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Sartre's What Is Literature?

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1949

OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
Call No.

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This bookihould be returned on or before the date

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marked below.

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE

Translated from the French

by

BERNARD FRECHTMAN

PHILOSOPHICAL LIBRARY
NEW YORK

Copyright, 1949, by
Philosophical Library, Inc.
15 EAST 40th Street, New York, N.Y.

Printed in the United States of America

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword

I

II

What

Why

is

Writing?

Write?

Whom Does One Write?

7

38

III

For

IV

Situation of the Writer in 1947

161

Index

299

67

FOREWORD want to engage yourself," writes a young imbecile, "what are you waiting for? Join the Communist
Party." A great writer who engaged himself often and disengaged himself still more often, but who has forgotten, said to me, "The worst artists are the most engaged. Look
"If you

at the Soviet painters"

"You want tres is

to

murder

An

old critic gently complained,

literature.

spread out insolently

all

Contempt

for belles-let-

through your review."

A

petty mind calls me pigheaded, which for him is evidently the highest insult. An author who barely crawled from

name sometimes awakens men accuses me of not being

one war to the other and whose

languishing memories in old concerned with immortality; he knows, thank God, any number of people whose chief hope it is. In the eyes of

an American hack-journalist the trouble with me is that
I have not read Bergson or Freud; as for Flaubert, who did not engage himself, it seems that he haunts me like remorse. Smart-alecks wink at me,

poetry?

And

And

music? You want to engage them, too?" some martial spirits demand, "What's it all about?

painting?

And

"And

literature? Well,

Engaged unless it's

What

it's

the old socialist realism,

a revival of populism, only more aggressive."
They read quickly, badly, and pass

nonsense.

judgment before they have understood. So let's begin all over. This doesn't amuse anyone, neither you nor me. But

we have

to hit the nail

on the head.

And

since critics

condemn me in the name of literature without ever saying what they mean by that, the best answer to give them is is it examine the art of writing without prejudice. What writing? Why does one write? For whom? The fact is, to seems that nobody has ever asked himself these

questions.

WHAT IS WRITING?
No, we do not want to "engage" painting, sculpture, and music "too/ or at least not in the same way. And why would we want to? When a writer of past centuries expressed an opinion about his craft, was he immediately
5

asked to apply to do

it

to the other arts?

But today

the thing in the argot of the musician or and to "talk literature 55 in the argot of

to "talk painting

it's

55

the literary man the painter, as if at bottom there were only one art which expressed itself indifferently in one or the other of these

languages, like the Spinozistic substance which quately reflected by each of its attributes.

is

ade-

Doubtless, one could find at the origin of every artistic calling a certain undifferentiated choice which circum-

and contact with the world particularized only later. Besides, there is no doubt that the arts of a period mutually influence each other and are conditioned by the same social factors. But those who want stances, education,

to expose the absurdity of a literary theory by showing that it is inapplicable to music must first prove that the arts are parallel.

no such parallelism. Here, as everywhere, not only the form which differentiates, but the matter

Now, it is

there

is

WHAT as well.

And

it is

IS

LITERATURE?

one thing to work with color and sound,

and another to express oneself by means of words. Notes, colors, and forms are not signs. They refer to nothing exterior to themselves. to reduce

them

To be

sure,

it is

quite impossible

and the idea of a an abstraction. As Merleau-

strictly to themselves,

pure sound, for example, is
Ponty has pointed out in The Phenomenology of Perception, there is no quality of sensation so bare that it is not penetrated with signification. But the dim little meaning which dwells within it, a light joy, a timid sadness,

remains immanent or trembles about it is

color or sound.

from

Who

it

like a

heat mist;

can distinguish the green apple

And

we

already saying too much in naming "the tart gaiety of the green apple?"
There is green, there is red, and that is all. They are tart gaiety?

its

aren't

by themselves.
It is true that one might, by convention, confer the value of signs upon them. Thus, we talk of the language things, they exist

of flowers. But
55

"fidelity

them

to

if,

after the agreement, white roses signify

that I have stopped seeing attention cuts through them to aim

me, the

as roses.

My

fact

is

beyond them at this abstract virtue. I forget them. longer pay attention to their mossy abundance, to

the

I

no

their

have not even perceived them. have not behaved like an artist. For

sweet stagnant odor.

That means that

I

I

the color, the bouquet, the tinkling of the spoon on the saucer, are things, in the highest degree. He stops artist, at the quality of the

sound or the form.

He

returns to

it

constantly and is enchanted with it. It is this color-object that he is going to transfer to his canvas, and the only

modification he will

make
8

it

undergo

is

that he will

WHAT

WRITING?

an imaginary object. He is therefore as he can be from considering colors and signs as a

transform far as

IS

it

into

1

language.

What

is

valid for the elements of artistic creation

also valid for their combinations.

want low, to create a thing.

and green, there

have a definable

2

And

is

The

is

painter does not

he puts together red, yelno reason for the ensemble to if signification, that

to another object. Doubtless this

is,

to refer particularly

ensemble

is

also inhab-

by a soul, and since there must have been motives, even hidden ones, for the painter to have chosen yellow rather than violet, it may be asserted that the objects thus ited created reflect his deepest tendencies. However, they never express his anger, his anguish, or his joy as do words or the expression of the face; they are impregnated with these emotions; and in order for them to have crept into these colors, which by themselves already had something

meaning, his emotions get mixed up and grow obscure. Nobody can quite recognize them there. like a

Tintoretto did not choose that yellow rift in the sky above Golgotha to signify anguish or to provoke it. It is anguish and yellow sky at the same time. Not sky of

anguish or anguished sky; it is an anguish become thing, an anguish which has turned into yellow rift of sky, and which thereby is submerged and impasted by the proper qualities of things,

by their impermeability, their extension, their blind permanence, their externality, and that infinity of relations which they maintain with other things.
That is, it is no longer readable. It is like an immense

and vain

effort, forever arrested

half-way between sky

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and earth, to express what from expressing.

their nature

Similarly, the signification of a

melody

keeps them if one can

nothing outside of the melody itself, unlike ideas, which can be adequately rendered in several ways. Call it joyous or somber. It will always be over and above anything you can say about it. Not bestill

speak of signification

is

which are perhaps at the origin of the invented theme, have, by being incorporated into notes, undergone a transubstantiation and a transmutation. A cry of grief is a sign of the grief which provokes it, but a song of grief is both grief itself and something other cause than

its

passions,

grief.

Or,

if

one wishes to adopt the

existentialist

a grief which does not exist any more, which is. But, you will say, suppose the painter does houses? That's just it. He makes them, that is, he creates vocabulary, it is

an imaginary house on the canvas and not a sign of a house. And the house which thus appears preserves all the ambiguity of real houses.
The writer can guide you and,

make

seem the symbol of

if

he describes a hovel,

and provoke your indignation. The painter is mute. He presents you with a hovel, thatV all. You are free to see in it what you like. That attic window will never be the symbol of misery; for that, it would have to be a sign, whereas it is a thing. The bad painter looks for the type. He paints the Arab, the Child, the Woman; the good one knows that neither the Arab nor the proletarian exists either in reality or on his canvas. He offers a workman, a certain workman. And what are we to think about a workman?

An

it

social injustice

infinity of contradictory things. All thoughts

10

and

all

WHAT feelings are there,

IS

LITERATURE?

adhering to the canvas in a state of

profound undifferentiation. It is up to you to choose.
Sometimes, high-minded artists try to move us. They paint long lines of workmen waiting in the snow to be hired, the emaciated faces of the

unemployed, battlefields. They affect us no more than does Greuze with
53
And that masterpiece, "The Massahis "Prodigal Son.
55

does any one think that it won over a single heart to the Spanish cause? And yet something is said that can never quite be heard and that would take cre of Guernica,

words to express. And Picasso s long harlequins, ambiguous and eternal, haunted with inexplicable meaning, inseparable from their stooping leanness and an 5

infinity of

diamond-shaped tights, are emotion become flesh, emotion which the flesh has absorbed as the blotter absorbs ink, and emotion which is unrecognizable, lost, their pale

scattered to the four corners of space and yet present to itself.
I have no doubt that charity or anger can produce

strange to

itself,

other objects, but they will likewise be swallowed up; they will lose their name; there will remain only things

haunted by a mysterious soul. One does not paint significations; one does not put them to music. Under these conditions, who would

dare require that the painter or

musician engage himself?
On the other hand, the writer deals with significations.
Still, a distinction must be made. The empire of signs is prose; poetry is on the side of painting, sculpture, and music. I am accused of detesting it; the proof, so they say, is that Les Temps Modernes publishes very few poems.

On

the contrary, this

is

proof that
11

we

like

it.

To be

con-

WHAT

IS

vinced, all one need do

LITERATURE?

is

take a look at contemporary

5

production. "At least/ critics say triumphantly, "you can't even dream of engaging it." Indeed. But why should

words as does prose? But it does not use them in the same way, and it does not even
I

want

use

to? Because

them

Poets are

at

all, I

it

uses

should rather say that

it

serves them.

men who

refuse to utilize language. Now, since the quest for truth takes place in and by language conceived as a certain kind of instrument, it is unnecessary to

imagine that they aim to discern or expound the

Nor do they dream

true.

of

naming the world, and, this being the case, they name nothing at all, for naming implies a perpetual sacrifice of the name to the object named, or, as Hegel would say, the name is revealed as the inessential in the face of the thing which is essential. They do not speak, neither do they keep still; it is something different. It has been said that they wanted to destroy the
"word" by monstrous couplings, but this is false. For then they would have to be thrown into the midst of utilitarian language and would have had to try to retrieve words from it in odd little groups, as for example "horse" and
"butter" by writing "horses of butter." 3
Besides the fact that such an enterprise would require infinite time, it is not conceivable that one can keep one-

on the plane of the utilitarian project, consider words instruments, and at the same contemplate taking their

self

as

instrumentality

away from them. In

fact,

the poet has

withdrawn from language-instrument in a single movement. Once and for all he has chosen the poetic attitude which considers words as things and not as signs. For the ambiguity of the sign implies that one can penetrate
12

it

at

WHAT

IS

WRITING?

pane of glass and pursue the thing signified, or turn his gaze toward its reality and consider it as an object. The man who talks is beyond words and near the object, whereas the poet is on this side of them. For the will like a

former, they are domesticated; for the latter they are in the wild state. For the former, they are useful conven-

which gradually wear out and which one throws away when they are no longer serviceable; for the latter, they are natural things which sprout naturally upon the earth like grass and trees.
But if he dwells upon words, as does the painter with colors and the musician with sounds, that does not mean that they have lost all signification in his eyes. Indeed, it is signification alone which can give words their verbal unity. Without it they are frittered away into sounds and strokes of the pen. Only, it too becomes natural. It is no longer the goal which is always out of reach and which tions, human

tools

transcendence

but a property of each term, analogous to the expression of a face, to the little sad or gay meaning of sounds and colors. Having is always aiming

at,

flowed into the word, having been absorbed by its sonority or visual aspect, having been thickened and defaced, it a thing, increate and eternal.
For the poet, language is a structure of the external

too

is

world.

The speaker

is

in a situation in language;

he

is

in-

meanings, his pincers, his antennae, his eyeglasses. He maneuvers them from within; he feels them as if they were his body; he is surrounded by a verbal body which he is hardly aware of and which extends his action upon the vested with words.

world.

The poet

is

They

are prolongations of his

outside of language.
13

He

sees

words

WHAT inside out as

if

IS

LITERATURE?

he did not share the

human

condition,

and as if he were first meeting the word as a barrier as he comes toward men. Instead of first knowing things by their name, it seems that first he has a silent contact with them, since, turning toward that other species of thing which for him is the word, touching them, testing them, palping them, he discovers in them a slight luminosity of their own and particular affinities with the earth, the sky, the water, and all created things.
Not knowing how to use them as a sign of an aspect of the world, he sees in the word the image of one of these aspects. And the verbal image he chooses for its resemblance to the willow tree or the ash tree is not neces-

word which we use to designate these objects. As he is already on the outside, he considers words as a trap to catch a fleeing reality rather than as indicators which throw him out of himself into the midst of things. In short, all language is for him the mirror of the world. As sarily the

a

important changes take place in the internal economy of the word. Its sonority, its length, its masculine or feminine endings, its visual aspect, compose for him result, a face of flesh which represents rather than expresses signification. Inversely, as the signification is realized, the physical aspect of the in its

turn, functions as

its sign,

too, for

has

word

is

reflected within

it,

and

it,

an image of the verbal body. Like lost its

pre-eminence; since words, like things, are increate, the poet does not decide whether the former exist for the latter or vice-versa. is it

Thus, between the word and the thing signified, there established a double reciprocal relation of magical re-

semblance and

signification.

And

14

the poet does not utilize

WHAT

WRITING?

IS

the word, he does not choose between diverse acceptations; each of them, instead of appearing to him as an

autonomous function, is given to him as a material quality which merges before his eyes with the other acceptation.

Thus, in each word he

realizes, solely

by the

effect of

the poetic attitude, the metaphors which Picasso dreamed of when he wanted to do a matchbox which was completely a bat without ceasing to be a is city,

and

flower,

and woman.

It

is

city-flower, city-woman,

same

girl-flower all at the

matchbox. Florence

And

the strange object which thus appears has the liquidity of the river the soft, tawny ardency of gold> and finally abantime.

>

dons

itself

with propriety and, by the continuous diminuprolongs indefinitely its modest blosthat is added the insidious effect of biog-

tion of the silent

,

soming.* To raphy. For me, Florence

American

actress

who

is

also a certain

played in the

woman, an

silent films of

my

childhood, and about whom I have forgotten everything except that she was as long as a long evening glove and always a bit weary and always chaste and always married

and misunderstood and whom I loved and whose name was Florence.
For the word, which tears the writer of prose away from himself and throws him into the midst of the world, sends back to the poet his

own

image, like a mirror.

i nil not fully intelligible in translation as the author is here associating the component sounds of the word Florence with the signification of the French words they evoke. Thus: FL-OR-ENCE, fleuve (river), or
;

"This sentence

.

is

(gold), and dfaence (propriety). The latter part of the sentence refers to the practice in French poetry of giving, in certain circumstances, a syllabic value to the otherwise silent terminal e. Translator's note.

15

WHAT IS LITERATURE?
This

is

what

justifies the

double undertaking of Leiris

who, on the one hand, in his Glossary, tries to give certain words a poetic definition, that is, one which is by itself a synthesis of reciprocal implications between the sonorous body and the verbal soul, and, on the other hand, in a still unpublished work, goes in quest of remembrance of things past, taking as guides a few words which for him are particularly charged with aff ectivity. Thus, the poetic

word is a microcosm.
The crisis of language which broke out at the beginning of this century is a poetic crisis. Whatever the social and historical factors, it manifested itself by attacks of depersonalization of the writer in the face of words.
He no longer knew how to use them, and, in Bergson's

famous formula, he only half recognized them. He approached them with a completely fruitful feeling of strangeness. They were no longer his; they were no longer he; but in those strange mirrors, the sky, the earth, and his own life were reflected. And, finally, they be-

came

things themselves, or rather the black heart of things. And when the poet joins several of these micro-

cosms together the case

is

like that of painters

assemble their colors on the canvas.

he

One might

when

they think that

composing a sentence, but this is only what it appears to be. He is creating an object. The words-things is are grouped by magical associations of fitness and incongruity, like colors and sounds. They attract, repel,

and "burn" one another, and their association composes the veritable poetic unity which is the phrase-object. More often the poet first has the scheme of the sentence in his mind, and the words follow. But this scheme
16

WHAT has nothing in verbal scheme.

WRITING?

IS

common
It

with what one ordinarily calls a does not govern the construction

of a signification. Rather,

it is

comparable to the creative

project by which Picasso, even before touching his brush, prefigures in space the thing which will become a buffoon

or a harlequin.

To

I feel that birds are drunk
But, oh, my heart, hear the song of the sailors.
(Fuir, la-bas fuir, je sens que des oiseaux sont ivres flee, to flee there,

Mais

o

mon

coeur entends

This "but" which

rises like

chant des matelots.}

le

a monolith at the thresh-

old of the sentence does not tie the second verse to the preceding one. It colors it with a certain reserved nuance,
55

with "private associations which penetrate it completely.
55
In the same way, certain poems begin with "and. This conjunction no longer indicates to the mind an operation which is to be carried out; it extends throughout the the absolute quality of a sequel. For the poet, the sentence has a tonality, a taste; by means of it he tastes for their own sake the irritating flavors of

paragraph to give

it

objection, of reserve, of disjunction.

the absolute. tence, He makes them

which becomes an

an objection

He

carries

them

to

real properties of the sen-

utter objection without being

to anything precise.

He

finds here those

which we pointed out a short time ago between the poetic word and its meaning; the ensemble of the words chosen functions as an relations of reciprocal implication

image of the interrogative or

restrictive

17

nuance, and vice-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE? an image

versa, the interrogation is semble which it delimits.

As

in the following

Oh
(O

soul

dme

castles!

faultless?

O

chateaux!

est

sans defaut?)

questioned; nobody is questioning; the poet absent. And the question involves no answer, or rather

Nobody

is

own

it is its

it

Oh

is

saisons!

Quelle

is

admirable verses:

seasons!

What

of the verbal en-

would

therefore a false question? But be absurd to believe that Rimbaud "meant"

answer. Is

it

that everybody has his faults. As Breton said of Saint-Pol
55
Roux, "If he had meant it, he would have said it. Nor

did he

mean

to say

something

else.

He

asked an absolute

He

conferred upon the beautiful word "soul" an interrogative existence. The interrogation has become a thing as the anguish of Tintoretto became a yellow sky. question. It

is

no longer a

from the

outside,

signification,

but a substance. It

and Rimbaud

is

invites us to see it

seen

from

the outside with him. Its strangeness arises from the fact that, in order to consider it, we place ourselves on the

other side of the

human

If this is the case, it would be

one

condition, easily to require a poetic

emotion, even passion

and

on the

understands

side of

how

God.

foolish

engagement. Doubtless,

and why not anger,

social in-

political hatred?

are at the origin of the poem. But they are not expressed there, as in a pamphlet or in a confession. Insofar as the writer of prose exhibits

dignation,

feelings,

he

illustrates

them; whereas,
18

if

the poet injects

WHAT his feelings into his

IS

WRITING?

poem, he ceases

to recognize

them; the words take hold of them, penetrate them, and metamorphose them; they do not signify them, even in his eyes. Emotion has become thing; it now has the opacity of things;

it is

compounded by the ambiguous which of the vocables in all, there

is

always

verse, as there

it

has been enclosed.

much more

in each phrase, in each

more than simple anguish

is

sky over Golgotha.

properties

And above

in the yellow

The word,

the phrase-thing, inexhaustible as things, everywhere overflows the feeling which has produced them. How can one hope to provoke the

indignation or the political enthusiasm of the reader when the very thing one does is to withdraw him from the hu-

man

condition and invite

him

to consider

with the eyes

God

a language that has been turned inside out? Someone may say, "You're forgetting the poets of the Reof

sistance.

You're forgetting Pierre Emmanuel.

