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Beauvoir and Sartre: The Forms of Farewell

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 9, Number 1, April 1985
pp. 21-40 | 10.1353/phl.1985.0110

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Hazel E. Barnes BEAUVOIR AND SARTRE: THE FORMS OF FAREWELL There ARE MANY forms of farewell. The formal interview may be one of them, an autobiography another, the biography written by a relative or close friend of the deceased a third. In The Words Sartre bade farewell to his childhood. He thought he was saying goodbye to literature at the same time, though this adieu turned out to be more in the nature of au revoir or even à bientôt. In an extended interview on the occasion of his seventieth birthday and in a three-hour documentary film, Sartre commented on the events ofhis life, his writings, his hopes and aspirations, his political judgments. Each of these was a summing up, and a selfappraisal , a final statement, too, inasmuch as Sartre's ill health and near blindness made it clear to him that he would not be writing anymore. Simone de Beauvoir obviously drew up some kind of final reckoning in the last volume of her autobiography, Tout comptefait {Account Closed). All of these are farewells of a sort, official valedictories. They have been much discussed, and I will not dwell on them here. Two other works bearing Beauvoir^ name are farewells in a different sense. They are preparations for leave-taking and records of remembrance for the bereaved. They have been combined in a volume published in late 1981, a year and a half after Sartre's death. The first of these is La Cérémonie des adieux (The Ceremony ofFarewells). ? This is an account of the decade preceding Sartre's death. The title is itself a recollection of a poignant moment, as Beauvoir explains: "Then this is the ceremony of farewells!' Sartre said to me as we were leaving each other for a month at the beginning of one summer. I had a presentiment of the meaning these words would one day assume. The ceremony lasted ten years. It is these ten years that I recount in this book." The record is annalistic, the same kind of detailed year-by-year account of events and her reactions to them 21 22Philosophy and Literature mat Beauvoir employed in the first three volumes of her autobiography. But there her stated intention was to keep herselfas the center offocus and to speak of Sartre only insofar as his existence was intertwined with her own. In the preface to The Ceremony of Farewells she states that she has recorded these ten years as she had lived them, but that the book is devoted wholly to Sartre. Ifshe has spoken also ofherself, it is because "the witness is a part of what he witnesses." The book is dedicated "To those who loved Sartre, love him, will love him." Indeed, it has been written for them by one who is of them. The second work is Entretiens avecJean-Paul Sartre, a collection of interviews she herself conducted with Sartre in the summer of 1974. These have been subjected to superficial editing but by no means reworked into literature. Beauvoir wanted to give to readers the opportunity "to follow the meanders of his thought and to hear his living voice." Here she uses the method adopted in the fourth volume ofher autobiography, where she grouped her reminiscences by topics. Sartre responds at length to her questions on a vast variety ofsubjects, ranging from food likes and dislikes to his changing concepts of freedom, from sexual preferences to politics; there are comments on schoolboy fights with Merleau-Ponty, and later arguments with Camus, thoughts on literature, on death, on God. A reviewer has remarked that these interviews represent "a worthwhile approximation to the autobiography [Sartre] never wrote."2 Thus we have a work that falls in between biography and autobiography , because of the author's close involvement with her subject, and we have a set of autobiographical interviews. In both Beauvoir is recorder and commentator, Sartre central subject and actor. The two may serve for mutual corroboration and correction. Together diey express Beauvoir^ and Sartre's farewell to each other and his farewell to life. I will begin with the Interviews and focus my discussion on a few selected items which seem to me especially...