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Aesthetics in Sartre and Camus The Challenge of Freedom

Translated by Catherine Atkinson


Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften

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Printed in Germany 12 3 4 5


"The artist was the supreme laborer, de- pleting and exhausting matter, in order to produce and to sell his visions." Sartre, The Prisoner of Venice

"Don Juan knows and does not hope. He reminds one of those artists who know their limits, never go beyond them, and in that precarious interval in which they take their spiritual stand enjoy all the wonderful ease of masters." Camus, The Myth ofSisyphus

"The absurd man is he who is not apart from time. Don Juan does not think of "collecting" women. He exhausts their number and with them his chances of life." Camus, The Myth ofSisyphus

"The absurd world can receive only an aesthetic justification." Camus, Notebooks 1942-1951

Table of Contents







Sartre and the arts


Wols and the blue phantom



From the portrait studies to theory



Art and freedom



From William II to Flaubert



The work and its readers



The method of portraiture



Critique of Marxism



Reconstructing theprojet



Dialectics and hermeneutics



Sculptures and mobiles: From Giacometti to Calder



Tintoretto and the "school of vision"



The intellectual is a suspicious person


Albert Camus. Art and Morals


Albert Camus: In search of morals



Literary beginnings:


Wrong Side and the Right Side and Nuptials



The Stranger's art form



Art as an answer to the absurd



The absurd is not the end of the matter: The Myth of Sisyphus



Thefightagainst disaster: The Plague



Morals und revolt



The history of revolt



Art as a moral obligation



The artist and freedom: Summer



The Fall and Exile and

the Kingdom



The Nobel prize



The First Man



Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre











The present work is the first comprehensive survey of the aesthetics of the two exponents of French existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The way was paved for this volume by the author's two monographs. The first, on Sartre, is entitled Von Wols zu Tintoretto, Sartre zwischen Kunst und Philoso- phies 1987; a second, revised edition was published in 1996: Sartre und die Kunst, Die Portratstudien von Tintoretto bis Flaubert and appeared in French in 2001: L'Esthetique de Sartre. Artistes et Intellectuels. The year 2002 witnessed the publication of the second monograph, Albert Camus. Kunst und Moral, which also evoked interest both on a national and international level. Heiner Wittmann then resolved to produce a summary account in English to present this fundamentally new perspective on the oeuvres of two influential 20th- century authors to a wider audience. However, the present study is more than an addition of the two earlier monographs; it is a concentrated account and an analysis of the aesthetics of Sartre und Camus. Expressed as they are in concrete terms and in case-studies, their notions of aesthetics prove to be an elementary medium of the two philosophers' basic philosophical and ideological statements - ones which influenced European thinking in the 20th century.

The Editor



Being the province of freedom, art is superior to all ideologies and thus to poli- tics, too. In their works on art, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus express this conviction both clearly and subtly. In writing on aesthetics, Sartre set out to unite philosophy and literature. One finds this confirmed when examining his numerous portraits of a range of artists, from Baudelaire through Tintoretto to Flaubert. As regards Camus, his reflections on aesthetics are centred on the creative relationship between litera- ture, art and philosophy. Using art as his foundation, he developed his ideas on revolt as an answer to man's absurd situation in the world. Nowadays, Sartre is usually viewed in connection with his unsuccessful po- litical involvement, while Camus, as numerous interpretations of The Stranger continue to demonstrate, is often equated with the concept of absurdity. In both cases this amounts to an oversimplification of the authors' ideas and works, sometimes even to the point of falsification. A careful look at Camus' works shows that he by no means concluded that the absurd is the pessimistic purpose of life; indeed, he actually derives from the absurd an obligation towards art. Sartre meanwhile, by analysing the works of both visual artists and writers, shows how they left their mark on their own times, yet at the same time tran- scended them. He seeks to explain that man'sfreedom,as defined in Being and Nothingness, is an important precondition of art. It is the close link between art and philosophy in Sartre's works, rather than his political ideas, that will ensure his oeuvre's lasting significance. Likewise, art and freedom also permit us to recognise the continuity of thought - beyond all inconsistencies in his ideas - that runs through Sartre's entire work.l Art andfreedomare also the pivotal as- pects of Camus' works. If his concept of freedom is not understood, his oeu- vre's aesthetic content will be overlooked. In a conversation on art in 1978, Sartre mentioned his intention of writing a theoretical work on aesthetics, 2 and in February 1950 Albert Camus noted in his diary the idea of writing a book on art, in which to summarise his reflections on aesthetics.3 Neither of them put his plan into effect. Sartre instead wrote a large number of artist portraits, in which he investigated the artists' relationships to their works. In these studies he developed an aesthetics, central to which is the question of man'sfreedom.As regards Camus, an analysis of his works enables

' With its more than 120 new publications, a ten-day international colloquium in Cerisy-la- Salle and many conferences throughout the world, the Sartre Year 2005 confirmed the con- tinuing interest in Sartre's work, with a particular focus still on his philosophy. 2 Sartre, M. Sicard, Penser Part. Entretien, in: Obliques 24/25, Nyons: Editions Borderie, p. 15. J Camus, Notebooks 1942-1951. Translated by J. O'Brien. New York: Marow & Company, 1995, p. 243.


us to recognise his conception of the autonomy of art, with which he countered the ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. The tasks that both authors assign to the artist and the intellectual enable us to recognise a remarkable consensus of opinion, in comparison with which their personal quarrel over The Rebel in 1952, which led to the break-up of theirfriendship,pales into insignificance. In the literature on Sartre and Camus, the role of art is usually only dealt with in a somewhat marginal manner or not at all. 4 In contrast to this, the pre- sent study focuses very much on the meaning and function of aesthetics in their works. My enquiry into aesthetics in Sartre's oeuvre was originally written in 1987, while my essay on art in Albert Camus' works was effectively a continuation o f the work on Sartre.5 In 2006, the editor of the series Dialogues/Dialoghi. Lit- eratur und Kultur Frankreichs und Italiens, Dirk Hoeges, offered to have the central theses of the two texts published in an English version, thus uniting in a revised form the main results of the monographs on Sartre and Camus. The pre- sent volume represents the first comprehensive study of the role and function of art in the works o f these two leading French and European intellectuals, arguing that there is much common ground between them. It also underlines the continu- ity of my intellectual exchange with Professor Dirk Hoeges over the past thirty years, for which I am much indebted to him.

4 G. H. Bauer's study, Sartre and the Artist, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1969, is an exception in this respect. 5 Detailed references, especially to the secondary literature, are to be found in my two earlier investigations and are not repeated here: H. Wittmann, Von Wols zu Tintoretto. Sartre zwischen Kunst und Philosophie, Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 1987; the work on Sartre and art is based on the extended version o f a doctoral thesis, accepted by the Philosophical Fac- ulty of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat in Bonn in the winter semester 1986/87. The book was extended by a further chapter ("L'intellectuel est un suspect") in 1996: ditto, Sartre und die Kunst. Die Portrdtstudien von Tintoretto bis Flaubert, Tubingen:

Gunter Narr, 1996. In 2001 a French translation was published: ditto, L'esthetique de Sar- tre. Artistes et intellectuels (Collection L'ouverture philosophique). Translated from Ger- man by N. Weitemeier and J. Yacar. Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 2001. Ditto, Albert Ca- mus. Kunst und Moral, Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 2002. Further bibliographical refe- rences are to be found at the author's website: www.romanistik.info/sartre-camus.html.

Sartre and the arts


"The great whole reveals itself in an unending number of circles; all the elements move in circles, the water proves it. The world exists through its rhythms."

Wols 1

1. Wols and the blue phantom

In 1963, Jean-Paul Sartre encountered the artist Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze 2 (Wols, for short) in Paris and wrote the foreword for an exhibition catalogue of Wols' water colours and drawings. In this foreword, which amounts to a portrait of the artist, Sartre not only analysed the artist's works, he also employed the basic concepts he had developed in his own philosophical investigations. In almost all of his artist portraits Sartre examines specific topics. In the case of Andre Masson, he focuses on myths; in Flaubert's, he was concerned with the many different approaches towards interpreting literary aesthetics; in Stephane Mallarme's, he was interested in the poetry and history of literature in the Second French Empire. Here, in Wols' case, he seizes the opportunity to demonstrate how well his own philosophical tenets could be applied to the analysis of art. In doing so, Sartre speaks more of his own philosophy than of Wols' art. Yet he does give instructions on how to understand art and trains the eye of the viewer, who might perhaps be standing in front of Wols' "The blue phantom" in the Wallraff-Richartz Museum in Cologne. Because of its exem- plary nature, the Wols study has been placed at the beginning of the present work. Later chapters in the first part of this book will present different aspects of the theory of portraiture with which Sartre analyses the relation between art- ists and their works. According to Sartre, Wols' pictures of large numbers of people depict indi- viduals who do not appear to relate to one another. In his descriptions of these pictures Sartre explains how in his view the artist is attempting to insert a third dimension. This third dimension, which exists in the viewer's imagination alone, is a trick used by the artist. Sartre draws on it to illustrate how one is to understand the relationship between reality and the artist. This involves the question of mediation. What does the artist see and how does he transfer his ideas to the work? By answering such questions, Sartre is trying to obtain an in- sight into the artist's powers of imagination.


Wols (A. O. W. Schulze), Cites et Navires [exhibition catalogue, 15 May-30 June 1964], Paris: Michel Couturier et Cie, 1964, no page no. (quotation translated by C. Atkinson). Cf. Sartre, Doigts et non-doigts, in: ditto, Situations, IV. Portraits, Paris: Gallimard, 1964, p. 408-434.

Cf. Sartre parle

, interview by Y. Buin, in: Clarte, no. 55, Paris, Union des etudiants


Wols' small images of towns such as "Soleil sur la ville deserte" 4 (1948) in- terweave the areas of the house walls with those of the roofs and the open shut- ters that look out onto the numerous town squares. Although the pictures seem to capture an observation just made, the play with perspective becomes recog- nisable on closer inspection, reminding us of cubist forms: sometimes one sees the sharply defined edges of houses, while at other times these same edges form the outline of a room into which the viewer's gaze is directed. With Sartre's reference to 'totalisation' we encounter another topic of the portraiture study that derives from his philosophy. 'Totalisation' defines the re- lationship between painter and object, but at the same time both painter and ob- ject embody entities themselves, such that each represents a 'totalisation' inde- pendently of the other. The object, like the painter, reveals itself through its functional relationship to the world. In describing individual objects Sartre shows their relation to the picture's overall composition. In connection with this description Sartre mentions the 'universal singular': a dialectical approach used to determine the effect of art and the role of artists. The relationship of 'the individual to the whole' is a further topic in the art- ist portrait, and one which is taken up by Sartre in his discussion of Wol's pic- ture "Circus", which is subtitled "Prise de vues et projection simultanees" 5 . Sar- tre understands "Circus" as an illustration of the idea of the painter Paul Klee (1879-1940), who shows in his book The Thinking Eye 6 how a shape is formed in the eye. Here the various lines run together and build a synthesis, in a way that an object's physical aspect can hardly present. The parallels Sartre draws between Wols and Klee are an opportunity to introduce notions that relate to his own philosophical works. None of the works by Wols or Klee shows the au- thor's or the world's 'being' one-sidedly as an object. 7 Sartre illustrates the metaphysical attitude adopted by Wols with an idea that is reminiscent of the following idea from Being and Nothingness (1943): in art, it is also a question of seeing what is, what exists, and at the same time of discovering one's own nature in the Being of the Other; and since seeing is identical with being, the otherness will only appear to one's own inner otherness. This observation is connected with Sartre's attempt to establish a reader-response criticism, which engages the viewer of a work of art in completing the work. 8 With the term of the 'other', Sartre introduces the idea of relating the outward forms of Being to one another with the help of the viewer, or rather the Other, who in Being and

Cf. Wols, Soleil sur la ville deserte, 20.5*14.7 cm, 1948, in: ditto, Cites et Navires. Cf. Sartre, Doigts et non-doigts, p. 415. Cf. P. Klee, Notebooks, Volume 1, The Thinking Eye. Translated by R. Mannheim, Wood- stock. New York: The Overlook Press, 1961, p. 67. Cf. for the following: Sartre, Doigts et non-doigts, p. 417—419. Ditto, What is Literature? Translated by B. Frechtman. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 36 f.


Nothingness is given the role of the mediator 9 . The centrality of this idea in the portrait study of Wols leads to a discussion of the painter's relationship to the depicted objects, thus pointing to the problematic nature of 'Being' as a further topic in the study. Being is also one of the main questions in Being and Noth- ingness: the 'Being' of phenomena cannot be divided up into phenomena of Be- ing, yet the relationship between these and the 'Being' of phenomena has to be explained. Until 1940 Wols worked along the principle of the 'otherness of Being'. The objects received their meaning from the presence of other objects, which in turn did not necessarily disclose their Being. But there were recognisable refer- ence points that offer the eye guidance. At first Wols drew 'towns', animals', 'humans' and 'plants'; later their functions changed. Before 1940 he conceals the nature of the things in his pictures, now he shows their nature and only inti- mates the objects themselves. The result is that the viewer is involved more strongly - a factor that, in this study of Wols, Sartre uses to recall how he had

presented his concept of

The experience that the nature of things conveys to Wols lets him portray the world in a way that one would not normally encounter. The aquarelle "Nombril du monde" 1 !, shown in the London exhibition in 1985, contains vari- ous round forms drawn with thin strokes of the pen. They suggest figures and faces and construct different levels that can be distinguished from one another. In contrast, in the "Circus Wols" 12 , roughly two years earlier, the various peo- ple played exactly defined roles as lookers-on, musicians or clowns.

the 'look' 10 in Being and Nothingness.

by Wols between 1942

and 1945. Here, Sartre suggests that beams of differing sizes in changing shades of red are suggestive of an obstacle. The way the beams are interwoven and the intense colour intimate a construction reminiscent of chaos and destruction rather than stability. At first glance "The large burning barrier" is remarkable on account of its well arranged use of space, which is in sharp contrast to the pre- vious period's numerous curves and interruptions. One is also struck by the dy- namism of Sartre's description: it lets the reader participate in his careful obser- vation and imparts a gradual understanding. The picture's subject is of a reddish

"The large burning barrier"! 3 is an aquarelle created

9 Cf. for the following: Sartre, Being and Nothingness. An Essay on Phenomenological On- tology. Translated by H. E. Barnes. London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2003, p. 258, p 5. ' 0 Cf. the chapter of the same name, in: Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 276-326. 11 Wols, Nombril du monde, Aquarell and Tuschfeder, 25.2x19 cm, in: ditto, Drawings and Water-Colours. Zeichnungen und Aquarelle. Edited by E. Rathke. Exhibition in the Goethe Institute, London, 17 May-29 June 1985, London: Goethe-Institut, 1985, ill. 14, p. 41.



Wols, Zirkus Wols, Aquarell and Tuschfeder, 24x31 cm, in: ditto, Drawings, ill. 2, p. 27.

Cf. for the following: Sartre, Doigts et non-doigts, p. 426 ff. Wols, La Grande Barriere qui brule, encre de chine, aquarelle et gouache, 22x16 cm, E. Fischer Collection, Krefeld, in:


colour, and represents painted wood that might depict a lattice fence. In the lower part of the picture lie further trunks, which appear unnecessary. The first impression evaporates; it is the movement, intruding upon the eye, that actually effects the change. The angles of the elements to one another and the shadows contribute to an undeniable unity, which forces one to see the substance's unity:

the work of art features rocky and wooden elements, and the motionless Being of matter is thus all that remains. Sartre suggests 'transubstantiation' and the 'compression of Being' as vague possibilities for interpreting the picture's subject matter: perhaps it is a one-legged person or a crucifixion with two or threes crosses. Such assumptions are dismissed again, and the explanation of the whole appears impossible. De- spite much effort no unity is recognisable. But it is precisely the details that show themselves to be part of a whole - a totality that despite its absence is om- nipresent at the heart of the picture. Being reveals itself at once; its virulence is too much for the frame, as Sartre graphically expresses it. This Being is at first inexistent, then the picture's emptiness changes, because the look itself, as al- ready hinted at, actually becomes a part of the picture with all the concomitant conclusions. By relinquishing words and turning to abstract painting the painter finds a new perspective in his work. Sartre understands it as a chance for painting to distinguish itself successfully from literature. This simply leaves Wols with a writing bereft of characters or letters - one generally termed fine or beautiful. * 4 Its dissociation from literature emphasises the importance of the beautiful, which characterises here the unity of the individual and the whole. In What is Literature? Sartre refused to concede to the painter the possibil- ity of becoming committed. He discusses at length the distinctions between the painter's position and that of the author, and since these reflections are placed at the beginning of his manifesto on literature, he assigns them the status of defini- tions: notes, colours and shapes are not signs, because they refer to nothing that is connected with anything else.1 5 The painter is mute; he shows something, and the viewer is free to see in it what he wants. A sound or a colour does not have any inherent meaning, because here the meaning itself is sound or colour. This definition is in agreement with the artist's intention not to paint signs. In- stead, the artist places the colours next to each other. Taken on its own, such combinations of colours have no meaning that necessarily refers to another ob- ject. This conclusion is not itself meant as a devaluation of painting; for the viewer, it opens up various ways of understanding the work. The yellow sky over Golgotha painted by Tintoretto is not a sign of fear, Sartre explains, it is a fear that has been made into an object. Fear and its connection with the object in

4 Sartre, Doigts et non-doigts, p. 433. 5 Cf. for the following: ditto, What is Literature?, p. 1-4.


Wols' picture are to be understood in the same sense: the object is Being, just like fear or an idea, but materially it is an aquarelle that only refers to itself. "The blue phantom" (1951), one of Wols' last pictures, did not derive its ti- tle from the colour of the phantom. It is not blue at all, it is black. It has five pink dots that look like eyes, and their background colour lets the black object stand out from the blue background. This surround, which has lent the object its name, is not uniform. Lines of contrasting colour suggest a movement, that, very similar to Monet's water lilies in the Orangery in Paris, reminds one of ruf- fled water. In this artist portrait Sartre does not want to present a definite result; he provides stimuli that the viewer will remember when standing in front of "The blue Phantom". He does not dictate or even suggest how one should analyse Wols' pictures; he merely indicates possible approaches. A visit to the museum shows that Sartre's method of analysing art with the help of his philosophical concepts is convincing, not only in the case of Wols' works. The reconstruction of this method - one that enables Sartre to fathom out how art was produced and determine its effect - is the object of the present study.



From the portrait studies to theory


Art and freedom

Sartre's concept of art is closely connected with his interpretation of freedom in Being and Nothingness. In his first large philosophical enquiry he explains the notion of freedom by pointing to the difference between the planning of a pro- ject (of whatever kind) and its realisation. Every project's intention is free, even when confronted with its outcome. This outcome or result, when it emerges, is by no means pre-determined or inevitable. 1 Sartre transfers this postulate of complete freedom to art itself. The artist employs his freedom to create works of art; but the task of interpreting them is left to their recipients. The only dictate conveyed by art is that of freedom. And only by using his freedom can the re- cipient make something of the work of art and surpass it. One can accuse Sartre of many mistakes, but he never questioned the connection between art and free- dom, which he regarded as indissoluble. In his aesthetics Sartre aims to take into consideration the references made by literature to all other arts and he maintains that aesthetics claims to be com- prehensive rather than normative. The artist first realises his freedom through the work of art; it is free because it is created outside of nature. 2 Literature oc- cupies a special position here, because it expresses itself through signs and can- not represent a symbolic whole divorced of meaning. All other arts can repre- sent an object in its totality aesthetically. With this in mind, we should also re- member the distinction Sartre had already made in What is Literature? in 1947 between the beauty of nature and the beauty created in art. Art serves no pur- pose; in this respect he is in agreement with Kant. Art is an end in itself. 3 Here, Sartre questions Kant's notion of disinterested pleasure, on the grounds that it cannot explain the relationship between the work of art and its viewer. Kant be- lieves that the work exists first, and only then is it seen. For Sartre, works of art do not exist until they are looked at. 4 In his foreword to the exhibition catalogue on Robert Lapoujade he extends the definition of beauty by reflecting on paint- ing as a medium and shows how every work demands of the eye or of the viewer that it be reconstructed. 5 This accords with Being and Nothingness, where Sartre had already defined beauty as a value, the essential nature of

Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 455-503, esp. p. 484 f. Sartre, Sicard, Penser Tart, in: Obliques 24/25, p. 16. Cf. Sartre, What is Literature?, p. 42.


York: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 90: "§ 2. The satisfaction that determines the judgment of taste is without any interest."

Cf. Sartre, Le peintre sans privileges, in: ditto, Situations, IV, p. 364-386, p. 370 ff.

Kant, Critique of the power

of judgment. Translated by P. Guyer and E. Matthews. New


which is only revealed by the viewer's repeated efforts to understand it. Beauty

is implicitly recognisable as being a part of things by its perceived absence. 6 In What is Literature? Sartre reminds one of the advent of a work of art: as

a new event it cannot be explained by anterior circumstances and appeals exclu-

sively to the reader's freedom, inviting him to collaborate in its production. 7 This connection between his philosophical oeuvre and a remark on aesthet- ics in his artist portraits explains here by way of example the portraits' impor- tance as "concretisations of Sartre's basic philosophical ideas". 8 While a realis- tic work can reveal a certain amount of truth, Sartre writes, it nonetheless ad- dresses the reader's imagination, precisely because the work is evoking some- thing that does not exist or is absent. 9 Because they are created in the sphere of freedom, a book and work of art appeal to their recipients' own freedom - an appeal that demands of them that they complete the work, that they pass univer- sal judgement in the sense of an aesthetic evaluation, while at the same time challenging them to surpass the work. 10 Man is being addressed here as a free being, and Sartre is developing here the aesthetic distance, H which takes into account the reader's disposition, not placing him under obligation, but rather presenting him with a task in the sense of an invitation.l 2 In Sartre's aesthetics, art is given a particular function: it points the way into the future, it anticipates something by revealing what a human being can one day make of himself, of his life or of his work and even of the world. The appeal is a product of the work of art's autonomy.

Sartre interprets freedom as the state of being condemned: "To be free is to be condemned to be free." 13 At the basis of this destiny lies the link between nothingness and freedom as man's continual 'project' (projet). This project, which is constantly aimed at the future, constitutes man's very nature. A human being is never sufficient unto himself, as the saying goes. He is always sepa-

6 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 218.

