Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

On Writing, Reflection, and Authenticity in Sartre's 'Carnets De la Drole De Guerre.'

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

On Writing, Reflection, and Authenticity in Sartre's 'Carnets De la Drole De Guerre.'

Article excerpt

Recent years have seen something of a return to Sartre's notions of bad faith and inauthenticity, and their supposed opposites, good faith and authenticity. (1) For the most part, this return has been the work of philosophers, and has taken the form of an enquiry into the conditions of possibility of this set of related notions. (2) Other critics have sought to elucidate or redefine good faith and authenticity whilst applying them to a range of contemporary social questions and placing the emphasis on their practical value. (3) Relatively little attention has been accorded to the act of writing itself; whilst most contemporary commentators agree on the centrality of the Carnets de la drole de guerre to any discussion of authenticity, there has, perhaps, been a tendency to treat the Carnets as though they were little more than a preliminary draft of L'Etre et le neant, and to select for commentary only those passages in the Carnets where Sartre is in 'philosophical mode'. The danger of this approach lies in the nature of the Carnets themselves: while it is obviously true that they contain extended reflections on philosophical problems that would later be treated more systematically in L'Etre et le neant, at least two factors complicate the way in which we read these reflections. First, they are embedded in a dazzling, carnivalesque text that is traversed by a whole gamut of sometimes surprising intertexts, from Montaigne's Essais and Descartes's Discours de la methode to Gide's Journal and Leiris's L'Age d'homme. Second, as I hope to show in this article, the intended readership of the Carnets played a more than usually important role in the fashioning of the text itself.

Two important articles that focus closely on the relationship between the notion of authenticity on the one hand and the context in which it is elaborated on the other have, nevertheless, appeared. Serge Doubrovsky has given a brilliant 'psychosexual' reading of the Carnets and the Lettres au Castor (4), concentrating on the tensions in Sartre's self-representations. (5) Sandra Teroni and Silvano Sportelli have examined the ethical project that takes shape in the Carnets. (6) Unlike most commentators, they have pinned down the fundamental aporia that Sartre was unable to negotiate: the desire to write stands in opposition to the desire for authentic being. The solution, they suggest, lies in the (in)famous 'radical conversion', the passage to a purifying reflection, an enigmatic notion that appears tantalizingly in a footnote in L'Etre et le neant, but which Sartre never succeeded in developing. Teroni and Sportelli are closer to my own concerns in the present article when they discuss the presence of the Other in the Carnets: from their first reader (Beauvoir), through the authors Sartre is reading, and with whom he enters into dialogue, to the thousands of 'virtual readers'. For my part, I would ascribe a more active role to these Others: they function not merely as passive reflectors of a desired image but as agencies in the very fashioning of the image they are to reflect.

The focus of this article, then, is less on authenticity as a philosophical or ethical notion than on authenticity as a literary theme: I wish to see what one can infer from the thematics of authenticity about the meaning and function of writing for Sartre, both in the special circumstances in which he finds himself in 1939-40 and, perhaps, more generally. This will involve a close consideration of the dynamics of the addresser/addressee relationship in the Carnets.

Alongside the technical developments of the notion of authenticity in the Carnets, we find the term being used quite loosely to denote adjacent attitudes such as spontaneity, honesty, sincerity, good faith, and committedness. Faced with this conceptual drift, I have chosen to highlight three moments in Sartre's thought that appear to me to typify what is at stake in this notion. Each of these three moments is centred on an opposition between two terms. …

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