Sartre: Romantic Rationalist

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Description New copy - delivered FREE to any NZ address in business days Sartres powerful political passions were united with a memorable literary gift - placing him foremost among the novelists - as well as the philosophers - of our time. Details Attribute Value Condition New.

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His later work remains, for all its obvious divergence and new tone, significantly close, his critics would say too close, to the first fine careless rapture of the early synthesis. Sartre is, in himself, as philosopher, novelist, playwright, literary critic, biographer, essayist, journalist, a remarkable instance of the universal omnivorous writer. Sartre evidently had, at this stage, no difficulty in telling a story, a feat which later on writers and perhaps he felt to be more difficult and problematic. These novels have a huge subject, passionately grasped and felt, the outbreak of war and the occupation of France, and they retain their power as works of literature.

Here the figures who fascinate Sartre are often violent, even criminal. Sartre later indulged and explained his admiration for stylish and talented criminals in his long book about Jean Genet. He continued his literary career not as a storyteller but as a, successful, writer of plays. The plays were propaganda as well as art, and could be seen as supplementary to the battling articles in Temps Modernes.

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But perhaps in the long run the play satisfied the literary Sartre because of its compulsory formal brevity. The metaphysician who could not say anything unless he said everything was compelled in the theatre to give his message briefly; and as Sartre unfortunately could not do everything, as opposed to thinking everything, he found the theatre, where he had undoubted talent, a sympathetic place to drop into. It often remains a mystery, in spite of hard work done on the subject by spectators including Sartre himself, why artists suddenly stop doing something they are good at and do nothing, or something else, which of course they may be good at too.

Sartre might have gone on to write a huge novel full of thoughts and people. He did not, instead he wrote a book about Baudelaire, a long book about Jean Genet, and an extremely long book about Flaubert. Les Mots, presumably an instance of existential self-analysis, is calm, even cold in tone. The role of historian is one which he more positively assumes in his later philosophical synthesis.

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He says in Les Mots that atheism is a cruel long-term business. Such metaphysical simplification also, by a shift to a political perspective, made room for the sinister message that in an oppressive society only violence is honest. It is thus a doorway into the later Marxist—Existentialist phase of his thought.

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Genet also confesses, in accordance with the bourgeois values which brand him as wicked, as a murderer and a thief; but since, while doing so, he refuses to deny himself as a free self- willing subject whose will is his own rightness and justice, he is able to receive with proud satisfaction the judgement of society which makes of him an object, a criminal, a non-person, a prisoner without a future. In the course of the book Sartre manages to transform a simplified psychological analysis into a simplified political message. Sartre finally offers us Genet as personifying the futility of the bourgeois subject who is condemned to maintain values which he really knows to be empty and vanishing.

Genet is redeemed, is saint, martyr, edifying exemplar, and hero of our time, because he lives this condition with full awareness to both extremes, both as subject and object, accepting like Saint Teresa as Sartre points out all accusations against him as having some substance.

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Genet is worthy of our attention, Sartre argues, because he is sincerely and openly and extremely what we, bourgeois, are secretly, timidly and hypocritically. He suffers, while we evade suffering.

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Genet is also of course and for some of us more obviously redeemed by becoming an artist. He becomes an aesthete, progresses to writing poetry, at last becomes a talented writer. Sartre said in the book on Baudelaire that he was not offering literary criticism. At the same time, most explicitly in the Flaubert book, he wishes to discover how just this man so like many others in general respects becomes this artist.

In order to present Genet ultimately as political propaganda, Sartre oversimplifies his picture of this extraordinary man, obscuring another Genet who has developed other virtues, to some extent shared by the bourgeois, those of the good artist, industry, patience, humility, truthfulness.

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  • At the end of the book, where Sartre attributes to his hero the virtue of generosity, he has to explain that this is simply an expression of freedom, and that in any case generosity is alienated by its context in bourgeois property relations.