the peaceful and egalitarian substitutefor alliance Hegel's violentand hierarchicalencounter. militantSartre. myth myth As we suggestedat the outset." don.

and of a mediatingthird relation of free.individualaction. involvesa "ternary 1976) 109.When we read engagementmore critically. oppoproblematizesprecisely sition. that conventional it find that we ever. Politics du languagepoetique" Genius and the Subject of La Revolution inJulia Kristeva's ed..Bataille. 125. as is commonlyconsidered. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. social relationsat the end of history. and "La Litteratureet le droit a la mort.And this alliance does not depend. edition.Engagement. dom byitself-provides the model for. Ce que l'ecrivain reclame du lecteur ce n'est mais le don de toutesa personne" (57). Emory University NOTES of Le Degre zero de licriture 1 I am thinking byRoland Barthes. 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . La Mort et le Sacrifice"in Deucalion5. 6 The theme of generosityis crucial specifically "Ainsiles affections du lecteur.providesthe paradigmof an exemplaryalliance between these two terms. (This point is discussed in more detail in a book in progresson Sartre.as well as the means to.On the contrary. Illinois: Northwestern University 5 "L'homme est l'etre . The formationof the group in fusion. and my Studies 78. Occasional English translations and other 4 Derrida. 1948). "'Recognition' by a Woman!" in YaleFrench translatedby ReasonTheory 8 Sartre. 1990. Subsequent page referenceswill be given in parentheses in the text and will referto this are myown. pas l'application d'une liberteabstraite. Speech and Phenomena ofSigns(EvansEssayson Husserl'sTheory Press. KellyOliver (New York: Routledge.."Sartrewrites.MLN 823 tend to associate engagementwithtiredpolemics thatpittedesthehowticsagainstpolitics. for Sartre. between literatureand politics derives. 1993). "Hegel..The Critique Ensembles. elles ont leur source permanente dans la liberte.he writes. qui ne peut meme voir une situationsans la changer" (28).from the very absolute-the recognitionof freeThe literary essence of literature." in Theory: 2 For a more detailed analysisof thispoint see Guerlac. 15-16. ofPractical ofDialectical Alan Sheridan-Smith (London: NLB.upon a subordination the alliance of literatureto political imperatives.229 on Fri. 1955. 3 Sartre. AtlanticHighlands. or freereciprocity.as Sartreelaboratesit. 22. and Difference Writing. ton. 1973).Bataille's specifically in et le mal) which was written essay "Baudelaire" (published in La Litterature and Blanchot's essays"L'Echec de Baudelaire" response to Sartre's Baudelaire. "Transgression in Ethics. to Sartre's analysisof reading. NJ:Humanities Press. Qu'est-ce que la litterature? (Paris: Gallimard. c'est-a-dire qui a la qu'elles sont toutesgenereuses-carje nomme genereuse une affection liberte pour origine et pour fin. and Breton fromwhich thisessay has been taken.) 7 See Bataille.72.168."ne sont-elles jamais dominees par l'objet .

824 SUZANNE GUERLAC party"(366)... . 68. she writes. in series-"il en est la totaliteorganique"-that is to saythe totalizedcollectivity totalization(51). 1969). reality. qui est la realite plus profonde" (61). 16 Nov 2012 22:33:58 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . is In La Pensee impliesthatSartre'sproposed viewof history sauvage. 1985). . . Of the fused group Sartrewritesin the Critiqueof me by the group is simplytotalization.The Elementary of Kinship.. Sartre. Structures Claude Levi-Strauss. somethinglike a myth.Levi-Strauss he chargesthatit "correspondsto no or at least a fiction... Sartreet Les TempsModernes (Paris: Minuit.168.. the distinctionbetween series and totalization already appears in Sartre's account of reading: if reading involves both the de series causales independantes .72. "Les cent mille mots alignes dans un livrepeuvent is in What etre lus un a un sans que le sens de l'oeuvre enjaillisse." a la politique qu'y ont vue. It is importantto stresshere the parallel importanceof the process of totalization in the account of the dialectic of reading and in the account of the fused group as subject of praxis." 143-4. "everyoneis also a thirdpartyin relation to reciprocal relations between others" (366)." Sartrewrites and he continues "le sens n'est pas la somme des mots"-like a Literature?." (379). ."de la 'subordination' de la litterature consternes et scandalises." (376). . et de l'expressiond'une final"restitution ite plus profonde" it is the "causalite qui est l'apparence .229 on Fri. 9 10 11 12 This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.But me into an object because totalizationbythe thisoperation does not transform thirdpartyonly reveals a free praxis."For furtherreferencesconcerning the dialogue between Sartre and Levi-Strausssee Anna Boschetti. Gide et les autres partisans de la litterature 'pure' . Strumer.Les Mots (Paris: Gallimard.withthe indication CDR.and Needham (Boston: Beacon Press. 1964) 211-212. Boschetti is one of the few criticswho entertainsthe idea that Whatis involvesnot a subordinationof literatureto action but a defense of Literature? in the face of powerful literature ideologies of action: "il ne s'agit aucunement.translated by Bell. et c'est la finalite and requires implies totalization. Of the third constitution partySartrewrites:"I am among thirdpartiesand have no privilegedstatus. Finality the totalizingact of reading. What is more. Subsequent referenceswillreferto thisedition and will be given withinparentheses in the text.synthetic series. as opposed to the totality engendered through "The internal.

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