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Fragments of a Loving Discourse Gerald Prince L ETTERS—I MEAN “ REAL” ONES—are an inferior genre (and Sartre would agree with me. He told Simone de Beauvoir: “je sais qu’un écrivain, on imprime ses lettres, et je trouve que ça n’en vaut pas la peine. . . . Ce n’est pas suffisamment travaillé. . . . Moi, j’écrivais d’un trait, sans ratures, sans me préoccuper d’un autre lecteur que celui à qui j’envoyais la lettre; donc, ça ne me paraît pas un travail littéraire valable” 1 ). More than with other genres, the main interest of letters usually derives from the identity of their addresser (and addressee) and from what they say about the former (and the latter). I like Voltaire’s let­ ters—all one hundred and twenty volumes of them—because I like Vol­ taire; I enjoy Gide’s letters because I have friends in the Société des Amis d’André Gide; I find Sartre’s letters to Beauvoir fascinating and fun because I already know the protagonists. Why would it matter otherwise that, on October 9, 1931, Sartre ate a delicious bit of haddock or that, one day in April 1937, he had tapioca soup for dinner?2and why would it interest me to learn that Don Quijote actually made him laugh or to note that he refers several times to his ugliness and even more frequently to his eyes? I do not mean that Sartre’s letters have no other value than a personal, historical, or archeological one. Beauvoir was right (La Cérémonie des adieux 228). He is a remarkable épistolier and the mixture of spontaneity and technical skill, the lightness, the ease, the verve of Lettres au Castor are, to me, wonderful. Still, judging from what has been written about them3and from my own immediate reactions, their primary value comes from the outside. It is perhaps partly because of this that I decided to study them as if their “ real life” context and my knowledge of it were of little import. Since love undeniably plays an important role in them (there are three major discursive profiles in the Lettres au Castor, three profiles that often interfere with one another: critico-literary, vécu, and amatory) and since it is one of the privileged topics of literature, I further decided to focus on those passages bearing on it (particularly in the letters addressed to Beauvoir: 342 out of 387 in all4 ) and on aspects of their rhetoric (Sartre himself is quite conscious of this rhetorical dimension. I quote at VOL. XXIX, No. 4 33 L ’E spr it C réa te u r random: II, 43: “ J’ai répondu dans le style ‘amant’ que vous con­ naissez” ; II, 104: “ Et certes, il est profondément regrettable que j ’aie mis les choses sur un tel pied que pour exprimer un moment de forte ten­ dresse je sois obligé de dire ‘je vous aime passionnément’ II, 116: “je ne me rappelle plus du tout ce que je vous écrivais et qui vous a con­ vaincu. Ce n’est pas que ce fût inventé sur l’heure mais finalement j ’en ai tant écrit sur le sujet que je ne me rappelle plus le choix exact d’argu­ ments” ; II, 219: “ Je vous aime passionnément et si je me permets de l’écrire, c’est que c’est vrai, ici” ). Whence my title: “ discourse” rather than “ person” ; “ loving” since, as we will see, “ lover’s” would not really do (“ loved,” on the other hand, probably could; again, I quote at random—I, 427: “ mon amour, ce que vous m’écrivez que chacune de mes lettres vous surprend parce que vous ne pensiez pas qu’elle pût vous donner autant de bonheur que la précédente, me charme” ; II, 176: “ Je vous ai écrit une bien mauvaise petite lettre, hier et j’en suis un petit peu confus car je sais ce que sont mes lettres pour vous”); finally, “ fragments” as a tribute to Barthes, of course,5but also because the Lettres au Castor (which represent a small part of an enormous correspondence) do not quite...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 33-41
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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