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Review Articles 'But What Can You Do?': From Existentialism to Textistentialism T.H. ADAMOWSKI Ronald Aronson and Adrian van den Hoven, eds. Sartre Alive Wayne State University Press 1991. 389. us $49.95; $24.95 paper Philip R. Wood. Understanding Jean-Paul Sartre University of South Carolina Press 1990. 271. us $36.25 Each of these books betrays a small nervousness. It appears near the conclusion of Philip Wood's discussion ofTlfe Condemned ofAltona, in a section called 'Why Sartre Is No Longer Fashionable.' In the Aronson-van den Hoven collection of essays, it is apparent in the title. The one nervousness plays into the other, for to many people it is not clear that Sartre's work does remain 'alive.' Wood's book is intended to introduce students and the 'general public' to Sartre's plays and fiction, and he chafes under the restrictions this imposes on his ability to range into the sort of intellectual history necessary for 'understanding' the most freely ranging intellectual of the twentieth century. However, in a choice that is unduly concessive to the explanatory tendencies of the age and that fetters his attempt to provide an introduction to the broad range of Sartre's literary achievement, Wood permits the format of the series to lead him to omit any discussion of Words, Sartre's autobiographical masterpiece.' Aronson and van den Hoven, on the other hand, bring together a -useful collection of scholarly essays that, as a group, do range widely and include a hitherto unpublished excerpt from the notes Sartre prepared for the 19651ectureson 'Morality and History' that he planned to deliver at Cornell University, a study of the notes themselves, essays on Saint Genet, Nausea, and Tile Family Idiot, on Wittgenstein and Sartre, on Sartre and Marxism, on the influence of Simone de Beauvoir, and on the Sartrean conception of the ego. However, it is Wood's introductory work that is bolder; for in its brief consideration of the effect poststructuralism has had in confining Sartrean thought to the margins of French intellectual life, it confronts directly the question of Sartre's continuing 'vitality.'2Wood and several of the writers in the anthology remain deeply committed to Marxism, a thought that, at one point in his career, Sartre UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1992/3 EXISTENTIALISM TO TEXTISTENTIALISM 283 called 'indepassable' for our time. By reference to the arguable assumption that when Sartre wrote it during the Second World War he was a 'Marxist novelist,' Wood even goes so far as to 'measure' the success of Sartre's The Reprieve against a 'Marxist' yardstick. However, it was not the cold shoulder Sartre received from professional Marxists that displaced his work in the 19605 but, rather, the one he received from structuralism and poststructuralism. But it is the Sartrean preoccupation with Marxism that haunts these books. Can Sartrean existentialism be reconciled with Marxism (an old question)? Does Sartre'5 emphasis on freedom and responsibility as these take shape in 'situations' arising in a resolutely non-textual world of history and politics provide an antidote to the Marxist weakness for determinism? What is the value for Marxists (and for Sartre scholars) of the Cornell notes? Sartre cancelled the lectures in protest against the Viet Nam War, but there remain hundreds of pages of relevant manuscript notes to supplement the posthumously published Cahiers pour une morale (1983) on which he worked during the late 19405. All of this is important, and one must be grateful to van den Hoven ,md Aronson for publishing an excerpt from the Cornell papers (topic: the 1960 West Virginia Presidential Primary, where John F. Kennedy challenged Protestant voters on the subject of his Roman Catholicism). Of the two books, however, it is, again, Wood's, in its remarks on The Age of Reason, The Reprieve , Troubled Sleep, and The Condemned ofAltona, that grapples more compellingly with the general implications of Marxism for an understanding of Sartre's work. Nevertheless, in the marxisant interpretations that take up so much time in these books, there is something beside the point, and before looking more closely at these texts it is necessary to recall how much time Sartre may...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 282-295
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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