Sartre and Biography: Existential Acts and the Desacralization of Literature
Sartre shares with Leiris a view of literature that conceives of it as an act, but, in contrast to Leiris, his aim is rather to desacralize the literary. An examination of his theoretical writings, especially Qu'est-ce que la littérature?, reveals that this conception rests on a biographical approach to the writer's role. The entanglement of literature with biography is evident not just in Sartre's own literary biographies of Baudelaire, Genet, and Mallarmé but also in his novel, La Nausé. These texts explore the concepts of literature and biography in ways that highlight Sartre's ambivalent evaluation of them. His autobiography, Les Mots, is as much a denunciation of the way that the ‘retrospective illusion’ created by biography can corrupt the existential project of a subject, as it is an exploitation of the potential offered by autobiography to construct literature as an act — even if it is an act of farewell to the literary.
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