7 Cf. for the following: ditto, What is Literature?, p. 40.

8 The term is taken from D. Hoeges, Jean-Paul Sartre, in: Kritisches Lexikon der romani- schen Gegenwartsliteraturen (KLRG). Ed. by W.-D. Lange. Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 1984. 9 Cf. for the following: Sartre parle, interview by Y. Buin, in: Clarte, no. 55, p. 42 f.

1 0 Cf. Sartre, The Responsibility of the Writer, in: Reflections on our age. Lectures Delivered at the opening session of UNESCO at the Sorbonne, Paris. New York: Columbia Univer- sity Press, Morningside Heights, 1949, p. 67-83, here p. 73 f.

1 1 As in this lecture, Sartre also expounded on the meaning of "recul esthetique" in What is Literature?, p. 43 ff, p. 49. Cf. H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method. Translated by J. Wein- sheimer and D. G. Marshall. Second, revised edition, New York: Continuum, 1989, p. 295:

"The true locus of hermeneutics is this in-between."

12 Cf. Sartre, The Responsibility of the Writer, p. 72.

1 3 Ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 152. Cf. compare Sartre's explanation in: ditto, Note- books for an Ethics. Translated by D. Pellauer. Chicago, London: The University Press, 1993, p. 330 f. Cf. Y. Salzmann, Sartre et I'authenticite. Vers une ethique de la bienveil- lance reciproque, Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2000, p. 11-106.


rated from his own past and from the future by nothingness. Even the present existence is annihilation "sous la forme du 'reflet-refletant'". So the conclusion reads: "Human reality is free because it is not enough"^ With his concept of freedom, which he equates with the "autonomy of choice" 15 , Sartre develops in Being and Nothingness the absolute claim that he attributes to freedom. In 1468, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola had had some- thing similar in mind in his oration On the dignity of man, when he let the crea- tor of man say: "In conformity with thy free judgment, in whose hands I have placed thee, thou art confined by no bounds; and thou wilt fix limits o f nature for thyself." 16 In this sense French existentialism as coined by Sartre links up with a Renaissance concept formulated by Pico della Mirandola, who explains the responsibility one has for one's actions - attributed to man alone - with his freedom, even if in doing so he, Pico, departs from the Christian 'weltbild'. For his statement he has no less a guarantor than God himself, who announces to man that he is neither mortal nor immortal: "Thou, like a judge appointed for being honorable, art the molder and maker of thyself; thou mayest sculpt thyself into whatever shape thou dost prefer." Humans have to make a choice: "Thou canst grow downward into the lower natures which are brutes. Thou canst again grow upward from thy soul's reason into the higher natures which are divine". In this manner Pico della Mirandola had already linked freedom inseparably with the condition of man. The relationship to the Other is a determining factor of freedom, for human reality demands to be both for-oneself and for-others. 17 The dependence on the Other as a fundamental reality is demonstrated in Being and Nothingness by the analysis of the 'look'. Sartre illustrates this with the story of the eavesdropper at the door, who at the sound of approaching footsteps feels he has been caught and seen in the act. 18 The relations to the other person are transferred to the act of viewing a work of art. Just as someone is restricted by someone else in his movements, the work of art as a material form of the 'look' likewise influences the viewer's reactions. The mutual dependence of freedom and situation that Sartre calls 'the paradox of freedom' appears as an extension of the idea of the 'situation', and explains the conditions of the 'choice'. 19 The 'situation' is de- fined by the contingency of freedom in the world and by the goal determined in the choice. Thus a decision can never be dictated by the cause or matter at hand, for this can only become the motive, when one has attributed a purpose to it.

4 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 462.

5 Cf. op. cit., p. 505. " For the following: G. Pico della Mirandola, On the Dignity of Man. Translated by Ch. G.




Wallis. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hacket Publishing Company, Inc. (1965), 1998, p. 5.

Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 306.

Op. cit., p. 284, 276-306.

Cf. op. cit., p. 509 ff.


This mutual dependence of the terms is summarised by equating situation and motivation. Commitment or involvement (engagement) is thus defined as an

important element of consciousness. Every situation always belongs to one per-

son in particular: "

singularity of his situation confronts a person with a choice, which by being equated with human reality points to the correlation of freedom and responsibil- ity. This is shown on stage by performing borderline situations, in which the choice confirms its outstanding significance. The connection with the title of his volume on situations, in which he collected political articles and interviews, is manifest. The applicability of the concept of 'choice', with which Sartre investigates the emergence of artistic interests, is a topic in Sartre's study of Stephane Mal- larme. 21 One's relationship with the world is not pre-determined, it has to be lived. Sartre calls this existence, which he equates with transcending or surpass- ing contingency, the 'praxis', which includes stepping beyond a situation. With the concept of choice 22 Sartre announces his intention to reconstruct the artist's choices by interpreting the latter's works. It is precisely this aim that motivates Sartre's study of individual biographies in his artist portraits. In a lecture at the Sorbonne on 1 November 1946, on the occasion of the foundation of UNESCO, he criticises the idea that a work of art does not entail an obligation on the part of the artist, equating this with reverting back to the irresponsibility of the writer, 23 against which he vigorously protests. There is no art without responsi- bility, just as there is no freedom without responsibility, one might add. Sartre understands the creation o f a work of art as an autonomous act - one that re- veals its contrasts and opposites and is not simply a logical outcome of other laws. The freedom within which the work emerges justifies the author in claim- ing freedom for himself. This freedom also has to be conceded to the reader, otherwise the reader would not be in the position to form his own aesthetic opi- nion.

The Flaubert study, The Family Idiot (1970/71), complements the theore- tical reflections Sartre had already set down in What is Literature? in 1947 by adding a practical approach. He had by no means renounced literature with his Les Mots (1960), as he once intimated. On the contrary, the significance he at- tached to it as a means of artistic expression confirms its outstanding role in his aesthetics. As a consequence, his theory of literature, together with his observa- tions on history, is a further important element of his theory of portraiture.

each person realizes only one situation - his own." 20 The

2 0

Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 571.

21 Ditto, Mallarme, or the Poet ofNothingness. Translated by E. Sturm. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University, 1987.

2 2



ditto, Mallarme, or the Poet of Nothingness, p. 90.

^ Cf. for the following: ditto, The Responsibility of the Writer, p. 71.


2.2. From William II to Flaubert

After having read Guillaume II by Emil Ludwig and La Commune by Albert Ollivier in March 1940, Sartre made a note in his diary about man's role in so- cial eventsl: a topic that would later appear in each of his portrait studies. While reading Guillaume II Sartre began to take an interest in developing a portrait of him. In his war diaries there are passages that contain sketches for a portrait of William II and references to the method that formed the basis of his portraiture technique. 2 In this case it only concerns "an example for a method" and not the historical truth. Emil Ludwig himself explains in his preface that his book dealt with neither the epoch nor the history of the Emperor, it was purely a portrait of William II. In his portrait sketch of the Emperor, Sartre mentions terms that in Being and Nothingness will prove to be the foundation of his philosophy. The heir to the throne's personality is very much determined by the perspective of obtaining the crown. So Sartre embarks on interpreting the dimension of the future, for which he will later provide theoretical reasoning in the corresponding chapter "Temporality" 3 in Being and Nothingness. The perspective of things to come determines the individual's position, so the future itself, as Sartre might express it, is part of the facticity that is constitutive for consciousness (the "pour-soi" or "for-itself). One finds a similar parallel between the portrait of William II and the analy- ses in Being and Nothingness in the description of William IPs "mauvaise foi" (bad faith or dishonesty), which William is supposed to have developed due to his handicap. The attempt to cover up this handicap at every opportunity has consequences of a both personal and political nature, for his dishonesty de- mands, as Sartre expresses it, the dishonesty of his subjects on the basis of di- vine right. Bad faith then becomes a key concept in Being and Nothingness, for it is by means of bad faith that the meaning of nothingness is explained. A hu- man being can under certain circumstances negate something with the aim of evading it. The interdependence of these two factors - dishonesty and the future - gives rise to the concept of 'choice'; Sartre equates this with annihilation, in the sense that the decision for one option cancels out others. Indeed, he intends to establish an overall context within which various facts in someone's life for which no common ground can be ascertained are linked by concepts such as

Sartre, Lettres au Castor et a quelques autres. Edited by S. de Beauvoir. Vol. II, 1940-1963, Paris: Gallimard, 1983, p. 119 f. Cf. E. Ludwig, Guillaume II, Paris: Simon Kra, 1927,


Ollivier, La Commune (1871), Paris: Gallimard, 1939.


for the following: Sartre, The War Diaries. November 1939 - March 1940. Translated by


Hoare. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 315-319.


choice, dishonesty, situation and contingency. Thus his artist portraits, though also dealing with individual aspects, take on the character of a synthesis. In his War diaries Sartre criticises reducing a multidimensional explanatory model to a one-dimensional one, which derives a supposed totality from one event. 4 The interpreter should rather adapt the analysis to the different circum- stances, in order to grasp someone's totality and thus the sum of his possibili- ties.

As early as 1938, in Nausea, Sartre had described this manner of under- standing one's own possibilities in the portrait of Roquentin. Roquentin reports how he observed the guests in the Brasserie Vezelise while reading Balzac's "Eugenie Grander". One man was drumming a march on the table. No-one was speaking. Silence seemed to be the guests' normal state. Only occasionally did they say something; 5 otherwise they were simply there. All were evidently de- pendent on the company of the others to be able to exist at all.

It is only when Roquentin, in the public park beneath a chestnut tree, dis- covers existence in its facticity as a feeling of revulsion, of nausea, that he fath- oms out 'contingency'. Everything around him is devoid of meaning, and the people do not even understand that they are superfluous. He asks in disbelief whether one can justify one's own existence, breaks off his sojourn and decides to embark on writing a new book. Later, in his various portrait studies, Sartre will continue to develop the method which enables the behaviour and the possibilities open to each individ- ual in society to be analysed and interpreted. Among the artist portraits one finds the study of Baudelaire in the shape of a foreword 6 , the two works on Ste-

phane Mallarme 7 , which are a

continuation of the Jean Genet study 8 that ap-

peared in 1952 titled Saint Genet: Comedien et martyr, and the study of Gus- tave Flaubert. The decision to take up writing and the realisation of such a pro- ject are derived, in the case of Baudelaire, Genet and Flaubert, from formative influences in their childhood.

The unusual kind of interpretation that Sartre presented in his foreword to Baudelaire's Ecrits intimes in 1946 provoked criticism. The study is related al- most exclusively to those statements of Baudelaire that confirm a theoretical position previously formulated by Sartre. In Being and Nothingness Sartre first describes his idea of transcendence and combines it with a fundamental critique:

4 Cf. for the following: Sartre, The War Diaries. November 1939 - March 1940, p. 294, 303 f.

5 Cf. for the following: ditto, Nausea. Translated by R. Baldick. London: Penguin Books, (1963) 2000, p. 75-80 , 187 f., 251-253 . 6 Ditto, Baudelaire. A Critical Study. Translated by M. Turnell. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1967.

7 Ditto, Mallarme (1842-1898), in: Situations, IX, Politique et autobiographic, Paris: Galli- mard, 1976, p. 191-201; ditto, Mallarme, or the Poet ofNothingness. ° Ditto, Saint Genet. Actor and Martyr. Translated by B. Frechtman. New York: George Bra- ziller, 1963.


people do not take into consideration the circumstances they are constantly tran- scending; they use them to concentrate on the goal they are pursuing. 9 Sartre uses this definition of transcendence in the foreword as a criterion for assessing Baudelaire. Admittedly, the outcome is more oriented to Sartre's philosophy than to the artist's actual life. The description of Baudelaire's choice simply un- derscores the fact that authors and artists only play minor roles in the artist por- traits. The original choice that Baudelaire had made for himself corresponds to the absolute commitment made by everyone who decides in a particular situa- tion what he or she will be. 10 No individual can evade a choice. This choice is placed in close connection with the three dimensions of time - past, present and future - which are not to be separated from one another, since they form a syn- thesis. 11 This idea bears itself out in the case of Baudelaire, who is constantly torn between options, and indeed for anyone one cares to study: a human is al- ways something else. 12 According to Sartre's hypothesis, Baudelaire elevated his feeling of having been abandoned when his mother remarried in 1828 to his "original choice" ("choix originel"). This is also true of Roquentin. 13 With such observations of a general nature, Sartre recalls his idea of a person's life as being the expression of that person's choice and poses the provocative question of whether Baude- laire actually deserved his life. The question is transferred to humans in general. Perhaps they only have the life they deserve? 14 Baudelaire's creative freedom derived from nothing. Its contingency and lack of reason make it appear super- fluous. The artist can only create something new out of contingency, which is to say, out of both nothingness and the impossibility of justifying oneself. Autonomous existence becomes a condition of his art. This feature of creative work in fact becomes a criterion for Sartre when selecting the protagonists of his artist portraits. Moreover, criteria such as independence and novelty are also valid for Sartre's own work. Voltaire's characterisation of the homme de lettres as the flying fish that is always in danger of being attacked in the water or in the air is evidence of a tradition of the French Enlightenment that Sartre contin- ues. 15

Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 102 f. Cf. ditto, Baudelaire. A Critical Study, p. 18. Cf. ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 130. Ditto, Baudelaire, p. 18. Ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 58 f.

Cf. ibid: ditto, Baudelaire. A Critical Study, p. 18: "The abrupt revelation of his individual

existence made him feel that he was another person

Cf. ditto, Baudelaire. A Critical Study, p. 16. Voltaire, Lettres, Gens de lettres ou Lettres, in: Dictionnaire philosophique. Edited by R. Naves. Paris: Classiques Gamier, 1961, (p. 271 ff.), esp. p. 273, cited in D. Hoeges, Aujk- larung and die List der Form. Zur Zeitschrift "// Caffe" and zur Strategic italienischer and franzosischer Aujklarung, Krefeld: Scherpe, 1978, p. 11 f. (English edition: Voltaire,



The definition of the man of letters as someone who is constantly exposed to hostilities and has to guard against attempts to monopolise him from all quar- ters, is also true of the author. Sartre was conscious of the efforts to monopolise him, as the generalising remarks in the portrait study of Baudelaire demonstrate. In Being and Nothingness the observation that the story of someone's life is al- ways the story of a defeat serves Sartre as an occasion to introduce the "coeffi- cient of adversity in things"! 6 , which measures the resistance with which a thing opposes a wish someone has expressed. Sartre's analysis of Stephane Mallarme, an English teacher from Tournon - published as a fragment: Mallarme, or the Poet of Nothingness - provides the opportunity for a further investigation into how an author manages to assert his opinions in the face of his readers. As with Flaubert and Tintoretto, Mallarme succeeded in transcending his own times by creating something new on the ba- sis of his uncompromising attitude. In this study Sartre deals with Mallarme's relationship to his times and with his success as a poet, expressing his convic- tion that Mallarme's strategy of unshakeability was his own decision. The study searches for reasons for the Mead' Mallarme had over other poets, concluding with the following questions: which method should dictate the manner of the enquiry - dialectical materialism or psychoanalysis? Can the two approaches complement one another, even though they are mutually exclusive? These ques- tions show that Sartre connects the Mallarme study with ideas on method by weighing up the benefits of a psychoanalytic interpretation against those of a Marxist one. 17 The first part of the fragment of the Mallarme study examines how the fall of the monarchy in February 1848 changed the conditions of bourgeois exis- tence. With the fall of both God and man, the poets lost two of their traditional topics. 18 Without religion every moral was gone and the social hierarchy too. What else did the bourgeoisie have? The poets reacted immediately: their anger was terrible, 19 Sartre writes. One of them, Leconte de Lisle, read the sign of the times; he did not rebel and did not criticise what had happened. He just made notes and played along. Sartre's contempt for Leconte de Lisle 20 is politically motivated, because the latter is supposed to have become involved with the bourgeoisie and just faked his unsuccessful behaviour as a poet. Sartre succeeds

Philosophical Dictionary, Part 2, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003, Men of Let- ters II. Band, II, p. 110).

16 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 504.

1 ' Ditto, Mallarme, or the Poet ofNothingness, p. 87.


Cf. for the following: ditto, op. cit., p. 19-20.

1 9 C f ditto, op. cit., p. 21.

2 0 Cf. for the following: ditto, The Family Idiot. Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857. Translated by

C. Cosman. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press, 1993, vol. V, p. 320-394. Cf.

M. Sicard, "Le Continent Flaubert," in: ditto, Essais sur Sartre. Entretiens avec Sartre (1975-1979), Paris: Editions Galilee 1989, p. 59-181.


in reconstructing Leconte de Lisle's development by showing his disappoint- ment after 1848. By contrasting him with his contemporary, Flaubert, who re- acted differently, Sartre concludes that with his nervous breakdown in 1844 Flaubert was actually anticipating the general objective neurosis that in Sartre's opinion many authors and artists suffered in France after 1848/52. The novel- like features of the Flaubert study and its fictional elements become apparent when Sartre speculates on whether Flaubert was pursuing his own plans or whether he modified his plans on account of the changed political situation. The longish portraits within the Flaubert study that are devoted to Leconte de Lisle and his friend Le Poittevin demonstrate how Sartre checks his results against research into the works of other artists and in doing so continues to de- velop his method of portraiture. His criticism of the poets in the salons of Le- conte de Lisle and Nina de Villard is devastating. Not one of them was able to integrate the contradictory aspects of his situation, 2 ! and every attempt at ex- change among the poets came to nothing. The poets and writers developed their own strategies and made the idea of writing poetry into their one and only refer- ence point. A novel's superiority to its author - a notion mentioned in Sartre's inter- view with Madeleine Chapsal - corresponds to the task that a work of art sets its viewer. Sartre's study of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is based on these initial considerations. The principles applied in The Family Idiot reveal that it is only here that Sartre's aesthetics is actually established: by being put into prac- tice. The hypothesis reads: Gustave Flaubert chose the imaginary as an opportu- nity to turn the destiny he had been given in his youth on account of his up- bringing into the starting point of his career. 22 In this sense The Family Idiot is a continuation of The Imaginary. 23 The Family Idiot examines the fundamental problem of the relationship be- tween the author and his own day by asking whether Flaubert's 'neurosis' might be connected with his times. Flaubert thus becomes an 'example' for Sartre, as were the other artists 24 , because this portrait study is likewise not intended as a biography. On the basis of its results, Sartre hopes to contribute insights into how an individual develops into a personality. The neurosis is a hypothesis with which Sartre attempts to establish the prerequisites that enabled Flaubert to write the modern novel Madame Bovary, which for Sartre stands at the heart of

Cf. for the following: Sartre, Mallarme, or the Poet of Nothingness, p. 64 f., p. 67-79 .

Cf. ditto, The Family Idiot. Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857. Translated by C. Cosman. Chi- cago: University of Chicago Press, 1987, vol. II, p. 16. Cf. ditto, The Imaginary. A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination. Translated by J. Webber. London, New York: Routledge, 2005. The term is taken from F. Bondy, cf. ditto, Jean Genet - der Dichter, der sich freischrieb, in: Merkur 347, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1977, p. 347-357.


all our current literary problems. 25 In fact, he cast doubt on the hypothesis that he himself has set up when linking Flaubert's neurosis of 1844 with the defeat of 1848, for Flaubert's readers of 1857 may not have seen the defeat in 1848 as their own, he concludes. 26 He thereby demonstrates that the assertion that a writer expresses his own times is invalid. In doing so, Sartre expressly contra- dicts the 'scientific' studies that Marxism was supposed to have made easier. He is thus protesting against the untenable simplifications of critics who understand a piece of literature as the witness and expression of an epoch and ignore the re- lations between the author and his readers. For Sartre, a work's means of exert- ing influence are a constituent part of his theory of literature. The literary work itself and the readers of the epoch in which it is written constitute a unit. Two perspectives result from this: a book bears witness to an epoch, and at the same time it is a place where a number of generations encounter one another. In his work of literature, the author has to present a synthesis of the two temporal di- mensions by falling short of the reader and at the same time by going ahead of him.

2 5 Cf. Sartre, The Family Idiot. Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857. Translated by C. Cosman. Chi- cago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, vol. IV, p. 249. Cf. for the following: ditto, The Family Idiot. Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857, vol. V, p. 391-394.

2 6


"'What's it all about? Engaged literature? [

] '

What nonsense. They read quickly, badly, and pass judgment before they have understood. So let's begin all over. This doesn't amuse anyone, neither you nor

me. But we have to hit the nail on the head." Sartre, What is Literature? l

"But we must know also that the work never reveals "

the secrets of biography Sartre, The Problem of Method 2

2.3. The work and its readers

Sartre's theory of literature, with which he repeatedly and explicitly objected to every form of the "l'homme et l'ceuvre" method forms the basis of his portrai- ture technique, connecting as it does practical analysis with theoretical reflec- tions. He presented his theory of literature in What is Literature? It is closely connected with his basic philosophical ideas. Just as his early philosophical works influenced his literary works, the latter served again and again as an op- portunity to continue developing his theoretical works. It is only when both authors and readers have finished working on a piece

of work that this piece is completed. Author and reader (or spectator) necessar- ily have to collaborate, for it is only through their joint effort that a work of art becomes recognisable as such. 3 The collaboration between author and reader is based on the acknowledgement of each other's freedom. 4 The feeling that ac- companies and complements the creative process is called by Sartre 'aesthetic



and will only be attained through the reader's contribution, whereby the

. For this reason Sartre is only prepared

work "undergoes an increase in being"


Sartre, What is Literature?, p. XVII f. Ditto, The Problem of Method. Translation by H. E. Barnes, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1963, p. 143. Cf. H. Wittmann, Kunst und Moral, in: P. Knopp, V. von Wroblewsky (eds), Carnets Jean-Paul Sartre, Eine Moral in Situation, Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 200,

p. 159-170.

Ditto, What is Literature?, p. 37: "

dialectical correlative and these two connected acts necessitate two distinct agents. It is the conjoint effort of author and reader which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work o f the mind. There is no art except for and by others." Cf. ditto, The Plea for Intellectuals [Three lectures delivered by Sartre at Tokyo and Kyoto in September and October 1965], in: ditto, Between Existentialism and Marxism. Sartre on Philosophy, Politics and the Arts. Translated by J. Mathews. New York: Pantheon Books, 1975, p. 225-485.

