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Tracking Down a Willing and Reluctant Hero Annie Cohen-Solal A T FIRST IT WAS LIKE A CHALLENGE. I would never have been tempted by such an enterprise if the idea had not been pro­ posed by an overseas publisher who had come to shatter the French reticence of the time. In 1980 there were more than a few skeptics and I still remember the sly smile of Pontalis—one of the richest sources in Sartre’s entourage for a long time to come—as I finished interviewing him in his office: “ Good luck,” he intimated with a ponderous pessimism... 1. The Challenge From the beginning Sartre, more than any other, slipped out of the clutches of his biographers. His work—abundant, infinitely variable, incomplete, wide open—seemed to defy any attempt at a holistic ap­ proach, and had engendered a considerable quantity of secondary litera­ ture, scholarly or anecdotal but most often specialized (confined to a particular discipline). Besides, Sartre’s own work continued to develop between 1980 and 1984, becoming perhaps more prolific posthumously than even in his lifetime, leading to new information (Les Carnets de la drôle de guerre, Lettres au Castor, Cahiers pour une morale), but also giving birth to great swatches of mystery (La Cérémonie des adieux) and to differently formulated questions. The field of Sartrian study became once again very dense and very fluid, contrasting with his last few years in which Sartre himself declared that he was considered dead. From the very beginning, the obstacles appeared insurmountable. Because Sartre was an individual always “ out of sync” and because to deal with Sartre is to deal at the same time with the history of cinema, of literature, of esthetics, of political struggle, of the broad development of ideas, of theater, of the press, of philosophy on an international as well as a French scale; it meant dealing with him en creux, not with Sartre but with his imprint. It was necessary to grasp his intellectual boulimia, his particular appropriation of the history of ideas, his manner of forging concepts and analyses in which Marxism and psychoanalysis were injected with a considerable dose of Sartrianism. 86 W in t e r 1989 COHEN-SOLAL Furthermore, although Sartre was fully part of his century, sharing in the passions as well as the agonies, he considered himself, and wanted to remain, outside and his trajectory was anything but typical. Sartre was a writer whose intellectual experience was absolutely intertwined with the major issues of his century, but who never completely espoused any one of them. He was at once fully in step with his times and always out of sync. An off-beat dance, his very particular method of carving out his place in his epoch. He was Sartrian before being an anarchist, Sartrian before being a resistant or an existentialist, Sartrian before being a fellow traveller, Sartrian before being a Third Worldist or Maoist. The Sartre of the 1930s, for example, was asocial, isolated, and apolitical, rejecting idealism or the proletarian internationalism of the first French commu­ nists; through some of his behavior, choices or provocations, he ap­ proached the Surrealists without ever acknowledging them, citing them or moving in their circles. At the same time I realized that it had become common to pit “ Sartre the Marxist” against “ Sartre the Maoist” or against “ Sartre of the Occupation years,” “ Sartre the existentialist” against “ Sartre of the Cri­ tique,” and that some swore only by the author of Réflexions sur la ques­ tion juive or of Situations: so many shattered images which were not par­ ticularly propitious for a synthetic understanding; so many signs of a series of abrupt turns, of about-faces and changed directions, shifts in movement, thinking of which Sartre himself was sometimes the first to be held hostage. As, for example, in 1952 when he had to ban the per­ formance of Les Mains sales in Vienna because the text, written five years earlier when he was a critic of the French Communist Party, could be utilized, in the thick of the cold war, as a pro-American weapon. To top it off, had not the whole of Sartre...


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