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Reviews321 The Politics of Prose: Essay on Sartre, by Denis Hollier; translated byJeffrey Mehlman; xxv & 217 pp. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, $29.50 cloth, $14.95 paper. The French version of this book, subtided Jean-Paul Sartre et l'an quarante, appeared in 1982. That an American university press has seen fit to translate a text which is in some ways more obscure than the literary and philosophical undertakings it treats (I dare not say elucidates)—and which is filled with unidentified quotations and allusions—is somewhat puzzling. The essay is problematic enough in the original. Still, since it illustrates for the Anglophone reader how one recent critic situates Sartre, utilizing various interpretive techniques , the translation may be useful. Its interest is enhanced when one knows that Hollier has been professor of French at the University ofCalifornia (Berkeley ) since 1974 and that he considers the text a transadantic one. The volume consists ofthe essay proper, a foreword byJean-François Lyotard (translated from his review in Critique), and an index which is not in the original. The tide refers to Sartre's contention that prose, which is radically different from poetry, is a tool of praxis, or action in and on history, and thus inevitably political. Although two "themes"—"to miss" and "variations"—are announced at the outset, the principles of arrangement of the essay are not clear. Much of it seems to be an exercise in criticism as free association. Ranging among Sartre's fiction (particularly Nausea), drama, phenomenology, biography, and politics, Hollier invokes variously the authority of Marx, Durkheim's followers, Freud, and Husserl. Neither analytical nor dialectical consistendy, the method is principally that ofjuxtaposition of texts and commentary thereon. The flow of the commentary is broken by set-off passages that read like discursive footnotes . If this is an essay in the etymological sense, one must ask whether the writer is attempting a study of Sartre or of the critic of Sartre: "a text interests me only to the extent that I interest myself in it" (p. 138). Chapter tides point to motifs around which are developed what he calls "insinuations": "Portrait of the Artist in an Auto" (a reminder of Butor and Joyce alike, and of Sartre's use ofmotion as metaphor), "A Study of Hands," "A Winter's Tale." "A Lecture" is one of several sections apparendy composed separately. The essay plays with major dates in Sartre's career: his move to La Rochelle in 1917, his death in 1980, which occurred as Hollier was writing on him and which reflects curiously on the chapter called "Sartre's Ends," and his confinement in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1940, the turning point of his intellectual and political development. Like the Christian view ofhistory, Sartre's life is seen as radically divided into what came before 1940, a sort of year zero, 322Philosophy and Literature and what came after, which gives meaning to the pre-1940 period, both its errors and its préfigurations. The Christian analogy is pertinent, since Hollier refers to Sartre's prison-camp drama Bariona, which conveys the radical difference brought about by the birth of one deemed a Messiah. What was born in 1940 was, of course, a political consciousness, which caused Sartre to deny the aesthetic credo by which he had lived and written and to embrace the real— includingthe proletariat, considered the onlyclass with ultimate historicalreality. Sartre himself identified this watershed, and used it subsequendy as a means ofcomprehending and, as he said, writing against himself. But Hollier suggests that this represents a misunderstanding of Sartre, since his idealism of the 1930s was by no means uncritical. While there are many astute observations in this eccentric meditation on Sartre, particularly concerning Nausea, they are embedded among irritating rhetorical devices and fuzzy lines of argumentation. The volume is not suitable for novice readers of Sartre; but for those already conversant with his writing, it affords an ingenious probing into his work and motivations, and a critical profile that makes of Sartre himself both text and pretext. Tulane UniversityCatharine Savage Brosman Theory in the Classroom, edited by Cary Nelson; xvi & 272 pp. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986, $19...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 321-322
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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