Cf. ditto, What is Literature?, p. 52.

the operation of writing implies that of reading as its

The phrase is taken from H.-G. Gadamer, cf. ditto, Zwischen Phanomenologie and Dialek-

tik, 1985, in: ditto, Hermeneutik II. Wahrheit und Methode (= Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 2),

Erganzungen, Register, Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr

"Even if reading does not amount to reproducing, every text one reads is only realised when

(Paul Siebeck) 2 1993 , p. 3-23 , p. 19 f.:


to ascribe an aesthetic quality to the work if the author in some way loses con- trol over it. 7 The smaller the author's influence, even when writing the work, and the more independent the words become that instruct readers in how to continue the work on their own, the better the book will be and the more its influence will grow. This value judgement underscores the work of art's autonomous character as the product o f a process, for the work of art is something new that anterior data cannot explain. 8 This insight is presented as the logical conclusion of ear- lier observations. The work is only completed by being read, and therefore every artistic and literary work becomes an invitation to the reader and specta- tor. This explains the work's character as an appeal. Sartre introduces the second part of his reasoning with a reversal of the ap- peal in order to be able to define the process of writing better. 9 To write is to make an appeal to the reader: he or she should give the revelation or act of dis- closure that the author has undertaken by means of language an objective exis- tence. Sartre's second condition is the author's subjectivity, which the latter only shows as a possibility by means of his work ("this directed creation" 1°), without being able to attain it on the level of objectivity. In his article on Husserl, Sartre showed in 1939 how Husserl's idea of 'intentionality' was linked with Heidegger's "being-in-the-world" and transferred it to his own idea of depassement (surpassing or transcending): H Being has to be understood as movement, for without movement it will annihilate itself. And this craving to surpass oneself is for Husserl 'intentionality', i.e. the desire to transcend a situa- tion. In his review of Giraudoux's "Choix des elues" 12 , Sartre portrayed tran- scending as a continual choice: in Giraudoux's case the people were not de- pendent on predestination; on the contrary the author shows them in confronta- tion with their destiny. In doing so he succeeds in revealing the nature of a hu- man being as something that comes into being through actions. The message of

it is understood. So for the text to be read one can say that it undergoes an increase in being [Seinszuwachs] that gives the work its full presence." (Translated by C. Atkinson).

7 Cf. in the following: Sartre, What is Literature?, p. 203: "A work is never beautiful unless it in some way escapes its author."

8 Cf. ditto, What is Literature?, p. 39-41.

9 "Reading" and "Writing" are the headings in Sartre, Words. Translated by I. Clephane. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965.

1 0 Ditto,

1 * Ditto, Une idee fondamentale de la phenomenologie de Husserl: L'intentionnalite, in: ditto, Critiques litteraires (Situations, I), Paris : Gallimard, 1947, p. 38^42, p. 40 f.

1 2 Cf. ditto, Jean Giraudoux and the Philosophy of Aristotle, in: Sartre, Literary and Philoso- phical Essays. Translated by A. Michelson. New York: Criterion Books, 1955, p. 42-55.

What is Literature?, p. 40.


the dictum 'existence precedes essence' 13 is anticipated in this review, which at the same time is a portrait of the author and his attitude. Like the study on Baudelaire quoted above, this portrait contains statements that relate more to his philosophy than to Giraudoux's work, because Sartre is repeating here one of his main ideas. Just as a human being realises his nature spontaneously, so too does he choose himself as he is. This results in the responsibility that everyone bear for everyone else. 14 The moral that Sartre attributes to Giraudoux is his own: "Man must freely realize his finite essence, and in so doing, freely harmo- nize with the rest of the world."! 5 With his analysis of "Choix des elues" Sartre recalls the task of giving peo-

ple freedom

tioned at the beginning of the review which the contrast between the artist and his work had often provoked in him. 17 This remark refers here to Giraudoux; but it indicates a principal approach in all of Sartre's artist portraits that leads to

two questions. How does the contrast between the artist and his work arise? And is the artist conscious of the influence his work will exert? The artist por- traits investigate whether an author's life can be explained by analysing his works. The works certainly contain references to the author's life; however, Sar- tre emphasizes, an analysis that restricts itself to searching for insights of this kind will overlook the work's actual aesthetic content, namely the new ideas and perspectives that actually put the reader or viewer in the position to tran- scend this work. So the author's life does not amount to instructions on how to understand a work of art. It is the reader's task to decipher the statement - Sartre calls it here the work's "silence". The writer influences the development of the meaning that the reader recognises, or rather, indirectly makes that meaning accessible to the reader. The meaning does not result from words that are strung together, it is rather an "organic totality" or whole 18 that ensues from them. The judgement of a work depends on what the recipient makes of it for himself. Interpretations of- ten show merely the critic's horizon of thought and not always the work's im- plications. The reader can only transcend the work if he accepts the reading of it as a "guided creative process". In Being and Nothingness^ Sartre argues explicitly against a description of the 'milieu' as an explanatory method. The milieu can only influence someone

if they are to live 16 , referring thus

to the irritation he had men-

1 ^ Cf. Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism. Translated by C. Macomber. New Haven & Lon-

don: Yale University Press, 2007, p. 20.

14 Ditto, Jean Giraudoux and the Philosophy of Aristotle, p. 52.

15 Ditto, op. cit.,p. 53.

16 Ditto, Francois Mauriac and Freedom, in: Sartre, Literary and Philosophical Essays, p. 7 - 23, p. 7 f.

17 Cf. ditto, Jean Giraudoux and the Philosophy of Aristotle, p. 42.

18 Cf. for the following: ditto, What is Literature?, p. 38


to the extent that the person converts it into a 'situation', i.e. makes something of it for him- or herself. But in this sense the milieu cannot explain anything on its own. Nonetheless the milieu deserves a certain amount of attention if one is attempting to ascertain the artist's degree of consciousness and freedom. But Sartre does not simply ask what became of the artists and their lives. The deci- sive questions reads: what did they make of their origins? In What is Litera- ture?, alluding to Taine's milieu theory, he reflects on whether one should not simply take into account a writer's origins as a determining factor. 20 He rejects this option, for the milieu is purely self-referential and therefore has no explana- tory value. In contrast, the public, which Sartre, with reference to his analysis in Being and Nothingness 21 , calls "the Other", is with its expectations and its pos- sibility to transcend a work of art far less static. Sartre always understands writ- ing as an answer to the reading public's expectations and also as transcending a situation. Thus an author's life cannot explain his work, since his origins do not determine the decision, made in a particular situation, to take up writing. The work creates its own milieu. The founder of the reader-response criticism Emile Hennequin had realised this at an early stage, explaining in his Critique scienti- fique that milieus had no existence of their own before the works were cre- ated. 22 Rene Etiemble had criticised the opinion that a writer was immediately caught up in whatever he had started to write about and recalled Pascal's "we

have embarked" 23 in order

ment); this, he thought, was too banal, since it only expresses an obvious human condition. Sartre picks up this criticism of his idea of commitment and recalls that it does not imply a concrete commitment for a particular cause; it means that everyone is involved and at the same time responsible in his situation; no- one can escape. The idea of commitment should not be viewed in isolation within Sartre's theory, because it refers to the writer's responsibility in a situation. It is more controversial than any other concept in his oeuvre, has frequently been misun- derstood and often interpreted as a political concept. In the conversation with Madeleine Chapsal mentioned above Sartre explains that if literature did not en- compass everything, it would not be worth an hour's effort. His concept of commitment is aimed at a kind of literature that encompasses all spheres of hu- man life and society; if literature cannot achieve this then it has no meaning.

to cast doubt on the idea of commitment (engage-




0 Cf. for the following: Sartre, What is Literature?, p. 68 f.

1 Cf. ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 260: "The mediator is the Other."

2 Cf. E. Hennequin, La Critique Scientifique, [Paris 1890]. Edited by D. Hoeges. Heidelberg:

Carl Winter Universitatsverlag, 1982, p. 156: "It is in fact evident that the milieus, far from having shaped the artists, since they have no previous known existence, were actually shaped by them, at the same time as they were producing their works." (Translated by C. Atkinson)


^ For the following: ditto, What is Literature?, p. 89.


Sartre's criticism of those who do not commit themselves is also aimed indi- rectly at the critics, for their consensus or rejection of a work is one way of con- tinuing that work. They make their work easier for themselves if they only read books that stand lined up on a shelf like urns 24 and do not put them at risk when assessing them, since others have already passed judgement. Critics are wary about placing a wager on things that are doubtful; 25 alternatively, their moral judgement had been made before they start reading, for example when they question Rousseau's humanism, knowing of course that he had put his children into an orphanage.

In Sartre's excursion into the history of literature, the distinction between the real and the potential public serves to determine a writer's social function:

which options does an author have and how much influence can he exert? As soon as authors reach their potential readers, new dependencies arise at once. This holds true particularly for the 19th century, because the mid-century revo- lution changed the nature of the reading public. Social upheaval and the triumph of the bourgeois class caused readers to unite, so that after 1848 this left authors the sole option of writing in opposition to all readers. Sartre employs the notion of 'imprisonment' - a feature of every situation - to characterise the situation of an author in 1947 who wants to support both So- cialism and a person's freedom. 26 With a side-glance at his 'situation theatre', he recalls that humans always define themselves through the choice they make. 27 Choice is not only a question of deciding between various options, it can also be a prerequisite for re-orientation. A great variety of topics does not ex- plain an author, they explain rather the interrelations between him and his work, with which he transcends the totality of what he is - and there is no talk here of any predisposition. He understands the concept of transcendence as a form of existence in which the "being-in-the-world" 28 , the "for-oneself, is capable of

annihilating the world: "[

comes to the world," 29 one reads in Being and Nothingness. The ontological


Man is the being through whom nothingness







4 Cf. Sartre, What is Literature?, p. 22.

5 Op. cit., p. 24. Cf in the following, p. 28.

6 Op. cit., p. 270 f.

7 Op. cit., p. 287 f. - Cf. M. W. Roche, Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century. Yale University Press: New Haven and London 2004, p. 8: there are presumably various reasons why Roche does not mention Sartre and Camus in his bibliography. Roche's notion of

but it does

suggest that the modern autonomy of art ist not in every respect welcome." (p. 8), might be taken as an indication of why the two authors are not named. This example is indicative of the fact that the aesthetic studies of Camus and Sartre are also still not as well known in

thefieldof literature as they deserve to be.

morals "as guiding principles of all human efforts" and his suggestion that "

^ Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 41.

9 Op. cit., p. 48.


debate on human existence, the future of which is a kind of annihilation, ap- pears again in Notebooks for an Ethics and is explained there through the ex- ample of a work that slips out of the author's control after being completed, with the result that the author's ego becomes something of the past, something he cannot escape being. 30 By rejecting the biographical method Sartre is not far away from the opin- ion of Gustave Lanson, the director of the Ecole Normale Superieure, where Sartre studied from 1924 to 1929. Lanson turned down the application of psy- chology to literature on the grounds that it was unscientific, because it was only based on a hypothesis formulated about a person's fate. 3i An author's original- ity inevitably remains obscure if his influence in literary and social life is not traced. 32 Gustave Lanson's approach via literary history correlates in part with that of Sartre, who compares a writer's commitment with his 'project' and like Lanson does not permit a purely psychological explanation, especially if this re- lates to the person's origins. In none of the artist portraits does Sartre draw conclusions about how the artist completed his works solely from his biography. On the whole Sartre uses biographical facts when trying to analyse, as in the Flaubert study, how the per- son in question overcame certain situations in life by means of his artistic activ- ity. The biographical data is part of the construction that targets a particular re- sult. The result is actually formulated before searching for the evidence. In the case of Flaubert, Sartre presumes that Flaubert's initially difficult relationship to words decided his future career. 33 The temptation to use the "L'homme et l'ceuvre" method is there again and again, for every work poses questions about life. But Sartre corrects the mean- ing of this approach. As the 'objectivation' of a person - a process of making an object out of someone - a literary work is more complete and comprehensive than life itself. It is only by understanding this that one begins to expect a dif- ferent answer to the question of whether a work can by explained by it's au- thor's life. That the piece of literature has its roots in the author's life, and that it can also contribute to understanding the biography, Sartre does not deny, but it is only fully explained in and through itself. 34 One outcome of this is the reader's independence, which Sartre wishes to prove by distinguishing between the real and virtual public. Through his own efforts the artist can enlarge the real circle of recipients, in order to reduce his dependence on the real readers. If





0 Cf. Sartre, Notebooks for an Ethics, p. 132 f.

1 Cf. G. Lanson, La litterature et la science, in: ditto, Essais de methode de critique et d'histoire litteraire. Edited by H. Peyre. Paris: Hachette 1965, p. 97-125, esp. p. 121.

2 Cf. G. Lanson, La methode de Fhistoire litteraire, in: ditto, Essais de methode, p. 31-56, esp. p. 36.

3 Cf. Sartre, The Family Idiot. Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857. Translated by C. Cosman. Chi- cago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, vol. I, p. 3-4.

3 4

Ditto, The Problem of Method, p. 141 f.


the work really does play this role, then the author's 'project' is an indication of the influence that he can consciously exert on a reader's understanding. His work, the result of his project, thus gains an importance that even surpasses the author's personal project. In his theory of literature, from the very start Sartre systematically argued for the 'upgrading' of the reader 35 and thus contributed to founding a reader- response criticism - and to a much greater extent than later representatives of reader response criticism wished to concede. He emphasises the reader's role again and again, and the special significance that is awarded to the work itself confirms his rejection of a method that constantly wishes to consult the author's life for a better understanding of a book. On Andre Gorz's "Le Traitre" he writes: it is a surprising work that one holds in one's hands, namely a work that is on the point of creating its author. 36 He thus confirms the conclusion he ar- rived at in The Problem of Method that the work towers above its author and should be considered in this light. In Nausea, and more specifically, in the context of his theory of literature, Sartre had already summed up the particular significance due to the work. Be- fore Roquentin turns his back on Bouville, after the failure of his book project, he is already thinking about the new book he wishes to write. It is not to be a book about history: he has had enough of Rollebon, the hero of his failed book. He is fascinated by his own plans for the future and realises that he has made definite progress despite the failure of his sojourn in Bouville. And Sartre lets Rollebon summarise his own theory of literature:

"Another kind of book. I don't quite know which kind - but you would have to guess, behind the printed words, behind the pages, something which didn't exist, which was above existence. The sort of story, for example, which could never happen, an adven- ture. It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed o f their existence." 37

These sentences from Nausea sum up all aspects of Sartre's theory of litera- ture. The new story has to be as hard as steel, and it must make the readers blush with shame at the thought of their existence; he means all the missed and future opportunities that the readers can discover for themselves and others when read- ing literature. Even the act of reading itself amounts to transcending the work. The reader-response theory is also named here, and Sartre underlines it by let- ting the reader discover something that is hidden behind the words. The author loses his influence over the work. It is now up to the reader to make something of it. The autonomy that is conceded to the work here is also an autonomy of art.

3 5 Cf. Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 141 f. 3 6 Cf. ditto, in: ditto, Situations, p. 327-371, here p. 336. Ditto, Nausea, p. 252.

3 7


3. The method of portraiture

3.1. Critique of Marxism

"A discovery as important as the steam engme suppresses the very conditions in which Marxism had a chance of being true." Sartre, Notebooksfor an Ethics*

In 1975 Sartre refused to be called an existentialist. 2 Nevertheless, on being asked whether he preferred to be called an existentialist or a Marxist, he an- swered: an "existentialist". His support of left-wing groups was not always beneficial for the independ- ence he himself always emphasized. But even if he did start to make approaches to the P.C.F. in the fifties, it is not clear whether he was thereby calling into question some of the principal statements of his works. It is remarkable that his fundamental critique of Marxism's ideological excesses still does not receive due attention. Even today, his ingratiating behaviour towards the Communist Party in the fifties is an opportunity for his critics to reproach him with indeci- siveness, fickleness and opportunism. There is no doubt that he was not suc- cessful in a political sense, and his involvement alongside the P.C.F. failed. As early as 1946, Sartre considered the politics of Stalinist Communism to be irreconcilable with a writer's honesty. 3 His criticism of the P.C.F. followed their reaction to his article Materialisme et revolution*, in which he refused to transfer dialectics to nature and criticised materialism, on the grounds that he considered materialism a doctrine that destroys thinking. 5 Sartre continued to scrutinise his relations with Marxism after 1956, and he had not finished doing so on completing his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960). Moreover, once one has examined both his philosophical and literary work, it proves even more untenable to label Sartre a Marxist. Sartre's open criticism of the P.C.F.'s ideology, where he draws on existen- tialism, makes the two theories appear antagonistic. The events in Hungary in 1956, following which Sartre demonstratively turned away from the P.C.F. and criticised the failure of Soviet writers, immediately preceded the drafting of The

1 Sartre, Notebooksfor an Ethics, p. 81. 2 Cf. ditto [conversation with Michel Contat], Self-Portrait at Seventy, in: ditto, Life/Situations. Essays, Written and Spoken. Translated by P. Auster and L. Davis. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977, p. 3-92. p. 60.

3 Cf. ditto, What is Literature!, p. 250.

^Cf. ditto, Materialisme et revolution, in: ditto, Situations, HI, Paris: Gallimard, 1949, p. 135-225, cf. for the following: p. 146 f., p. 135.

5 Op. cit, p. 172. Cf. on this: A. Cohen-Solal, Sartre, London: Random House, 1985, p. 287 -



Problem of Method£ The text appeared in the Polish journal Tworczosc 1 in April 1957, then in Les Temps modemes in October 1957. In 1960 Sartre ex- tended it by adding his concluding remarks, in which he calls existentialism ir- replaceable, and republishes it as the introduction to the first volume of Critique of Dialectical Reason* In this text, he examines firstly the relations between Marxism and existentialism, and there then follows a section on mediation and auxiliary sciences. The results of this led him to the progressive-regressive method, the practical application of which was later be shown in the Flaubert study. In the introduction to Critique of Dialectical Reason, which followed The Problem of Method, Sartre presents his plan for explaining dialectics. He names structural and historical anthropology as topics of Marxist philosophy and ex- plains that as a philosophy Marxism cannot be surpassed - a view that his op- ponents like to quote. In the same paragraph, however, he asks about the sup- posed omnipotence of Marxism. He clings on tightly to the ideology of exis- tence and calls it an 'understanding' method in Marxism. 9 This is a contradic- tion in his line of reasoning; despite the evident differences he clearly cannot resolve to renounce Marxism altogether, although he is aware that it rejects ex- istentialism, or the "ideology of existence", as Sartre calls it here. With his goal of winning back the human aspect within Marxism, Sartre wants to influence dialectic materialism, which he accuses of withering away to a skeleton, because it rejects certain western disciplines, though he does not name them more precisely. 10 On the other hand, he considers Marxism the only possible anthropology that can be both historical and structural. He gives Marx- ism the credit for being the only ideology that takes account of the idea of total- ity. But this observation is followed up with a fundamental critique of this ide- ology: it should adjust to human beings and not vice versa. In this text he hints,

6 Cf. Sartre, "Apres Budapest, Sartre parle", quoted from: M. Contat, M. Rybalka, Les Ecrits de Sartre. Chronologie, Bibliographie commentee, Paris : Gallimard 1970, p. 305: "I ut- terly condemn without reserve the Soviet aggression. Without making the Russians bear the responsibility, I repeat that its present government has committed a crime and that a struggle between the factions among the ruling classes has given the power to a group ('hard* militaries, ancient Stalinists), who today take Stalinism even further, after having

It is with regret, but with complete conviction, that I cut off my relations

with my friends, those Soviet writers who do not denounce (or cannot denounce) the mas- sacre in Hungary. One can no longer have any friendship with the ruling group of Soviet bureaucracy: it is horror that rules." (Translated by C. Atkinson) ' Tworczosc, no. 4, 1957. 8 Cf. M. Contat, M. Rybalka, p. 310-312.

denounced it. [



in 1956, at his intention of wanting to contribute to the dissolution of existen- tialism, which appears to him to be feasible, once Marxist theory had accepted a human dimension as the foundation of anthropological knowledge. But this un- dertaking was doomed to fail from the start, because if Marxism were to change - which was theoretically possible - Sartre himself had already announced in The Problem of Method that existentialist positions would nonetheless be in- cluded in future concepts, albeit in a different context. Those searching for evi- dence of a certain attitude taken by Sartre happily overlook his unconditional and uncompromising adherence to existentialism. Even if Marxism were to overtake existentialism, the latter would form the basis of all future investiga- tions. 11 The obstinacy with which Sartre, despite criticism from all sides, strove to influence the P.C.F.'s dogmatism is evidence of the continuity in his works, even though it did not make him immune to ideological temptations. This lazy Marxism, as Sartre describes it, turned real people into symbols of its myths and the only philosophy capable of encompassing human complexity into a paranoid dream. 12 This is a fundamental critique, aimed at the effects of Marxist ideol- ogy, and echoes attacks he made elsewhere on Marxist theory itself. Sartre found it inexcusable that Marxists let themselves be deceived by a mechanistic materialism. He was disappointed above all by the results of Marxist investiga- tions. Among these he included the manner in which complex ideas were over- simplified or those of a book were reduced to its author's situation in bourgeois society at a certain point in time. The criticism that assailed him from among the ranks of Marxists shows that they were not prepared to adapt their positions in the manner Sartre hoped for. 13 As long as integrating existentialism within Marxism remained a hopeless venture, both sides necessarily opposed each other irreconcilably. At no point in time did Sartre cast doubt on his own principles of freedom. Especially in the fifties, while writing his Critique of Dialectical Reason and later still during his talks with the Maoists in On a raison de se revolter, he carefully weighed up, more than almost any other thinker, the ideological con- straints against independent commitment, both theoretically and practically, and in every case freedom - with all its consequences - prevailed over ideology. Freedom thus became the leitmotiv of his artist studies. In November 1972, Pierre Victor wished to hear from Sartre whether the P.C.F. had always respected his approaches. The answer shows that Sartre had been well aware of the implications of his relationship as "compagnon de

1 1 Cf. Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 180 f.

