Biography and the question of literature in Sartre

Sartre Studies International 11 (s 1-2):179-194 (2005)

Abstract

Literature, for Sartre, it could be said, is not so much an object of theory as the focus of a question. The notion of 'committed literature' is less prescriptive than it is interrogative: the title of the text most commonly associated with 'littérature engagée' is, after all, a question about literature itself, and the nature of 'commitment' lends itself much more to a practice of contestation than to implementation of any particular programme. In what follows, I shall be examining some of the ways in which Sartre makes literature synonymous with a question. And I shall be arguing that the very terms in which literature is presented as a form of self-contestation make biography, rather than theory, the arena in which the notion of literature is most extensively opened up.

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