Jean-Paul Sartre and Daniel Sereno: Agnosco Fratrem

Article excerpt

   ... but he still lives in me. Certain details obstinately resist.
   If I insist, he will rise up and dominate me.... I can't stand it
   any longer. I make him into a character, whom I can torment in my
   own way. (Saint Genet) (1)

Those who know Sartre's work and those who, after all the recent publicity, have yielded to the temptation to take down from their bookshelves the works of "the little man," as some close friends called him, will understand that this article is about the chief character of Sartre's unfinished trilogy of novels known as Les chemins de la liberte (2)--Daniel, Mathieu's fellow-student at the Ecole normale, Daniel the "archangel," Daniel the shamefaced pederast, Daniel the gaping wound, Daniel the strange hero, Daniel the recurrent figure in many of Sartre's works. We do not intend to offer yet another explanation of this handsome young literature professor's convoluted character to the explanations that already exist, nor to interpret yet again his detestation of mankind and his prayers to God, which the author openly mocks. What we wish to do in these few pages is firstly to shed light on the procedures of Daniel's imagination and evolution, and secondly to analyze how the author's goals changed as, while writing the trilogy, he evolved from Gallimard's up and coming star into the symbol of the search for freedom, the spokesman whom some disagreed with, criticised, despised, while others glorified him and praised him to the skies. We would like to try and elucidate the evolution of this character, steering between the free future of a literary work in progress and the ungraspable heart of darkness. We do not, of course, naively hope to penetrate all the secrets of Sartre's imagination, or image in action, in the brief confines of an article. If we manage to shed some light on the novel-writing method, to show the procedures and understand them on the basis of what can be seen, we will have achieved our purpose.

While working with the drafts of Le Sursis and La Mort dans l'ame and the sketches of La derniere chance for our doctoral thesis, we detected in Sartre's act of creating and writing novels two distinct--though inevitably linked--elements. There is the conscious, deliberate and derisory writing, which gave us a complete picture of the writer's talent, and there is the repressed, self-defensive writing, based on rejection and also on re-volt (in the sense of return, rehabilitation of memory, reconstitution of the past), in short on the negation of previously experienced situations, by which means the author tries to neutralize imperfectly repressed affects and recover the unity of the ego which he knows to be divided. This disharmony between his "I-I," (3) Jean-Paul son of Anne-Marie and grandson of the Schweitzers, the literary child, the orphan of Jean-Baptiste Sartre, on the one hand, and on the other his "I-he," Sartre the leftist intellectual, the philosopher and political critic, was to form the basis of his "bastardy" that let him write. Indeed, obliged him to write. In particular, to write this character that we propose to discover or uncover here.

We will start from the following: in what way does a mental and thus interior project--albeit one directed by the outside world, what Sartre calls the situation--flow into a written text? How and by what route, in the dynamics of the writing, does it develop? By what intellectual, subjective (4) and intersubjective pressures does the engendered writing project get changed in the working manuscript, for it has been said often enough that the act of recreating a universe serves to relieve the insistent pressure which the writer feels in himself and which is otherwise liable to damage him. Having reached that point, we will be unable--nor will we wish--to avoid the question of where and how Sartre problematizes and disputes biographical accuracy. How far does he show himself to us as transparent, where does he have room, where does it pinch? …