12 Cf.

13 Cf. J. Kanapa, L'existentialisme nest pas un humanisme, Paris 1947, p. 98, who remains irreconcilable: "Existentialist humanism is nothing more than a myth. But it is a dangerous myth: it is the reactionary ideological bromine."

for the following: ditto, The Problem of Method, p. 51-53, p. 96 f.


route" 14 . Apart from a certain amount of friction, they did respect his role, he replied. He also acknowledged that he was bound to fail, for they did not, as he himself declared, accept his critical companionship. The conclusions that in 1951 Albert Camus drew in The Rebel from his cri- tique of Marxism led to the controversy that he conducted with Sartre publicly in 1952, 15 and that was triggered by the irreconcilability of their ideological po- sitions. The Rebel appeared at a point in time when Sartre was attempting to gauge his influence on the P.C.F. as the party's political 'fellow-traveller'. The dispute, conducted on the pages of Les Temps modernes and with which Camus and Sartre proved the incompatibility of their stances, disguises the links be- tween their basic aesthetic and moral concepts. The rift in their friendship took place on an entirely political level, as the comparison of their positions in the last chapter of the present book will demonstrate. It is only when the theoretical and aesthetical foundations of the two men's works are known that it becomes possible to categorise their dispute and evaluate both its impact and its acri- mony. In the third section of The Problem of Method Sartre characterises the theo- retical approach of the Flaubert study as the 'progressive-regressive' method. 16 At the beginning of the preface to The Family Idiot he explains that the Flaubert study is a continuation of The Problem of Method, and closely links the study with his critique of Marxism. Basically, the study is concerned with examining Flaubert's project, analysing his work and his epoch, and then returning to his biography in order to comprehend how he was able to put himself in the posi- tion of writing Madame Bovary. The progressive-regressive analysis, with which he investigates both Flaubert's work and life and his relations to the literature and history of his day, belongs to that part of Sartre's work in which he verifies and continues to de- velop his theoretical ideas on man's 'project'. His theory of the project, which he derives from his critique of psychoanalysis, will be explored in the following section. After this Sartre's explanation of dialectics will be examined, as far as is necessary in the context of the present work, together with the critique of structuralism hinted at here.

1 4 Cf. P. Gavi, Sartre, P. Victor, On a raison de se revolter, Discussions, Paris : Gallimard 1974, ch. 1.: Compagnon de route du Parti Communiste, p. 23-35, esp. p. 30, 31 f. - Cf.

M Winock, Le siecle des intellectuels, Paris: Seuil, 1997, p. 491-500.

!5 Cf. chapter 11 below: "Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre".

16 Cf.

Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 85-166.


3.2. Reconstructing the projet

The 'projet' or (life-)project - a further concept of Sartre's technique of portrai- ture - extrapolates a person's possibilities into the future and then, having as- sessed how far these had been realised, attempts to draw conclusions about that person's commitment or involvement. German philosophers and others authors are cited on a number of occasions as the sources and reference points of his work. It is necessary here to introduce several different examples. Sartre's col- laboration in translating Karl Jaspers' Allgemeine Psychopathologie^ in 1928 was an opportunity for him to become acquainted with fundamental concepts and problems of psychology. Sartre's comment, made during his stay at the In- stitut Fran9ais in Berlin in 1933, that he had benefited from the works of Jas- pers, Husserl, Scheler and Heidegger 2 certainly poses a number of questions -

especially concerning the latter's political activity.

Heidegger had lapsed in to

activism, Sartre wrote 4 , a remark that clearly shows that Sartre can hardly have kept abreast of the discussion current at the time about the works of Husserl and Heidegger. The political indifference of the then 28-year-old Sartre has been judged as an omission and, mostly in hindsight, as quite neglectful. A certain sympathy with Heidegger's standpoints, beyond those of his philosophical work, cannot be deduced from this, although such a distinction is problematic, especially in Heidegger's case 5 , and is also not reconcilable with the definition


1 K. Jaspers, Psychopathologie generate, traduit d'apres la 3 e edition par A. Kastler et J. Mendousse, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1928: cf. p. XI: "Nous remercions MM. Sartre et Nizan, eleves a FEcole normale superieure, d'avoir bien voulu mettre au point le manuscrit et participer a la correction des epreuves." - ditto, General Psychopathology. Vol. I. Translated by J. Hoenig, M. W. Hamilton. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hop- kins University Press, (1963) 1967. 2 Cf. Sartre, The Problem ofMethod, p. 38.

3 Cf. V. Farias, Heidegger et le nazisme. Translated by M. Benarroch, J.-B. Grasset. Lagrasse:

Verdier, 1987; p. 95-101. Cf. R. Safranski, Ein Meister aas Deutschland. Heidegger und seine Zeit, Munich: Hanser, 1994: "Die Rektoratsrede and ihre Wirkungen", p. 291-308.

4 Sartre, ibid., cf. H. Ott, Martin Heidegger. Unterwegs zu seiner Biographie, Frankfurt/ New York: Campus, 1988, p. 142-166.

5 On Heidegger: cf. D. Hoeges, Kontroverse am Abgrund. Ernst Robert Curtius und Karl Mannheim. Intellektuelle und "freischwebende Intelligenz" in der Weimarer Republik, Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1994, p. 188: "His behaviour (i.e. that of Curtius, H.W.) confirms what is generally true of this epoch: politics was everyone's fate, inevitable and with that all-embracing quality characteristic of supremacy." In a footnote to this paragraph: "The question whether those concerned had been 'National Socialists' overshoots the mark and leaves those questioned an arsenal of easy ways of denying it; the person asking the question necessarily has to produce all kinds of evidence; it is more relevant to ask whether Heideg- ger, Schmitt, Benn supported National Socialism after the seizure of power in what they said and wrote; for an answer one does not have to question them; the findings themselves are clear enough." (ibid., p. 208; above text translated by C. Atkinson), and cf. ibid. p. 144 f.


of an intellectual in Sartre's understanding of the term. It should rather be as- sumed that Sartre presumably knew Heidegger's ideas through the lectures of Georges Gurvitch - which had appeared as a book (Les tendances actuelles de la philosophie allemande) in 1930 6 - and that before 1933 he was little con- cerned with Heidegger's work and in the subsequent years only looked at them selectively. He will presumably have become acquainted with his works (What is Metaphysics?, On the Essence of Reason, and extracts from Being and Time) in Henry Corbin's (liberal) translations. 7 Apart from an cursory look at Being and Time in Berlin, he probably did not read it properly before 1940, when Marius Perrin helped him to read it in the prisoner-of-war camp. 8 His comments on the translation problems that arose from Heidegger's language show that he regarded them as stimuli rather than as philological problems in any strict sense ("I am against this literary positivism"). 9 There is a striking contrast between Sartre's later political involvement and his alleged disinterest during the occu- pation period in Paris - especially when we also recall that he passed over the National Socialists' atrocities in silence. This contrast is all the more apparent when we consider that Sartre succeeded in publishing Being and Nothingness in occupied Paris - a book that discusses man's freedom and his responsibility for that freedom. The accusations addressed to Sartre do at first sound grave/ He never wrote anything denouncing the persecution of the Jews in the underground newspa- pers of the Resistance. Similarly he accepted that The Flies and No Exit were played in theatres that denied access to Jews. Those making such reproaches lose their own moral authority, however, if at the same time they describe Being and Nothingness as a 'dark' and little read book that is difficult to understand, and whose title many at the time believed to mean 'L'homme devant la mort' 10 .

- Cf. D. Hoeges, Die wahre Leidenschaft des 20. Jahrhunderts ist die Knechtschaft (Ca- mus). Die Nationalintellektuellen contra Menschen- and Burgerrechte. Ernst Junger, Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, in: W. Bialas, G. I. Iggers (eds), Intellektuelle in der Weimarer Republik [Schriften zur politischen Kultur der Weimarer Republik, Band 1], Frank- furt/Main: Peter Lang, 1996, p. 91-104. 6 On the reception of German philosophy in France around 1930: cf. T. Konig, Zur Neuuber- setzung, in: Sartre, Das Sein unddas Nichts. Versuch einer phdnomenologischen Ontologie. Translated by T. Konig. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1991, p. 1076.

1 On Corbin, cf. J. P. Faye, Heidegger and his French translators, in: Vermittler. H. Mann, Benjamin, Groethuysen, Kojeve, Szondi, Heidegger in Frankreich, Goldmann, Sieburg, (ed. J. SieB), Frankfurt/Main: Syndikat Autoren- und Verlagsgemeinschaft, 1981, p. 161-196, esp. p. 161 f. and p. 165.

8 Cf. T. Konig, Zur Neuiibersetzung, p. 1080, cf. p. 1080-1083. 9 Sartre, L'ecrivain et sa langue [conversation with P. Verstraeten], first in: Revue d'esthetique, July-December 1965, in: ditto, Situations, ZAT, p. 71 f. 10 Cf. G. Joseph, Une si douce occupation. Simone de Beauvoir et Jean-Paul Sartre, 1940- 1944, Paris : Albin Michel, 1991, p. 373. Nor does Joseph mention Sartre's Reflexions sur

la question juive,

Paris: Gallimard, 1954, that appeared as early as 1946.


As well as reading Husserl and Heidegger, Sartre's collaboration in translat- ing Jaspers' Allgemeine Psychopathologie produces some remarkable parallels to his artist portraits. His reminder of the particular significance of portrait stud- ies in his oeuvre - such as in his interview with Jacques Chancel, where he ex- plains how he made the individuals in his studies more tangible* * - recalls the task set by Jaspers: "The biographer on the other hand is confronted with the

unending task of comprehending a concrete personality

of his account Jaspers states that in the psychiatric practice one always has to do "with individuals, with the human being as a whole"! 3 , and elsewhere he de- fines his intention more precisely. He is concerned with understanding connec- tive relationships. All information flows into a synthesis that reconstructs an in- dividual whole, which he calls the 'personality'. 14

The phenomenological approach in Being and Nothingness is not funda- mentally different from that upon which Jaspers bases his psychopathology. To be sure, the term 'phenomenology' is to be understood in Jaspers' case more in

the sense of a description of symptoms that is as objective as possible, but the exacting task he formulates is similar to the basic ideas with which Sartre is


nology is only occupied with experiences that were really felt and not with any kinds of mechanisms outside consciousness. In his Psychopathologie he points out that his discipline lacked an objective theory, but that there was a series of basic concepts. He explains the gaps in theory with a lack of terminology. 16 The desideratum described by Jaspers has in fact been fulfilled by Sartre with the terms described by him in the context of his own theory and with his portraiture method. Sartre's concept of man as a 'universal singular' is related to the approach sketched out by Jaspers of recreating the connections between a person and his environment. Jaspers himself formulated this question more clearly by pointing in the direction of social relations. By way of example, he names neuroses that can arise from accidents, whereby specific circumstances, precisely described in social terms, might give rise to pathological phenomena. 17 It is a fairly obvious step to see a possible connection between this concept and the neurosis that Sar- tre describes, or rather constructs, in The Family Idiot. He describes it there as a

".I 2 At the beginning

to have become acquainted in 1933 15 . Jaspers believes that phenome-

1 1 Cf. J. Chancel, Radioscopie, Paris: Robert Laffont 1973, p. 182-215, here p. 196.


K. Jaspers, General Psychopathology. Vol. I, p. 432.

13 Ibid., p. 1.

14 Ibid., p. 433. 1^ Cf. A. Cohen-Solal, Sartre, p. 91 : C.-S. names E. Levinas, Theorie de I'intuition dans la phenomenologie de Husserl, (Paris : Alcan 1930. Sartre is supposed to have read the book in about 1932.) 16 Cf. K. Jaspers, General Psychopathology. Vol. I, p. 19.

1 1 Cf.

ditto, Psychopathologie generate, p. 572.


lack of consensus, for example with one's own times, calling it an "objective neurosis". From his criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis Sartre developed his existen- tial psychoanalysis.I 8 He calls Freud's psychology an "empirical psychology":

one that wishes to describe human reality by assuming that man defines himself through his desires. Sartre rejects the description of desires as the mere contents of consciousness. For him desire is actually part of consciousness, and con- sciousness itself is always consciousness of something.* 9 Furthermore, he ac- cuses empirical psychology of restricting its investigations to listing individual desires. Essentially he criticises psychoanalysis as being an incomplete theory, because it has no method of creating a synthesis of its observations. In contrast to this, Sartre wants to develop his own theory in such a way that it will be able to describe a person's fundamental 'project' 20 and, by comparing the results of various studies, gain insight into human reality. It is only when it has been proved that the analysis is no longer reducible that a person's project is revealed. The relationship between an action and someone's project is determined by the need for continuous choice. The indi- vidual does not, however, have to be aware of this. 2 1 Only if a particular indi- vidual's story is accessible can his project be ascertained, his choice be judged, and statements of a general nature be formulated. 22 Sartre's entire oeuvre shows a structure that runs parallel to this approach. The artist portraits follow the main philosophical work on phenomenological ontology without leaving the plane of methodical reflection. In attempting to re- construct an epoch in the third volume of The Family Idiot, the study contrib- utes to assessing the artist's relationship to his own times and to his work, in or- der to ascertain how and to what degree of success the artist reacted to his epoch and his personal situation of his own accord. In one of the numerous methodo- logical remarks that lend the Flaubert study its precise structure, Sartre applies the principle of the theory discussed here to the case of Flaubert to find out whether the latter's illness had provoked a mental weakness or whether it was a prerequisite for him for even being able to write his works. 23 Methodological clues of this nature, in which Sartre announces that he is continuing to develop his investigations and claims that the outcome is still uncertain, lend these stud- ies a dynamic character, which he aptly renders with the term "enquetes indi- viduelles" 24 . With his opinion that transcendable Being and the project of Be-

18 Cf. for the following: Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 578-596, here p. 578. 19 Cf. Sartre, Une idee fondamentale de la phenomenologie de Husserl: L'intentionnalite, in:

Critiques litteraires (Situations, I), p. 38-42, p. 40.

2 0 Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 585.

2 1 Cf. op. cit., p. 483 f.




2 Cf. op. cit., p. 502.

3 Ditto, The Family Idiot, vol. V, p. 31 f.

4 Ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 585.


ing are indistinguishable, he is repeating the approach he had adopted from

Heidegger 25 , extending and formulating it as the basis of the investigation at the

beginning of Being and Nothingness: "[

in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself:" 26

The project contains statements about an individual that give one some in- dication as to his future behaviour. When equating existence with choice and thus with an individual, it is not a question of how correct or true a project is; rather, it is a matter of the project's meaning in the sense of "the truth of free- dom" 27 , which encompasses all an individual's possibilities. The aim of being objective that Sartre connects with his psychoanalysis jus- tifies the later formulation of general principles that equates human reality with the choice of one's own goals. He does not wish to restrict existential psycho- analysis to dreams, neuroses and obsessions, it should also take account of plans, failures, successful actions and style. He announces his intention of con- ducting this analysis on the basis of two examples, Flaubert and Dostoyevsky. He would like to reveal the subjective choice by which an individual discloses what he or she can be. In his criticism of Freud's theories, Sartre is primarily objecting to the gen- eralisation of individual observations, from which Freud attempts to deduce laws. This ties in with Jaspers' critique, who despite all his appreciation of Freud's work denies that it is possible to find a theoretical explanation. Jaspers' account of the Freudian term of the unconscious 28 reveals detachedness and criticism, when he suggests that Freud replaced the connections that he was not able to explain with the notion of the unconscious. 29 Thus there are clear paral- lels between his account and Sartre's critique of the concept of the unconscious. In Being and Nothingness Sartre refers to the unconscious in his chapter on bad faith 30 as a concept of psychoanalysis with which an instance is created that could be made responsible for the effects of untruthfulness. The resultant divi- sion of the psyche ("the distinction between the 'id' and the 'ego'") 31 permits one to suppose the existence of some kind of censure, the structure of which however corresponds exactly to the untruthfulness described by Sartre. The doubt surrounding the unconscious itself lets its effects appear equally questionable. Sartre assessed the possible symbolic content of 'instincts' or

consciousness is a being such that


2 5 Cf. M. Heidegger, Being

J. Stambaugh. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996, p. 82 f. 2 6 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 18 (italics in original text). Op. cit., p. 589. 2 8 K. Jaspers, General Psychopathology. Vol. II, Baltimore, London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, p. 537 ff. 2 9 Cf. ditto, General Psychopathology. Vol. II, p. 537-546, esp. 539. Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 70-94. 31 Ibid.

3 0

2 7

and Time. A Translation of Sein und Zeit. Translated



'drives' as just one further confirmation of the untruthfulness he is illustrat- ing. 32 With his representation of freedom, Sartre examines the meanings that are implied by an action and recalls Freud, who also observed that an action re- fers to deeper structures. 33 Sartre does not wish to reject Freud completely; nonetheless their two concepts diverge on this point, because Freud, Sartre thinks, only paid attention to an individual's past and did not attach much im- portance to the future dimension. 34 Like Jaspers 35 he opposed the determination derived from Freudian psy- choanalysis with which humans are confronted from without and which, in an interview, he later compares with Marxist theory 36 , thereupon calling them both theories of external conditioning. From his critique of Freud, Sartre gained a number of basic stimuli. The ex- istential psychoanalysis, which he compares with those parts of Freudian theory familiar to him, 37 relates as applied in the artist portraits more to a kind of hu- manism as a basic attitude than to any sort of pathology. Despite the differences, Sartre's attitude to Freud deserves our attention, since he conceived his own technique of portraiture in the course of his critical analysis of Freud's psycho- analysis. Sartre's general rejection of psychology is a reference to his own phi- losophy. He considers psychology to be one of the most abstract sciences, be- cause it investigates the mechanisms of our passion, without wanting to under- stand them in their real human context. For him it is an individual's totality that matters first and foremost: he calls the individual an entire undertaking in itself, fuelled by passion. 38

3 2

Cf. ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 77 f.

, determinism. In addition because of this bias his conception necessarily is going to refer to

the subject's choanalysis."


3 Op. cit., p. 455-503, esp. p. 479 f

p. 480: "Freud, however, aims at constituting a vertical

Consequently the dimension of the future does not exist for the psy-

3 ^ Op. cit., p. 480: "[

3 5 K. Jaspers, Allgemeine Psychopathologie fur Studierende, Arzte und Psychoiogen, 3rd en- larged and revised edition, Berlin: Springer, 1923, p. 331, ditto, General Psychopathology. Vol. II, p. 537-546, esp. p. 538. 3 *> Sartre par Sartre, in: Situations, IX, p. 103.

3 ? Cf. S. de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life. Translated by P. Green. London: Andre Deutsch and Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd., 1963, p. 23. She and Sartre knew Freud's The Interpreta- tion of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Cf. S. Freud, The Interpreta- tion of Dreams, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1997 and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Translated by A. Tyson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.

Sartre, Forgers of Myths, in: ditto, Sartre on Theatre. Documents assembled. Edited, intro- duced and annotated by M. Contat et M. Rybalka. Translated by F. Jellinek. New York:

3 8


the dimension of the future does not exist for psychoanalysis."


Jean-Baptiste Pontalis, 39 a French psychoanalyst, believes that the screen- play for Scenario Freud, a piece of work that was commissioned by John Huston, 40 opened up for Sartre the possibility of gaining a whole new image of Freud. But these insights did not alter his rejection of Freudian theories, as evi- denced by the 1970 interview (Sartre par Sartre) quoted above and the theoreti- cal approach in The Family Idiot. His critique of psychoanalysis, repeated in The Problem of Method in 1960, is also a refutation of Pontalis, who had pointed out Freud's influence on the Flaubert study.41 The particular signifi- cance of the neurosis 42 in The Family Idiot does not in essence contain an ap- proval of Freud: from his neurosis, Flaubert developed a strategy with which he succeeded in making an artist of himself. Despite Sartre's fundamental critique of psychoanalysis, it has played its part in his portrait studies. Psychoanalysis can, if applied within a dialectical totalisation, reveal objective structures and aspects of childhood that are not cancelled out by adulthood 43 Another discipline that is consulted for the portrait studies is sociology. With its "prospective attention" 44 and by applying its heuristic method and em- piricism, it can contribute to totalisation within dialectics. In Kardiner's works, Sartre found references to certain types of behaviour that point to an irreducible character, to the "vecu" ("the lived") 45 . By proving that it was capable of de- scribing habits within groups as real relations between humans, sociology thus assisted in the artist studies. Within the disciplines named, existentialism is supposed to help to determine the point at which a person was accepted within his class as one of its own - which for Sartre means within his family. 46 This is also a reminder of his critique of Marxism, which only concerns itself with adults and wants to skip nature for the sake of history. This might create an impression of arbitrariness and of a disorderly medley of different methods, if one regards the many approaches and extremely diverse disciplines that determine Sartre's approach in his artist studies. However, he did not intend an abrupt juxtaposition of different methods and disciplines; his aim, rather, was to promote an exchange of views and that the methods and dis-

39 Cf. J.-B. Pontalis, Scenario Freud, scenario Sartre, in: Sartre, The Freud Scenario. Edited by J.-B. Pontalis. Translated by Quintin Hoare. London: Verso, 1985, p. IX, X.


^ Sartre, Le Scenario Freud: the present author's copy contains the 1959 version, extracts from the version that Sartre wrote in 1959/60 and a synopsis (1958).


1 J.-B. Pontalis, in: Sartre, The Freud Scenario, p. 15. Cf. the discussion on the publication of "Dialogue psychanalytique", in: Sartre, Situations, IX, p. 329-337. Reponse a Sartre par J.-B. Pontalis, p. 35 9 f.; Reponse a Sartre par B. Pingaud, p. 361-364 .

2 Sartre, The Family Idiot. Vol. Ill, p. 355-644.

3 Cf. Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 63 f.

4 Op cit., p. 74.

4 5 Ibid. 4 *> Op cit., p. 57: "The family in fact is constituted by and in the general movement of History





ciplines mutually complemented each other. He put up with the drawbacks that accompanied the lack of specialisation in order to permit links between his works to figure clearly in the portrait studies. The variety of disciplines and their methods employed by Sartre constitute - together with the methodological remarks in the artist portraits used to test his theories' applicability - a theory of art, with which he analyses the impact of art and literature. A further topic of his theory of portraiture is that of dialectics, which for Sartre amounts to hermeneutics - as will be shown in the next section.