55

Not a

bit!
4

They're the very ones I was going to give as examples.
But even if the poet is forbidden to engage himself, is that a reason for exempting the writer of prose? What

do they have in common? It is true that the prosewriter and the poet both write. But there is nothing in common between these two acts of writing except the

movement

hand which

of the

wise, their universes are

good for one utilitarian. I

traces the letters. Other-

incommunicable, and what

is

not good for the other. Prose is, in essence, would readily define the prose-writer as a

is

man who makes

use of words.

M. Jourdan made

prose

and Hitler to declare war on Poa speaker; he designates, demonstrates,

to ask for his slippers,

land.

The writer is

orders, refuses, interpolates, begs, insults, persuades, in19

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

he does so without any effect, he does not therefore become a poet; he is a writer who is talking and saying nothing. We have seen enough of language insinuates. If

side out;

The

is

it is

now

time to look at

it

right side out.

5

employed in discourse; its substance by nature significative; that is, the words are first of all art of prose

is

not objects but designations for objects; it is not first of all a matter of knowing whether they please or displease in themselves, but whether they correctly indicate a certain thing or a certain notion. Thus, it often happens

that

we

find ourselves possessing a certain idea that someone has taught us by means of words without being able to recall a single one of the it words which have transmitted

to us.

Prose

would

is

of all

first

say, there

is

an attitude of mind. As Valery

prose

when

the

word

passes across our

gaze as the glass across the sun. When one is in danger or in difficulty he grabs any instrument. When the dan-

he does not even remember whether

was a hammer or a stick; moreover, he never knew; all he needed was a prolongation of his body, a means of extending his hand to the highest branch. It was a sixth finger, a third leg, ia short, a pure function which he assimilated. Thus, regarding language, it is our shell and our antennae; it protects us against others and informs ger is

past,

us about them;

it

a prolongation of our senses, a third eye which is going to look into our neighbor's heart. We are within language as within our body. We feel it sponit is

taneously while going beyond

we

feel

our hands and our

the other

who

is

using

it,

it

we perceive it when it is we perceive the limbs of

feet;

as

20

toward other ends, as

WHAT others. which

There

is

the

IS

WRITING?

word which

met. But in both cases

is

undertaking, either of

and the word the course of an

lived

is

it is

in

me

acting upon others, or the other a certain particular moment of

upon me. The word is action and has no meaning outside

of

it.

In certain cases

of aphasia the possibilities of acting, of understanding situations, and of having normal relations with the other sex, are lost.

At the heart

of this apraxia the destruction of language appears only as the collapse of one of the structures, the finest and the most apparent. And if prose is never

anything but the privileged instrument of a certain unonly the poet's business to contemplate words in a disinterested fashion, then one has the right dertaking, if it is

to ask the prose-writer

from the very

start,

"What

is

your

aim in writing? What undertakings are you engaged in, and why does it require you to have recourse to writing?
In any case this undertaking cannot have pure contemplation as an end. For, intuition is silence, and the end of
55

communicate. One can doubtless pin down the results of intuition, but in this case a few words

language

is

to

hastily scrawled

on paper

to the language

itself,

will suffice; it will always be enough for the author to recognize what he had in mind. If the words are assembled into sentences, with a concern for clarity, a decision foreign to the intuition,

must intervene, the decision of

confiding to others the results obtained. In each case one must ask the reason for this decision. And the com-

mon

which our pedants too readily forget never stops repeating it. Are we not in the habit of putting this sense basic question to

young people who are thinking
21

of writ-

WHAT ing: IS

LITERATURE?

"Do you have anything

to say?"

Which means:

something which is worth the trouble of being communicated. But what do we mean by something which is "worth the trouble"

if it is

not by recourse to a system

of transcendent values?

Moreover, to consider only

this

secondary structure of

the undertaking, which is what the verbal moment is, the serious error of pure stylists is to think that the word is a gentle breeze which plays lightly over the

surface of things, which grazes them without altering them, and that the speaker is a pure witness who sums

up with a word is his harmless contemplation.

to act; anything

quite the same;

it

which one names has lost its

is

To

speak

already no longer

innocence.

you name the behavior of an individual, you reveal it to him; he sees himself. And since you are at the same time naming it to all others, he knows that he is seen at the moment he sees himself. The furtive gesture which he forgot while making it, begins to exist beyond all
If

measure, to exist for everybody;

it is

integrated into the

on new dimensions; it is retrieved.
After that, how can you expect him to act in the same way? Either he will persist in his behavior out of obstinacy and with full knowledge of what he is doing, or he objective mind;

will give

takes

it

it

up. Thus, by speaking, I reveal the situation by my very intention of changing it; I reveal it to myself and to others in order to change it. I strike at its very heart, I transpierce

little

and

I

display

it

in full view; at

with every word I utter, I involve more in the world, and by the same token

present I dispose of

myself a

it,

it;

22

WHAT
I

emerge from

ward the

it

a

little

more, since

I

go beyond

it

to-

future.

Thus, the prose-writer tain WRITING?

IS

method

is

a

man who

of secondary action

has chosen a cer-

which we may

call action

by disclosure. It is therefore permissible to ask him this second question: "What aspect of the world do you

want

to disclose?

What change do you want

to bring into
55

writer the world by this disclosure?" The "engaged knows that words are action. He knows that to reveal is to

change and that one can reveal only by planning to

He

has given up the impossible dream of giving an impartial picture of Society and the human condition. change. Man

being toward whom no being can be impartial, not even God. For God, if He existed, would be, as certain mystics have seen Him, in a situation in is the

Who

can relationship to man. And He is also the being not even see a situation without changing it, for His gaze congeals, destroys, or sculpts, or, as does eternity, changes the object in itself. It is in love, in hate, in anger, in fear, in joy, in indignation, in admiration, in hope, in despair,

that

man and

the world reveal themselves in their truth.

Doubtless, the engaged writer can be mediocre; he can even be conscious of being so; but as one can not write

without the intention of succeeding perfectly, the modesty with which he envisages his work should not divert him

from constructing

were

have the greatest celebrity. He should never say to himself "Bah! I'll be
33
but rather, lucky if I have three thousand readers,
"What would happen if everybody read what I wrote? 55 it as

if it

He remembers what Mosca

to

which carried Fabrizio and Sanseverina away, "If the word Love said beside the coach

23

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

comes up between them, I'm lost." He knows that he is the man who names what has not yet been named or what dares not tell its name. He knows that he makes
53
and the word "hate" surge up and the word "love with them love and hate between men who had not yet decided upon their feelings. He knows that words, as
55

If he speaks,
Brice-Parrain says, are "loaded pistols. he fires. He may be silent, but since he has chosen to fire, he must do

it

like

a man, by aiming at targets, and

not like a child, at random, by shutting his eyes and firing merely for the pleasure of hearing the shot go off.
Later on we shall try to determine what the goal of literature

may

be.

But from

that the writer has chosen to larly to reveal

man

on we may conclude reveal the world and particu-

this point

men

to other

so that the latter

may

before the object which has been thus laid bare. It is assumed that no one is ignorant of the law because there is a code and because the law is

assume

full responsibility

written down; thereafter, you are free to violate it, but you know the risks you run. Similarly, the function of the

nobody can be ignorant of the world and that nobody may say that he is innocent of what it s all .about. And since he has once engaged himself in the universe of language, he can never again pretend that he can not speak. Once you enter the universe of significations, there is nothing you can do to get out of it. Let words organize themselves freely and they will make sentences, and each sentence contains language in its entirety and refers back to the whole universe. writer is

to act in such a

way

that

5

defined in relationship to words, as the pause in music receives its meaning from the group of
Silence itself

is

24

WHAT notes around

being

it.

silent is

IS

WRITING?

This silence

not being

is

moment

a

dumb;

it is

of language; to refuse to speak,

keep on speaking. Thus, if a writer has chosen to remain silent on any aspect whatever of the

and therefore

to

world, or, according to an expression which says just what it means, to pass over it in silence, one has the right to

him a

third question: "Why have you spoken of this rather than that, and since you speak in order to bring

ask

why do you want

about change
53
than that?

to

change

this rather

All this does not prevent there being a manner of writing. One is not a writer for having chosen to say certain things, but for

having chosen to say them in a certain way.

And, to be sure, the style makes the value of the prose.
But it should pass unnoticed. Since words are transparent and since the gaze looks through them, it would be absurd to slip in among them some panes of rough glass.
Beauty is in this case only a gentle and imperceptible force. in a

In a painting

book

it

shines forth at the very first sight; hides itself; it acts by persuasion like the it charm

of a voice or a face. It does not coerce; it inclines a person without his suspecting it, and he thinks that he

yielding to arguments when he by a charm that he does not see.

is

mass

is

really being solicited

The ceremonial

of the

not faith; it disposes the harmony of words; their beauty, the balance of the phrases, dispose the passions is of the reader without his being aware and orders them like the mass, like music, like the dance. If he happens

them by

themselves, he loses the meaning; there remains only a boring seesaw of phrases.
In prose the aesthetic pleasure is pure only if it is to consider

25

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

such simple ideas, but it seems that today they have been forgotten.
If that were not the case, would we be told that we are

thrown into the bargain.

I blush at recalling

planning the murder of literature, or, more simply, that engagement is harmful to the art of writing? If the contamination of a certain kind of prose by poetry had not

would they dream of attacking us on the matter of form, when we have never spoken of anything but the content? There is nothing to be said about form in advance, and we have said nothing. Everyone invents his own, and one judges it confused the ideas of our

critics,

true that the subjects suggest the style, but they do not order it. There are no styles ranged a priori outside of the literary art. What is more en-

afterward. It

gaged, what

is

is

more boring than the idea

Jesuits? Yet, out of this Pascal

made

of attacking the

his Provincial Let-

a matter of knowing what one wants to write about, whether butterflies or the condition of the Jews. And when one knows, then it remains to deters.

In short,

it is

cide

how one

will write

about

it.

Often the two choices are only one, but among good writers the second choice never precedes the first. I know that Giraudoux has said that "the only concern
55

finding the style; the idea comes afterwards; but he was wrong. The idea did not come. On the contrary, if one considers subjects as problems which are always open, is as solicitations, as expectations,

it

will

be

easily

under-

stood that art loses nothing in engagement. On the contrary, just as physics submits to mathematicians new

problems which require them to produce a bolism, in like

new sym-

manner the always new requirements
26

of

WHAT

IS

WRITING?

the social and the metaphysical engage the artist in find-

ing a new language and new techniques. If we no longer write as they did in the eighteenth century, it is because the language of Racine and Saint-Evremond does not talking about locomotives or the proletariat.
After that, the purists will perhaps forbid us to write

lend

itself to

about locomotives. But art has never been on the side of the purists.
If that is the principle of engagement,

can one have

made

been

to it?

And above

has seemed to

all

what objection what objection has

me

my opponents have not had their hearts in their work very much and that their articles contain nothing more than a long scandalized sigh which drags on over two or three columns. I should have liked to know in the name of what, to it? It

that

with what conception of literature, they condemned engagement. But they have not said; they themselves have not known. The most reasonable thing would have been to support their condemnation on the old theory of art

But none of them can accept it. That is also disturbing. We know very well that pure art and empty art are the same thing and that aesthetic purism was a brilliant maneuver of the bourgeois of the last cenfor art's sake.

who

preferred to see themselves denounced as philistines rather than as exploiters. Therefore, they themselves admitted that the writer had to speak about sometury

But about what? I believe that their embarrassment would have been extreme if Fernandez had not thing. found for them, after the other war, the notion of the message. The writer of today, they say, should in no case occupy himself with temporal affairs. Neither should he
27

WHAT IS LITERATURE? without signification nor seek solely beauty of phrase and of imagery. His function is to deliver messages to his readers. Well, what is a message? set up

lines

must be borne in mind that most critics are men who have not had much luck and who, just about the time they were growing desperate, found a quiet little job as cemetery watchmen. God knows whether cemeteries are peaceful; none of them are more cheerful than a library. The dead are there; the only thing they have done is write. They have long since been washed clean of the sin of living, and besides, their lives are known only through other books which other dead men have
It

written about them.

Rimbaud

dead. So are Paterne

is

Berrichon and Isabelle Rimbaud.

The

trouble makers

have disappeared; all that remains are the little coffins that are stacked on shelves along the walls like urns in a columbarium. The critic lives badly; his wife does not appreciate

him

ungrateful; the

first

as she

of the

ought

month

is

to; his children are

hard on him. But

it

always possible for him to enter his library, take down a book from the shelf, and open it. It gives off a slight odor of the cellar, and a strange operation begins which is he has decided to it is

call reading.

From one

point of view a possession; he lends his body to the dead in order

that they may come back to life. And from another point of view it is a contact with the the book beyond. Indeed,

by no means an object; neither is it an act, nor even a thought. Written by a dead man about dead things, it no longer has any place on this earth; it speaks of is nothing which interests us directly. Left to back and collapses; there remain ink only

28

itself, it falls

spots

on musty

WHAT paper. And when

IS

WRITING?

when speak to him

the critic reanimates these spots,

and words of them, they of passions which he does not feel, of bursts of anger without objects, of dead fears and hopes. It is a whole disembodied world which surrounds him, where human feelings, because they are no longer affecting, have passed on to the status of exemplary feelings and, in a word, he makes

letters

So he persuades himself that he has entered into relations with an intelligible world which is like the of values.

truth of his daily sufferings. And their reason for being.
He thinks that nature imitates art, as for Plato the world of the senses imitates that of the archetypes.

And

during

becomes an apeveryday pearance. His nagging wife 3 his hunchbacked son, they too are appearances. And he will put up with them because Xenophon has drawn the portrait of Xantippe and
Shakespeare that of Richard the Third. the time he

is

reading, his

life

a holiday for him when contemporary authors do him the favor of dying. Their books, too raw, too living,
It is

on to the other shore; they become less and less affecting and more and more beautiful. After a short stay in Purgatory they go on to people the intelligible heaven with new values. Bergotte, Swann, Siegfried and Bella, and Monsieur Teste are recent acquisitoo urgent, pass

He

waiting for Nathanael and Menalque. As for the writers who persist in living, he asks them only not to

tions.

is

move about too much, and to make an effort to resemble from now on the dead men they will be. Valery, who for twenty-five years had been publishing posthumous books, managed the matter very nicely. That is why, like some
29

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

highly exceptional saints, he was canonized during his lifetime. But Malraux is scandalous.

Our

critics

anything to do with the real

and

want to have world except eat and drink

are Catharians.

They

don't

absolutely necessary to have relations with our fellow-creatures, they have chosen to have them in it,

since

it is

with the defunct. They get excited only about classified matters, closed quarrels, stories whose ends are known. bet on uncertain issues, and since history has decided for them, since the objects which terrified or

They never

angered the authors they read have disappeared, since bloody disputes seem futile at a distance of two centuries, they can be charmed with balanced periods, and everything happens for vast tautology

vented a

and

new way

them

as

if all

literature

were only a

new

prose-writer had inof speaking only for the purpose of

as

if

every

saying nothing.

To

is that speak of archetypes and "human nature" in order to say nothing? All the conceptions of speaking our

from one idea to the other. And, of course, both of them are false. Our great writers wanted to destroy, to edify, to demonstrate. But we no longer retain the proofs which they have advanced because we have no concern with what they mean to prove. The abuses which they denounced are no longer those of our time. There are others which rouse us which they did critics oscillate

not suspect. History has given the predictions, lie to

and those which have been

some

of their

became they were

fulfilled

true so long ago that we have forgotten that at first flashes of their genius. Some of their thoughts are dead, and there are others which the whole huutterly
30

WHAT

IS

WRITING?

man

race has taken

now

regard as commonplace.

up

to

its

advantage and which
It follows that

arguments of these writers have
We admire only their order and

we

the best

lost their effectiveness.

rigor.

Their most com-

an ornament, an elegant architecture of exposition, with no more practical pact composition

is

in our eyes only

application than such architectures as the
Bach and the arabesques of the Alhambra.

We

fugues of

moved by the passion of these impassioned geometries when the geometry no longer convinces us. are still

Or

rather by the representation of the passion. In the course of centuries the ideas have turned flat, but they

personal objectives of a man who was once flesh and bone; behind the reasons of reason, which languish, we perceive the reasons of the heart, the virtues,

remain the

little

the vices, and that great pain that men have in living.
Sade does his best to win us over, but we hardly find him

scandalous.

He

is

no longer anything but a

a beautiful disease, a pearl-oyster.

The

soul eaten

by

Letter on the

Theater no longer keeps anyone from going to the theater, but we find it piquant that Rousseau detested the art of the drama. If

we

are a bit versed in psychoanalysis, our shall explain the Social Contract perfect. We

pleasure is by the Oedipus complex and The Spirit of the Laws by the inferiority complex. That is, we shall fully enjoy the well-known superiority of live dogs to dead lions.

Thus,

when a book

which melt under scrutiny and to

presents befuddled thoughts

appear to be reasons only to be reduced to heart beats, when the teaching that one can draw from it is radically different from what its author intended, the book is called a message. Rousseau,
31

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

the father of the French Revolution, and Gobineau, the father of racism, both sent us messages. And the critic considers them with equal sympathy.

If they

were

alive,

he would have to choose between the two, to love one and hate the other. But what brings them together, above all, is

wrong, and

that they are both profoundly and deliciously in the same way: they are dead.

Thus, contemporary writers should be advised to deliver messages, that

voluntarily to limit their writing to the involuntary expression of their souls. I say involuntary because the dead, from Montaigne to Rimis,

baud, have painted themselves completely, but without it is something they have simply having meant to thrown into the bargain. The surplus which they have

given us unintentionally should be the primary and professed goal of living writers. They are not to be forced to give us confessions without

any dressing, nor are they

abandon themselves to the too-naked lyricism of the romantics. But since we find pleasure in foiling the ruses of Chateaubriand or Rousseau, in surprising them in to the secret places of their being at the moment they are playing at being the public man, in distinguishing the private motives from their most universal assertions, we

newcomers to procure us this pleasure deliberately. So let them reason, assert, deny, refute, and prove; but the cause they are defending must be only the apparent aim of their discourse; the deeper goal is to yield themselves without seeming to do so. They must first disarm themselves of their arguments as time has done for those of the classic writers; they must bring them to bear upon subjects which interest no one or on truths shall ask

32

WHAT

IS

WRITING?

so general that readers are convinced in advance.

As

for

must give them an air of profundity, but with an effect of emptiness, and they must shape them in such a way that they are obviously explained by an unhappy childhood, a class hatred, or an incestuous love. Let them not presume to think in earnest; thought conceals the man, and it is the man alone who interests their ideas, they

A

not lovely. It offends. A good argument also offends, as Stendhal well observed. But an that's what we're after. argument that masks a tear us. bare tear

is

The argument removes

the obscenity from the tears; the tears, by revealing their origin in the passions, remove the aggressiveness from the argument. shall be neither

We

too deeply touched nor at all convinced, and we shall be able to yield ourselves in security to that moderate

pleasure which, as everyone knows,

we

derive from the
55

55

contemplation of works of art. Thus, this is "true, "pure literature, a subjectivity which yields itself under the aspect of the objective, a discourse so curiously contrived equivalent to silence, a thought which debates with itself, a reason which is only the mask of madness, an Eternal which lets it be understood that it is only a that it is

moment

of History, a historical

hidden side which

moment which, by

the

suddenly sends back a perpetual lesson to the eternal man, but which is produced against the express wishes of those who do the teaching.

