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Reviewed by:
  • Traces de Sartre
  • Sam Coombes
Traces de Sartre. By Jean-François Louette. Grenoble: ELLUG, 2009. 386 pp. Pb €32.00.

This volume groups together fourteen pieces on Sartre written between 1998 and 2008, all of which were either published in journals or presented at colloquia during that decade. Their subject matter falls, broadly speaking, into three time-periods within Sartre's output — pre-war literary writings, the transitional years 1939-45, and postwar theatre — and also includes his biographical and autobiographical writings. Among Louette's declared guiding principles are the necessity of attributing equal importance to both Sartre's philosophy and his literature, and the premise that the quality of Sartre's literary writing can properly be accounted for only if the intertextual relationships within the oeuvre and within the work of his literary predecessors and contemporaries are subjected to close scrutiny (p. 7). These statements of intent are amply borne out in Traces de Sartre, the latter magisterially and the former convincingly, even if Louette leans more in the direction of literary criticism in his choice of topics and methodology than he does towards philosophy. The strength of Louette's writing lies in its considerable erudition, whose breadth and depth frequently elicit both insightful observations about well-known areas of the Sartrean corpus and the establishment of hitherto uncharted links with other texts as well as with features of Sartre's biography. To take one notable example, Louette's consummate knowledge of Sartre's theatre works is employed in a strongly argued defence that is impressive in its range of referencing and themes covered: 'Allégories', 'Mots d'auteur', 'Dialectiques', comedy, tragedy, and 'mise en scène' are just some of the angles from which the topic is approached (pp. 211-58). In parts of Traces de Sartre Louette also displays a capacity for bold argument, giving free rein to the kind of hypothetical and conjectural reflections that are precisely where interesting critical thinking begins. Notable in this regard is a fascinating chapter devoted to L'Être et le néant, whose implications, when taken to their logical conclusions, contribute significantly to a re-evaluation of the way this seminal work should be read. Louette approaches L'Être et le néant autobiographically and — in what is a very un-early Sartrean manoeuvre — psychoanalytically. The genesis of the Sartrean 'néant', for example, is convincingly explained in terms of the absent father figure in Sartre's psyche (pp. 99-100), implying a profound questioning of the pronounced rationalist leaning of Sartre's early philosophy. In certain places, however, Louette's creative conjectures fall short, revealing him to be more of a 'littéraire' thinking analogically than a philosopher genuinely seeking to reconfigure existing positions conceptually. The standard of the chapters comprising Traces de Sartre, though excellent on the whole, is not entirely even. For instance, it is curious that, in a chapter devoted to Sartre having constituted a bridge between the interwar and postwar years, Louette bypasses altogether the question of his evolving 'engagement'; this is clearly an omission. Such reservations are minor, however, for the overall quality and insightfulness of Louette's Sartre scholarship in Traces is beyond doubt.

Sam Coombes
University of Edinburgh


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