3.3. Dialectics and hermeneutics

"The dialectic (whether Hegelian or Marxist) only considers part of humanity." Sartre, Notebooksfor an Ethics*

Sartre's criticism of dialectics 2 addresses the manner in which it oversimplifies reality. According to the accusation voiced in the Notebooks for an Ethics, this is particularly the case when the antithesis in its negativity is no longer congru- ent with the thesis and so due to its ambivalence can no longer produce a syn- thesis. Besides, for Sartre there is infinitely more to history than just dialectics, which he regards as a kind of dialogue and therefore calls it into question on the grounds that it cannot be applied to many historical developments or events. 3 Later he attempts to put forward his own explanation of dialectics in the Cri- tique of Dialectical Reason. After 1960, however, he ceased working on dialec- tics, as the second volume, which has meanwhile appeared (1985) proves. But if one understands dialectics in the sense of hermeneutics - and it is hermeneutics that determines the theoretical structure of the Flaubert study - this reveals that Sartre never actually abandoned these theoretical labours. Sartre's artist studies, and in particular the methodological approaches he uses to examine the life and work of Gustave Flaubert in The Family Idiot, are witness to how he develops theses and antitheses, without logical syntheses necessarily always resulting from them. To be sure, the results of his analyses always appear as syntheses, but in reality they derive from his personal views or from decisions that he announces as the starting point for further investigation. Thus the study of Gustave Flaubert's youth between 1830 and 1850 suffices to show that his neurosis had been a kind of "operational imperative" 4 . At the end of the investigation 'neurosis-art' is presented as the most important insight. It is not an outcome that necessarily had to emerge from the investigation; it is part of the idea with which Sartre had begun the Flaubert study. He wished to interpret Flaubert's neurosis as the conscious choice of a 'neurosis-art' and then to transfer it to a whole generation of authors, thus viewing it as heralding some important developments of the Second French Empire. In Flaubert's case, it was a neurosis that ceased after he had found his way to art. Sartre's critique of dialectics also belongs to his concern with history in the artist portraits and in The Family Idiot in particular. In the Presentation des Temps Modernes (1945) he contrasted individuality with his existentialist ap- proach and, as a consequence, also contrasted human freedom with rigorous

1 Sartre, Notebooksfor an Ethics, p. 60.

2 Cf. on the following: op. cit., p. 54 f.

3 Cf. op. cit., p. 55 f.

4 Ditto, The Family Idiot. Vol. V, p. 56.


dialectics: he rejects applying thesis and antithesis to a human being for man's freedom is irreducible. 5 The "One" will never find its counterpart; instead it be- comes the "Other", thus depriving synthesis of all meaning. 6 In the Notebooks Sartre describes dialectics as wrong, especially in connection with history. 7 He justifies this rejection by explaining that the whole, the universal, is always pre- sent in any one epoch, thereby making it clear that an epoch, while only com- prising a universal moment in history, is infinitely complex, even if it reveals only a few conditions of human existence. In the preface to The Family Idiot, Sartre explains the same idea with the notion of the 'universal singular', ("universel singulier") 8 . But this universal single person is merely an individual. A human being is completely determined by the circumstances he is part of and by his epoch, reproducing these as some- thing unique. This means that every prediction becomes shaky. In the introduc- tion to the chapter of The Family Idiot entitled "Personalization", Sartre refutes the idea that humans are predetermined on the grounds that they always tran- scend any kind of predetermination. 9 His concept of the universal singular is based on a dialectical approach. But he does not accept dialectics uncondition- ally. The artist portraits are for Sartre a further opportunity to test dialectics' ap- plicability in practice. Dialectics offers him a framework of ideas, though without becoming one of the main methodological components in the artist portraits. In Sartre's Cri- tique of Dialectical Reason, history is made to play a prominent role. Without totality, as Sartre calls the overall account or description, there can be no under- standing. But missing information can hinder 'totalisation' and thus make un- derstanding difficult. Sartre skirts round this problem and appeals to experience, for this at least is supposed to ensure "intelligibility in principle "1°. He intro- duces a "secondary intelligibility", as he calls it, which embraces the principles of the first intelligibility, but which is intended to surpass it by extending its scope. The human being as an individual and as an entity that embraces the whole of mankind's history ( "tout de l'histoire humaine")H, is largely compre- hended as a totality; nonetheless this concept has to be enlarged to include an understanding of his individual factors. Using the whole as a departure point, dialectics is supposed to facilitate understanding smaller entities. In The Family Idiot Sartre applied the relationship between the general and the individual as a methodological principle of investigation, which is to say, as

5 Cf. Sartre, Presentation des Temps modernes, in: ditto, Situations, II. Paris: Gallimard, 1949, p. 7-30, here: p. 26.

6 Cf. ditto, Notebooks for an Ethics, p. 47 f. 1 Cf. for the following: op. cit., p. 91.

8 Ditto, The Family Idiot Vol. I, p. IX. 9 Ibid.

10 Cf. on the following: ditto, Critique of Dialectical Reason, p. 57


the study's "basic hermeneutic idea" 12 . The structure of the Flaubert study's short and precise preface reveals a plan that has only little in common with a description of Flaubert's life. The reason for this discrepancy is that the reflec- tions in the preface are valid for all authors alike, at the same time summarising the artist portraits' methodological approach. At the centre of the preface one finds the discussion of the question: what can we know today about a person? 13 Sartre explains that one can only answer such a question by investigating a concrete case, and thus proposes that of Gus- tave Flaubert. Even if one did collect all available information about him, it is by no means certain that this would ensure a 'totalisation'. One meets with dif- ficulties as soon as the information is of a diverse nature - we find here the same reasoning that Sartre used to counter dialectics - and cannot be made to complement existing information. Sartre tries to get round this problem with the prerequisite that every piece of information, once it has been put in the appro- priate place, will reveal how it harmonises with all the others. It follows that the irreducibility of information only appears to be a problem, and Sartre remains convinced that the overall picture will become evident. The criterion as to whether a piece of information has been placed in the right or wrong place is not a question of inevitability; it should rather be decided on the basis of the 'progressive-regressive' method he had discussed in The Problem of Method. By announcing in the first sentence of the Flaubert study's preface that it was a continuation of The Problem of Method, Sartre creates a link with the in- tention expressed there of wishing to understand human beings better. This methodological approach is often overlooked when regarding the study as a Flaubert biography. When we consider how much space Sartre dedicates to a discussion of methodology this is clearly a mistake. The Flaubert study is in- tended to produce the proof that there is no information that cannot be appor- tioned to some particular context, or, expressed somewhat differently, it is con- cerned with investigating the validity of dialectics' heuristic principle in the context of an artist's portrait. This approach is explained in the following man- ner:

"For a man is never an individual; it would be more fitting to call him a universal singu- lar. Summed up and for this reason universalized by his epoch, he in turn resumes it by

reproducing himself in it as singularity. Universal by the universal singular of human history, singular by the universalizing singularity of his projects he requires simultane-

ous examination from both ends." 14

The first part of this definition contains the observation that man will never only be an individual. On the contrary, as a singular or unique being, he makes

!2 The term derives from M. Frank, Das Individuum in der Rolle des Idioten. Die hermeneuti- sche Konzeption des Flaubert, in: T. Konig (ed.), Sartres Flaubert lesen, p. 92.

1 3

Sartre, The Family Idiot

1 4 Cf. ditto, The Family Idiot

Vol. I, p. IX, also for the following.

Vol. I, p. IX.


the mutual relationship between himself and his own times into his project. In the second part, Sartre argues the need to begin the investigation in both areas, since the individual's intentions, striving towards generality as he is, relate to the universal meaning of history. The preface to the Flaubert study is proof of Sartre's intention to complete a theory by showing how to apply it in his examination of Flaubert. With the help of this approach he succeeds later in the course of his study in linking the Sec- ond Empire to Flaubert's neurosis in the sense that the latter foreshadowed the historical developments in France in the third quarter of the 19th century. In both parts of this study, with their continual cross-references, he is able to trace Flaubert's project and check its outcome on the basis of his pronouncements about how the author and his work developed. The confirmation of a person's standing is a constitutive principle of the art- ist portraits and their method of procedure. The last sentence of the Baudelaire study clearly creates a link with one of Sartre's basic philosophical tenets, for a man's free choice is absolutely identical with what is called his 'fate'.* 5 Sartre's own critical view of the Baudelaire study relates first and foremost to its method, the drawbacks of which he himself was already pointing out in the study;! 6 instead of an overall view, he had only succeeded in presenting a suc- cession of observations. I 7 For Sartre, "the knowledge of man must be a total- ity"! 8 , a s n e attempts to demonstrate by emphasizing the inner context and the way in which all factors mentioned in the study mutually affected each other. From this totalisation he gained the insight that Baudelaire himself chose the life he lived. This proof is in effect little more than a repetition of the study's methodological approach, which had produced the desired result. The relationship between one's choice and one's life has to be found in a different manner. The methodological allusion to the portrait of William II in the War diaries suggests an intention comparable with the above definition of the 'universal singular'. It also demonstrates the remarkable continuity in Sar- tre's work, which is attained by continuing to work on the theoretical founda- tions of the portrait studies. With William IPs portrait he wanted to prove that a historical approach and psychological prejudices tempt one into a great variety of parallel interpretations that can only be brought into a meaningful relation- ship if the person is regarded with respect to their "historicisation", their being embedded in the history of their times. This approach is maintained without substantial changes up until The Family Idiot ^

15 Sartre, Baudelaire, p. 193. Cf. Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, p. 21 f.: "[

tence precedes essence [


man is nothing other than he makes of himself."

16 Cf. ditto, L'anthropologie, p. 113.

17 Ditto, Baudelaire, p. 184 f. 1 8 Cf. ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 596.

19 Ditto, The War Diaries, p. 318 f.

] exis-


With his artist portraits Sartre conducted an in-depth investigation into the possibilities people have of influencing things and thus changing their situa- tions, and delivered the appropriate proof. Since life always moves in spirals, 20 this makes it possible to test certain insights by looking at the later periods of someone's life. Sartre calls the Marxist method progressive, because it deter- mines at the outset what is real and because Marxists know from the start what they have to find. 2 ! He calls his own method heuristic, because it enables new insights on the grounds of its progressive and regressive aspects. There will therefore be periods in which the object only becomes recognisable through 'divination' 22 . Rather than there being a possible synthesis that took place of its own accord and that would be suitable for revealing the truth, the author has to take a conscious decision to give the analysis renewed impetus. To the chain of arguments he adds an assumption of a somewhat less dialectic nature: an idea of his own, divination. Sartre relates the project of writing a study on Flaubert to the following principle: "There is a hiatus between work and life." 23 From the work one can recognise certain traits of character. The social relations and unique drama of the person's childhood would, however, have to be reconstructed through divi- nation. Regressive questioning, leading from the work to the person's social re- lations, enable insights into his family, his friends and the other authors. Revert- ing to the progressive part of the analysis entails returning to the oeuvre itself to gain further biographical knowledge. But this does not increase appreciably; at the most the work offers a number of hints. In Sartre's theory of portraiture the biography and the works remain separate, for the works never reveal a biogra- phy's secrets. Biographical details are sooner a provisional attempt at under- standing a work, not its sole explanation. Divination has the function of justify- ing the interweaving of individual factors. One aspect of divination is the 'em- pathy', mentioned in the preface, with which Sartre might have become ac- quainted through the works of Husserl or Heidegger. 24 Although Sartre wanted


0 See also: Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, vol.11 (Unfinished). Translation by Q. Hoare, London, New York: Verso, 2006: "The Spiral: Circularity and Alteration", p. 235 -




i Cf. Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 133 f.

2 Cf. M. Frank, Das Individuum in der Rolle des Idioten, loc. cit., p. 94 f.: "It (i.e. the pro- gressive-regressive method, H.W.) corresponds exactly with Schleiermacher's 'positive phrase' of hermeneutics as a 'historical and divining, objective and subjective reconstruc- tion of the given speech'" Frank refers to the edition he himself had edited: F. D. E. Schleiermacher, Hermeneutik und Kritik, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1977, p. 93. (Trans- lated by C. Atkinson)

2 3


Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 143. Cf. for the following: ibid.

4 Cf. ditto, Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi, in: Bulletin de la Societe Francaise de

Philosophic XL1I, Paris 1948 p. 49-91, p. 54. Cf. J. D. Fell, Heidegger and Sartre. An Es- say on Being and Place, New York: Columbia University Press, 1979, p. 351 f.; cf.


to begin the portrait with empathy, his judgement had already been made before the analysis'?* the difficult relationship that the young Flaubert had with words was supposed to have dictated his career. The biographical information is part of the construction with which to achieve a certain result. The result is formu- lated before the search for evidence. And Sartre maintains that he only realised later that Flaubert, right to the end of his life, saw written language as an insig- nificant way of employing words - words being only meant for spoken lan- guage. For Flaubert, writing never enjoyed any kind of autonomy. 26 The es- sence of Sartre's supposition had a particular function for his novel about Flaubert. Only by this means was it possible to emphasize Flaubert's imagina- tion so strongly: as the realisation of his project. The concept of the project, the critique of Marxism and dialectics - all de- termine Sartre's method of portraiture, the practical application of which is pre- sented in the next two chapters.

M. Frank, Structure de Targumentation de la conference de Jean-Paul Sartre "Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi", in: Le portique. Sartre. Conscience et liberte, no. 16, 2nd semester 2005, p. 10-32. 2 5 Cf. in the following, Sartre, The Problem of Method, p. 143. Cf. ditto, The Family Idiot, vol. I, p. 350 f.

2 6


4. Sculptures and mobiles

From Giacometti to Calder

"The art of Giacometti seems to me to want to discover

this secret wound of all beings and even of all things, until it illuminates them."

J. Genet, L 'atelier de


Sartre begins the portrait study of Giacometti 2 by examining his sculptures, and then merges this analysis with that of his paintings. The two sections are linked by Sartre's interpretation of nothingness and emptiness. In Giacometti's studio Sartre looks at the sculpture of the four adjacent standing figures ("Quatre Figu- rines sur Socle [Sphinx]") 3 and quotes Giacometti's own comments in a letter to Matisse, 4 where Giacometti mentions the detachedness that separated him as the artist or viewer from the figures. Sartre judges this detachedness to be the result of a conscious intention on the part of the artist. "He painted them (i.e. the figu- rines, H.W.) as he saw them - distant"^ However, this distance is only sug- gested by the way the figurines are arranged; in this sense it is a constituent part that belongs indissolubly to the figurines themselves and only enables the ob- server to understand the group when looking at it more closely. It is only the at- tempt to overcome the detachedness that reveals the distance to be a negation; the negation does not claim to be insurmountable, but points to detachedness as its raison d'etre. 6 The other sculptures in the studio are of a similar kind: "His studio is an ar- chipelago, a disorder of diverse distances." 7 Sartre thus names the topic of this study. He is concerned here with the distances and sizes with which the artist lends his works meaning. The passing remark that the small sculptures repel the visitor with their loneliness is a further hint at the intentions or feelings he as-

1 J. Genet, L 'atelier de Giacometti, [with 33 Photos by E. Scheidegger], no place, 1995, no page no.

2 Sartre, The Paintings of Giacometti, in: Sartre, Situations. Translated by B. Eisler. New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 175-92. Ditto, A la recherche de l'absolu, in: ditto, Situa- tions, III, p. 289-305.

3 Cf. the illustration: Quatre Figurines sur Socle (Sphinx) (four figurines on pedestals, 1950). Bronze, partially painted, height 76 cm. Kunstmuseum Basel, Alberto-Giacometti-Stiftung, in: C. Huber, Alberto Giacometti, Paris and Geneva, 1970, p. 78.

4 Cf. A. Giacometti [exhibition, 16 May - 2 November 1986], catalogue, A. Kuenzi, Fonda- tion Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, p. 67-74.

5 Sartre, The Paintings of Giacometti, p. 177. Cf. E.-G. Guse, Giacomettis Auseinanderset- zung mit der Wirklichkeit, in: A. Giacometti, Plastiken - Gemalde - Zeichnungen, catalo- gue and exhibition. Edited by S. Salzmann. Duisburg, 1977, p. 30-35 , esp. p. 33 f.


cribes to the artist. Sartre does not interpret them as misanthropy; he sees the detachedness in connection with a certain loneliness that the artist possibly wished to express here. 8 This first part of the study ends with one of the condi- tions to which Being and Nothingness refers: determining a place or location has a negative moment: two points are separate from one another if there is a distance between them. 9 Detachedness and negation also influence Sartre's method in The Family Idiot, where Sartre attempts to reveal the beginning of Flaubert's career as an author by making use of his correspondence and with the help of the "degree of presence to the world". 1° This expression helps Sartre to ascertain how Flaubert determined his relation to reality and, more exactly, when he was in the position to decide to become a writer. In his Giacometti study, Sartre adds to his phenomenological explanation of the negation and its interpretation by reference to his own experience. By re- membering the cramped conditions of the prisoner-of-war camp and then re-

marking on the

ered in cafes, Sartre explains the impression of detachedness. Giacometti's groups of figures show detachment as "a product of attracting and repelling forces". This interpretation reveals its unity and at the same time the dialectic relationship between someone's loneliness and the sense of belonging. Right down to the Flaubert study, this vision of a human who cannot break free from totality and therefore has to accept it as the guiding principle of his actions de- termines Sartre's oeuvre: "Une exposition de Giacometti, c'est un peuple."

"The wood"I 2 (La Foret, 1951) shows the contrast between rest and motion. Sartre understands the spatial distance between the thin and tall figures of this sculpture as symbolising emptiness. The group's figures are standing close to- gether, but they evidently take no notice of one another. Sartre calls their mu- tual, non-existent relations a "distance circulaire", that can only be broken by a

word or by the emptiness. This emptiness is given an importance here that cor- relates with that of the "neant" in Sartre's main philosophical work, for there are no bridges between things and people; emptiness appears to be everywhere, and every creature creates its own emptiness. In the chapter "Conduct in the Face of the Irreal" in The Imaginary (1940) Sartre had already pointed to the connection between emptiness and the irreal as the simple reflex of a feeling. * 3 Giacom- etti's sculptures also show a development: "La sculpture cree le vide apartir du

respectful restraint in bourgeois society 11 that he later rediscov-

plein [


14 Is this process reversible? "The cage"! 5 (1950) perhaps answers

8 Sartre, The Paintings of Giacometti, p. 177 f. Cf. Sartre, A la recherche de Tabsolu, in:

ditto, Situations, III, p. 298 ff. 9 Cf. for the following ditto, Being and Nothingness, p. 43-54.

10 Ditto, The Family Idiot, vol. I, p. 292, cf. p. 292 f.

11 Cf. for the following: ditto, The Paintings of Giacometti, p. 178 f.

12 Cf. Huber, Giacometti, p. 74.

13 Cf. Sartre, The Imaginary, p. 140.


this question. The bust and the figure standing infrontof it are locked in a cage, the pedestal of which is supported by four legs. They maintain an imaginary dis- tance that they cannot remove.* 6 Sartre attempts to make the irreal correlate with emptiness, thus pointing to the contribution the viewer is expected to make. With the question about empti- ness he turns to analyse Giacometti's paintings. In doing so he assumes that the artist is clearly pursuing a particular purpose: he wants to place people and things back in the world, "the great universal Void". The second question - how can a painter succeed in capturing a person on canvas or outlining him with the stroke of a brush? - also contains an attempt to answer it. The brush stroke lends the person a stability that allows one to interpret the inside and outside as an equilibrium. At this point Sartre introduces the term of 'passiveness'. In the Flaubert study, the term is used to interpret the author's youth.I 7 By carefully observing the composition of Giacometti's paintings, one gains hints as to how to understand them. The centripetal force of the lines that give the pictures a focal centre guides the eye, and the viewer himself will insert the missing, but necessary details in the pictures. This is precisely what was sug- gested in the comments from The Imaginary quoted above, namely, that the viewer has to use his experience to reconstruct the continuity.! 8 It is only by sharing the sphere of the imaginary with the artist that the viewer conveys meaning to the paintings. The result of the portrait study actually resembles closely, and summarises, the final remark in The Imaginary^: a work of art is something irreal. Sartre thereby makes clear the point of departure from which his reasoning can be followed right down to The Family Idiot. The artist portraits develop further topics in Sartre's oeuvre. Six years after writing the Giacometti text he completed a study of Andre Masson; Sartre de- scribes Masson's artistic activities with the help of a series of drawings that Masson completed in 1947, and in doing so examines the link between myths and art. 20 Sartre believes that he can recognise Masson's dependence on myths in his pictures. Mythologies became the key to Masson's attempt at solving the problem of how to represent time and motion in a picture. The mythologies that Sartre presents in this portrait sketch are not limited to illustrating man's singular position. It is from seeing the drawing that Masson produced in 1947, "Hommes ailes pris dans des rocs de glace et ne se degag-

15 A. Giacometti, La Cage (1950), bronze, painted, height 170 cm. Kunsthaus Zurich, Alberto Giacometti Foundation, in: Huber, Giacometti, p. 80 f.

16 Cf. Sartre, The Paintings of Giacometti, p. 181-184.

17 Ditto, The Family Idiot, vol. I, p. 192.

18 Cf. for the following: ditto, The Paintings of Giacometti, p. 185 f, 191 f.

Cf. ditto, The Imaginary, p. 189. 2 0 For the following: ditto, Masson, in: ditto, Situations, IV, p. 387^07 , p. 389. Cf. A. Mas- son's own remarks in the talk with Clebert in: J.-P. Clebert (ed.), Mythologie d'Andre Masson, Geneva: Pierre Cailler, 1971, pp. 59, 77.



eant de cet Himalaya de polyedres qu'au prix de I'abandon de leur peau"2l, that Sartre deduced how Masson used mythology. Masson was incapable of breaking away from the "Dionysiacal myth". Sartre sticks to his interpretation of the lines that create the figures in Masson's drawings, seeing them as "sign- posts" for the human eye. This poses the question: is it unnecessary to search for an interpretation that transcends the picture? It can safely be said that this is not the case, not least because of the variety of approaches that Sartre connects with this picture. The development of Masson's aesthetics matches the dynamics that the viewer discovers in his pictures. The portrait studies convey this dynamic mo- ment by referring to terms in Sartre's philosophy. The opportunity to confirm his own concepts is what determines Sartre's analysis of the works of art in question, possibly causing him to pass over those other aspects of the works that one would expect to be brought up if Sartre were categorising the artist in terms of traditional art history. The interpretation of Masson's mythology is a result of Sartre's own reflec- tions; in Existentialism is a Humanism he gave transcendence a particular mean-

it is in pursuing transcendent goals that he [i.e. man, HW.] is able to

exist." 22 This claim recalls Sartre's theory of theatre, which arose on the basis of the same ideas. On stage, the relationship between somebody's own decision regarding a certain project or choice and the determination that arises from this decision becomes, in the guise of a myth, the play's main message 23 . The myth only gains meaning when members of the public participate - by comparing their own experiences with the conflicts portrayed on the stage. Reverting to myths hints at the wealth of experience upon which one can fall back in extreme situations to influence the decisions of individuals. In the Notebooks for an Ethics the myth is equated with various conditions of social existence that can be overcome. 24 The myth is drawn upon by Sartre not to transfigure, but to explain and characterise processes that are comparable, and that can thus be transferred to others. The claim to truth inherent in myths needs to be questioned. Myths that an author is supposed to destroy disguise rather than explain a given situation; the public has to adjust its own under- standing of certain conditions or circumstances: "The real work of the commit- ted writer is, as I said before, to reveal, demonstrate, demystify, and dissolve myths and fetishes in a critical acid bath." 25

ing: "




1 Sartre, Masson p. 401 f. and p. 391. Approximate translation: "Winged men held in rocks of ice, who cannot liberate themselvesfrom this polyhedral Himalaya except at the price of leaving behind their own skins."

