Literature and the Post-literary Writer

  • Michael Scriven


In his autobiography Sartre notes that he was born from the act of writing.1 An excessively melodramatic turn of phrase? An attempt to superimpose a retrospective, self-justifying, fictional gloss on the origins of a literary vocation? Perhaps. Yet cynical critical assessment of this kind fails to do justice to the genuinely existential nature of Sartre’s writing project. Writing for Sartre was not one activity among many. It was the privileged activity which gave shape and substance to his personal existence. Existence was synonymous with the act of writing. Writing meant literally tracing signs on paper, letting existence flow through the nib of a fountain pen. It is doubtless significant that typewriters were abhorrent to him. To have mechanized the writing process would have gone against the grain, would have somehow broken the almost sensuous link between the solitary scribe and his raw material, the written word. In this sense, Sartre’s literary project remains faithful to the traditional image of the writer. Writing is perceived as a private, personal activity into which the technological advances of the twentieth century should not be allowed to intrude. And yet, as is well known, Sartre’s writing activity is ostensibly an attempt to radicalize literature, to engage literature in the socio-political events of the contemporary world, an attempt to undermine the image and practices of the traditional writer.


Literary Discourse Writing Practice Literary Project Class Practice Ideological Assumption 
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Notes and References

  1. 7.
    R. Barthes, Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (Seuil, 1953, 2nd edn 1972) p. 43.Google Scholar
  2. 15.
    See R. Balibar, Les Français fictifs (Hachette, 1974) p. 13.Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    L. Goldmann, La Création culturelle dans la société moderne (Denoel Gonthier, 1971).Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    L. Goldmann, Pour une sociologie du roman (Gallimard, 1964) pp. 273–5.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    A. Touraine, La Société post-industrielle (Denoel Gonthier, 1969).Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    W. Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations (Fontana, London, 1973) pp. 219–53.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    For an account of the process of schooling in capitalist France, see C. Baudelot and R. Establet, L’Ecole capitaliste en France (Maspero, 1971).Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    See L. Althusser, ‘Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’Etat (notes pour une recherche)’, La Pensée, 151 (June 1970) pp. 3–38.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    P. Nizan, Aden Arabie (Maspero, 1960; 1st ed Rieder, 1932).Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    For a detailed discussion of the distinction between pre-war liberal intellectuals and post-war technocratic intellectuals, see M. Bon and M. A. Burnier, Les Nouveaux intellectuels (Seuil, 1971).Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    P. Nizan, Les Chiens de garde (Maspero, 1960; 1st ed Rieder, 1932).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Scriven 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Scriven
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathUK

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