Poulou's family romance and the book

Sartre Studies International 7 (2):76-86 (2001)

Abstract

The Words, as its name suggests, interweaves with the fictionalized account of Sartre's childhood the story of his discovery of reading and writing. To be able to say something about those Words other than what Sartre has said himself, we must have in mind a precise goal, a clear question which we must not lose sight of. Ours is: how does Sartre explain to himself his entry into the world of written signs, into what we will call, with Lacan, the symbolic? And following from that, what might Sartre's theory of the symbolic be? How, without full knowledge of it, does this account of a childhood (and a masterful one it is) connect together reading, writing and psychic structure? By his psychological explanations Sartre in fact helps us to imagine this complex adventure which "the entry into reading" represents for the human subject. We have here chosen the particular moment of the child's discovery of his grandfather's Library. We shall see how this scene sheds light on the fantasm which structures the subject's choice of writing as his symptom. We should add that in our own research we are interested not so much in a psychoanalysis of Sartre, as in an attentive reading of what the author of The Words and Nausea tells us indirectly about the function of the symbolic in the life of a human subject. Sartre helps us to understand Lacan.

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