When

all is said

it

reveals,

and done, the message is a soul which soul, and what is to be done with a

made object. A soul? One contemplates is it

at a respectful distance. It
?

is

not customary to show one s soul in society without an imperious motive. But, with certain reserves, convention
33

WHAT IS LITERATURE? permits some individuate to put theirs into commerce,

and

all

adults

may

it

procure

for themselves.

For many

people today, works of the mind are thus little straying souls which one acquires at a modest price; there is good old Montaigne's, dear La Fontaine's, and that of JeanJacques and of Jean-Paul and of delicious Gerard. What called literary art is the ensemble of the treatments which make them inoffensive. Tanned, refined, chemis

provide their acquirers with the opportunity of devoting some moments of a life completely turned outward to the cultivation of subjectivity. Custom

ically treated, they

guarantees it to be without risk. Montaigne's skepticism?
Who can take it seriously since the author of the Essays got frightened when the plague ravaged Bordeaux? Or
Rousseau's humamtarianism, since "Jean-Jacques" put his children into an orphanage? And the strange revelations of Sylvie, since

Gerard de Nerval was mad? At the

very most, the professional alogues between

critic will set

them and

will

up

infernal di-

inform us that French

a perpetual colloquy between Pascal and
Montaigne. In so doing he has no intention of making
Pascal and Montaigne more alive, but of making Mal-

thought

is

raux and Gide more dead. Finally, when the internal contradictions of tEe life and the work have made both of

them

when

the message, in its imponderable depth, has taught us these capital truths, "that man is neither good nor bad," "that there is a great deal of sufuseless,

fering in this human life,"

"that genius

melancholy cuisine will

is

only great patience,"

have achieved

its

purpose, the book, will be able to lays out with a tranquil soul, "All this is only literature." cry and the reader,

as

he

down

34

WHAT
But

IS

since, for us, writing

WRITING? is an enterprise; since writers

are alive before being dead; since we think that we must try to be as right as we can in our books; and since,

even

if

the centuries

no reason

show

show us

to be in the

wrong,

this is

we

in advance that

are wrong; since think that the writer should engage himself com-

we

to

pletely in his works, and not as an abject passivity by putting forward his vices, his misfortunes, and his weak-

but as a resolute will and as a choice, as this total enterprise of living that each one of us is, it is then proper

nesses,

we

beginning and that we, in our turn, ask ourselves: "Why does one write?" that take

up

this

problem at

its

NOTES
1.

2. I

of

least in general. The greatness and error of Klee lie in his attempt to a painting both sign and object.

At

make

M.

say "create," not "imitate," which is enough to squelch the bombast
Charles Estienne who has obviously not understood a word of my argu-

ment and who
3.

4.

is dead set on tilting at shadows.
This is the example cited by Bataille in Inner Experience.
If one wishes to know the origin of this attitude toward language, the

following are a few brief indications.
Originally, poetry creates the myth, while the prose-writer draws its portrait.
In reality, the human act, governed by needs and urged on by the useful is, in

a sense, a means. It passes unnoticed, and it is the result which counts. When extend my hand in order to take up my pen, I have only a fleeting and obscure consciousness of my gesture; it is the pen which I see. Thus, man is
I

alienated by his ends. Poetry reverses the relationship: the world and things become inessential, become a pretext for the act which becomes its own end.

The vase

is there

so that the girl

may perform

the graceful act of filling

it;

War, so that Hector and Achilles may engage in that heroic combat. The action, detached from its goals, which become blurred, becomes an act of prowess or a dance. Nevertheless, however indifferent he might have been the Trojan

to the success of the enterprise,

the poet, before the nineteenth century, re-

mained in harmony with society as a whole. He did not use language for the end which prose seeks, but he had the same confidence in it as the prose-writer.
With the coming of bourgeois society, the poet puts up a common front with the prose-writer to declare

it

unlivable. His job is always to create the

myth of man, but he passes from white magic

35

to

black magic.

Man

is

always

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

presented as the absolute end, but by the success of his enterprise he is sucked into a utilitarian collectivity. The thing that is in the background of his act and that will allow transition to the myth is thus no longer success, but defeat. series of his projects like a screen, defeat alone

returns

purity. defeat. it is

By stopping the infinite him to himself in his now there as a pretext for

The world remains the inessential, but
The finality of the thing is to send man

himself by blocking the route. Moreover, it is not a matter of arbidefeat and ruin into the course of the world, but rather of having no eyes for anything but that. Human enterprise has two aspects: it

back

to

trarily introducing

is

both success and failure. The dialectical scheme is inadequate for reflecting it. We must make our vocabulary and the frames of our reason more

upon

supple.

which

I am going to try to describe that strange reality, History, neither objective, nor ever quite subjective, in which the dialectic is

Some day is contested, penetrated, and corroded by a kind of antidialectic, but which is still a dialectic. But that is the philosopher's affair. One does not ordinarily consider the two faces of Janus; the man of action sees one and the poet sees the other.

When

the instruments are broken

and unusable, when plans are

world appears with a childlike and terrible freshness, without supports, without paths. It has the maximum reality because it is crushing for man, and as action, in any case, generalizes, defeat restores to things their individual reality. But, by an expected reversal, the defeat, considered as a final end, is both a contesting and an appropriation of
5 worth more than that which this universe. A contesting, because man crushes; he no longer contests things in their "little bit of reality," like the blasted and effort

is

useless, the

engineer or the captain, but, on the contrary, in their "too full of reality," by his very existence as a vanquished person; he is the remorse of the world.
An appropriation, because the world, by ceasing to be the tool of success, be-

comes the instrument

of failure.

So there

it is,

traversed by an obscure final-

of adversity which serves, the more human insofar as it hostile to man. The defeat itself turns into salvation. Not that it makes

ity; it is its coefficient is more

us yield to some "beyond," but by itself it shifts and is metamorphosed. For example, poetic language rises out of the ruins of prose. If it is true that the is a betrayal and that communication is impossible, then each word by recovers its individuality and becomes an instrument of our defeat and a receiver of the incommunicable. It is not that there is another thing to com-

word

itself

municate; but the communication of prose having miscarried, it is the very meaning of the word which becomes the pure incommunicable. Thus, the failure

communication becomes a suggestion of the incommunicable, and the thwarted project of utilizing words is succeeded by the pure disinterested intuition of the word. Thus, we again meet with the description which we attempted earlier in this study, but in the more general perspective of the abof

solute valorization of the defeat, which seems to me the original attitude of contemporary poetry. Note also that this choice confers upon the poet a very

precise function in the collectivity: in a highly integrated or religious society, the defeat is masked by the State or redeemed by Religion; in a less inte-

grated and secular society, such as our democracies,

deem them.

36

it

is

up

to

poetry to

re-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

Poetry is a case of the loser winning. And the genuine poet chooses to lose, even if he has to go so far as to die, in order to win. I repeat that I am talking of contemporary poetry. History presents other forms of poetry. It is not my concern to show their connection with ours. Thus, if one absolutely wishes to

speak of the engagement of the poet, let us say that he is the man who engapes himself to lose. This is the deeper meaning of that tough-luck, of that malediction with which he always claims kinship and which he always attributes to an intervention from without; whereas it is his deepest choice, the source, and not the consequence of his poetry. He is certain of the total defeat of the human enterprise and arranges to fail in his own life in order to

bear witness, by his individual defeat, to contests, as

we

shall

see,

which

is

human

defeat in general. Thus, he too. But the

what the prose- writer does

contesting of prose is carried on in the name of a greater success; and that of poetry, in the name of the hidden defeat which every victory conceals. all poetry a certain form of present; and, vice-versa, the driest prose always of poetry, that is, a certain form of defeat; no prose-writer is of expressing what he wants to say; he says too much or not
5.

It

goes without saying that in

of success,

phrase

is

is

a wager, a risk

word

assumed; the more cautious one

is,

prose, that

is,

contains a bit quite capable enough; each

the

more

atten-

as Valery has shown, no one can understand a word to its very bottom. Thus, each word is used simultaneously for its clear and social let me say, almost for its meaning and for certain obscure resonances tion the

attracts;

physiognomy. The reader, too, is sensitive to this. At once we are no longer on level of concerted communication, but on that of grace and chance; the silences of prose are poetic because they mark its limits, and it is for the purpose of greater clarity that I have been considering the extreme cases of pure prose and pure poetry. However, it need not be concluded that we can pass from poetry to prose by a continuous series of intermediate forms. If the the prose-writer

and we

is

too eager to fondle his words, the eidos of "prose" is shattered

highfalutin nonsense. If the poet relates, explains, or teaches, the poetry becomes prosaic; he has lost the game. It is a matter of complex structures, impure, but well-defined. fall into

37

II

WHY

WRITE?

Each one has his reasons: for one, art is a another, a means of conquering. But one can

flight; for

flee into

a

hermitage, into madness, into death. One can conquer by arms. Why does it have to be writing, why does one have to manage

his escapes

and conquests by writing? Because,

behind the various aims of authors, there is a deeper and more immediate choice which is common to all of us. We shall

whether

try to elucidate this choice,

not in the

and we

shall see

name

of this very choice of writing that the engagement of writers must be required.
Each of our perceptions is accompanied by the conit is

human reality is a "revealer," through human reality that "there is" being,

sciousness that

that

is

or, to

is,

it

put

differently, that man is the means by which things are manifested. It is our presence in the world which multiit

we who

up a relationship between this tree and that bit of sky. Thanks to us, that star which has been dead for millennia, that quarter moon, and that plies relations. It

is

set

dark river are disclosed in the unity of a landscape. It is the speed of our auto and our airplane which organizes the great masses of the earth.
38

With each

of our acts, the

WHY WRITE? world reveals to us a new are directors of being, producers. If we turn sink back into

we

we know that we know that we are not its

face. But, if

also

away from

this landscape, it will

dark permanence. At least, it will sink no one mad enough to think that it is going its back; there is to be annihilated. It

is

we who

the earth will remain in

and

shall be annihilated,

lethargy until another consciousness comes along to awaken it. Thus, to our inner certainty of being "revealers" is added that of being inesits

sential in relation to the thing revealed.

One

of the chief motives of artistic creation

is

certainly

the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world. If I fix on canvas or in writing a certain aspect of the fields or the sea or a look on someone's face which I have disclosed, I

am conscious of having pro-

duced them by condensing relationships, by introducing order where there was none, by imposing the unity of mind on the diversity of things. That is, I feel myself essential in relation to

my

creation.

But

this

time

it is

the created object which escapes me; I can not reveal and produce at the same time. The creation becomes inessential in relation to the creative activity. First of all, even if it appears to others as definitive, the created ob-

seems to us in a state of suspension; we can always change this line, that shade, that word. Thus, it never forces itself. A novice painter asked his teacher, "When should I consider my painting finished?" And ject always

the teacher answered,

amazement and say that?" Which amounts

"When you can

to yourself

Tm

to saying "never."

39

look at

it

in

the one

who

For

virtually

it is

did

WHAT
:onsidering one's

IS

LITERATURE?

work with someone

eyes and reself-evident that

else's

pealing what one has created. But it is we are proportionally less conscious of the thing produced and more conscious of our productive activity.

When

it

is

a matter of pottery or carpentry,

we work

according to traditional norms, with tools whose usage
55
who are s codified; it is Heidegger's famous "they

working with our hands. In this case, the result can seem
:o us sufficiently strange to preserve its objectivity in our

But

we

ourselves produce the rules of production, he measures, the criteria, and if our creative drive comes rbm the very depths of our heart, then we never find

>yes.

if

mything but ourselves in our work. nvented the laws by which we judge

It is it. we who have

It is

our history,

our gaiety that we recognize in it. Even if we hould regard it without touching it any further, we never

>ur love,

from it that gaiety or love. We put them into it.
The results which we have obtained on canvas or paper lever seem to us objective. We are too familiar with the
>rocesses of which they are the effects. These processes emain a subjective discovery; they are ourselves, our nspiration, our ruse, and when we seek to perceive our
-eceive

vork,

ions

we

create

it

again,

which produced

it;

we

repeat mentally the operaeach of its aspects appears as a

Thus, in the perception, the object is given as the essential thing and the subject as the inessential. The esult. atter seeks essentiality in the creation
>ut

then

it is

and obtains

it,

the object which becomes the inessential.

This dialectic

is

nowhere more apparent than

in the

of writing, for the literary object is a peculiar top vhich exists only in movement. To make it come into irt 40

WHY WRITE? view a concrete act called reading is necessary, and it lasts only as long as this act can last. Beyond that, there are only black marks on paper. Now, the writer can not read what he writes, whereas the shoemaker can put on

made

they are his size, and the architect can live in the house he has built. In reading, one foresees; one waits. He foresees the end of the sentence, the following sentence, the next page. He waits for the shoes he has just

them is if

confirm or disappoint his foresights. The reading composed of a host of hypotheses, of dreams followed by to awakenings, of hopes and deceptions. Readers are always ahead of the sentence they are reading in a merely proba-

which partly

and partly comes together in proportion as they progress, which withdraws from one page to the next and forms the moving horizon of the literary object. Without waiting, without a future, without ignorance, there is no objectivity.
Now the operation of writing involves an implicit quasi-reading which makes real reading impossible.
When the words form under his pen, the author doubtble future

collapses

them, but he does not see them as the reader does, since he knows them before writing them down.
The function of his gaze is not to reveal, by stroking them, less sees

the sleeping words which are waiting to be read, but to control the sketching of the signs. In short, it is a purely mission, and the view before him reveals nothregulating

ing except for slight

slips of

the pen.

The

writer neither

nor conjectures; he projects. It often happens that he awaits, as they say, the inspiration. But one does not wait for himself the way he waits for

foresees

others. If

he

hesitates,

he knows that the future
41

is

not

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

made, that he himself is going to make it, and if he still does not know what is going to happen to his hero, that simply means that he has not thought about it, that he has not decided upon anything. The future is then a blank page, whereas the future of the reader is two hundred

with words which separate him from the end.
Thus, the writer meets everywhere only his knowledge, pages filled

He

touches only his own subjectivity; the object he creates is out of reach; he does not create it for himself. If he rereads himself, it his will, his plans, in short, himself.

is

already too

late.

thing in his eyes.

The

He

sentence will never quite be a goes to the very limits of the sub-

jective but without crossing

it.

He

appreciates the effect

an epigram, of a well-placed adjective, but the effect they will have on others. He can judge it,

of a touch, of it is

not feel

Proust never discovered the homosexuality of Charlus, since he had decided upon it even before starting on his book. And if a day comes when the book

on

it.

author a semblance of objectivity, it is that years have passed, that he has forgotten it, that its takes for

its

him, and doubtless he is no longer
This was the case with Rousseau

spirit is quite foreign to

capable of writing it. when he reread the Social Contract at the end of his life.
Thus, it is not true that one writes for himself. That

would be the worst blow. In projecting his emotions on paper, one barely manages to give them a languishing extension. The creative act is only an incomplete and abstract moment

in the production of a work. If the

author existed alone he would be able to write as

much

he liked; the work as object would never see the light of day and he would either have to down his pen or put as

42

WHY WRITE?
But the operation of writing implies that of reading as its dialectical correlative and these two connected acts necessitate two distinct agents. It is the conjoint effort of author and reader which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind. There is no art except for and by despair. others.

Reading seems, in fact, to be the synthesis of percep1 tion and creation. It supposes the essentiality of both the subject and the object. The object is essential because it is

strictly

structures,

transcendent, because

it

and because one must wait

but the subject

is

imposes for it

also essential because

its

own

and observe

it is

required not only to disclose the object (that is, to make there be an object) but also so that this object might be (that is, it; to

produce

it).

In a word, the reader

is

conscious of dis-

closing in creating, of creating by disclosing. In reality, it is not necessary to believe that reading is a mechanical

operation and that signs make an impression upon him as light does on a photographic plate. If he is inattentive, tired, stupid, or thoughtless,

He

most of the

relations will es-

never manage to "catch on 55 to the object (in the sense in which we see that fire "catches" or "doesn't catch"). He will draw some phrases out of the shadow, but they will seem to appear as random

cape him.

he

will

he will project beyond the words a synthetic form, each phrase of which will be no more than a partial function: the "theme, 55 the "subject, 55 strokes. If

is

at his best,

or the "meaning.

55

Thus, from the very beginning, the

1. The same is true in different degrees regarding the spectator's attitude before other works of art (paintings, symphonies, statues, etc.)

43

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

meaning is no longer contained in the words, since it is he, on the contrary, who allows the signification of each of them to be understood; and the literary object, though never given in language.
On the contrary, it is by nature a silence and an opponent of the word. In addition, the hundred thousand realized through language,

is

words aligned in a book can be read one by one so that the meaning of the work does not emerge. Nothing is accomplished if the reader does not put himself from the very beginning and almost without a guide at the height of this silence;

if,

he does not invent it and and hold on to, the words and

in short,

does not then place there, sentences which he awakens.

would be more

And

would be

I

am

fitting to call this operation

or a discovery, I shall answer that, tion if

as

new and

first,

as original

told that

it

a re-invention

such a re-inven-

an act

as the first

when an

object has never existed before, there can be no question of re-inventing it or discovering it. For if the silence about which I am

invention.

speaking

is

he has, at is And,

especially,

really the goal at least, never been familiar with

subjective and anterior

to language. It

of words, the undifferentiated tion, which the word

silence

which the author

and

it; is is

aiming,

his silence

the absence

lived silence of inspira-

then particularize, whereas the produced by the reader is an object. And at the will very interior of this object there are more silences which the author does not tell. It is a question of silences which are so particular that they could not retain any

meaning outside of the object which the reading causes to appear. However, it is these which give it its density and its particular face.
44

WHY WRITE?
To

say that they are unexpressed is hardly the word; for they are precisely the inexpressible. And that is why

one does not come upon them at any definite moment in the reading; they are everywhere and nowhere. The quality of the marvelous in The Wanderer (Le Grand
Meaulnes], the grandiosity of Armance, the degree of

realism and truth of Kafka's mythology, these are never given. The reader must invent them all in a continual

exceeding of the written thing. To be sure, the author guides him, but all he does is guide him. The landmarks he sets up are separated by the void. The reader must unite them; he is must go beyond them. In

short, reading

directed creation.

On

the one hand, the literary object has no other substance than the reader's subjectivity; Raskolnikov's

waiting which I lend him. Without this impatience of the reader he would remain only a collection of signs. His hatred of the police magistrate who

waiting

is

questions

my

him

my hatred which has been solicited and of me by signs, and the police magistrate is wheedled out himself would not

him

exist

via Raskolnikov.

without the hatred

That

is

I

have for

what animates him,

it is

his very flesh.

But on the other hand, the words are there like traps to arouse our feelings and to reflect them toward us.

