What is political writing?: Sartre and Merleau-ponty on literature and the expression of meaning

Sartre Studies International 7 (2):44-57 (2001)
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Merleau-Ponty's essay "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence" is not thoroughly political in its content, nor is it solely addressed to Sartre. It is dedicated to Sartre, however, and the ideas it contains pose a definite challenge to Sartre's views in What is Literature? Merleau-Ponty rejected Sartre's view of communication arising from the direct transmission of meaning through prose. Instead, he stressed that real political significance is implicated in artistic expression, even if it is in some ways ambiguous. Although it would be difficult to say that Sartre changed his views in direct response to "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence," his later views do fall in line with Merleau-Ponty's thoughts. One might say that, by taking a Merleau-Pontian view of language, Sartre worked out some of the tensions in his earlier views. Consequently, he ended up with a much richer view of literature, yet one that retained the political significance he wanted in What is Literature?



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