2 Ditto, Existentialism is a Humanism, p. 52.

3 Cf. ditto, Forgers of the Myth, p. 40-41, 42-43.

2 ^ Cf. ditto, Notebooks for an Ethics, p. 61 f.


5 Ditto, The Purposes of writing [an interview given by Sartre to M. Chapsal in 1959], in:


The author can only fulfil this task if he succeeds in gaining access to as large a circle of readers as possible. The myths he uses in doing so are not sup- posed to announce truths that he has laid down; they are intended to gradually enlarge the scope of generally recognised values. On his own the author can achieve nothing with these myths. Like the artist, the author is dependent on the recipients' collaboration. This is true also of the works of Alexander Calder. These range in variety from the small sketches 26 to the bulky stabiles in La Defense 27 , which at the time looked at first glance as if they were part of the building site. Later, after the building work was finished, the curved, red steel surfaces that were welded together remained there and are now impressive eye-catchers. So, too, are the large mobiles that mostly stand in highly public places, as in the Stuttgart pe- destrian zone. Here, a long pole is attached to a large, brightly coloured steel platform. At both ends there are coloured discs, which help the wind to set the mobile in motion. This movement itself then becomes part of the work of art. With animals, figures and objects formed from wire, Calder built his small automatic circus. 28 The massive stabiles also betray his humour: a cow, four metres in length and created from steel plates, leans forward slightly. 29 In the foreword to his exhibition catalogue Les mobiles de Calder^, Sartre addresses the recognisable peculiarities of these works of art and shows again that it suf- fices at first to convey his own observations: a mobile, "a small local fete", is defined solely by its movements; it cannot exist without them and ceases to ex- ist the moment it stops. The attempt 31 to understand the movements and to gain insight into the meaning of these works of art by observing them shows again how Sartre is guided by his philosophy: because the mobiles do not mean any- thing they are self-referential and absolute in themselves. Sartre's next attempt to produce an explanation is in contradiction to what has just been said, since he certainly does attribute a meaning to the moving metal pieces - one that is conceded to them on the grounds that they originated as products of human activity. To be sure, Calder's mobiles do not have the






6 Cf. A. Calder, Animal Sketching, London: Brigman, 1926, 3rd edition, no year.

7 Calder's stabile "La Defense" (1975) on the Rond-Point de La Defense in Paris is named here by way of example, in: J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p. 326.

8 Cf. J. Lipman, N. Foote (eds), Calder's Circus, New York: Dutton, 1972. Cf. Calder, Le Cirque, in: ibid., [exhibition catalogue:] Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, July-October 1965, Paris 1965, p. 8. Cf. G. Carandente (ed.), Calder, Milan: Electa, 1983, p. 54-65, cf. Calder: Mobiles et Stabiles (with 24 di- apositives), Lausanne: Editions Rencontre, 1970.

9 A. Calder, The Cow, painted sheet-metal, 158" long, 1970, Collection of Mr. and Mrs B. Schulhof, Great Neck N.Y., in: Lipman, Foote, Calder s Circus, p. 149.

0 For the following: Sartre, Les mobiles de Calder, in: Situations, 111, p. 307-311.

31 Cf. for the following: op. cit., p. 308 f.


same degree of precision as Vaucanson's automata, 32 whose mechanical ducks imitate the vital functions of their natural models, but their hesitating and cau- tious movements still bestow on them a kind of Being somewhere between mat- ter and life 33 . These movements are intended to create an aesthetic effect, and they posses an almost metaphysical meaning. This meaning is bestowed on them by human beings, by the viewer, who, rather than providing the work with an interpretation or explanation as to why it was created, makes something of it in the future. The question is: what does the recipient make of the work of art, or, in the case of Calder's mobiles, in what manner will the work of art arouse the viewer's imagination? The mobiles' material construction and the move- ment they are given externally form a unity comparable with the all-embracing concept of a work described by Sartre in The Family Idiot. The meaning and purpose of a work of art can never be provided solely by the author, for observing a work of art is itself subject to a dynamic process, as Sartre shows in his foreword to L 'artiste et sa conscience by the composer Rene Leibowitz; here, Sartre transfers his theories to music. This confirmation of the universal applicability of his approach is not aimed at the interpretation of par-

ticular works, since the latter always represent for Sartre an occasion to investi- gate just how far art can be understood at all. For Leibowitz, the work of art was

valuable above all because of its positive contents: "[

34 . An existing work will only be judged after it

ture fallen into the present [

has been completed, and for this reason judgement will naturally say more about us and about our future possibilities than about the work itself. The work of art's interpretation will always remain something incompre- hensible or at least something that cannot be defined unambiguously. Instead of being the bearer of a single message, the work presents the viewer with tasks that cannot necessarily only be formulated by the artist himself. Every viewer solves the task in a different way, in accordance with his own experiences and personal expectations. What is certain is that the work of art opens up new per- spectives to the viewer, provided he is prepared to recognise them and does not allow his view to be blocked by the artist's biography. There can also be little doubt that the artist can employ various methods to influence how the viewer understands and feels. The results of these methods differ in a number of ways, including whether or not the artist manages to convey normative and moral ideas.


it is a block of the fu-


3 2 Cf. D. Hoeges, Julien Offray de Lamettrie and die Grundlagen des franzosischen Materia- lismus im 18. Jahrhundert, in: Neues Handbuch der franzosischen Literatunvissenschaft. Edited by K. von See. Vol. XII: Europaische Aufklarung III. Edited by J. v. Stackelberg. Wiesbaden: Akademie Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion, 1980, p. 249-268, p. 261. 3 3 Cf. for the following: Sartre, Les Mobiles de Calder, p. 309 ff. 3 4 Ditto, The Artist and his Conscience, in: ditto, Situations, p. 219.


"Perverse Venetians! Fickle bourgeois! Tintoretto was their painter. He portrayed what they saw, what they felt, but they couldn't bear him." Sartre, The Prisoner of Venice 1

5. Tintoretto and the "school of vision"

Venice has its very own character, one that in turn shapes the special relation- ship of the Serenissima with its inhabitants. "Venice seen from my window" is an impressive portrait of the city on the lagoon that appeared in the magazine Verve in 1953. Using detailed observations, Sartre creates an image of the city with its canals, squares and inhabitants like a mosaic in the reader's mind. This is the scenery that Tintoretto once experienced in almost the same manner. Ven- ice's highly individual features do not permit the city to be compared with oth- ers. Its position on the lagoon has enabled it to develop in a unique way, that re- appears in many facets in all the works of art found in its churches and muse- ums. The many squares of diverse shapes open out before the people strolling across them, sometimes as rectangles or square-shaped, or maybe as a patch- work of several squares. Every district of the city has its own type of squares, perhaps providing space for a monument or simply as the junction of several calli. Despite the few bridges, the canal has never really split the city into distinct regions. On the contrary, it is its main thoroughfare: "But this canal aims to unite; it aspires to be a waterway, expressly made for walking." 2 The pedestri- ans in haste halt briefly at the water's edge, then climb into a gondola, using it like a zebra crossing, remain standing with 15 or 20 other passengers for a short while, often even immersed in reading a newspaper, until they are deposited safely on the other bank. They do not deign to look at the vaporetto that is steer- ing directly towards them; it will skirt round them as always. They are familiar with the rocking motion of their small gondola. Once on the far bank, they just continue without glancing round. The steps of the palazzi run right down to the water and remind one of bet- ter days when no-one dreamt that Venice might some day start to sink further and further. From one's window one looks out onto the opposite bank with its houses. The view shows the whole city, just as one detail on a photo of Venice represents the whole city. For when one stands at the window the city's canals make the opposite bank appear beyond one's reach, and yet at the same time give the city its unique structure.

1 Ditto, The Prisoner of Venice, in: Sartre, Situations, p. 52.

2 Sartre, La reine Albemarle ou le dernier touriste. Fragments. Edited by A. Elkaim-Sartre. Paris: Gallimard, 1991, p. 193. (Translated by C. Atkinson)


After finishing Saint Genet Actor and Martyr in 1951, Sartre travelled to Italy. He had planned to write a volume of travel accounts on Italy: La reine Albemarle ou le dernier touriste. The slim volume that was printed from his lit- erary estate in 1991 probably gives only a small insight into the large number of notes that Sartre made at the time, before writing Les communistes et la paix^ the year after (1952) and putting his Italy project to one side. 4 This manner of observing a town and its inhabitants as a tourist in order to fathom its secrets also moulds Sartre's account of his travels. u No-one is really a tourist if he is not respectful" 5 , one reads in the chapter about Capri. With the help of just a few comments a portrait emerges of the tourist with his tasks and duties, but also of the chances that one should seize when they present them- selves. A journey offers one the opportunity to become acquainted with many new things, and it is also an occasion for assembling and enriching one's own thoughts and associations: "This is the only way to take possession of a town a little: by dragging around one's own personal cares." 6 The tourist who ventures to accept its inhabitants' customs does not feel like a stranger in this town. On the contrary, despite the city's reserve, if the tourist develops a taste for its finer points he can understand it and its uniqueness. In the city the tourist should be- have with respect and discover it as a kind of total work of art:

"After hisfirst Venetian night, the tourist-animal wakes up as an amphibian; it perceives at once that it has grown fins and recovered the use of its feet. Here one's gait regains its original nobility, here walking is sanctified." 7

Venice is a museum - and exhibits the Serenissima's history. The city's aristocratic constitution punishes every deviation from the norm. The doge Mar- ino Faliero had attempted just such a deviation in 1355 and was punished for doing so by being executed and having his portrait hung with a piece of black cloth - even though the city had promised to give him his due if he admitted his guilt. In Sartre's artist portraits there is something important that has hitherto been largely overlooked. With his analyses of the work and life of Jacopo Robusti, better known as Tintoretto, 8 Sartre planned a largish piece of work about the Venetian painter. Here he wanted to demonstrate how despite criticism from all quarters the individual can assert himself and create works that are new for his own age. The idea of writing a book about both Italy and Tintoretto had perhaps already occurred to him during his first visit to Venice in 1933. Many fragments

3 Sartre, Les communistes et la paix, in: ditto, Situations, VI, Problemes du marxismes I, Pa ris: Gallimard, 1964, p. 80-384.

4 Cf. ditto, Venise, in: ditto, La reine Albemarle ou le dernier touriste, p. 87.

5 Ditto, Capri, in: ditto, p. 23.

6 Cf. for the following: Sartre, Venise, in: La reine Albemarle, p. 66, 86.

7 Ditto, op. cit., p. 84. (Translated by C. Atkinson)


of his Tintoretto studies have appeared in print in various places. Apart from the texts published in La reine Alhemarle ou le dernier touriste there are further manuscript pages, from which his analysis of Tintoretto's self-portrait of 1588 was recently taken for the catalogue of the Bibliotheque Nationale's centenary exhibition. 9 The pages in the appendix of the Critique of Dialectical Reason 's second volume 'dialectique\ with the notes on the history of Venice, 10 are wit- ness to Sartre's passion for the city and its history: for some, his descriptions of Venice with its canals and palaces contain more or less humdrum observations of no particular value, 1 ! whilst others are very much more appreciative of his comments. In La reine Alhemarle ou le dernier touriste Sartre gives an account of his strolls through the city: he describes his trips with the gondola; he visits the museums and churches and tries to understand the city's structure. Venice has its own system of coordinates - this is one of his insights. The confusion of canals and streets is deserted, because there is no speed in Venice. Sartre's portrait of Venice, evoking as it does such an impressive picture of its architecture, citizens and history on just a few pages, forms the backdrop for his studies of Tintoretto. He calls the painter "the secluded one in Venice"; this was probably in order to characterise his particular ties with the city and its so- cial relations, from which Tintoretto was unable - and presumably unwilling - to extricate himself, preferring to capture on canvas everything and everyone, the city, its citizens and its history with the help of his new painting technique. The city's relationship to its inhabitants, and to one of its artists in particular, can be revealed on Tintoretto's pictures. 12 There are various anecdotes and sev- eral biographical references to Tintoretto's troubled relationship with the city. Nevertheless, his reputation there cannot have been all that bad. In the Scuola Grande di San Rocco he succeeded in taking possession of every bit of free

9 Sartre, Un vieillard mystifie. Texte inedit de Jean-Paul Sartre. Fragment pour le Sequestre de Venise 1957, in: ditto [catalogue for the centenary exhibition; Bibliotheque nationale de France], ed. M. Berne, Paris: Bibliotheque nationale de France, Gallimard, 2005, p. 186-190. !0 Ditto, Critique of Dialectical Reason, vol. II, p. 442-446. 1 ! Cf. T. Lenain, Le roman du Tintoret sartrien et ses implications philosophiques, in: Sur les ecrits postHumes de Sartre, in: Annales de I 'Institut de Philosophic et de Sciences Morales. Edited by G. Hottois. Brussels 1987, p. 121. 1 ^ The Tintoretto studies are still unfortunately scattered about various publications; one text collection has appeared in Italian. Sartre, Tintoretto o il sequestrato di Venezia, Progetto e introduzione di Michel Sicard. Traduzione e cura di F. Scanzio. Milan: Marinotti, 2005 (the introduction by M. Sicard, Approches du Tintoret: www.michel-sicard.fr/textes.html); cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double. Le Sequestre de Venise. Inedit, in: Obliques 24/25, Sartre et les arts (edited by M. Sicard), Nyons 1981, p. 171-202; ditto, Les produits finis du Tintoret, in: Magazine litteraire, 176, Figures de Sartre, Paris 1981, p. 28-30; ditto, Le sequestre de Venise, in: Situations, IV, p. 291-346; ditto, St George and the Dragon, in:

Sartre, Between Existentialism and Marxism, p. 179-196; ditto, Saint Marc et son double; ditto, La reine Alhemarle ou le dernier touriste.


space to create an impressive monument to himself and his painting by placing almost 50 pictures on the walls and ceilings: the work of a lifetime, one would think, and yet these pictures! 3 were only an interim halt, part of the dynamic pace, so to speak, that he kept up, hardly allowing his patrons time to judge the pictures themselves. As is recounted time and again, Tintoretto - Sartre also often calls him Ro- busti - once turned up at a competition at the Scuola di San Rocco empty- handed and on being asked which design he was entering, by way of an answer he pulled at a cord,! 4 letting cardboard fall from the ceiling to reveal the oval picture of "San Rocco in Gloria"! 5 . The viewers' eyes passed upwards through an imaginary pane of glass, on which the saint stands. The surprised fraternity was given no time to consider how to react. Tintoretto donated the picture, and because the fraternity's statutes do not permit it to reject gifts, Tintoretto won the competition and later received a lifetime pension of 100 ducats per month.! 6 It is hardly surprising that his reputation suffered, given such business tactics with which he constantly outdid his rivals and put them in the shade.

In his pictures one glimpses not only the painter's personality, but also the city itself. The first sentences of the Tintoretto study give an account of the feel- ing of aversion with which the Venetians confronted their painter. His oeuvre,

however, ("

thor, his technique of painting, the rivalry of his colleagues and the tricks with which he outstripped his colleagues. His personality fascinates his biographers, who expose his difficult character; but this does not prevent Tintoretto from de-

fending his independence. This is the cue for Sartre to butt in, since he is con- cerned with the project of an artist who asserts himself with his own personal decisions, overcomes obstacles and makes his own art into the yardstick of his times. The fragments of the Tintoretto study available today bring together the most important findings of Sartre's early works, Imagination. A Psychological Critique (1936) and The Imaginary. A phenomenological psychology of the imagination (193 8/40). 18 They consist of an attempt to make statements about

Venise nous par/e


7 )

betrays a great deal more about the au-

13 A. Zenkert, Tintoretto in der Scuola di San Rocco, Ensemble und Wirkung, Tubingen:

Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 2003. Cf. the author's review: "Tintoretto in der Scuola di San Rocco": www.romanistik.info/zenkert-tintoretto.html.

14 D. Baussy-Oulianoff, Le Tintoret d'apres Jean-Paul Sartre. La Dechirure jaune, (DVD, 1983), Paris: Gallimard, 2005.

15 Cf. C. Bernari, L 'opera completa del Tintoretto, Milan: Rizzoli, 2 1978, ill no. 67, 240x360 cm.

16 Cf. E. v. d. Bercken, Die Gemalde desJacopo Tintoretto, Munich: Piper, 1942, p. 36.

17 Sartre, Le sequestre de Venise, p. 291.


the degree of consciousness that Tintoretto attained in his works. They also en- quire into the painter's importance for his contemporaries, into the meaning the painter attached to the subject matter of his paintings and into the degree of in- tentionality with which he obtained the impact that he did. The Tintoretto study reveals the Venetian's sophisticated painting techniques, with which he influ- enced the viewing habits of his clients, instructed them, so to speak, in how to fulfil certain tasks, and perhaps even coerced them into doing so. Strengthened by his success, Tintoretto went on to overcome all opposition. Who was this artist? A few biographical facts suffice at the start: Robusti was born in Venice in 1518 and became one of the most important painters of the second half of the sixteenth century. Sartre was convinced that everything else could be inferred from his pictures. The look, the project, the choice, the freedom, the progressive-regressive method described in The Problem of Method, the conviction that a work's scope reaches out beyond the person, i.e., that it cannot be explained or interpreted by the person alone - these all belong to the repertoire of the portraiture technique, enabling the works of a 16th- century painter to be described very successfully. Until around the year 2000, few had taken note of Sartre's treatment of Tin- toretto and even today only a small circle of specialists is aware of it. The struc- ture of the individual parts of his investigations into the Venetian painter and their recognisable links with his philosophy have hitherto only been given mar- ginal attention. By characterising the Tintoretto study, for example, as just a piece of work from a transitional period* 9 , as has often been done, means that this study has been underestimated as an independent work. Le sequestre de Venise describes the relationship between Tintoretto and his city; the study in Situations, IX, "Saint George and the Dragon" contains an analysis of a painting of the same name that can be found today in the National Gallery in London. The investigation published in Obliques interprets seventeen of his paintings and demonstrates how the artist was able to assert himself. The fragment published in "Magazine litteraire" in 1981 is, according to the editors, the last part of the portrait study. 20 Suggesting that the Tintoretto study is an unsuccessful Sartre autobiography is an oversimplification and says perhaps as much about the researcher and his

and Ftille. Jean-Paul Sartres negative Theorie der Einbildungskraft auf dem Prufstein von Tintorettos Malerei [lecture on the occasion of the conference 'imagination and Invention". Interdisciplinary conference in co-operation with the Academy of the Arts, Berlin, 27-29 January 2005], in: T. Bernhart, P. Mehne (eds), Imagination und Invention, Paragrana, supplement 2, 2006, p. 13-27. Cf. ditto, Suspension et gravite. L'imaginaire sartrien face au Tintoret, in: Alter. Revue de phenomenologie. Image et ceuvre d'art, n 0 15/2007, 123-141.

19 Cf. M. Thevoz, La psychose prophetique du Tintoret, in: Obliques 24/25, p. 163-168, here p. 164.


approach to Sartre's work as about the work itself. Of course one can establish a connection between "the secluded one of Venice" and the author himself, but taking such a biased view means in effect that one only sees what one expects to see; Tintoretto's notion of art and its possibilities do not get the attention they deserve. Tintoretto does play a role of his own in Sartre's study. With his man- ner of painting he succeeds in liberating himself from the artistic norms of his predecessors, with which he was familiar in the town. To be sure, he needs an audience, if only to be able to observe the continually growing distance between them and himself. 2 1 These are the first indications of his art's novel character. Sartre's enquiries into Tintoretto are divided into two independent chapters. The 'picture descriptions' and the comparison of their results with other works serve to reconstruct Tintoretto Is painting technique and to explain the impact of his pictures. Sartre's ideas about the 'painter's personality' are only indirectly connected with his paintings. Sartre was not an art historian, but with the observations that he recorded in his analyses of Tintoretto's works and that relate above all to the people de- picted there, he names all the factors that constitute mannerism. His Tintoretto studies are oriented exclusively towards the artist's works. Biographical facts are just trimmings and have no explanatory function. The differences between his pictures and those of other painters elucidate how Tintoretto transcended his situation after his own fashion. The picture that caused one of Tintoretto's biggest scandals, "The Miracle

of St Mark", now hangs in the Accademia in Venice. 22 This painting was in the

Scuola Grande di San Marco until 1797 and having been taken to France was not returned until 1815. Painted in 1548, the picture shows Saint Mark, clad in flowing robes and with the gospel clasped under his arm; in defiance of all tradition, he is de- picted plummeting down from heaven, 23 coming in person to rescue a slave

from death as a martyr. 24 Sartre's description of the picture is like a screenplay.

A number of events are depicted as happening at the same time, but are de-

scribed in the study one after the other, thereby reconstructing the chronological aspect. Orientals - mostly "infidels" in the eyes of the Christian West in Tintor- etto's day - are in the process of torturing a Christian slave. Saint Mark is plunging down from heaven head first. About 25-30 people are depicted in this





1 Cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 186.

2 The website www.romanistik.info/sartre.html lists a number of internet sites showing pic- tures by Tintoretto.

3 R. Krischel has produced an analysis of this painting, cf. R. Krischel, Jacopo Tintoretto. Das Sklavenwunder. Bilawelt und Weltbild, Frankfurt/M: Fischer, 1994, p. 10 f., p. 6 2 ff.