Each word is a path of transcendence; it shapes our feelings, names them, and attributes them to an imaginary personage who takes it upon himself to live them for us and who has no other substance than these borrowed he confers upon them. passions; objects, perspectives,

45

and a horizon

WHAT

IS

Thus, for the reader,

LITERATURE?

all is to

do and

all is

already

done; the work exists only at the exact level of his capacities; while he reads and creates, he knows that he can always go further in his reading, can always create more profoundly, and thus the work seems to ible and opaque

Reason with

as inexhaust-

We

would readily reconcile which Kant reserved to divine

as things.

that "rational intuition"

him

this absolute

production of qualities, which, to the extent that they emanate from our subjectivity, congeal before our eyes into impermeable objectivities.
Since the creation can find

its

fulfillment only in read-

must entrust to another the job of carrying out what he has begun, since it is only through the consciousness of the reader that he can regard himself as essential to his work, all literary work is an appeal.
To write is to make an appeal to the reader that he lead into objective existence the revelation which I have undertaken by means of language. And if it should be asked to what the writer is appealing, the answer is simple. As the sufficient reason for the appearance of the ing, since the artist

never found either in the book (where we find merely solicitations to produce the object) or in the author's mind, .and as his subjectivity, which he aesthetic object

is

cannot get away from, cannot give a reason for the act of leading into objectivity, the appearance of the work of art is a new event which cannot be explained by an-

And since

an absolute therefore brought about by the freedom of beginning, the reader, and by what is purest in that freedom. Thus, terior data.

this directed creation

is

it is

the writer appeals to the reader's freedom to collaborate in the production of his work.
46

WHY WRITE?
It will doubtless

be said that

address them-

all tools

our freedom since they are the instruments of a possible action, and that the work of art is not unique

selves to

And

in that. line of

the congealed outremains on the level of the

true that the tool

it is

an operation. But

it

is

hypothetical imperative. I may use a hammer to nail up a case or to hit my neighbor over the head. Insofar as I consider it it

in

does not put

at using

it

not an appeal to my freedom; face to face with it; rather, it aims

itself, it is

me

by substituting a

set succession of traditional

procedures for the free invention of means. The book does not serve my freedom; it requires it. Indeed, one cannot address himself to freedom as such by means of constraint, fascination, or entreaties.

There

of attaining it; first, by recognizing confidence in it, and finally, requiring of

way in its

own name,

that

that one brings to

Thus, the book

is,

in the

name

it,

it

is

only one

then, having

an

act,

an act

of the confidence

it.

is

not, like the tool, a

means

for

any end whatever; the end to which it offers itself is the reader's freedom. And the Kantian expression "finality without end

53

seems to

nating the work

me

quite inappropriate for desigof art. In fact, it implies that the aes-

appearance of a finality and the free and ordered play of the

thetic object presents only the is limited to soliciting

imagination. It forgets that the imagination of the spectator has not only a regulating function, but a constitutive one. It does not play; it is called upon to recompose the beautiful object beyond the traces left by the artist. The imagination can not revel in itself any more than can the

47

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

always on the outside, always engaged in an enterprise. There would be finality without end if some object offered such a set ordering other functions of the mind;

that

it

suppose that it has one even can not ascribe one to it. By defining the beau-

would lead us

though we

it is

tiful in this

to

and

way one can

this

is

Kant's aim

liken the beauty of art to natural beauty, since a flower, for example, presents so

much symmetry,

such harmonious

and such regular curves, that one is immediately tempted to seek a finalist explanation for all these properties and to see them as just so many means at the disposal of an unknown end. But that is exactly the error.
The beauty of nature is in no way comparable to that of art. The work of art does not have an end; there we agree with Kant. But the reason is that it is an end. The
Kantian formula does not account for the appeal which colors, resounds at the basis of each painting, each statue, each book. Kant believes that the work of art first exists as

and that it is then seen. Whereas, it exists only if one looks at it and if it is first pure appeal, pure exigence to exist. It is not an instrument whose existence is manifest fact and whose end

is

undetermined.

It presents itself as

task to be discharged;* from the very beginning itself on the

level of the categorical imperative.

perfectly free to leave that

open

it,

book on the

you assume responsibility for

table.

it.

it

places

You

But

a

are

if

you
For freedom is

not experienced by its enjoying its free subjective functioning, but in a creative act required by an imperative.

This absolute end, yet acquiesced in,

this

imperative which

which freedom

48

itself

is

transcendent

adopts as

its

own,

WHY WRITE? what we call a value. The work cause it is an appeal. is If I

appeal to

of art

a value be-

we may

readers so that

my

is

carry the

enterprise which I have begun to a successful conclusion, it is self-evident that I consider him as a pure freedom, as an unconditioned

activity; thus, in

no case can

I ad-

dress myself to his passivity, that is, try to affect him, to communicate to him, from the very first, emotions of fear, desire, or anger.

There

who

are, doubtless, authors

concern themselves solely with arousing these emotions because they are foreseeable, manageable, and because they have at their disposal sure-fire means for provoking

them. But

it is

also true that they are

reproached for

this

kind of thing, as Euripides has been since antiquity because he had children appear on the stage. Freedom is alienated in the state of passion; in partial enterprises;

it

it is

abruptly engaged

loses sight of its task

which

is

to

produce an absolute end. And the book is no longer anyihing but a means for feeding hate or desire. The writer should not seek to overwhelm; otherwise he is in contradiction with himself; if he wishes to make demands he

must propose only the task

to

be

fulfilled.

Hence, the char-

acter of pure presentation which appears essential to the work of art. The reader must be able to make a certain aesthetic withdrawal. This is what Gautier foolishly conu fused with art for art's sake" and the Parnassians with

the imperturbability of the artist. It is simply a matter of precaution, and Genet more justly calls it the author's

toward the reader. But that does not mean that the writer makes an appeal to some sort of abstract politeness and conceptual freedom. One
49

certainly creates the aes-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

thetic object with feelings;

if it is

touching,

it

appears

be recognized by laughter. However, these feelings are of a particular kind. They have their origin in freedom; they are loaned.
The belief which I accord the tale is freely assented to. through our tears;

if it is

comic,

it

will

a Passion, in the Christian sense of the word, that a freedom which resolutely puts itself into a state of

It is is, passivity to obtain a certain transcendent effect sacrifice. by this
The reader renders himself credulous; he de-

scends into credulity which, though it ends by enclosing him like a dream, is at every moment conscious of being free. An

effort

is

made

sometimes

to force the writer into

dilemma: "Either one believes in your story, and it is intolerable, or one does not believe in it, and it is ri55
But the argument is absurd because the diculous. this

characteristic of aesthetic consciousness

by means of engagement, by oath, a fidelity to one's self

and

is

to be a belief

belief sustained

by

to the author, a perpetually

renewed choice to believe. I can awaken at every moment, and I know it; but I do not want to; reading is a free dream. So that all feelings which are exacted on the basis of this tions of

my

they are so

imaginary belief are like particular modulafreedom. Far from absorbing or masking it,

many

different

ways

it

has chosen to reveal

Raskolnikov, as I have said, would only be a shadow, without the mixture of repulsion and friend-

itself to itself.

ship which I feel for
But, by a reversal

him and which makes him

which

live.

the characteristic of the im-

is

aginary object, it is not his behavior which excites my indignation or esteem, but my indignation and esteem

which give consistency and

objectivity to his behavior.

50

WHY WRITE?
Thus, the reader's feelings are never dominated by the object, and as no external reality can condition them, they have their permanent source in freedom; that is, for I call a feeling generous which they are all generous has its origin and its end in freedom. Thus, reading is an exercise in generosity, and what the writer requires of the reader is not the application of an abstract freedom

but the

gift of his

whole person, with

his passions, his

prepossessions, his sympathies, his sexual temperament, and his scale of values. Only this person will give himself

generously; freedom goes through and through him and comes to transform the darkest masses of his sensibility.

And

as activity has rendered itself passive in order for

it

better to create the object, vice-versa, passivity becomes act; the man who is reading has raised himself to the

an

see people who are known for their toughness shed tears at the recital of imaginary

highest degree.

That

is

why we

moment

they have become what they would have been if they had not spent their lives hiding their freedom from themselves.
Thus, the author writes in order to address himself to misfortunes; for the

the freedom of readers,

make

work

and he requires

it

in order to

But he does not stop there; he also requires that they return this confidence which he has his exist.

given them, that they recognize his creative freedom, and that they in turn solicit it by a symmetrical and inverse appeal. Here there appears the other dialectical

paradox of reading; the more we experience our freedom, the more we recognize that of the other; the more he

demands

When

of us, the
I

am

more we demand

of him.

enchanted with a landscape,
51

I

know

very

WHAT well that

without

it is

me

not

I

IS

who

LITERATURE? create it,

but

I also

know

that

the relations which are established before

the trees, the foliage, the earth, and the grass would not exist at all. I know that I can give no reason for the appearance of finality which I discover in

my

eyes

among

the assortment of hues

and

in the

harmony

of the forms

and movements created by the wind. Yet, it exists; there it is before my eyes, and I can make there be being only if being already is. But even if I believe in God, I can not establish any passage, unless it be purely verbal, between the divine, universal solicitude and the particular spectacle which I am considering. To say that the landscape in order to charm me or that He

He made made me

the kind of person who is pleased by it is to take a question for an answer. Is the marriage of this blue and that

green deliberate?

How can I know? The idea of a univer-

providence is no guarantee of any particular intention, especially in the case under consideration, since the green of the grass is explained by biological laws, specific consal

and geographical determinism, while the reason for the blue of the water is accounted for by the depth of the river, the nature of the soil and the swiftness of stants, the current.

The

assorting of the shades,

if it is

willed,

can only be something thrown into the bargain; it meeting of two causal series, that is to say, at first

is

the

sight,

a fact of chance. At best, the finality remains problematic. All the relations we establish remain hypotheses; no

end

proposed to us in the manner of an imperative, since none is expressly revealed as having been willed by a creator. Thus, our freedom is never called forth by is natural beauty.

Or

rather, there

52

is

an appearance of

WH Y

WRITE?

order in the ensemble of the foliage, the forms, and the movements, hence, the illusion of a calling forth which

freedom and which disappears immediately when one regards it. Hardly have we begun to run our eyes over this arrangement, than the call disappears; we remain alone, free to tie up one color with another or with a third, to set up a relationship between the tree and the water or the tree and the sky, or the tree, the water and the sky. My freedom beseems to

solicit this

comes caprice. To the extent that I establish new relationships, I remove myself further from the illusory objectivity which solicits me. I muse about certain motifs which are vaguely outlined by the things; the natural reality is no longer anything but a pretext for musing.
Or, in that case, because I have deeply regretted that this arrangement which was momentarily perceived was not offered to me by somebody and consequently is not real, the result

is

that I fix

my

dream, that

I

transpose

it

to

canvas or in writing. Thus, I interpose myself between the finality without end which appears in the natural

and the gaze of other men. I transmit it to them. It becomes human by this transmission. Art here is a ceremony of the gift and the gift alone brings about spectacles the metamorphosis. It is something like the transmission of titles and powers in the matriarchate where the mother

does not possess the names, but is the indispensable intermediary between uncle and nephew. Since I have captured this illusion in flight, since I lay

men and have

it

out for other

disengaged it and rethought it for them, they can consider it with confidence. It has become intentional. As for me, I remain, to be sure, at the border
53

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

of the subjective and the objective without ever being able to contemplate the objective ordonnance which I transmit. The reader, on the contrary, progresses in security.
However far he may go, the author has gone farther.
Whatever connections he may establish among the different parts of the book among the chapters or the words he has a guarantee, namely, that they have been expressly willed. As Descartes says, he can even pretend that there is a secret order among parts which seem to have no connection. The creator has preceded him along the way, and the most beautiful disorders are effects of art, that

tion,

again order. Reading is induction, interpolaextrapolation, and the basis of these activities rests is, on the reader's

a long time it was believed that that of scientific induction rested on the divine will. will, as for

A

gentle force accompanies us and supports us from the first page to the last. That does not mean that we fathom the artist's intentions easily.

They

constitute, as

we have

said,

the object of conjectures, and there is an experience of the reader; but these conjuctures are supported by the great

we have

which appear in the book are never accidental. In nature, the tree and the sky harmonize only by chance; if, on the contrary, in the certainty that the beauties

novel, the protagonists find themselves in a certain tower, in a certain prison, if they stroll in a certain garden, it is

a matter both of the restitution of independent causal series (the character had a certain state of mind which

was due to a succession of psychological and social events; on the other hand, he betook himself to a determined place and the layout of the city required him to
54

WHY WRITE? and the park came

cross a certain park) finality, for

of the expression of a deeper into existence only in order to

harmonize with a certain

state of

by means of things or to put

it

mind

mind, to express it into relief by a vivid con-

was conceived in connection with the landscape. Here it is causality which is appearance and which might be called "causality without cause," and it is the finality which is the profound reality. But if I can thus in all confidence put the order of ends under the order of causes, it is because by opening the book I am asserting that the object has its source trast, in

and the

human

state of

itself

freedom.

were to suspect the artist of having written out of passion and in passion, my confidence would immediately vanish, for it would serve no purpose to have supported the order of causes by the order of ends. The latter would
If I

turn by a psychic causality and the work of art would end by re-entering the chain of deter-

be supported in

its

minism. Certainly I do not deny when I am reading that the author may be impassioned, nor even that he might

have conceived the first plan of his work under the sway of passion. But his decision to write supposes that he with-

draws somewhat from

his feelings, in short, that

transformed his emotions into free emotions as while reading him; that

is,

that he

is

in

an

I

he has

do mine

attitude of

generosity.

a pact of generosity between author and reader. Each one trusts the other; each one counts
Thus, reading

is

on the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself. For this confidence is itself generosity.
Nothing can force the author to believe that his reader
55

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

freedom; nothing can force the reader to bethat the author has used his. Both of them make

will use his lieve a free decision. There

when

ing- and-coming;

then established a dialectical go-

is

I read, I

make demands;

if

my me demands are met, what I am then reading provokes to demand more of the author, which means to demand of the author that he demand more of me. And, viceversa, the author's demand is that I carry my demands to the highest pitch. Thus, my freedom, by revealing reveals the freedom of the other.
It

matters

little

whether the aesthetic object

itself,

is

the

product of "realistic" art (or supposedly such) or "for-

mal"

At any

art.

on the

rate, the natural relations are inverted;

plane of the Cezanne painting first appears as the product of a causal chain. But the causality is an illusion; it will doubtless remain as a proposition as that tree

first

long as we look at the painting, but it will be supported by a deep finality; if the tree is placed in such a way, it is because the rest of the painting requires that this form

and those

colors be placed

on the

first

plane.

Thus,

through the phenomenal causality, our gaze attains

fi-

nality as the finality, it

deep structure of the object, and, beyond attains human freedom as its source and orig-

inal basis. Verrneer's realism first it

might be thought

is

carried so far that at

But if one the pink and velvety

to be photographic.

considers the splendor of his texture, glory of his little brick walls, the blue thickness of a

branch of woodbine, the glazed darkness of

his vestibules,

the orange-colored flesh of his faces which are as polished as the stone of holy-water basins, one suddenly feels, in the pleasure that he experiences, that the finality
56

is

not

WHY WRITE? so much

in the forms or colors as in his material imagi-

the very substance and temper of the things which here give the forms their reason for being. With

nation. It

is

this realist

since

it

is

we

are perhaps closest to absolute creation, in the very passivity of the matter that we

meet the unfathomable freedom of man.
The work is never limited to the painted, sculpted, or narrated object. Just as one perceives things only against the background of the world, so the objects represented by art appear against the background of the

On

the background of the adventures of Fabrice are the Italy of 1820, Austria, France, the sky and universe. which the Abbe Blanis consults, and finally the whole earth. If the painter presents us with a field or a vase of flowers, his paintings are windows which are open on the whole world. We follow the red path which is buried among the wheat much farther than Van Gogh has painted it, among other wheat fields, under other clouds, to the river which empties into the sea, and we extend to infinity, to the other end of the world, the deep finality which supports the existence of the field and the earth. So that, through the various objects which it stars produces or reproduces, the creative act aims at a total renewal of the world. Each painting, each book, is a recovery of the totality of being. Each of them presents this totality to the freedom of the spectator. For this is quite the final goal of art: to recover this world by giving it to be seen as it is, but as if it had its source in human freedom. But, since what the author creates takes on obof the spectator, this rejective reality only in the eyes is consecrated by the ceremony of the spectacle

covery

57

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

We are already in a better

and

particularly of reading. position to answer the question

we

raised a while ago: the writer chooses to appeal to the freedom of other men so that, by the reciprocal implications of their demands,

re-adapt the totality of being to again enclose the universe within man.

may

they

we wish

If

to

go

still

further,

the writer, like all other a certain feeling that

man and may

we must bear

artists,

in

aims at giving

mind

that

his reader

customarily called aesthetic pleasure, and which I would very much rather call aesthetic joy, and that this feeling, when it appears, is a is sign that the work is achieved. It is therefore fitting to examine it in the light of the preceding considerations.

which is denied to the creator, insofar as he creates, becomes one with the aesthetic consciousness of the spectator, that is, in the case under consideIn

effect, this joy,

a complex feeling but one whose structures and condition are inseparable from one another. It is identical, at first, with the recognition of ration, of the reader. It

is

a transcendent and absolute end which, for a moment, suspends the utilitarian round of ends-means and meansends

1
,

that

is,

of

an appeal

or,

what amounts

to the

same thing, of a value. And the positional consciousness which I take of this value is necessarily accompanied by the non-positional consciousness of

my

freedom, since my freedom is manifested to itself by a transcendent exigency. The recognition of freedom by itself is joy, but this structure of non-thetical consciousness implies an-

other: since, in effect, reading
1.

for

In practical it, life

and each end

a means is may be

revealed as a

is

creation,

my

freedom

taken for an end as soon as one searches

means of

58

attaining another end.

WHAT

IS

does not only appear to creative activity, that is, its own law but

the object. It cally is

is

itself as it is

perceives

on

LITERATURE? pure autonomy but as

not limited to giving

itself

as being constitutive of

this level that the

that

manifested,

is,

itself

a

phenomenon

creation

specifi-

wherein the

created object is given as object to its creator. It is the sole case in which the creator gets any enjoyment out of the object he creates. And the word enjoyment which is applied to the positional consciousness of the work read indicates sufficiently that we are in the presence of an essential structure of aesthetic joy. This positional enjoyment is accompanied by the non-positional conscious-

ness of being essential in relation to

an object perceived

as

essential. I shall call this aspect of aesthetic conscious-

ness the feeling of security; it is this which stamps the strongest aesthetic emotions with a sovereign calm. It has its origin in the authentication of a strict

tween subjectivity and

objectivity. As,

harmony

be-

on the other hand,

the aesthetic object is properly the world insofar as it is aimed at through the imaginary, aesthetic joy accom-

panies the positional consciousness that the world is a value, that is, a task proposed to human freedom. I shall call this the aesthetic

modification of the

human

project,

the world appears as the horizon of our situation, as the infinite distance which separates us for, as usual,

from

ourselves, as the synthetic totality of the given, as the undifferentiated ensemble of obstacles and imple-

ments

but never as a

dom. Thus,

demand addressed

to our free-

aesthetic joy proceeds to this level of the

consciousness which I take of recovering and internalizing that which is non-ego par excellence, since I trans59

WHAT form the given lue. The world

into is IS

LITERATURE?

an imperative and the

my

accepted function of

the essential and freely freedom is to make that unique

task, that

my

fact into a va-

is,

and absolute object which is the universe come into being in an unconditioned movement. And, thirdly, the preceding structures imply a pact between human freedoms, for, on the one hand, reading is a confident and exacting recognition of the freedom of the writer, and, on the other hand, aesthetic pleasure, as it is itself experienced in the form of a value, involves an absolute exigence in regard to others; every man, insofar as he is a freedom, feels the same pleasure in reading the same work. Thus, all mankind is present in its highest freedom; it sustains the being of a world which is both its world and the "external" world. In aesthetic joy the positional consciousness is an image-making consciousness of the world in its totality both as being and having to be, both as totally ours and totally foreign, and the more ours as it is the more foreign. The non-positional consciousness really envelops the harmonious totality of human freedoms insofar as it makes the object of a universal confidence and exigency.
To write is thus both to disclose the world and to offer

it

as a task to the generosity of the reader. It

is

to

have recourse to the consciousness of others in order to make one's self be recognized as essential to the totality of being; it is to wish to live this essentiality by means of interposed persons; but, on the other hand, as the real

world in it

ist's

revealed only by action, as one can feel himself only by exceeding it in order to change it, the noveluniverse would lack thickness if it were not disis

60

WHY WRITE? covered in a movement to transcend

it.

It

has often been

observed that an object in a story does not derive its density of existence from the number and length of the descriptions devoted to its it,

but from the complexity of

connections with the different characters.

often the characters handle

down,

more that in short, go

beyond

it

The more

up, and put it toward their own ends, the it, take

it

appear. Thus, of the world of the novel, the totality of men and things, we may say that

real will

is,

in order for

it

it

which

creation by

maximum

density the disclosurethe reader discovers it must also be

to offer

its

an imaginary engagement in the action; in other words, the more disposed one is to change it, the more alive it will be. The error of realism has been to believe that the real reveals itself to contemplation, and that consequently one could draw an impartial picture of it. How could that be possible, since the very perception is partial, since by itself the naming is already a modification of the object?

And how

could the writer,

who wants

himself to

be essential to this universe, want to be essential to the injustice which this universe comprehends? Yet, he must be; but is in a

if

he accepts being the creator of

movement which

abolition.

As

for

an unjust world, ble for

obliging

it.

me

me who

injustices, it

goes beyond them toward their read, if I create and keep alive

can not help making myself responsiAnd the author's whole art is bent on to create what he discloses, therefore to comI

promise myself. So both of us bear the responsibility for the universe. And precisely because this universe is supported by the joint effort of our two freedoms, and because the author, with me as medium, has attempted
61

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

human, it must appear truly in and itself, in its very marrow, as being shot through through with a freedom which has taken human freedom as its end, and if it is not really the city of ends that it ought to be, it must at least be a stage along the way; in a word, it must be a becoming and it must always be considered and presented not as a crushing mass which weighs us down, but from the point of view of its going beyond toward that city of ends. However bad and hopeless the humanity which it paints may be, the work must have an air of generosity. Not, of course, that this generosity is to be expressed by means of edifying discourses and virtuous characters; it must not even be premeditated, and it is quite true that fine sentiments do not make fine books. But it must be the very warp and woof of the book, the stuff out of which the people and things to integrate

it

into the

are cut; whatever the subject, a sort of essential lightness must appear everywhere and remind us that the work is if

never a natural datum, but an exigence and a gift. And
I am given this world with its injustices, it is not so that

might contemplate them coldly, but that I might animate them with my indignation, that I might disclose
I

them and

create

them with

their nature as injustices, that

is, as abuses to be suppressed. Thus, the writer's universe will only reveal itself in all its depth to the examination,

the admiration, and the indignation of the reader; and the generous love is a promise to maintain, and the generous indignation is a promise to change, and the admiration a promise to imitate; although literature is one thing and morality a quite different one, at the heart of the aesthetic imperative

we
62

discern the moral imper-

WHY WRITE? one who writes recognizes, by the very fact that he takes the trouble to write, the freedom of his readers, and since the one who reads, by the mere fact of his opening the book, recognizes the freedom of the writer, the work of art, from whichever side you approach it, is an act of confidence in the freedom of men. ative. For, since the

And dom since readers, like the author, recognize this free-

only to demand that it manifest itself, the work can be defined as an imaginary presentation of the world insofar as it demands human freedom. The result of

no "gloomy literature", since, however dark may be the colors in which one paints the world, he paints it only so that free men may feel their freedom as they face it. Thus, there are only good and bad novels.
The bad novel aims to please by flattering, whereas the good one is an exigence and an act of faith. But above all, the unique point of view from which the author can present the world to those freedoms whose concurrence he wishes to bring about is that of a world to be impregnated always with more freedom. It would be inconceiv-

which

is

that there

is

able that this unleashing of generosity provoked by the writer could be used to authorize an injustice, and that

the reader could enjoy his freedom while reading a work which approves or accepts or simply abstains from con-

demning the subjection of man by man. One can imagine a good novel being written by an American Negro even if hatred of the whites were spread all over it, because it is the freedom of his race that he demands through
And, as he

me

assume the attitude of generosity, the moment I feel myself a pure freedom
I can not bear to identify myself with a race of opthis hatred.

invites

63

to

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

freedoms that they demand the liberation of colored people against the white race and against myself insofar as I am a part of it, but pressors. Thus,

I require of all

nobody can suppose for a moment that it is possible to
1
write a good novel in praise of anti-Semitism. For, the moment I feel that my freedom is indissolubly linked with that of all other men, it can not be demanded of me approve the enslavement of a part of these men. Thus, whether he is an essayist, a pamphleteer, a satirist, or a novelist, whether he speaks only of that I use

it

to

individual passions or whether he attacks the social order, the writer, a free man addressing free men, has only one subject freedom.

Hence, any attempt to enslave

him

life

A

blacksmith can be affected by as a man, but not necessarily in his

in his very art.

fascism in his

his readers threatens

be affected in both, and even more craft than in his life. I have seen writers, who be-

craft; a writer will in his

fore the war, called for fascism with all their hearts, smitten with sterility at the very moment when the Nazis

were loading them with honors. I am thinking of Drieu la Rochelle in particular; he was mistaken, but he was sincere. He

proved

it.

He had

agreed to direct a Nazifew months he reprimanded,

inspired review. The* first rebuked, and lectured his countrymen.

No

one answered

last remark may arouse some readers. If so, I'd like to know a single good novel whose express purpose was to serve oppression, a single good novel which has been written against Jews, negroes, workers, or colonial people.
"But if there isn't any, that's no reason why someone may not write one some day." But you then admit that you are an abstract theoretician. You, not I.
For it is in the name of your abstract conception of art that you assert the possibility of a fact which has never come into being, whereas I limit myself to proposing an explanation for a recognized fact.
1.

This

64

wm WRITE? him because no one was ted; he sistent, free to

do

so.

He became

irrita-

no longer felt his readers. He became more inbut no sign appeared to prove that he had been

understood.

No

sign of hatred, nor of anger either; nothdisoriented, the victim of a growing dis-

He seemed tress. He complained

ing.

bitterly to the

Germans. His

articles

had been superb: they became shrill. The moment arrived when he struck his breast; no echo, except among the bought journalists whom he despised. He handed in his resignation, withdrew it, again spoke, still in the desert. gagged by the silence of others. He had demanded the enslavement of others, but in his crazy
Finally,

he kept

still,

mind he must have imagined that it was voluntary, that it was still free. It came; the man in him congratulated himself mightily, but the writer could not bear it. While this was going on, others, who, happily, were in the majority, understood that the freedom of writing implies the freedom of the citizen. One does not write for slaves.

The

art of prose

is

bound up with the only regime

in

which prose has meaning, democracy. When one is threatened, the other is too. And it is not enough to defend them with the pen. A day comes when the pen is forced to stop, and the writer must then take up arms. Thus, however you might have come to it, whatever the opinions you might have professed, literature throws you into battle. Writing

a certain

way of wanting freedom; once you have begun, you are engaged, willy-nilly.
Engaged in what? Defending freedom? That's easy is a matter of acting as guardian of ideal values
1
like Benda's clerk before the betrayal, or is it concrete, to say. Is

it

1. The reference here is to Benda's La Trahison d6s clercs, translated into
English as The Treason of the Intellectuals. Translator's note.

65

WHAT IS LITERATURE? everyday freedom which must be protected by our taking sides in political and social struggles? The question is tied up with another one, one very simple in appearance but which nobody ever asks himself: "For whom

does one write?

55

66

Ill

FOR

WHOM

DOES ONE WRITE?

there doesn't seem to be any doubt: one writes for the universal reader, and we have seen,

At

first sight,

in effect, that the exigency of the writer

is,

as a rule,

men. But the preceding descriptions are ideal. As a matter of fact the writer knows that he speaks for freedoms which are swallowed up, masked, and unavailable; and his own freedom is not so pure; he has to clean it. It is dangerously easy to speak too addressed to

all

readily about eternal values; eternal values are very, very fleshless. Even freedom, if one considers it sub specie aeternitatis, sea, there is

seems to be a withered branch; for, like the no end to it. It is nothing else but the move-

ment by which one perpetually uproots and liberates himself. There is no given freedom. One must win an inner victory over his passions, his race, his class, and his nation and must conquer other men along with himself.
But what counts in this case is the particular form of the obstacle to surmount, of the resistance to overcome. That is what gives form to freedom in each circumstance. If the writer has chosen, as Benda has it, to talk drivel, he can speak in fine, rolling periods of that eternal freedom which National Socialism, Stalinist communism,
67

WHAT and the

capitalist

IS

LITERATURE?

democracies

all

lay claim

to.

He

won't

disturb anybody; he won't address anybody. Everything he asks for is granted him in advance. But it is an abstract

dream. Whether he wants to or not, and even

if

he has

on eternal laurels, the writer is speaking to his contemporaries and brothers of his class and race.
As a matter of fact, it has not been sufficiently observed that a work of the mind is by nature allusive. Even if the author's aim is to give the fullest possible reprehis eyes

sentation of his object, there

is

never any question as

whether he is telling everything. He knows far more than he tells. This is so because language is elliptical. If I want to let my neighbor know that a wasp has gotten in by the window, there is no need for a long speech, "Watch to 5

out!' or

as

he

"Hey!"

sees

it,

a word

everything

is

as soon enough, a gesture clear. Imagine a phonograph

is

record reproducing for us, without comment, the everyday conversations of a household in Provins or An-

we wouldn't understand a thing; the context gouleme would be lacking, that is, memories and perceptions in common, the situation and the enterprises of the couple; in short, the world such as each of the speakers knows it appear to the other.
The same with reading: people of a same period and collectivity, who have lived through the same events, who have raised or avoided the same questions, have the same to mouth; they have the same complicity, and there are the same corpses among them. That is why it

taste in their

not necessary to write so much; there are key- words.
If I were to tell an audience of Americans about the Geris

man

occupation, there would have to be a great deal of
68

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

would waste twenty pages in dispelling preconceptions, prejudices, and legends. Afterward, I would have to be sure of my position at every step; I would have to look for images and symbols in
American history which would enable them to understand ours; I would always have to keep in mind the difference between our old man's pessimism and their childlike optimism. If I were to write about the same subject for
Frenchmen, we are "entre nous." For example, it would analysis and precaution.

I

be enough to say: "A concert of German military music in the band-stand of a public garden;' everything is there;
3

raw spring day, a park in the provinces, men with shaven skulls blowing away at their brasses, blind and deaf passers-by who quicken their steps, two or three sullen-looking

a

listeners

under the

trees, this useless

serenade to France

our shame and our anguish, our anger, and our pride too. Thus, the reader I am addressing is neither Micromegas nor L'Ingenu; nor is

which

he

drifts off into the sky,

God

the Father either.

He

has not the ignorance of everything has to be explained

the noble savage to whom on the basis of principles; he

not a spirit or a tabula rasa. Neither has he the omniscience of an angel or of the Eternal Father. I reveal certain aspects of the uniis

verse to him; I take advantage of what he knows to attempt to teach him what he does not know. Suspended

and all-knowingness, he has a definite stock of knowledge which varies from moment to moment and which is enough to reveal his historicity. In actual fact, he is not an instantaneous consciousness, between total ignorance

a pure timeless affirmation of freedom, nor does he soar above history; he is involved in it.
69

WHAT
Authors too are reason LITERATURE?

historical.

And

that

is

precisely the

them want to escape from history by eternity. The book, serving as a go-between,

why some

a leap into

IS

of

among the men who are and who likewise contribute

establishes a historical contact

steeped in the same history

making. Writing and reading are two facets of the same historical fact, and the freedom to which the writer to its

not a pure abstract consciousness of being
Strictly speaking, it is not; it wins itself in a

invites us free. is

each book proposes a concrete liberation on the basis of a particular alienation. Hence, in each one there is an implicit recourse to institutions, customs, certain forms of oppression and conflict, to the historical situation;

wisdom and the

folly of the day, to lasting passions

and

passing stubbornness, to superstitions and recent victories of common sense, to evidence and ignorance, to particular modes of reasoning which the sciences have made

fashionable and which are applied in all domains, to hopes, to fears, to habits of sensibility, imagination, and

even perception, and finally, to customs and values which have been handed down, to a whole world which the author and the reader have in common. It

is

this familiar

world which the writer animates and penetrates with his freedom. It is on the basis of this world that the reader

must bring about his concrete liberation; it is alienation, situation, and history. It is this world which I must change or preserve for myself and others. For if the immediate aspect of freedom is negativity, we know that it is not a matter of the abstract power of saying no, but of a concrete negativity which retains within itself (and is completely colored by) what it denies. And since the freedoms
70

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and reader seek and

of the author

through a world,

it

can

affect

each other

just as well be said that the

author's choice of a certain aspect of the world determines the reader and, vice-versa, that it is by choosing

author decides upon his subject. works of the mind contain within themselves

his reader that the

Thus,

all

the image of the reader for whom they are intended. I could draw the portrait of Nathanael on the basis of Les

Nourritures terrestres:

I

can see that the alienation from

which he is urged to free himself is the family, the realestate he owns or will own by inheritance, the utilitarian project, a conventional moralism, a

narrow theism; I also see that he is cultured and has leisure, since it would be absurd to offer Menalquc as an example to an unskilled laborer, a man out of work, or an American negro
;

know

that he

not threatened by any external danger, neither by hunger, war, nor class or racial oppression; the only danger is that of being the victim of his own milieu.
I

Therefore, he

is

is

a white rich Aryan, the heir of a great

bourgeois family which lives in a period which is still relatively stable and easy, in which the ideology of the possessing class

is

barely beginning to decline, exactly the

Daniel de Fontanin

whom

Roger Martin du Card later presented to us as an enthusiastic admirer of Andre Gide.
To take a still more recent example, it is striking that

The

Silence of the Sea, a work written by a man who a member of the resistance from the very beginning whose aim

was and was received with hostility in the emigre circles of New York, London, and sometimes even Algiers, and they even went so far as to tax its

is

perfectly evident,

author with collaboration.
71

The

reason

is

that Ver-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

at that public. In the occupied zone, on the other hand, nobody doubted the author's intentions

cors did not

aim

or the efficacy of his writing; he was writing for us. As a matter of fact, I do not think that one can defend Vercors by saying that his

German

is

real or that his old

Frenchman and French girl are real. Koestler has written some very fine pages about this question; the silence of the two French characters has no psychological verisimilitude; calls it

even has a

slight taste of

anachronism;

it

re-

the stubborn muteness of Maupassant's patriotic

peasants during another occupation, another occupation with other hopes, other anguish, and other customs. As to the German officer, his portrait does not lack life, but, as is

who, at the time, refused

self-evident, Vercors,

to

have any contact with the army of occupation, did it
"without a model/ by combining the probable elements
5

of this character. Thus, it is not in the name of truth that these images should be preferred to those which

Anglo-Saxon propaganda was shaping each day. But for a
Frenchman of continental France Vercors' story, in 1941, was effective. When the enemy is separated from you by a barrier of

fire,

you have

incarnation of evil;

all

to judge

war

is

him

as a whole, as the

a Manicheism.

It

is

there-

fore understandable that the English newspapers did not waste their time distinguishing the wheat from the chaff in the

German army.

occupied populations,

But, vice-versa, the conquered and

who mingled

with their conquer-

relearned by familiarization and the effects of clever propaganda to consider them as men. Good men and ors, bad men; good and bad at the same time. A work which in '41 would have presented the German soldiers to them
72

FOR as ogres failed in

As

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

would have made them laugh and would have its purpose.

early as the

end

lost its effectiveness;

ing again on our

of '42

The

the reason

soil.

On

one

is

Silence of the Sea had that the war was start-

underground propaganda, sabotage, derailment of trains, and acts of violence; and on the other, curfew, deportations, imprisonment, torture, and execution of hostages. An invisible barrier of fire once again separated Germans and Frenchmen. We no longer wished to know whether the Germans who plucked out the eyes and ripped off the nails of our friends were accomplices or victims of Nazism; it was no longer enough to maintain a lofty silence before them; besides, they would not have tolerated it. At this turn of the war it was necessary to be either for them or against side, them. In the midst of bombardments and massacres, of burned villages and deportations, Vercors story seemed
5

like

an

idyll; it

had

lost its public. Its public

was the man

of '41 humiliated by defeat but astonished at the studied courtesy of the occupant, desiring peace, terrified by the

spectre of Bolshevism and misled by the speeches of
Petain. It was in vain to present the Germans to this man as bloodthirsty brutes.

On the

contrary, you

had

to

admit

him

that they might be polite and even likable, and since he had discovered with surprise that most of them were "men like us," he had to be re-shown that even if to such were the case, fraternizing was impossible, that the more likable they seemed, the more unhappy and impotent they were, and that it was necessary to fight against a regime and an ideology even if the men who

brought

it

to us did not

seem bad. And, in
73

short, as

one

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

was addressing a passive crowd, as there were still rather few important organizations, and as these showed themselves to be highly precautions in their recruiting, the

only form of opposition that could be required of the

population was silence, scorn, and an obedience which was forced and which showed it.
5

Thus, Vercors story defined it defined

itself.

It

wanted

to

its

public; by defining it, combat within the mind

French bourgeoisie of 1941 the

of the

interview with Hitler at Montoire. after the defeat

a half-century

it

will

somewhat languid

A

alive, virulent,

no longer

will

it

informed public

was

still

read

effects of Petain's

year and a half

and

effective.

excite anyone.

it

as

An

In ill- an agreeable and

about the war of 1939. It seems that bananas have a better taste when they have just been picked. Works of the mind should likewise be eaten on tale the spot.

One might

be tempted to accuse any attempt to explain a work of the mind by the public to which it is addressed for its vain subtlety and its indirect character. not more simple, direct, and rigorous to take the condition of the author himself as the determining factor?
Ought one not be satisfied with Taine's notion of the
"milieu ? I answer that the explanation by the milieu is,
Is it

5

in effect, determinative: the milieu

that

why

is

I

do not believe

in

it.

produces the writer;

On

the contrary, the

public calls to him, that is, it puts questions to his freedom. The milieu is a vis a tergo\ the public, on the con-

tion,

a waiting, an emptiness to be filled in, an aspiraand literally. In a word, it is the other. figuratively And

I

trary,

is

am

so far

from rejecting the explanation of the
74

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? work by the

man

that I have always considered the project of writing as the free exceeding of a certain human and total situation. In which, moreover, situation of the

not different from other undertakings, fitiemble in a
1
witty but superficial article writes, "I was going to re-

it is

dictionary when chance put three lines of
Jean-Paul Sartre right under my nose: 'In effect, for us the writer is neither a Vestal nor an Ariel. Do what he vise my

little

may, he's in the thick of

down

marked and compromised
To be in the thick of it, up

it,

to his deepest refuge.