4 Tintoretto, San Marco libera lo Schiavone (Accademia, Venice) in: C. Bernari, L 'opera

completa del Tintoretto, no. 64, table III; cf. for the following: Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 175 f. Cf. the picture's description: K. M. Swoboda, Tintoretto, Ikonogra-

phische und stilistische

Untersuchungen, Vienna, Munich: Scholl, 1982, p. 13 ff.


scene, standing around the slave, who is lying on the ground. His tormentor is wearing a turban. This is the description of the picture and the commission that Tintoretto conscientiously carried out. Sartre's study contains a detailed de- scription of the picture, identifying the saint's index finger as its focal point. The picture consists of two parts: firstly Mark and the Qadi, who is pronouncing the sentence from his throne, and secondly, the crowd below them, which sur- rounds the slave. Weights and counterbalances, semi-circles from the left turban through the saint's toe to the Qadi's head determine the picture's structure. The torturer is showing the Qadi the hammer, which like the axe has just shattered miraculously. The Qadi is leaning forward and sees even less of what is going on above him. The viewer can hardly help being fascinated by this scene. It is the unaccus- tomed perspective used by Tintoretto to depict it that made his contemporaries initially reject it: a saint in free fall? That is not how saints are shown. They normally look upwards, certainly not downwards. By plunging head first, how- ever, Mark is using the force of gravity to make his passage downwards even faster. He will be able to brake in time, but his gown still shows him to be plummeting and certainly not hovering, as would behove a saint. Saint Mark has let the henchman's instruments shatter in mid-flight. The purpose of his flight, his appointed task and its execution and outcome are illustrated simultaneously in the picture. The viewer is one step ahead of the onlookers in the picture, be- cause he realizes that most of the onlookers have not yet grasped what exactly is happening. What a scandal this picture caused! 25 Of course it is not befitting for the saint to be shown in free fall; and certainly not to be depicted in the shadow of the events. He should have been brightly lit up. Due to the picture's composi-

tion of light, the saint is not at first at the centre of attention. In his analysis of the picture's composition, Sartre shows how the painter steers the viewer's gaze; the latter sees the apostle's nose-dive, then the people and, finally, he also recognises the slave on the ground, fearfully awaiting his fate. And then he un- derstands why the instruments are shattered. Mark himself, who shoots down to the rescue at the very last minute, is reduced almost to a decorative element, since the rescue itself in the shape of the shattered instruments of torture and the gesture of amazement become the picture's main topic. Mark has only one hand free. In his other hand he is grasping the gospel. The story runs before the

mind's eye like a film: "[

by it" 26 , as Sartre writes in his analysis of another of Tintoretto's pictures, that of Saint George fighting the dragon. Tintoretto stages the events surrounding the slave, and the eye deciphers the picture's dramaturgy. Every viewer is able to recognise the slave's rescue, before the saint has even made an appearance.


each presence points to the next, and is disqualified



5 Sartre, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 7.

6 Ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 182.


In effect, Tintoretto has staged a miracle in a very realistic manner. Nonetheless, one needs to be cautious; it is only the picture's description, revealing the suc- cessive events, that gives one clues as to the picture's drama. 27 The nose-dive shows that the laws of nature were not valid for Mark. Yet Tintoretto fulfilled his commission. He was supposed to paint a miracle. He painted, one reads in the study, the linking of cause and effect and universal de- terminism. Did his customers actually recognise what he intended? And why did the artist paint this subject matter if the contract stipulated the legend of a saint? Did Mark himself really have to come personally to shatter the tools? Could he not have done it from above? By depicting him in such a pose, the painter makes the apostle look ridiculous. 28 Is Mark no saint after all, just some sort of miracle-healer or charlatan? It is no surprise that Tintoretto's contempo- raries found the picture ugly and felt provoked. 29 But the scandal only really emerges if we grasp the meaning of the picture in the way that Tintoretto had secretly prepared. He shows symbols that possess an acknowledged meaning, and the viewer discovers that the composition lends them a new one. Sartre sums up this observation as follows: Tintoretto sets his audience to work and by showing them familiar things in a new way he challenges them to assist him in creating his imaginary world. 30 On a number of occasions in his study Sartre mentions well-known episodes from Tintoretto's biography. He also compares Tintoretto's pictures with one another and describes the artist's social status in Venice. The example of San Rocco has already shown how Tintoretto proceeded: the artists were supposed to appear at a competition with their sketches, but Tintoretto unveiled before their eyes his finished picture, thus outdoing all his rivals. This was how he as- serted his new kind of art and his play with perspective. His unrestrained artistic energy frightened and astonished his fellow-citizens. Tintoretto reflected the atmosphere of his own times in his paintings and above all his town's restless- ness, which the inhabitants would have preferred to ignore. 3 ! '"Jacopo', said the city, 'failed to keep the promise of his adolescence'" 32 , Sartre judges. In the picture of the "Miracle of St Mark" the two main people are shown foreshortened. The slave, who is lying on the ground, can only rec- ognise above him the feet of the saint hurtling towards him, if he is capable of understanding anything at all of what is going on. The way the light is distrib- uted across the picture and the idea of leaving the saint in the shadows derive perhaps from Tintoretto's experiments, which he undertook with figures he cre-



7 Sartre, Saint Marc et son double. Le Sequestre de Venise, p. 176, 186.

8 Cf. ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p 181.

29 Op.cit.,p. 177.

30 Op.cit.,p. 186.



1 Cf. ditto, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 56.

2 Op. cit., p. 7.


ated himself and with candles. In the "Musee Grevin" 33 , which contains the painter's waxworks, Sartre believes he had found the answer. After making a provisional sketch, Tintoretto would build up the figures and try out all the pos- sibilities that the three dimensions thus offered him. A woman on the left was placed on a step to counterbalance the raised position of the person on the right, who was seated on a dais holding the tribunal. Everything was carefully pre- pared. Making the first model becomes an important stage on the way to the fin- ished piece of work. Tintoretto's manner of painting begins to resemble a con- struction technique, and this interpretation enables Sartre to trace the Venetian's intentions in such a way as to suggest that he had caused the scandal deliber- ately. But Sartre is disappointed: the figure theatre was not reproduced in the picture; the painter - that mad man! - ruined everything. The figures did not in- teract with one another. Instead of appearing as a totality, they were simply added together to form a crowd, for the painter was not capable of reflecting the intended arrangement. The discrepancy remains between the two portrayable dimensions and the figures' third one. One cannot fail to notice that Sartre's reservations about the picture are de- termined by a preconceived notion, which simply underlines the outcome all the more clearly. Nonetheless, his picture descriptions do have a value all of their own, as one experiences when viewing for example the "Miracle of St Mark" in the Venetian Academy. If one lets the many visitors who continually file past the painting or gaze at it for a while stand between the picture and oneself, they soon begin to fill out the semi-circle in the foreground that is missing in the pic- ture. A moment later a few will then point to Mark, as if they had only just dis- covered him, after puzzling over the shattered instruments. This scene reveals how the viewers discover the picture's temporal succession of events - a char- acteristic feature of Robusti's pictures. But the individual, chronologically stag- gered scenes belong to an overall impression that Tintoretto conveys especially well in the painting. He not only shaped the figures himself; he also decided on the impression the viewer was supposed to have. The manner in which the saint plummets, and the shadow thrown by his body on arrival, underline the relation between the dramatic and plastic representation that is peculiar to so many of his paintings. Sartre feels that the saint's figure addresses our imagination di- rectly: we are tempted to imagine how such a movement feels. Sartre explains this idea with the term of heaviness, which he repeatedly identifies as a topic in Tintoretto's works, one that points to man's position or condition. The painter would like to have created the material reality of the physical relations between humans and things, and wanted moreover to show the laws of nature in the mo- ment in which divine will revokes them. This is the task the painter set himself, and he thus set about depicting a miracle. This miracle he duly delivered, but showed it as part of a chain of circumstances that was at the same time embed-

Ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 172; cf. for the following: p. 172-174, p. 176.


ded in a pattern of universal determinism. The patrons were horrified and thereby revealed that they secretly saw through Tintoretto's intentions. This passage in Sartre's study demonstrates how Sartre can explain a work's impact by comparing the definition of the project to its execution. Sartre also presents a conclusion: the clients' agitation was not only due to the picture; like the artist they also recognised in the picture the underlying conflict of their age. The scandal that Tintoretto is supposed to have provoked with the plummet- ing Mark was founded on the viewers' consent; but these viewers, while under- standing the event portrayed, did not immediately grasp the implications of this new form of art. Tintoretto dazzled with a composition in the manner of Titian, but he counted on the viewers' amazement and coerced them into adopting his intuition as their own. 34 Sartre constructs this relation between Tintoretto and his clients in order to be able to derive the hypothesis of their collaboration. Having shown how the clients were influenced by the painter, Sartre intends in a further step to ascer- tain the relationship between the artist's personal decisions and those to which he was bound by contract. The small scope that remained for the artist to pursue his own goals is the true focus of the portrait study. Despite, or even because of, the little leeway conceded to him, Tintoretto was able to create a work that could be understood as his answer to Venice's situation. Sartre defends Tintor- etto's disloyal behaviour in the competitions by pointing to the difficult market situation and the commissioners' legally binding conditions. 35 Despite these obstacles, the artist still managed to assert himself by choosing an option that his colleagues saw as being precisely the opposite of what the usage of his day dictated. Regardless of all criticism, the government continued to place orders with Robusti, and as long as he was employed by them, the scandal stayed within bounds. At first Tintoretto paid no attention to the critics; he preferred to take the bull by the horns:

"Until his death, Robusti raced against the time, and it is hard to decide whether he was trying to find or toflee himself through his work. 'Lightning-Tintoretto' sailed under the black flag, and for this driven pirate, all means were fair." 3 **

By interpreting selected paintings, Sartre intends to reconstruct the painter's social situation and his relations with the town that made the artist's success possible and enabled him to free himself of all convention. 37 Tintoretto suc- ceeded not only from his own efforts, but because his working conditions, and

34 Cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 172.

35 Cf. ditto, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 10 f. There is every reason to assume there was an at- mosphere of intense competition, cf. H. Tietze, Tintoretto. Gemalde und Zeichnungen, London: Phaidon, 1948, p. 29. 3 *> Ditto, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 8. 3 ' He never succeeded in becoming completely free; as late as 1577 a board of enquiry was set up against him, cf. K. M. Swoboda, Tintoretto, p. 59.


thus his success too, were dependent on his relations to his home-town. The art- ist was bound to Venice like a prisoner, completely at its mercy. If he had left Venice, he would have lost the whole basis for his art. The changes in his style of painting, which also include a return to earlier forms, 38 are described by Sartre as a continual development. But he does not overlook the regulations to which Tintoretto possibly had to adhere. It suffices to compare the vast "Paradise" in the Doges' Palace, which measures an enor- mous 7x22 m - reputedly the largest oil-on-canvas painting ever created - with the very much smaller sketch of the same subject now in the Louvre. 39 At the beginning of his very detailed analysis of the "Paradise" in the Doges' Palace (1588-1590), Swoboda points out the large interval of time between the painting and the earlier sketch, which Tintoretto is supposed to have made in 1579. 40 Swoboda does not consider the "Paradise" to be a commissioned work; rather, it was one which gave the painter the opportunity "to test here how well he could employ all his 'experience with figures' in the context of the painting" 4 !. The vast picture - one he painted, significantly enough, for the wall above the Doge's throne at the very heart of power in the centre of Venice - is an ex- pression of the passion that united him and the city. 42 In Sartre's opinion, every picture was an opportunity for Tintoretto to defend himself against his fellow- citizens. The whole city had to be convinced, since it was its officials and citi- zens who decided whether he would later be forgotten or become immortal. Making his own choice was a source of strength; his painting was the repeated attempt to prevail over others. On occasion, Sartre explicitly compares the works of Titian and Tintoretto, thus underlining the novel-like character of his Tintoretto studies. His descrip- tion of the two artists' tombs reminds us that Tintoretto was never able to break away completely from the elder painter's shadow, and that Tintoretto was only capable of completing his own works in precisely this situation of rivalry: Ti- tian, or rather "the old man's radioactive corpse", lies under a mountain of lard, nougat and sugar; Tintoretto, on the other hand, lies under a simple stone slab in a small side-chapel of a church in the suburbs. To the right of his tomb in the church of Madonna dell'Orto 43 hangs the "Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple" (1552). Examining this picture, Sartre tries to prove the importance of the notion of heaviness mentioned above, as well as to show how this heaviness was executed. Like many of his other analyses, this one is based on a compari-




8 Cf. K. M. Swoboda, Tintoretto, p. 52, 56.

9 Cf. Sartre, p. 299. Cf. Tintoretto, Paradise (sketch), c. 1579, 143x362 cm, in: E. von der Bercken, Jacopo Tintoretto, section with illustrations, p. 169 f.

0 Cf. K. M. Swoboda, Tintoretto, p. 75-84, esp. p. 75.

41 Op. cit., p. 84.

4 2


Cf. for the following: Sartre, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 49-52.

3 Cf. C. Bernari, L 'opera completa del Tintoretto, ill. no. 94, 490^480 cm.


son. Another of Robusti's pictures, that of the "Presentation of Christ" (1554) in the Accademia 44 , catches his interest above all because of the young mother on the right, who, with a child on her arm, is just about to descend the steps leading

down from the altar. In a second, she will lift her right foot and turn to the left:



her descent of the staircase is like the prowess of an alpinist." 45 She is

clearly paying little attention to what is going on, and so her behaviour is at the very least reprehensible. Sartre's remark that Tintoretto believed that things were not looking too good as far as human relations were concerned is only mentioned in passing. It nonetheless contains a suggestion that the viewer should take a look at himself in the painter's pictures. Can the woman's lack of

curiosity be applied to all viewers? "[

wanted to paint, everyone's, those piles of shadows so compact that not even a trembling can penetrate them." Turning to the second picture, the "Presentation of the Virgin at the Tem- ple" close to the painter's tomb, Sartre's invitation to cover up the whole flight of steps mentally or with one's right hand helps the viewer appreciate Tintor- etto's painting technique: it leaves just the priest, the Virgin and the woman be- hind her clearly visible. Sartre's method is quite simple: the viewer can now discover the earlier Titian in Tintoretto's picture. 46 Once the whole heaviness of the flight of steps has disappeared, taking one's hand away again also reveals the artist's manner of proceeding. The flight of steps takes up a large part of the picture, though it is really only the presentation in the temple that should com- mand our attention. The viewer is left to make the decision: the painter's idio- syncratic treatment of the subject matter either underlines the loftiness of what is happening on the steps above or it is very much putting the event into per- spective: the oppressive heaviness of the steps literally dwarfs the people strug- gling up the steps and shows them to be supplicants. Tintoretto did not lay down a particular interpretation. And if there was another scandal, then the viewer will have caused it himself. Sartre is in no doubt: the painter skilfully made his escape through the back door. Tintoretto represents heaviness in the picture as a feeling: "A body only weighs anything when it is crushed; Jacopo understood this: he found the means of crushing the patron respectfully." The client, the viewer, is supposed to feel overwhelmed by the weight of the stairs. To take a modern example, cinema has picked up his idea: the camera is placed in a ditch, horses gallop over it, as in the film "Ben Hur". But Tintoretto's pit was only an imaginary one, he simply placed his figures at a somewhat higher level. The manner in which Sartre

it's our lack of curiosity that he


4 4 Cf. C. Bernari, ill. no. 107, 239^298, Accademia, Venice. 4 5 Cf. for the following: Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 183-184. (Translated by C. Atkinson)

4 6 Titian, "Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple", in the Galleria

delF Accademia, Venice.


makes a film of Robusti's pictures impressively underscores the dynamism of the latter's pictures. This does not yet imply a conclusive opinion about "the solitary one of Ven- ice" and his art, but an interim result is evident: in none of his pictures is the sense of heaviness represented by any one single person; the heaviness always results from the relationship of all the figures to each other. From this we de- duce that the meaning of the heaviness can only be recognised by viewing it in the context of the whole. Sartre is using the progressive-regressive method here, which is witness to the continuity of method in his works: one can discover the elements by looking at the whole, just as, vice versa, one can explain the whole through looking at its component parts. 47 This approach, which incidentally is a dialectical method, is not explored thoroughly in the present study. Neverthe- less, one begins to recognise the approach in the passages named above, where Sartre draws conclusions about particular painting techniques used by Tintor- etto by describing certain details in the picture that reveal the above-mentioned whole. Sartre uses the same method to discuss Tintoretto's depiction of the cru- cifixion scene in the Scuola di San Rocco. Via the chapter "La Regina Albemarla o il ultimo Turisto", Sartre's descrip- tion of Tintoretto's crucifixion scene in the Scuola di San Rocco has since be- come fairly well known. Christ is already hanging on the cross, another cross is still on the ground, a third one is just being set upright, and the man who is pull- ing at the rope, and whom Tintoretto uses to show the picture's third dimension, betrays his exertions. The semi-circle described by arrangement of the crosses is a very classical feature. 48 The painting hangs in the small Sala d'albergo, which is accessible from the large hall in the first floor of the Scuola di San Rocco. It fills out the entire wall surface and therefore has no other frame than the boundaries of the ceiling and the side-walls. And Sartre's insight? He believes that Tintoretto replaces the missing emotions with a vision, as if in a cinema. 49 Sartre will later return to a comparison of Tintoretto's works with the cinema elsewhere - one that is sug- gested by the depiction of movement in the pictures: "Picture in four dimen- sions: space-time, the event. The ladder below again pushes Christ into the foreground." 50 With his pictures, Tintoretto confronted the inhabitants of Ven- ice with a dynamic force - he depicted the events rather than their results - and thus made the Venetians aware of the city's current state of turmoil. 5 ! for this

4 7 Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 189. Cf. C. Bernari, ill. no. 167, 1565, 536*1224 cm.

Cf. the description in Swoboda, Tintoretto, p. 37-44.

4 ^ Sartre, La Regina Albemarla o il ultimo Turisto, ebauche, in: ditto, La reine Albemarle ou le dernier touriste, p. 143 f. 49 0p.cit.,p. 144.



0 Ibid.

1 Cf. E. von der Bercken, Jacopo Tintoretto, p. 32.


frankness, of which everyone was well aware, Sartre presumes, Tintoretto was nonetheless not forgiven. Criticism rained down from all quarters, and all were agreed in rejecting his art. Sartre is convinced that this was the painter's secret; he was disliked by everyone. 52 But the visit to the Scuola di San Rocco shows that the disapproval cannot have been all that great. When Tintoretto turned up with his finished pictures, he created panic among his rivals, who themselves had not even had time to start. 53 His business acumen secured him a lucrative portion of the market. Perhaps he said to him- self: the harsher the criticism, the more well known he was. Moreover, he was careful to let the viewer participate too. Sartre's study also examines how an art- ist was able to assert his independence. He accepted commissions, interpreted them in his own way and let his clients collaborate quite consciously while the pictures were still being created by surpassing their viewing habits and present- ing them with a new manner of seeing things which they were not able to sim- ply dismiss, since he depicted the reality of their times. In this sense, Tintoretto was a step ahead o f his times and proved to his clients with every picture that art could also make predictions and influence social developments. The moment the clients cried out "scandal!", they had understood a little more. Tintoretto pointed out their options, he did not encroach in any way on his clients' and viewers' judgement; on the contrary, he instructed them in how to develop and recognise things for themselves. The real novelty in Tintoretto's painting technique, says Sartre, is the addi- tion of a third dimension to the two of his pictures. 54 This addition of a third dimension could not be achieved in conventional painting. Sartre believes that he can recognise here a solution, already provided in the Quattrocento, to the question of how to steer the viewer's gaze: "painting became a school of vi- sion." 55 This does not mean that viewing habits changed, but rather that the pic- tures' composition had to take into account how the viewers were accustomed to seeing things. They were supposed to rediscover familiar things in the pic- tures, and to this end pictures were delivered with instructions on how to view them. The comparison between two pictures with the same motif- "Saint George and the dragon" by Tintoretto 56 and by Carpaccio 57 - produces the proof that







2 Sartre, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 56.

3 Cf. ditto, The Prisoner of Venice, p. 9-11 .

4 Cf. esp. ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 190.

5 Op. cit.,p. 190.

6 Cf. ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 183 f., 190, 193-196. Cf. Tintoretto, San Giorgio uccide il Drago, in: C. Bernari, L 'opera completa del Tintoretto, p. 100, ill. no. 127, 157.5x100.3 cm (National Gallery, London).

7 Carpaccio, San Giorgio in Lotta con il Drago, in: M. Cancogni, L 'opera completa del Car- paccio (from the comparison one deduces that this picture is meant): p. 55 f. and tables XL-XLI.


Tintoretto depicted several time sequences in the same picture: the dragon has already been lethally wounded, while the chosen victim is still fleeing. 58 Tin- toretto shows only part of the lance, which necessarily has to be held out of view since the horseman is holding it on the far side of the horse's body in order to be able to strike the dragon with the full might of his assault. In contrast, Carpaccio's horseman holds the lance in his right hand in full view, though this means that the lance has to run along to the left of the horse's neck. Tintoretto was able to take more liberty in the composition than Carpaccio, since he knew that his viewers expected a lance, but he did not need to place it in the fore- ground. In Tintoretto's painting, the action that lends the picture its name takes place in the background and is only registered when the viewer has retraced the path of flight of the woman in the foreground. The view of the saint and his horse lets one forget the lance held in readiness for the assault, and thus the horse appears to form the picture's central axis, whilst the dragon, who had pro- voked Saint George's actions, is neglected. 59 This - Sartre's - comment points out those elements that the painter had to reject when conceiving the picture's composition: on the grounds that they would have obstructed the series of movements depicted in the picture or - and this is what counts - because they would not have evoked the intended effect in the viewer's mind. No picture is able to reproduce fully the artist's ideas in the viewer. The painter had to find an arrangement that was capable of conveying his intention in the best possible way. Sartre's line of argument recalls his categorical rejection of the uncon- scious. One has to ask oneself whether the painter - in this case Tintoretto - was fully aware of the possible effect his picture would have, and, if he was, whether he was able to employ this consciousness to incorporate suitable ele- ments in his picture that might give the viewer more information than the latter believed to recognise at first glance. It becomes evident that Tintoretto is only hinting at the picture's motif, namely, the killing of the dragon, which Sartre calls "the painting's secret." 60 The viewer can solve the mystery himself, for nothing in the picture has really been brought to a conclusion. The choice of words in Sartre's study also invites the viewer to participate in the artistic process. This is true of "The Slaughter of the Innocents" too 6 *. While other painters depict the massacre of the innocents





8 Cf. Sartre, St George and the Dragon, p. 182.

9 Cf. ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 192, cf. p. 193: "This is only appearance, no doubt - but it is extremely legible: nothing seems to me more difficult for an artist than to banish false illusions from the illusory."