3

to the ears. I recognized, in a c Pascal:

ment

We

way, the words of Blaise are embarked. But at once I saw engage5

lose all its value,

reduced suddenly to the most or-

dinary of facts, the fact of the prince and the slave, to the human condition,"
That's what silly. If every

that he

I

man

said all right. is But fitiemble

is

embarked, that does not at all

fully conscious of

being

mean

Most men

pass their time in hiding their engagement from themselves. That does not necessarily mean that they attempt evasions by lying,

by

is

artificial paradises,

for

them

to

it.

or by a

dim

life

of make-believe. It

is

their lanterns, to see the fore-

enough ground without the background and, vice-versa, to see the ends while passing over the means in silence, to refuse solidarity with their kind, to take refuge in the of pompousness, to remove all value from life spirit considering

it

dead, and at fleeing 1.

it

by from the point of view of someone who is the same time, all horror from death by in the banality of everyday existence, to per-

Etiemble: "Happy the writers

who

24, 1947.

75

die for something."

Combat, January

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

they belong to an oppressing class, that they are escaping their class by the loftiness of their to conceal feelings, and, if they belong to the oppressed,

suade themselves,

if

from themselves their complicity with oppression by asserting that one can remain free while in chains if one has a taste for the inner life. Writers can have recourse to all this just like anyone else. There are some, and they are the majority, who furnish a whole arsenal of ruses to the reader who wants to go on sleeping quietly.
I shall say that a writer is engaged when he tries to achieve the most lucid and the most complete consciousness of being embarked, that is, when he causes the en-

gagement of immediate spontaneity to advance, for himself and others, to the reflective. The writer is, par excellence, a mediator and his engagement is mediation. But, if it is true that we must account for his work on the basis of his condition, it must also be borne in mind that his not only that of a man in general but precisely that of a writer as well. Perhaps he is a Jew, and a Czech, and of peasant family, but he is a Jewish writer, condition is

a Czech writer and of rural stock.

When,

in another ar-

define the situation of the Jew, the best
I could do was this: "The Jew is a man whom other

ticle, I tried to

men

consider as a

Jew and who

is

obliged to choose him-

on the basis of the situation which is made for him. For there are qualities which come to us solely by

self

53

means

of the

judgment of

writer, the case

is

others. In the case of the

more complex,

to choose himself as a writer. origin. I

am

writing.

But at once

an author, it first

of

no one is obliged
Hence, freedom is at the all, for

by

my

follows that I
76

free project of

become a man

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

consider as a writer, that is, who has to respond to a certain demand and who has been invested whether he likes it or not, with a certain social function.

whom other men

Whatever game he may want to play, he must play it on the basis of the representation which others have of him. He may want to modify the character that one attributes to the

man

order to change

it,

of letters in a given society; but in

he must

first slip

into

it.

Hence, the

public intervenes, with its customs, its vision of the world, and its conception of society and of literature within that society. It

hems him in, and its refusals and its flights, are a work can be constructed.

surrounds the writer,

imperious or

demands, its on whose basis

sly

it

the given facts
Let us take the case of the great negro writer, Richard
Wright. If we consider only his condition as a man, that

Southern "nigger" transported to the North, we shall at once imagine that he can only write about is, as a

Negroes or Whites seen through the eyes of Negroes.
Can one imagine for a moment that he would agree to pass his life in the contemplation of the eternal True,

Good, and Beautiful when ninety percent of the negroes in the South are practically deprived of the right to vote? And

clerks, I

anyone speaks here about the treason of the answer that there are no clerks among the opif

pressed. Clerks are necessarily the parasites of oppressing

Thus, if an American negro finds that he has a vocation as a writer, he discovers his subject at

classes or races.

the same time.

He

man who

from the outside, who assimilates the white culture from the outside, and each of whose books will show the alienation of the black race within American society. Not objeo is the

77

sees the whites

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

but passionately, and in a way that will compromise his reader. But this examination leaves the nature of his work undetermined; he might be a lively, like

the

realists,

pamphleteer, a blues-writer, or the Jeremiah of the
Southern negroes.

go further, we must consider his public. does Richard Wright address himself? Cer-

we want

If

To whom

to

tainly not to the universal

man. The

of the notion of the universal

istic

essential character-

man

is

that he

is

not

involved in any particular age, and that he is no more and no less moved by the lot of the negroes of Louisiana than by that of the Roman slaves in the time of Spartacus.

The

universal

He

man

can think of nothing but universal

a pure and abstract affirmation of the inalienable right of man. But neither can Wright think of values. is

intending his books for the white racists of Virginia or
South Carolina whose minds are made up in advance and

who

open them. Nor to the black peasants of the bayous who can not read. And if he seems to be happy about the reception his books have had in Europe, still it is obvious that at the beginning he had not the slightest will not

idea of writing for the

away.

Its

much

is

indignation

is

European

public.

ineffectual

and

Europe

is

hypocritical.

far

Not

to be expected

from the nations which have enIndo-China, and negro Africa. These

slaved the Indies, considerations are enough to define his readers. He is addressing himself to the cultivated negroes of the North

and the white Americans of good-will ocrats of the
It is

but

left,

not that he

it is

(intellectuals,

dem-

radicals, C.I.O. workers). is not aiming through them at

through them that he
78

is

all

men

thus aiming. Just as

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?

one can catch a glimpse of eternal freedom at the horizon of the historical and concrete freedom which it pursues, so the

human

race

is

at the horizon of the concrete

and

group of its readers. The illiterate negro peasants and the Southern planters represent a margin of abstract possibilities around its real public. After all, an ilhistorical

literate

may

learn to read. Black

Boy may

fall

into the

hands of the most stubborn of negrophobes and may open his eyes. This merely means that every human project exceeds its actual limits and extends itself step by step to the

Now,

it is

infinite.

to

be noted that there

is

a fracture at the

very heart of this actual public. For Wright, the negro readers represent subjectivity. The same childhood, the

same

difficulties,

the same complexes:

a mere hint

is

enough for them; they understand with their hearts. In trying to become clear about his own personal situation, he clarifies theirs for them. He mediates, names, and shows them the life they lead from day to day in its immediacy, the life they suffer without finding words to formulate their sufferings. He is their conscience, and the

movement by which he

raises

himself from the im-

mediate to the reflective recapturing of his condition is that of his whole race. But whatever the good-will of the white readers may be, for a negro author they represent

They have not lived through what he has through. They can understand the negro's condi-

the Other. lived an extreme stretch of the imagination and by relying upon analogies which at any moment may deceive tion only by

them.

know

On

the other hand, Wright does not completely them. It is only from without that he conceives their
79

WHAT proud all

security

IS

LITERATURE?

and that tranquil

white Aryans, that the world

certainty,

common

to

white and that they on paper have not the

is

puts down same context for whites as for negroes.

own

it.

The words he

They must be chosen by guesswork, since he does not know what resonances they will set up in those strange minds. And when he speaks to them, their very aim is changed. It is a matter of implicating them and making them take stock of their responsibilities. He must make them indignant and ashamed. Thus, each work of Wright contains what Baudelaire would have called "a double simultaneous postulation;" each word refers to two contexts; two forces are applied simultaneously to each phrase and determine the incom-

Had

he spoken to the whites alone, he might have turned out to be more prolix, more

parable tension of his

tale.

and more abusive; to the negroes alone, still more elliptical, more of a confederate, and more elegiac.
In the first case, his work might have come close to sat-

didactic,

ire; in the second, to

prophetic lamentations. Jeremiah spoke only to the Jews. But Wright, a writer for a split public, has been able both to maintain and go beyond this split.

He

has

made

it

the pretext for a

work

of art.

The

writer consumes and does not produce, even if he has decided to serve the community's interests with

His works remain gratuitous; thus no price can be set on their value. Their market value is fixed arbitrarily. In some periods he is pensioned and in others he

his pen.

gets a percentage of the sales of the book.

But there

no more common measure between the work

of the

80

is

mind

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

and percentage remuneration in modern society than there was between the poem and the royal pension under the old regime. Actually, the writer is not paid; he is fed, well or badly, according to the period. The system

cannot work any differently, for his activity is useless.
It is not at all useful; it is sometimes harmful for society to become

self-conscious.

For the fact

is

that the useful

defined within the framework of an established society and in relationship to institutions, values, and ends which

is

are already fixed. If society sees itself and, in particular, sees itself as seen, there is, by virtue of this very fact, a contesting of the established values of the regime. The writer presents it with its image; he calls upon it to as-

sume

it

or to change

itself.

At any

rate,

it

changes;

it

loses

which its ignorance had given it; it wavers between shame and cynicism; it practises disthe equilibrium

gives society a guilty conscience; he is thereby in a state of perpetual antagonism toward the conservative forces which are maintaining the

honesty;

thus,

the

writer

balance he tends to upset. For the transition to the mediate which can be brought about only by a negation

immediate

a perpetual revolution.
Only the governing classes can allow themselves the lux-

of the

is

ury of remunerating so unproductive and dangerous an activity, and if they do so, it is a matter both of tactics and of misapprehension. Misapprehension for the most part: free from material cares, the members of the governing

are sufficiently detached to want to have a reflective knowledge of themselves. They want to retrieve them-

elite

and they charge the artist with presenting them with their image without realizing that he will then make selves, 81

WHAT them assume

it.

LITERATURE?

IS

A tactic on the part of some who,

having

recognized the danger, pension the artist in order to control his destructive power. Thus, the writer is a parasite
55

of the governing "elite. But, functionally, he moves in ophim alive. position to the interests of those who keep
1

Such is the original conflict which defines his condition.
Sometimes the conflict is obvious. We still talk about the courtiers

who made

Figaro though

it

the success of the Marriage of sounded the death-knell of the regime.

Other times, it is masked, because to name is to show, and to show is to change. And as this activity of contestation, which is harmful to the established interests, ventures, in its very modest way, to concur in a change of regime, as, on the other hand, the oppressed classes have neither the leisure nor the taste for reading, the objective aspect of the conflict may express itself as an antagonism

between the conservative writer, In a

forces, or the real public of the

and the progressive classless society,

forces, or the virtual public.

one whose internal structure

would be permanent revolution, the writer might be a mediator for all, and his contestation on principle might precede or accompany the changes in fact. In my opinion this is the deeper meaning we should give to the notion of self-criticism. The expanding of the real public up to the limits of his virtual public would bring about within his erature, mind a

would represent negativity a necessary moment in reconstruction. But

entirely

insofar as

it is

reconciliation of hostile tendencies. Litliberated,

1. To-day his public is spread out. He sometimes runs into a hundred thousand copies. A hundred thousand copies sold, that makes four hundred thousand readers. Thus, for France, one out of a hundred in the population.

82

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? knowledge this type of society does not for the moment exist, and it may be doubted whether it is posto

my

sible.

what

Thus, the conflict remains.
I

would

call the writer's

It

is

at the origin of

ups and downs and his bad

conscience.

simplest expression when the virtual public is practically nil and when the writer, instead of remaining on the margin of the privileged class, is abIt

is

reduced to

sorbed by

it.

its

In that case literature identifies

itself

with

the ideology of the directing class; reflection takes place within the class; contestation deals with details and is carried on in the

example, that

is

name what of uncontested principles. For happened in Europe about the

twelfth century; the clerk wrote exclusively for clerks.
But he could keep a good conscience because there was

a divorce between the spiritual and the temporal. The
Christian Revolution brought in the spiritual, that is, the a negativity, a contestation, and a transcendence, a perpetual construction, beyond the realm of
Nature, of the anti-natural city of freedoms. But it was spirit itself, as

power of surpassing the oban object, that this perpetual

necessary that this universal ject be

first

encountered as

negation of Nature appear, in the

first

place, as nature,

that this faculty of perpetually creating ideologies and of leaving them behind along the way be embodied, to

begin with, in a particular ideology. In the first centuries of our era the spiritual was a captive of Christianity, or, if you prefer, Christianity was the

nated. It

was the

spirit

made

spiritual itself

object.

Hence,

but

it is

alie-

evident

that instead of appearing as the common and forever renewed experience of all men, it manifested itself at first
83

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

as the specialty of a few. Medieval society had spiritual needs, and, to serve them, it set up a body of specialists

recruited by co-optation. To-day we consider reading and writing as human rights and, at the same time, as means for communicating with others which are

who were

almost as natural and spontaneous as oral language. That is why the most uncultured peasant is a potential reader.

In the time of the clerks, they were techniques which were reserved strictly for professionals. They were not practised

aim was not to obtain access to that large and vague humanism which was later to be called "the humanities." They were means solely of preserving and transmitting Christian ideology. To be able to read was to have the necessary tool for acquiring knowledge of the sacred texts and their innumerable commentaries; to be able to write was to be able to comment. Other men no more aspired to possess for their

own

sake, like spiritual exercises. Their

these professional techniques than we aspire to-day to acquire that of the cabinet-maker or the palaeographer if

we

practice other professions. The barons counted on the clerks to produce and watch over spirituality. By themselves they were incapable of exercising control over writers as the public does to-day, and they to distinguish heresy from orthodox beliefs left without help. They

had recourse

were unable

they were got excited only when the pope if Then

they pillaged and burned everything, but only because they had confidence in the pope, and they never turned up their noses at a chance to pillage. It is true that the ideology was ultito the secular arm.

mately intended for them, for them and the people, but it was communicated

to

them
84

orally

by preachings, and

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? the church very early writing: the image.

made use of a simpler language than
The sculpture of the cloisters and

the cathedrals, the stained-glass windows, the paintings, and the mosaics speak of God and the Holy Story. The clerk wrote his chronicles, his philosophical works, his commentaries, and his poems on the margin of this vast illustrating enterprise of faith.

He

intended them for his

peers; they were controlled by his superiors. He did not have to be concerned with the effects which his works

would produce upon the masses, since he was assured in advance that they would have no knowledge of them. Nor did he want to introduce remorse into the conscience of a feudal plunderer or caitiff; violence was unlettered. Thus, for him it was neither a question of reflecting its own image back to the temporal, nor of taking sides, nor of disengaging the spiritual from historical experience by a continuous effort. Quite the contrary, as the writer was of the Church, as the Church was an immense spiritual college which proved its dignity by its resistance to change, as history and the temporal were one and spirituality was radically distinct from the temporal, as the aim of his clerkship was to maintain this distinction, that is, to maintain a specialized body in the face of the in addition, the economy was so divided up

itself as

century, as, and as means of communication were so few

and slow that events which occurred in one province had no effect upon the neighboring province and as a monastery could enjoy while

individual peace, like the hero of the Acharnians, its country was at war, the writer's mission was to

its

prove his autonomy by delivering himself to the exclusive contemplation of the Eternal. He incessantly affirmed the
85

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and demonstrated it only concern was to regard

Eternal's existence

precisely

fact that his

it.

In

by the

this sense,

he realized, in effect, the ideal of Benda, but one can see under what conditions spirituality and literature had to be alienated, a particular ideology had to triumph, a
:

feudal pluralism

had

to

make

the isolation of the clerks

whole population had to be illitthe colerate, and the only public of the writer could be that one can lege of other writers. It is inconceivable a public which practise freedom of thought, write for coincides with the restricted collectivity of specialists, and possible, virtually the

restrict oneself to describing the

and a

priori ideas.

clerk flowered

The good

content of eternal values

conscience of the medieval

on the death of

literature.

in order for writers to preserve this happy conscience it is not quite necessary that their public be

However,

reduced to an established body of professionals. It is enough for them to be steeped in the ideology of the with it, and privileged classes, to be completely permeated

any others. But in this case their function is modified; they are no longer asked to be the guardians of dogma but merely not to make themselves its detractors. As a second example of the adherence to be unable even to conceive

of writers to established ideology, one might, I believe,

choose the French seventeenth century.
The secularization of the writer and his public was in process of being completed in that age. It certainly had origin in the expansive force of the written thing, its monumental character, and the appeal to freedom which its hidden away in any work of the mind. But external circumstances contributed, such as the development of is 86

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? education, the weakening of the spiritual power, and the appearance of new ideologies which were expressly in-

tended for the temporal. However, secularization does not mean universalization. The writer's public still re-

mained

strictly limited.

society,

and

this

name

Taken

as a whole,

it

was called

designated a fraction of the court,

the clergy, the magistracy, and the rich bourgeoisie. Considered individually, the reader was called a "gentleman"

homme] and he

(honnete

exercised a certain function

of censorship which was called taste. In short, he was both a member of the upper classes and a specialist. If he crit-

was because he himself could write.
The public of Corneille, Pascal, and Descartes was Mme. de Sevigne, the Chevalier de Mere, Madame de Grignan,
Madame de Rambouillet, and Saint-vremonde. To-day

icized the writer,

it

the public, in relation to the writer, is in a state of passivity it waits for ideas or a new art form to be imposed
:

upon

it.

It

flesh. Its

is

the inert mass wherein the idea will assume

means

of control

is

indirect

and negative; one

can not say that it gives its opinion; it simply buys or does not buy the book; the relationship between author and analogous to that of male and female: reading has become a simple means of information and writing a reader is

very general means of communication. In the seventeenth century being able to write already meant really being able to write well. Not that Providence divided the gift of style equally

not

strictly

among

identical

men, but because the reader, if with the writer, was a potential all He

belonged to a parasitical elite for whom the art of writing was, if not a profession, at least the mark of writer. its

superiority.

One

read because he could write; with a
87

WHAT little The

IS

LITERATURE?

luck he might have been able to write what he read. public was active; productions of the mind were

really submitted to

it.

It

judged them by a scale of values

helped maintain. A revolution analogous to romanticism is not conceivable in this period because there would have to have been the concurrence of an indecisive

which

it

mass, which one surprises, overwhelms, and suddenly animates by revealing to it ideas or feelings of which it

was ignorant, and which, lacking firm convictions, constantly requires being ravished and fecundated. In the seventeenth century convictions were unshakeable; the religious ideology went hand in hand with a political ideology which the temporal itself secreted; no one publicly

questioned the existence of

of kings. "Society"

ceremonies which
Its

it

had

God

or the divine right

language, its graces, and its expected to find in the books it read. its conception of time, too. As the two historical facts

which tion original sin and redempbelonged to a remote past, as it was also from this

it

constantly pondered

past that the great governing families drew their pride and the justification of their privileges, as the future could

bring nothing new, since God was too perfect to change, and since the two great earthly powers, the Church and the Monarchy, aspired only to immutability, the active

element of temporality was the past, which

is

itself

a

phenomenal degradation of the Eternal; the present is a perpetual sin which can find an excuse for itself only if it reflects,

with the

least

possible

unfaithfulness,

the

image of a completed era. For an idea to be received, it must prove its antiquity; for a work of art to please, it must have been inspired by an ancient model. Again we
88

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? find writers expressly making themselves the guardians of this ideology. There were still great clerks who belonged

Church and who had no other concern than to defend dogma. To them were added the "watchdogs" of the temporal, historians, court poets, jurists, and philosophers who were concerned with establishing and mainto the

taining the ideology of the absolute monarchy. But we see appearing at their side a third category of writers, strictly secular,

who,

for the

most

part, accepted the reli-

gious and political ideology of the age without thinking that they were bound to prove it or preserve it. They did not write about it, they accepted it implicitly. For them, it was what we called a short time ago the context or

the ensemble of the presuppositions and author which are necessary to

common make to readers

the writings

of the latter intelligible to the former. In general, they belonged to the bourgeoisie; they were pensioned by the

As they consumed without producing, and as the nobility did not produce either but lived off the work

nobility.

of others, they were the parasites of a parisitic class. They no longer lived in a college but formed an implicit cor-

poration in that highly integrated society, and to remind

them

constantly of their collegiate origin and their former clerkship the royal power chose some of them and

grouped them in a sort of symbolic college, the French
Academy. Fed by the king and read by an elite, they were concerned solely with responding to the demands of this limited public. They had as good or almost as good a conscience as the twelfth-century clerks. It is impossible to speak of a virtual public as distinguished from a real

public in this age.