0 Cf. for the following: ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 195 f.

1 In: C. Bernari, L'opera completa del Tintoretto, p. 129, ill. no. 267 d, 422x546 cm (Scuola di San Rocco). Cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 200.


with all its brutality, swords and blood are absent in Tintoretto's painting. The brute in the right foreground is about to strike, but pauses, while the utter horror of those around him increases. The painter summed up the happenings in the picture in five scenes, linked to each other by individual people. At the front left, a child is being lifted up a wall - clearly an attempt to rescue it. Further be- hind a woman is falling down the same wall, thereby suggesting a connection with a further group that is likewise in dreadful turmoil. Bernari calls his intro- duction "II teatrale Tintoretto" 62 , referring to the temporal sequence in the art- ist's paintings: 63 the movement created by the unity of the scene's subject mat- ter, and (re-)constructed by the viewer, triggers off our reaction, for our look immediately causes our muscles to tense, imaginatively speaking, thereby set- ting the painted figures in motion. It is no hallucination; nothing is suggested that is not there. Tintoretto pre- sents the picture and obliges the onlooker to examine it thoroughly and to dis- cover the scheme of things in the picture. 64 He surpasses the works of his predecessors, in Sartre's opinion, by presenting his clients with an incomparably more difficult task. "The idea of self-service is not his own, but he uses it: since the customer does the service himself, he is asked to wash the dishes on top of it." 65 Sartre explains this method with the various moments in time that the viewer has to piece back together, leading from one event to the next. 66 As if it were a score of music, the viewer has to decode the picture, on which the pas- sage of his gaze has been traced out. But the painter does not abandon him, he sets out how the gaze is to move: the passage dictated to the eye consists of drops, ascents and crossings or turnstiles. The painter constantly forces the gaze to follow a preconceived path. The task consists of connecting the picture's vanishing point or the spot that most draws the viewer's gaze into it with the other parts of the picture. This method, that Tintoretto is supposed to have had mastered so well, and with which he attains such skilful effects, is called by Sartre 'the third dimension'. It results from the manifest play of contradictions caused by the gaze moving wildly in all directions. 67 Thus the gaze clearly enjoys a certain autonomy. Rather than being fully absorbed in the picture, it maintains a kind of distance. This tension is caused, as Sartre fittingly remarks 68 , by the structure of Tintor- etto's pictures, which at the same time also suggests the angle from which the








2 C. Bernari, L'opera completa del Tintoretto, p. 5-8.

3 Cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 197.

4 Ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 197. Cf. Sartre's account of movements in the imagina- tion, ditto, The Imaginary, p. 73-83.

5 Ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 191.

6 Ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 181 f. Cf. for the following: ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 192.

? Ditto, Saint Marc et son double, p. 193.

8 Cf. Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 194.


observer is expected to view them. 69 The painter can influence the viewer's thinking; he can bring about the product of the latter's imagination with the help of an analogue 70 , but he cannot transcend the border between the irreal and the real. Perceiving this analogue is in effect the process by which the viewer can fathom out the picture and thus the artist's own ideas. Recognition of the ana- logue means opening up the way to the irreal. 71 The imagination can only intend to objectivise the relations represented in the picture. A foundation is created on the basis of the scene's main elements, and independently of the additional associations that the viewer might under- stand and that are unforeseeable for the artist. Attaining a minimum of consen- sus in this way allows the artist to influence the viewer's imagination. But this is only possible if the painter observes certain rules. One of the options is to emphasize movement, as Sartre observes with regard to the picture of "The in- vestiture of Gianfrancesco I" 72 , which now hangs in the Munich Pinakothek. Here too the viewer's eye - which the painter, according to Sartre, has borrowed - finds no escape. The painted object appears completely motionless, yet movement is effected by the dynamic interrelationship of the objects, as they are gradually discovered by the viewer's gaze. Sartre calls this process 'the brush's cunning'. 73 This observation, that likewise holds true for many of Tintoretto's other pictures, contains a contradiction: movement is suggested in a motionless scene. Nevertheless, it betrays one of the ways in which Sartre wishes to de- scribe the function of the imaginary in painting, thus fulfilling the task he had set himself earlier. 74 In doing so Sartre produces some remarkable results. This can be shown by looking at his analysis of the picture "Saint George and the dragon". Here, Sartre describes a number of semi-circles 75 that can be seen in the sky, on the horse's back, from the position of the dead victim and in an imaginary link to be drawn over the head of the fleeing woman. Then he recalls the painting of the same name by Carpaccio, which was mentioned above. This time, however, his aim is to compare how in both paintings the observer's gaze is guided. In Carpaccio's, the speed of the line of vision is similar to the thrust of the lance. In Robusti's, it all happens much more awkwardly. Here, the gaze is first guided in a roundabout way through many details round the horse's hind- quarters. Sartre mentions this to suggest that the picture belongs to the Baroque epoch: the speed in the picture is much greater than the speed of our slow gaze

6 9 One can assume that in these reflections Sartre is sooner referring to his own examination in The Imaginary than to more recent research results.

7 0 Cf. ditto, The Imaginary, p. 57-68.

71 Cf. ditto, p. 364.





2 Tintoretto, L'investitura di Gianfranceso I., 1578-79, 272*432 cm, in: C. Bernari, L opera completa del Tintoretto, ill. no. 236 A.

^ Sartre, Saint Marc et son double, p. 192.

4 Cf. ditto, The Imaginary, p. 192-194.

5 Cf. for the following: ditto, St George and the Dragon, p. 191-193.


with its circulating movements. Nonetheless, we impose our speed on the prin- cess and the saint. With these two different speeds combined in this way, the moment in time gains a particular, almost exaggerated importance in our atten- tion, as if seen in slow-motion. "The Annunciation", which Tintoretto painted for the lower hall of the Scuola di San Rocco between 1583 and 1587, 76 fulfils the prescribed topic. The archangel Gabriel hovers in through the door, while Mary has just put her book down. She steps back and has not yet heard the message that Gabriel, supported by quite a large number of angels all jostling to enter through the skylight above the door, wishes to deliver. He is supposed to deliver a proclamation and promptly brings a whole host of angels with him. Their mission is particularly important, and the task is performed all the better if they come in large numbers. A text of Sartre's, which was published in the Paris National Library exhibi- tion catalogue in 2005, contains a description of Tintoretto's self-portrait of 1588. 77 This text is distinguished from Sartre's previous analyses of the Ve- netian master in that in this instance he writes a very personal interpretation of one of the few pictures in which the painter depicts himself. After comparing a number of his pictures with each other, Sartre now conducts a kind of dialogue with the master. The picture was painted ten years before Tintoretto's death. The master is looking directly at the viewer; his nose, his eyes and the hairs of his beard are similar to those of other figures in his paintings. Tintoretto signed the self- portrait of 1588: "ipsiusf" can be seen above his left shoulder. His art does not permit his authority to be contradicted, even if he still had to defend himself against accusations after his death, as the imbalance between his fame and the heated debate over his pictures suggests. Reflections of this kind are an oppor- tunity for Sartre to dwell on the impact of his own works. He is familiar with the mean tricks used by some in an attempt to sway the audience to think favoura- bly of the artist before they have even looked at the artist's works (if they do so at all). The conclusion drawn in the last passages of this short text is surprising. At a distance of 400 years, Sartre reasons, one can now see clearly that Tintoretto killed off painting. It is a question of the artist being responsible for his work; this is the burden he bears, even if it is a burden in a more abstract sense, one that Sartre calls elsewhere "Ecrire pour son epoque" 78 . This was the title origi-

L 'opera completa del Tintoretto, ill. no. 267 A,

422x546 cm, table LI. 7 7 Sartre, Un vieillard mystifie. Texte inedit de Jean-Paul Sartre. Fragment pour le Sequestre de Venise 1957. The portrait is illustrated in the catalogue. The following sections are taken from the lecture held by the present author in Cerisy-la-Salle on the occasion of the

7 *> Tintoretto, L'Annunciazione, in: Bernari,

Decade Jean-Paul Sartre, ecriture et engagement (20-30 July 2005). 7 8 Sartre, Ecrire pour son epoque, in: M. Contat, M. Rybalka, Les ecrits de Sartre Chrono- logic Bibliographic commentee, p. 670-676.


nally intended in 1946 for What is Literature? The artist has to ask himself whether his work is suitable to be used as a weapon in the battle fought against evil. 79 Art survives death - something that Sartre calls the last remnant of Christian immortality. 80 But it is always a question of the choice the artist will have made to transcend his own situation for something in the future. In other words: even if the artist is writing for his epoch and takes this task seriously, without further ado, future generations will still assess him on the basis of his work. This should be the yardstick that in Sartre's view the author should apply to his own work; as long as his works provoke anger, shame, hate and love, the author will live on, even if only as a shadow. 81 The Tintoretto studies serve as instructions on how to look at his paintings. This insight is an opportunity to broaden out considerably the field in which to apply Sartre's findings. Since Sartre's analyses of the collaboration between art- ist and viewer do not have to be limited to the works of Tintoretto, his method of viewing art is a stimulus for every museum visit. Sartre's portrait study of the Venetian painter shows that his method can also be applied to an artist of a dif- ferent epoch. It is not his intention to judge the value of the painter's oeuvre, and in the fragments preserved one finds no definitive result. This portrait be- longs to the series of artist studies because it illustrates impressively the funda- mental idea that humans can transcend their own situation of their own accord. Even if Tintoretto twists and distorts everything and - as regards his colleagues - plays his cards close to his chest, Sartre is convinced that despite the great in- terval in time he reflects our own position. 82 Tintoretto's paintings are used by Sartre as teaching aids for his own methods. On the basis of descriptions of nu- merous pictures that he compares with one another, he succeeds in presenting surprisingly exact statements about both the painting technique and the thoughts of the Venetian painter. With his theories about the 'look' or gaze Sartre is in the position to reconstruct - with the help of his portraiture technique - the painter's intentions and the latter's successful efforts to spellbind his viewers with his pictures. Sartre's Tintoretto studies are proof of the method's applica- bility, all the more so since in Robusti's case Sartre applies them to the works of an artist from a completely different epoch than that of the artists to whom he had devoted his other portrait studies. The Tintoretto studies are to be read as a summary of Sartre's own aesthet- ics. The method of describing pictures, which enables insights to be gained into the painter's relations to his town, also contain impulses for ways of viewing art. These will be overlooked, however, as long as the studies are understood to constitute a Tintoretto biography. The exact observation as to how pictures can

8 1 Ibid!


train the eye and Sartre's conclusions on the impact of art can be compared with the theoretical and practical account of the history of the reception of literature, which is to be found above all in the third volume of The Family Idiot. Sartre's aesthetics shows again and again that one should not underestimate the share of work given to the viewer or reader in developing art. If by way of his analysis of art Sartre ascribes to the recipients and the artists the task of representing free- dom, then he shows at the same time that the involvement with all fields of art continually reminds humans of the responsibility that arises from their freedom.


6. The intellectual is a suspicious person

"L'artiste est un suspect."! In the first sentence of his study of Andre Masson, Sartre sums up the position of the artist, thereby including indirectly that of the intellectual. Everything he and the artist produce can be used against them. Ow- ing to their commitment, intellectuals and artists are reliant on having both free- dom and independence.

By way of his political commitment and without jeopardising his fundamen- tal tenets, Sartre wanted to trace out in his work, especially after 1970, the de- velopment of the classical intellectual into a new kind of intellectual. In the three lectures that he held in Kyoto and Tokyo in 1965 and published under the title The Plea for Intellectuals 2 -, he develops his theory of the intellectual, who is distinguished by the fact that he can transcend his narrow specialist field. His

critics in Japan and Europe in fact direct the same accusation at him: "

tellectual is someone who meddles in what is not his business

scientists who build nuclear bombs are not intellectuals. They only become so if for example they jointly sign a manifest to warn their fellow humans against us- ing the bomb. By evaluating its destructive power they transcend the boundaries laid down for them within their specialist field. In doing so they refer to value standards that their employer does not concede them. The system of values they cite ranks human life highest. In a preliminary remark 4 accompanying the printing of the three lectures in the 8th volume of Situations, Sartre explains that he was presenting these lec- tures five years on - and after the events of May 1968 - to show (1972) the change in the definition of the intellectual. In Japan he had spoken of the classi- cal intellectual without actually calling him such. Indeed, the term only emerged in May 1968. He uses the term to illustrate the intellectual's development. The intellectual or the "unhappy consciousness" ("la conscience malheureuse" 5 ) - in other words the contradiction of working for the general public but of only ac- tually being of service to the privileged - is a temporary halt on the technician's path to becoming a radical companion of the power of the masses. Sartre did not say that the technician's conversion would only succeed if the latter distanced himself from his profession and understood that he was the enemy of the masses. But the intellectual should not be satisfied with an "unhappy con- sciousness"; he should rather tackle the problem, deny the "moment intellec-

the in-

". 3 For Sartre,

1 Sartre, Masson, in: ditto, Situations, IV, Paris: Gallimard, 1964, p. 387-407, here p. 387.

2 Ditto, The Plea for Intellectuals [Three lectures delivered by Sartre at Tokyo and Kyoto in September and October 1965], in: ditto, Between Existentialism and Marxism, p. 225-485.


Ditto, The Plea for Intellectuals,

p. 230, cf. for the following, p. 231 f.

4 Op. cit., p. 227. 5 Ditto, A Friend of People, in: ditto, Between Existentialism end Marxism, p. 286-298, here p. 267.


tuel" to find a new popular status. This step describes how the intellectual might possibly develop in a way Sartre would wish. But this means that his original definition of the classical intellectual, of which he was never quite able to take his leave, or even the intellectual as a type of person, can be called into ques- tion. So, on which basis should the political intellectual, as defined by Sartre at the beginning of the 70s, progress? In contrast to teachers and doctors, the intellectual is never commissioned by anyone and is not dependent on any institution. Seen from this angle, artists, too, belong to the intellectuals. One listens to their ideas, but they themselves are overlooked. Such an analysis does not necessarily correspond to reality, be- cause it undervalues the influence of the intellectual as a matter of principle. The intellectual first becomes active as an "enquirer" 6 , as Sartre calls him, with the aim of transforming his contradictory existence into a harmonious whole. He should direct his attention not only to society, but also to understand- ing his own background in this society - one that produces intellectuals at a cer- tain moment. 7 It is only in the 'situation' that the intellectual is able to grasp himself as a "universal singular". As a result of the prejudices instilled in him as a child, he will not be able to overcome his own specific character, even if he believes he has ridden himself of it and attained universality. Sartre's analysis of the two terms "exteriorite interiorisee - reexteriorisation de l'interiorite" sketches out a dialectical process that the intellectual cannot learn of his own accord; it is dictated by the object itself, which will remind him again and again of his position as something singularly universal. Such inevitability in the proc- ess is intended to underline its unconditional validity. As long as the intellectual only works for his class, his findings do not transcend it: he needs to understand himself in his singularity within the prevailing social conditions. He is thus given the task of freeing himself from the ties that might hinder him as a 'uni- versal singular'. The individual's development towards authenticity is analysed in The War Diaries % In his The Plea for Intellectuals, Sartre explains that in Japan the intellectu- als are accepted as a necessary evil, since they impart culture and enrich it, whilst in Europe one announces their demise. 9 He thus anticipates the farewell song of Jean-Francois Lyotard, who, in contrast to Sartre, understood this de- velopment as inevitable. Under the influence of American ideas, the disappear- ance of those who know everything was presaged, he continues. The progress of science would replace all universalists with strictly specialised research groups.

6 Cf. for the following: Sartre, A Friend of People, p. 267.

7 Ditto, The Plea for Intellectuals, p. 247 f. 8 Cf. V. von Wroblewsky, Von der Authentizitat des Individuums zur Intelligibility der Ge- schichte, in: T. Konig (ed.), Sartre Ein Kongrefi, Reinbek near Hamburg 1988, p. 385-407, esp. p. 400 f.

9 Cf. Sartre, The Plea for Intellectuals, p. 230 f.


By reducing all intellectuals to one particular type of person, Sartre's reflec- tions on this figure appear quite schematic. He talks of the intellectual, reckons writers and poets among them, and thus makes no attempt to distinguish be- tween intellectuals and artists. However this oversimplification by no means ob- scures the varied manner in which he illustrates his relatively simple definition of the intellectual. In his portrait studies one finds almost all protagonists gath- ered under the heading "intellectual". One finds among them a teacher of Eng- lish who took up writing, a Venetian painter who well surpassed the field of work allotted to him by his contemporaries, and the writer from Croisset who made no secret of his hatred of democracy and equality and who despite, or per- haps even because of the narrow-mindedness that he complained of among his contemporaries, succeeded in creating the "modern novel". Among the artists one also finds Baudelaire, who quite consciously chose his otherness, though he failed in this project.* 0 Like most of the other protagonists of the portrait stud- ies, Baudelaire becomes one of the stage extras, whose person Sartre uses as an example for illustrating his own concepts. Thus the Baudelaire study, with its numerous general and methodological comments, many of which would have fitted equally well in to one of the other portrait studies, seems like a shortened prose version of Being and Nothingness. The variety of the artists in Sartre's portrait studies makes one ask whether one can really group together all writers and artists as intellectuals. Can there be such a homogeneous type of person? Does it not exclude precisely that many- sidedness with which Sartre defined the intellectual and himself? Is this a reduc- tion that blurs differences, or is it perhaps the ideal type described by Max We- ber? In The Family Idiot, Sartre asks while examining Flaubert's Madame Bovary: "Does this involve creating a 'type'"?H In one of his letters, Flaubert had given an account of the construction of his novel and of its claim to reflect truth. He underlined the realism of his account by observing that poor Madame Bovary was suffering and crying right at the moment he was writing, in twenty different villages in France. Sartre has every right to then ask what this apparent typifying signifies. The answer is: Madame Bovary is an incomparable individ- ual, and Flaubert makes of her a 'universal singular'. I 2 The literary method with which Flaubert creates his characters can be compared with Sartre's portrait studies, for Sartre repeatedly introduced fictional passages and elements to drive on the analysis and give it greater thrust. After a certain disappointment regarding the political development of France after Francis Mitterrand's election as President in 1981 could no longer be overlooked, the speaker of the then socialist government, Max Gallo, called on the intellectuals - in January 1983 - to express their opinions about their

1 0 Cf. Sartre, Baudelaire, p. 27 f.

1 * Ditto, The Family Idiot, vol. II, p. 390.

1 2 Ibid.


situation and about the changes needed in France. In a series of articles,! 3 which Le Monde published under the heading Le silence des intellectuels, at- tempts at repositioning the nation were sought and discussed. Jean-Francois Lyotard's analysis of September 1983 took a clear stand at defining what consti-

tuted an intellectual or intellectuals in general. Like Sartre, Lyotard places intel- lectuals in relation to a universal subject, whence he derives their responsibility. The intellectuals address everyone who is a part of the community they relate to. This is where the authority conceded to people like Voltaire, Zola, Peguy and Sartre comes from. 14 Lyotard puts the intellectuals in inverted commas, thus signalling his reserve about the term. Among intellectuals he does not count people who are employed, because they certainly did not embody a universal subject; they were merely concerned with obtaining the best results. In his The

Plea for

Lyotard's first argument fell on deaf ears, especially since his claim was based on false facts. All the skilled people who reckoned themselves among the "societe des gens des letters" in the 18th century were more than just writers and philosophers. Most of them were among the elite in their specialist field. Lyotard attempts to explain how the bearers of specialist knowledge split off from the intellectuals as a historical process. But he thereby causes the whole framework of his own argumentation to start to fall apart, as Dirk Hoeges 15 has proved. Lyotard maintains that artists or writers no longer knew those they were addressing. For Lyotard, anyone who sends a message out into the wilderness is an artist or writer. 16 Sartre viewed the matter very differently: in 1946 he had summed up one of the main hypotheses of his theory of literature by observing that one did not write and talk in the wilderness. 17 But one cannot deduce from this that one is not addressing the public, simply because the writer does not know who his readers are. "Would you write on a desert island? Doesn't one always write in order to be read?" the autodidact Roquentin asked and added:

" but, Monsieur, in spite of yourself you write for somebody!" 18 Lyotard's second line of reasoning is just as invalid. Since the intellectual does not know his judges, Lyotard argues, in his work he just consults the gen- eral criteria accepted in painting or in literature. 19 Every demand that he should subject his work to cultural procedures appears unacceptable to him. Lyotard tries to erect a tomb to this type of the intellectual, meaning the classical intel-

Intellectuals Sartre basically says the same.

13 Cf. R. Rieffel, Les intellectuels sous la V e Republique. 1958-1990, vol. I, Paris: Calmann- Levy, 1993, p. 155. *4 Cf. J.-F. Lyotard, Tombeau des intellectuels et autrespapiers, Paris 1984, p. 11 f. 1 5 D. Hoeges, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Gegenaufklarung? Lyotard and die Postmo- derne, in: Romanistische Zeitschrift fur Literaturgeschichte 4/1988, esp. p. 454 f. !6 Cf. J.-F. Lyotard, Tombeau de I'intellectuel, p. 15.

17 Cf. Sartre, The Responsibility of the Writer, p.74.

^ Ditto, Nausea, p. 170 f. !9 Cf. J.-F. Lyotard, Tombeau de Vintellectuel, p. 15.


lectual as defined and embodied by Sartre. For Lyotard there is no longer a "universal subject", and therefore there can no longer be any intellectuals. This condemnation of all intellectuals remains, however, without effect since the line of reasoning used to justify it is faulty. However much those who cannot think beyond the boundaries of their own specialist field like to accept Lyotard's wishful thinking, his argumentation cannot be taken seriously by those who un- derstand their specialist area, and particularly the humanities, as part of a greater whole. With his artist portraits Sartre has not shown that he can work in a particular interdisciplinary manner; rather, he shows the overall scheme with a well- reasoned selection of various methods and concepts from different specialist ar- eas. He ensures that each of his works ties in with his complete oeuvre by con- stantly referring to that universality which for him means man's freedom. This in turn grants the intellectual, and him too, room to manoeuvre, which the intel- lectual is responsible for safeguarding. As a result of the multifaceted references in Sartre's works to different sciences, his work is exposed to criticism from many sides, since they are effectively forced to cross disciplinary boundaries with him if they wish to grasp the significance of his ideas. On the other hand, the artist also has to be able to maintain an independent position - one that pro- tects him from being monopolised, as indeed should be the case for everybody; otherwise he would become relative to the whole. 20 This preoccupation, one that Sartre had already emphasized in Notebooks for an Ethics and to which he steadfastly clung as if it to a principle - his artist studies are a manifest proof of this approach - is oriented towards the whole, which one could also describe as a universal subject or as a reference point valid for all. It is this universal sub- ject that Francois Lyotard attempts to refute, preferring to argue