La Bruyre happened
89

to speak about

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE? and peasants, but he did not speak to them, note of their misery, it was not for the sake of

he took drawing an if but in the argument against the ideology he accepted, name of that ideology: it was a disgrace for enlightened monarchs and good Christians. Thus, one spoke about

and without even conceiving the notion that one might help them become self-conthe masses above their heads

the homogeneity of the public banished all
5
contradiction from the authors souls. They were not scious. And

and readers pulled between real but detestable readers who were virtual and desirable but out of reach; they did not ask themselves questions about their role in the world, for the writer questions himself about his mission only in

must inages when it is not clearly defined and when he vent or re-invent it, that is, when he notices, beyond the

who read him, an amorphous mass of possible readers whom he may or may not choose to win, and when he elite must himself decide,

he has the opportrelations with them are to

in the event that

unity to reach them, what his be. The authors of the seventeenth century

had a

definite

function because they addressed an enlightened, strictly limited, and active public which exercised permanent

Unknown by the people, their job was to reflect back its own image to the elite which supported them. But there are many ways of reflecting an image: control over them.

by themselves contestations because they have been made from without and without passion by a painter who refuses any complicity with his model.
However, in order for a writer merely to conceive the idea of drawing a portrait-contestation of his real reader, he must have become conscious of a contradiction between certain portraits are

90

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? himself and his public, that is, he must come to his readers from without and must consider them with astonishment,

or he must feel the astonished regard of unfamiliar minds
(ethnic minorities, oppressed classes, etc.) weighing upon the little society which he forms with them. But in the

seventeenth century, since the virtual public did not exist, since the artist accepted without criticism the ideology of the public. No

elite,

he made himself an accomplice of

unfamiliar stare

came

to trouble

him

his

in his

games. Neither the prose-writer nor even the poet was accursed. They did not have to decide with each work

what the meaning and value of literature were, since its meaning and value were fixed by tradition. Well integrated in a hierarchical society, they knew neither the pride nor the anguish of being "different"; in short, they were classical. There is classicism when a society has

taken on a relatively stable form and when it has been permeated with the myth of its perenniality, that is, when

confounds the present with the eternal and historicity with traditionalism, when the hierarchy of classes is such that the virtual public never exceeds the real public and it when each reader is for the writer a qualified critic and a censor, when the power of the religious and political ideology is so strong and the interdictions so rigorous that in no case is there any question of discovering new counthe mind, but only of putting into shape the commonplaces adopted by the elite, in such a way that readtries of

ing

which, as

we have

tween the writer and

seen,

the concrete relation be-

is

a ceremony of reof salutation, that is, the

his public

is

cognition analogous to the bow ceremonious affirmation that author
91

and reader are of

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

the same world and have the same opinions about everything. Thus, each production of the mind is at the same

time an act of courtesy, and style is the supreme courtesy of the author toward his reader, and the reader, for his part, never tires of finding the

same thoughts

in the

most

diverse of books because these thoughts are his own and he does not ask to acquire others but only to be offered

with magnificence those which he already has. Hence, it is in a spirit of complicity that the author presents and the reader accepts a portrait which is necessarily abstract
;

addressing a parasitical class, he can not show man at work or, in general, the relations between man and ex-

on the other hand, there are bodies of specialists who, under the control of the Church and the
Monarchy, are concerned with maintaining the spiritual and secular ideology, the writer does not even suspect the importance of economic, religious, metaphysical, and political factors in the constitution of the person; and as the society in which he lives confounds the present with the eternal he can not even imagine the slightest change in what he calls human nature. He conceives history as a series of accidents which affect the eternal man on the surface without deeply modifying him, and if he had to assign a meaning to historical duration he would see in ternal nature. As,

both an eternal repetition, so that previous events can and ought to provide lessons for his contemporaries, and a it process of slight degeneration, since the fundamental events of history are long since passed and since, perfection in letters having been attained in Antiquity, his ancient models

seem beyond

rivalry.

And in all this he is once

again fully in harmony with his public which considers
92

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? work which does not feel its situation in history and in the world for the simple reason that it is privileged and because its only concern is faith, respect for the Monarch, passion, war, death, and courtesy. In as a curse,

short, the

image of

chology. Furthermore, is itself

it

is

purely psychological conscious only of his psymust be understood that this

because the classical public psychology man

classical

is

traditionalist,

it is

not concerned with

discovering new and profound truths about the human heart or with setting up hypotheses. It is in unstable

when

the public exists on several social levels, that the writer, torn and dissatisfied, invents explanations for his anguish. The psychology of the seventeenth centsocieties,

ury

is

purely descriptive. It

is

not based so

much upon

the

author's personal experience as it is the aesthetic expression of what the elite thinks about itself. La Roche-

foucauld borrows the form and the content of his maxims

from the divertissements

of the salons.

The

casuistry of the

Jesuits, the etiquette of the Precieuses, the portrait

game,

the ethics of Nicole, and the religious conception of the passions are at the origin of a hundred other works. The

comedies draw their inspiration from ancient psychology

and the plain common sense of the upper bourgeoisie. thoroughly delighted at seeing itself mirrored in them because it recognizes the notions it has about itSociety

self; it

is

does not ask to be shown what

rather for a reflection of

some

what

it

are permitted, but

thinks

it is, it is.

but

To

it

asks

be sure,

the elite which, through pamphlets and comedies, carries on, in the name of its morality, the cleansings and the purges necessary for its

satires

health.

The

it

is

ridiculous marquis, the litigants, or

93

WHAT

IS

the Precieuses are never

LITERATURE?

made fun

of

from a point of view

external to the governing class; it is always a matter of eccentrics who are inassimilable in a civilized society and

on the margin of the collective life. The Misanthrope is twitted because he lacks courtesy, Cathos and
Madelon, because they have too much. Philaminte goes

who

live

counter to the accepted ideas about women; the bourgeois gentleman is odious to the rich bourgeois who have

who know

the greatness and the humbleness of their condition, and, at the same time, to the gentlemen because he wants to push his way into the

a lofty modesty and

This internal and, so to speak, physiological has no connection with the great satire of Beau-

nobility. satire marchais, P.L. Courier,

courageous and

J.

Valles,

much more

and Celine;

severe because

it

it is less

exhibits

the repressive action which the collectivity practices upon the weak, the sick, and the maladjusted. It is the pitiless

laughter of a gang of street-urchins at the awkwardness of their butt.

Bourgeois in origin and mores, more like Oronte and
Chrysale in his home life than like his brilliant and restconfreres of 1780 or 1830, yet accepted in the Society of the Great and -pensioned by them, slightly unclassed less from above, yet convinced that talent

is

no

substitute for

birth, docile to the

reprimands of the clergy, respectful of the royal power, happy to occupy a modest place in the

immense

structure of

which the Church and the Mosomewhat above the merchants and

narchy are the pillars, the scholars, below the nobles and the clergy, the writer practises his profession with a good conscience, convinced

94

FOR that he has

come

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

too late, that everything has been said,

and that the only proper thing to do is to re-say it agreeawaits him as a feeble ably. He conceives the glory which reflection of hereditary titles and if he expects it to be because he does not even suspect that the social changes. society of his readers may be overthrown by
Thus, the permanence of the royal family seems to him a eternal it

is

guarantee of that of his renown.
Yet, almost in spite of himself, the mirror which he

magical it enthralls and compromises. Even though everything has been done to offer them only a flattering and complying image, more subjective than objective and more internal than external modestly offers to his readers

is

:

image remains none the less a work of art, that is, it has its basis in the freedom of the author and is an appeal to the freedom of the reader. Since it is beautiful, it is this made

of glass; aesthetic distance puts it out of reach.
Impossible to be delighted with it, to find any comfortable

warmth in it, any discrete indulgence. Even though it is made up of the commonplaces of the age and that smug complacency which unite contemporaries like an umbilical cord, it is supported by a freedom and thereby another kind of objectivity. It is itself, to be sure, that the elite finds in the mirror, but itself as it would see itself if it

went to the very extremes of severity. It is not congealed into an object by the gaze of the Other, for neither the peasant nor the working-man has yet become the Other for it,

and the

art of reflective presentation

erizes the art of the seventeenth century

ternal process; however,

it

which charactis

a

strictly in-

pushes to the limits each one's
95

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

a perpetual cogito.
To be sure, it does not call idleness, oppression, or parasitism into question, because these aspects of the governing efforts to see into himself clearly;

it is

class are revealed only to observers

outside of

it;

who

hence, the image which

place themselves is reflected

back

psychological. But spontaneous behavior, by passing to the reflective state, loses its innocence and to it is strictly

the excuse of immediacy: it must be assumed or changed.
It is, to be sure, a world of courtesy and ceremony which is offered to the reader, but he

this

world since he

himself in

it.

In

is

is is

invited to

this sense,

already emerging from

know

it

and

to recognize

Racine was not wrong when he

Phedre that "the passions are presented before your eyes only to show all the disorder of which they are the cause". On condition that one does not take said in regard to

that to

mean

that his express purpose

was

to inspire a

horror of love. But to paint passion is already to go beyond it, already to shed it. It is not a matter of chance that, about the same time, philosophers were suggesting

the idea of curing one's self of it by knowledge. And as the reflective practice of freedom when confronted by the usually adorned with the name of morals, it must be recognized that the art of the seventeenth century is eminently a moralizing art. Not that its avowed aim is passions is

to teach virtue,

nor that

poisoned by the good intentions which produce bad literature, but by the mere fact that it quietly offers the reader his own image, it makes it is

unbearable for him. Moralizing: this is both a definition and a limit. It is not moralizing only; if it proposes to man that he transcend the psychological toward the it 96

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? moral, it

is

because

political,

and

none the

less

social

it

regards religious, metaphysical, problems as solved; but its action is

"orthodox.

with the particular

55

As

it

confounds universal

man

men who

are in power, it does not dedicate itself to the liberation of any concrete category of the oppressed; however, the writer, though completely assimilated by the oppressing class, is by no means its ac-

complice; his work is unquestionably a liberator since effect, within this class, is to free man from himself.

Up

its

we have been

considering the case in which the writer's potential public was nil, or just about, and in which his real public was not torn by to this point

We

have seen that he could then accept the current ideology with a good conscience and that he launched his appeals to freedom within the ideology itself.

any

conflict.

If the potential public suddenly appears, or if the real public is broken up into hostile factions everything

We

must now consider what happens to literchanges. ature when the writer is led to reject the ideology of the ruling classes.

The

eighteenth century was the palmy time, unique in history, and the soon-to-be-lost paradise, of French writ-

Their social condition had not changed. Bourgeois in origin, with very few exceptions, they were unclassed by ers. the favors of the great.

The

circle of their real readers

had

grown perceptibly larger because the bourgeoisie had begun to read, but they were still unknown to the "lower classes, and if the writers spoke of them more often than did La Bruyere and Fenelon, they never addressed them, even in spirit. However, a profound upheaval had broken their public in two; they had to satisfy contradictory de55

97

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

mands. Their situation was characterized from the beginning by tension. This tension was manifested in a very particular way. The governing class had in fact lost confidence in its ideology. It had put itself into a position of defense; it tried, to a certain extent, to retard the diffusion

new

could not keep from being penetrated by these ideas. It understood that its religious and political principles were the best instruments for establishing its of ideas, but

it

power, but the fact is that as it saw them only as instruments, it ceased to believe in them completely. Pragmatic

had replaced revealed truth. If censorship and prohibitions were more visible, they covered up a secret weakness and a cynicism of despair. There were no more clerks; church literature was empty apologetics, a fist holding on to dogmas which were breaking loose; it was turning against freedom; it addressed itself to respect, fear, and self-interest, and by ceasing to be a free appeal to free men, it was ceasing to be literature. This distraught elite turned to the genuine writer and asked him to do the impossible, not to spare his severity, if he was bent on it, but

truth

freedom into a wilting ideology, to address himself to his readers reason and to persuade them to adopt dogmas which, with time, had beto breathe at least a bit of

5

come

In short, to turn propagandist without ceasing to be a writer. But it was playing a losing game. Since its principles were no longer a matter of imirrational.

mediate and unformulated evidence and since present them

it

had

to

he might come to their defense, since there was no longer any question of saving

them it to the writer so that

for their

own

sake but rather of maintaining order,

contested their validity by

its

98

very effort to re-establish

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? them. The writer who consented

ology at least consented to do

to buttress this

so,

and

this

shaky ide-

voluntary ad-

herence to principles which, in the past, had governed minds without being noticed now freed him from them.
He was already going beyond them. In spite of himself he

was emerging into solitude and freedom. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, which constituted what in Marxist terms is called the rising class, was trying at this same time to disengage itself from the ideology that was being imposed upon

it

and

to construct

one better suited to

its

own

purpose.
55

Now,

which was soon to claim the affairs of State, was subject only to

this "rising class,

right to participate in

Confronted with a ruined nobility, it was in process of very calmly attaining economic preeminence. It already had money, culture, and leisure.
Thus, for the first time an oppressed class was presenting

political oppression.

itself to

the writer as a real public. But the conjunction

was still more favorable; for this awakening class, which was reading and trying to think, had not yet produced an organized revolutionary party which would secrete its own ideology as did the Church in the Middle Ages. The writer was not yet wedged, as we shall see that he was later to be,

between the dying ideology of a declining

class

and the rigorous ideology of the rising class. The bourgeoisie wanted light; it felt vaguely that its thought was alienated, and it wanted to become conscious of itself. One could probably find some traces of organization materialist societies, groups of intellectuals, free masonry. But they were chiefly associations for inquiry which were waiting for ideas rather than producing them. To be sure, a form
:

99

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and spontaneous writing was spreading, the anonymous tract. But this literature of amateurs did not compete with the professional writer but rather goaded and solicited him by informing him about of popular secret and

the confused aspirations of the collectivity. Thus, the bouras opposed to a public of half -specialists, which geoisie with difficulty held on to

its

position

and which was

al-

ways recruited at the Court and from the upper circles of offered the rough draft of a mass public. In resociety gard to literature, it was in a state of relative passivity since it had no experience in the art of writing, no preconceived opinion about style and literary genres, and was awaiting everything, form and content, from the genius of the writer.
Solicited by both sides, the writer

tween the two

found himself be-

hostile factions of his public as the arbiter

of their conflict.

He was no longer a

clerk; the ruling class

was not the only one supporting him. It is true that it was still pensioning him, but it was the bourgeoisie which was buying his books. He was collecting at both ends. His father had been a bourgeois and his son would be one; one might thus be tempted to see in him a bourgeois more gifted than others but similarly oppressed, a man who had attained knowledge of his state under the pressure of historical circumstances, in short, an inner mirror by means

which the whole bourgeoisie became conscious of itself and its demands. But this would be a superficial view. It has not been sufficiently pointed out that a class can acof

quire class consciousness only if it sees itself from within and without at the same time; in other words, if it prof-

100

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? its by external competition; that

the perpetually unclassed,

The writer come

is

where the

intellectuals,

into the picture.

essential characteristic of the eighteenth-century

was

precisely

Though he

an objective and subjective unclassing.

remembered his bourgeois attachments, the great drew him away from his milieu;

still

yet the favor of

he no longer

felt

any concrete

solidarity

with his cousin

the lawyer or his brother the village cure because he privileges which they had not. It was from the court

had and nobility that he borrowed his manners and the very graces of his style. Glory, his dearest hope and his consecration,

had become

for

him a

and ambiguous notion; a up in which a writer was

slippery

was rising truly rewarded if an obscure doctor in Bruges or a briefless lawyer in Rheims devoured his books almost in fresh idea of glory

secret.

But the diffuse recognition of this public which he hardly knew only half touched him. He had received from his elders a traditional

to this conception,

it

conception of fame. According was the monarch who consecrated his

The visible sign of his success was for Catherine or
Frederick to invite him to their table. The recompense given to him and the dignities conferred from above did genius. not yet have the official impersonality of the prizes and decorations awarded by our republics. They retained the quasi-feudal character of man to man relations. And since he was, above all, an eternal consumer in a society of producers, a parasite of a parasitic class, he treated money like a parasite. He did not earn it since there was no com-

mon measure between his work and only spent

it.

Therefore, even
101

if

his remuneration;

he

he was poor, he lived in

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and luxury. Everything was a luxury to him, including, in fact particularly so, his writing. Yet, even in the vulking's chamber he retained a rough force, a potent garity; Diderot, in the heat of a philosophical conversation, pinched the thigh of the Empress of Russia until the

And

he went too far, he could always be made to feel that he was only a scribbler. The life of Voltaire, from his beating, his imprisonment, and blood flowed.

then,

if

London, to the insolence of the King of Pruswas a succession of triumphs and humiliations. At

his flight to sia times the writer enjoyed the passing favors of a marquise, but he married his maid or a bricklayer's daughter. Hence, his mind, as well as his public, was torn apart. But this did

not cause

him

to suffer;

on the contrary,

was the source

this original

con-

He

thought that he had no obligations to anyone, that he could choose his tradiction of his pride.

and opponents, and that it was enough for him to take his pen in hand to free himself from the conditioning of milieu, nation, or class. He flew, he soared, he was friends pure thought, pure observation. He chose to write to vindicate his unclassing which he assumed and transformed

From

the outside, he contemplated the great with the eyes of the-bourgeois and the bourgeois with the eyes of the nobility, and he retained enough complicity with both to understand them equally from within. Hence, into solitude.

had been only a conservative and purifying function of an integrated society, became conscious in him and by him of its autonomy. Placed by an extreme chance between confused aspirations and an literature, which up

to then

ideology in ruins like the writer between the bourgeoisie, the Court, and the Church literature suddenly asserted
102

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

independence. It was no longer to reflect the commonplaces of the collectivity; it identified itself with Mind, its that

is,

with the permanent power of forming and

criti-

cizing ideas.

course, this taking over of literature by itself was abstract and almost purely formal, since the literary works

Of

were not the concrete expression of any class; and as the writers began by rejecting any deep solidarity with the milieu from which they came as well as the one which adopted them, literature became confused with Negativity,

with doubt, refusal, criticism, and contestaBut as a result of this very fact, it led to the setting

that

tion.

is,

up, against the ossified spirituality of the Church, the rights of a new spirituality, one in movement, which was

any ideology and which manifested itself as the power of continually surpassing the given, whatever it might be. When, in the shelter of the structure of the very Christian monarchy, it was imitating wonderful models, it hardly fussed about truth because truth was only a very crude and very concrete quality of the ideology which had been nourishing it; for the dog-

no longer

identified with

mas

of the Church, to be true or, quite simply, to be, was all one, and truth could not be conceived apart from the

system. But

now that spirituality had become

this abstract

movement which cut through all ideologies and then left them along the wayside like empty shells, truth, in its was disengaged from all concrete and particular philosophy; it was revealed in its abstract independence; it became the regulating idea of literature and the distant limit of the critical movement.
Spirituality, literature, and truth: these notions were turn, 103

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

bound up in that abstract and negative moment of becoming self-conscious. Their instrument was analysis, a negative and critical method which perpetually dissolves concrete data into abstract elements and the products of history into combinations of universal concepts. An adolescent chooses to write in order to escape an oppression

from which he suffers and a solidarity he is ashamed of; as soon as he has written a few words, he thinks he has escaped from his milieu and class and from all milieus and all classes and that he has broken through his historical situation by the mere fact that he has attained reflective and critical knowledge. Above the confusion of those bourgeois and nobles, locked up in their particular age by their prejudices, he has, on taking up his pen, discovered himself as a timeless and unlocalized mind, in short, as universal man. And literature, which has delivered him, is an abstract function and an a priori power of

human nature; it is the movement whereby at every moment man frees himself from history; in short, it is the exercise of freedom.

In the seventeenth century, by choosing to write a man embraced a definite profession, with the tricks of the

and customs,

rank in the hierarchy of the professions. In the eighteenth century, the molds were broken; everything remained to be done; works of the trade, its

rules

its

mind, instead of being put together according to established norms and more or less by luck, were each a particular invention and were a kind of decision of the author regarding the nature, value, and scope of Belles Lettres; each one brought its own rules and the principles by

which

it

was

to be judged;

each one aspired to engage

104

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

the whole of literature

and

WRITE?

to cut out

new

paths. It

is

not

by chance that the worst works of the period are also those which claimed to be the most traditional; tragedy and epic were the exquisite fruits of an integrated society; in a collectivity which was torn apart, they could subsist only in the form of survivals and pastiches.

What the eighteenth-century writer tirelessly demanded ical works was the right to practise an anti-historreason against history, and in this sense all he did

was

to reveal the essential requirements of abstract liter-

in all his

He was

not concerned with giving his readers a clearer class consciousness. Quite the contrary, the urgent ature. appeal which he addressed to his bourgeois public was an invitation to forget humiliations, prejudices,

and

fears;

the one he directed to his noble public was a solicitation to strip itself of its pride of caste and its privileges. As he

had made himself universal, he could have only universal readers, and what he required of the freedom of his contemporaries was that they cut their historical ties in order to join

him

in universality.

What is the origin of this miracle by which, at the moment he was setting up abstract freedom against

very con- crete oppression and Reason against History, he was going along in the very direction of historical development?
First,

the bourgeoisie, by a tactic which was characteristic

and which it was to repeat in 1830 and 1848, joined forces, on the eve of taking power, with those oppressed classes which were not in a condition to push their demands. And since the bonds which united social groups so different from one another could only be very general and very abstract, it aimed not so much at acquiring a clear of it

105

WHAT IS LITERATURE? which would have opposed it to the workmen and peasants, as to have its right to lead the opposition recognized on the grounds that it was in a better consciousness of

itself,

position to let the established powers know the dethe other hand, the mands of universal human nature.

On

was a political one; there was no revolutionary ideology and no organized party. The bourgeoisie wanted to be enlightened; it wanted the ideology which for centuries had mystified and alienated man to be liquidated. There would be time later on to replace it. For the time being, it aimed at freedom of opinion as a step toward political power. Hence, by demanding for kimself and as a writer freedom of thinking and of expressrevolution being prepared

ing his thought, the author necessarily served the interests rf the bourgeois

No more was

asked of him and

was nothing more he could

do. In later periods, as shall see, the writer could demand his freedom to write

iiere
*ve

class.

a bad conscience; he might be aware that the oppressed classes wanted something other than that free*vith

iom. Freedom of thinking could then appear as a priviege; in the eyes of some it could pass for a means of op-

and the position of the writer risked becoming intenable. But on the eve of the Revolution he enjoyed in extraordinary opportunity, that is, it was enough for cession, lim to defend his profession in order to serve as a guide o the aspirations of the rising class.

He knew it. He tual chief. He

considered himself a guide and a spirtook chances. As the ruling elite,

vhich grew increasingly nervous, lavished its graces upon dm one day only to have him locked up the next, he had tone of that tranquillity, that

106

proud mediocrity, which

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? had enjoyed. His glorious and eventful life, with its sunlit crests and its dizzying steeps, was that of an adventurer. The other evening I was reading the his predecessors

dedication of Blaise Cendrars'

Rum: 'To

the young

people of today who are tired of literature, to prove to
55
them that a novel can also be an act, and I thought that are quite unfortunate and quite guilty, since we have to prove what in the eighteenth century was self-evident.

we

A work of the mind was

then doubly an act since it produced ideas which were to lead to social upheavals and

author to danger. And this act, whatever the book we may be considering, was always

since

it

exposed

its

defined in the same way; it was a liberator. And, doubtless, in the seventeenth century too, literature had a liberating function, though one which remained veiled and implicit. In the time of the Encyclopedists, it was no longer

a question of freeing the gentleman from his passions by reflecting them back to him without complaisance, but of helping with the pen to bring about the political freedom

simply of man.

The appeal which

the writer addressed to

whether he meant it or not, an the one which he directed to the

his bourgeois public was,

incitement to revolt;

was an

invitation to lucidity, to critical selfexamination, to the giving up of its privileges. The condi-

ruling class

Rousseau was much like that of Richard Wright's writing for both enlightened negroes and whites. Before the nobility he bore witness and at the same time was intion of

commoners

become conscious of themselves. It was not only the taking of the Bastille which his writings and those of Diderot and Condorcet were preparing at long range; it was also the night of August the viting his fellow

to

fourth.

107

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

And as the writer thought that he had broken the bonds tfhich united

him

to his class of origin, as

he spoke to

his

from above about universal human nature, it
;eemed to him that the appeal he made to them and the
Dart he took in their misfortunes were dictated by pure he accepted generosity. To write is to give. In this way

readers

what was unacceptable in his situation as a an industrious society; this was also how he be-

ind excused parasite in

came conscious of that absolute freedom, that gratuity, vhich characterize literary creation. But though he contantly

had

human nature,

>f

tn

is

incarnation of the clerk as Benda has described him.

lince his position

o

there

man and

the abstract rights no reason to believe that he was

in view universal

was, in essence,

have something

critical,

he certainly had

and the objects which first criticism were the institutions, and acts of a traditional gov-

to criticize;

resented themselves to uperstitions, traditions,

rnment.

In other words, as the walls of Eternity and the Past ideological structure of the
*venteenth century cracked and gave way, the writer erceived a new dimension of temporality in its purity:

fhich

had supported the

le Present.

The

Present,

which preceding centuries had

ity

a perceptible figuration of Eterand sometimes as a degraded emanation of Antiq-

ity.

He had

>metimes conceived

new

a"S

only a confused notion of the future, but he that the fleeting hour which he was living was

nique and that it was his, that it was in no way inferior the most magnificent hours of Antiquity, since they too
>

ad begun by being the present. He knew that it was his lance and that he must not waste it. That was why he
108

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? considered the fight he had to wage not so much as a as a preparation for the society of the future but rather short-term enterprise, one of immediate efficacy. It was this institution that had to be denounced and right now, that superstition that had to be destroyed immediately, that particular injustice that had to be rectified. This

impassioned sense of the present saved him from idealism; he did not confine himself to contemplating the eternal ideas of Freedom or Equality. For the first time since the

Reformation, writers intervened in public life, protested against an unjust decree, asked for the review of a trial, and, in short, decided that the spiritual was in the street, at the fair, in the market place, at the tribunal, and that

was by no means a matter of turning away from the temporal, but, on the contrary, that one had to come back to it incessantly and go on beyond it in each particular it circumstance.

Thus, the overthrow of his public and the

crisis

of the

European consciousness had invested the writer with a new function. He conceived literature to be the permanent practice of magnanimity. He still submitted to the strict and severe control of his peers, but below him he caught

a glimpse of an unformed and passionate waiting, a more feminine, more undifferentiated kind of desire which freed

him from their censorship. He had disembodied the spiritual and had separated his cause from that of a dying ideology; his books were free appeals to the freedom of his readers.

The

triumph of the bourgeoisie which writers had so eagerly desired convulsed their condition from political 109

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

essence of literature into top to bottom and put the very result of all their efquestion. It might be said that the

was merely a preparation for their certain ruin.
There is no doubt that by identifying the cause of bellesforts

with that of political democracy they helped the bourgeoisie come to power, but by the same token they ran the risk of seeing the disappearance of the object of their demands, that is, the constant and almost the only

lettres

subject of their writing. In short, the miraculous harmony which united the essential demands of literature with that

of the oppressed bourgeoisie was broken as soon as both were realized. So long as millions of men were burning to be able to express their feelings it was fine to demand the

and to examine everything, but once and confession and equality of political rights were gained, the defense of literature became a purely formal game which no longer amused anyone; something else had to be found.
Now, at the same time writers had lost their privileged position whose origin had been the split which had torn apart their public and which had allowed them to have a foot in both camps. These two halves had knitted together; the bourgeoisie had absorbed the nobility or very nearly. Authors had -to meet the demands of a unified public. There was no hope of getting away from their class of origin. Born of bourgeois parents, read and paid by bourgeois, they had to remain bourgeois; the bourgeoisie had closed around them like a prison. It was to take them a century to get over their keen regret for the flighty and parasitic class which had indulged them out of caprice and whom they had remorselessly undermined in their right to write freely freedom of thought

110

WHOM DOES ONE

FOR

role of double agent. It killed the goose

which

geoisie introduced

was not

seemed

it

them that they had

laid the golden eggs.

new forms

parasitic. Doubtless,

of work, but

to

WRITE?

was highly

it

The

bour-

of oppression; however,

it

had taken over the means

diligent in regulating the pro-

products. It did not conas a gratuitous and disinterested crea-

duction and distribution of

its

ceive literary work tion but as a paid service.
The justifying myth of this industrious tive class

was

utilitarianism; in one

way

and unproducor another the

function of the bourgeois was that of intermediary between producer and consumer; it was the middle term raised to omnipotence. Thus, in the indissoluble yoke of means and end, he had chosen to give primary importance

means. The end was implied; one never looked it in the face but passed over it in silence. The goal and to the

dignity of a human life was to spend itself in the ordering of means. It was not serious to occupy oneself without in-

termediary in producing an absolute end. It was as if one aspired to see God face to face without the help of the
Church. The only enterprises to be credited were those

whose end was the perpetually withdrawing horizon of an infinite series of means. If the work of art entered the

hoped to be taken seriously, it had descend from the heaven of unconditioned ends and

utilitarian round,

to

if it

resign itself to becoming useful in its turn, that is, to presenting itself as a means of ordering means. In particular,

was not quite sure of himself, because his power was not based on a decree of Providence, literature had to help it feel bourgeois by divine right. Thus, after having been the bad conscience of the privileged in the as the bourgeois

111

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

in the nineteenth ceneighteenth century it ran the risk of an oppressing tury of becoming the good conscience class. Well and good,

if

the writer could have kept that

which in the preceding century had been his fortune and his pride. But his public was opbeen strugposed to that. So long as the bourgeoisie had it had given asgling against the privileges of the nobility sent to destructive negativity. But now that it had power, spirit of free criticism

in passed on to construction and asked to be helped constructing. Contestation had remained possible within it the religious ideology because the believer referred his the will of obligations and the articles of faith back to

He

thereby established a concrete and feudal person to person bond with the Almighty. This recourse to the free divine arbiter introduced, although God was

God.

perfect and chained to His perfection, an element of grafreetuity into Christian ethics and consequently a bit of

dom

The

Christian hero was always Jacob wrestling with the angel; the saint contested the divine will even if he did so in order to submit to it even more into literature.

narrowly. But bourgeois ethics did not derive from Provi-

dence;

its

and abstract procedures were inthey were not the effect of a sovereign

universal

scribed in things;

and quite amiable but personal

will,

they rather resem-

bled the increate laws of physics. At least, so one supposed, for it was not prudent to look at them too closely.

The

serious

man

kept from examining them precisely be-

cause their origin was obscure. Bourgeois art would either be a means or would not be; it would forbid itself to lay
112

FOR hands on

WHOM DOES ONE

principles, for fear they

WRITE?
1

might collapse

,

and

to

probe the human heart too deeply for fear of finding disorder in it. Its public feared nothing so much as talent,

and menacing madness which uncovers the disturbing roots of things by unforeseeable words and which, by repeated appeals to freedom, stirs the still more disturbing roots of men. Facility sold better; it was talent in that gay

leash, turned against itself, the art of reassuring readers

by harmonious and expected discourse, in a tone of good fellowship, that man and the world were quite ordinary, transparent, without surprises, without threats,

and with-

out interest.

There was more: as the only relationship which the bourgeois had with natural forces was through intermediaries, as material reality appeared to

him

in the

form of manufactured products, as he was surrounded as far as the eye could see by an already humanized world which reflected back to him his own image, as he limited himself to gleaning on the surface of things the meaning that other men had put forward, as his job was essentially that of handling abstract symbols, words, figures, plans,

and diagrams for determining methods whereby ployees would share in consumer's goods, as his quite as

much

as his trade, inclined

him

his

em-

culture,

to consider ideas,

he was convinced that the universe was reducible to a system of ideas; he dissolved effort, difficulty, needs, oppression,

and wars

into ideas; there

was no

evil,

only plural-

ism; certain ideas lived in a free state; they
1.

had

to be

Dostoievsky's famous "If God does not exist, all is permissible" is the which the bourgeoisie has forced itself to conceal during

terrible revelation

the one hundred fifty years of

its

reign.

113

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

integrated into the system. Thus, he conceived human progress as a vast movement of assimilation; ideas assimilated each other

and

At the end of this thought would find its unifica-

so did minds.

immense digestive process, tion and society its total integration.
Such optimism was at the opposite extreme

of the

writer's conception of his art; the artist needs

an un-

assimilable matter because beauty ideas. Even

his style

not resolved into

a prose-writer and assembles signs, will have neither grace nor force if it is not sensiif

he

is

tive to the materiality of the sistances. And

work and

to support

reason

is

is

if

he wishes

word and

its

irrational re-

to build the universe in his

by an inexhaustible freedom, the that he radically distinguishes things from it thought. His freedom and the thing are homogeneous only in that both are unfathomable, and if he wishes to re-

Mind, he does ideas of desert and for-

adapt the desert or the virgin forest so not by transforming est, and

them

into

to the

but by having Being sparkle as Being, with its its

opacity the indefinite sponby why the work of art is not

coefficient of adversity,

taneity of Existence.

That

reducible to an idea ;

first,

is

because

it is

a production or a

reproduction of a being, that is of something which never quite allows itself to be thought', then, because this being is totally penetrated by an existence, that is, by a freedom

which decides on the very fate and value of thought.
That is also why the artist has always had a special understanding of Evil, which is not the temporary and remediable isolation of an idea, but the irreducibility of man and the world of Thought.

The

bourgeois could be recognized by the fact that he
114

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

denied the existence of social classes and particularly of the bourgeoisie. The gentleman wished to command because he belonged to a caste.

The

bourgeois based his power and his right to govern on the exquisite ripening which comes from the secular possession of the goods of

Moreover, he admitted only synthetic relationships between the owner and the thing possessed; for the rest, he demonstrated by analysis that all men are this world.

alike because they are invariant elements of social

binations

and because each one

com-

of them, whatever his

rank, completely possesses hitman nature. Hence, inequalities appeared as fortuitous and passing accidents which

could not alter the permanent characteristics of the social atom. There was no proletariat, that is, no synthetic class of

which each worker was a passing mode; there

were only proletarians, each isolated in his human nature, who were not united by internal solidarity but only by external bonds of resemblance.

The

bourgeois saw only psychological relations

the individuals

whom

among

propaganda circumunderstandable as he had

his analytical

vented and separated. That is no direct hold on things, as his work was concerned
:

es-

was purely a matter, for him, of pleasing and intimidating. Ceremony, discipline, and

sentially

with men,

it

courtesy ruled his behavior; he regarded his fellow-men

and

he wished to acquire some knowledge of their emotions and character, it was because it seemed to him that each passion was a wire that could be as marionettes,

if

pulled. The breviary of the ambitious bourgeois
Art of Making Good; the breviary of the rich
3'

5

was "The was "The

Art of Commanding.' Thus, the bourgeoisie considered
115

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

the writer as an expert. If he started reflecting on the social order, he annoyed and frightened it. All it asked to share his practical experience of the human heart. So, as in the seventeenth century, literature was
All the same, the psychology of reduced to

of

him was

psychology.
Pascal and Vauvenargues was a cathartic apCorneille, freedom peal to freedom. But the merchant distrusted the of the people he dealt with and the prefect that of the with sub-prefect. All they wanted was to be provided

winning over and dominating. Man had to be governable as a matter of course and by modest means. In short, the laws of the heart had to be rigorous infallible recipes for

and without exceptions. The bourgeois bigwig no more believed in human freedom than the scientist believes in a miracle. And as his ethics were utilitarian, the chief motive of his psychology was self-interest. For the writer it was no longer a matter of addressing his work as an appeal to absolute freedoms, but of exhibiting the psywho chological laws which determined him to readers

were likewise determined.
Idealism, psychologism, determinism, utilitarianism, the writer spirit of seriousness, that was what the bourgeois to reflect to his public first of all. He was no longer asked to restore the strangeness and opacity of the world,

had

but to dissolve

it

into elementary subjective impressions

nor to discover the most which made it easier to digest intimate movements of his heart at the very depths of
55

freedom, but to bring his "experience face to face with that of his readers. All his works were at once in-

his

ventories of bourgeois appurtenances, psychological rethe ports of an expert which invariably tended to ground

116

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? rights of the elite

and

to

show the wisdom

of institutions,

of civility. The conclusions were decided in advance; the degree of depth permitted to the in-

and handbooks

was also established in advance; the psychological motives were selected the very style was regulated.
The public feared no surprise. It could buy with its eyes closed. But literature had been assassinated. From fimile
Augier to Marcel Prevost and Edmond Jaloux, including
Dumas fils, Pailleron, Ohnet, Bourget, and Bordeaux, authors were found to do the job and, if I may say vestigation ;

honor their signature to the very end. It by chance that they wrote bad books; if they had

so, to

they had to hide

The fixed is

not

talent,

it.

best refused.

This refusal saved literature but

for fifty years. Indeed, from 1848 on, and of 1914, the radical unification of his public

its traits

until the

war

on principle against all his readers.
However, he sold his productions, but he despised those who bought them and forced himself to disappoint their wishes. It was taken for granted that it was better to be led the author to write

unknown than famous, got it

in his lifetime

that success

was

if

the writer ever

to be explained

by a mis-

understanding. And if, by chance, the book one published did not offend sufficiently, one added an insulting preface. This fundamental conflict between the writer and

was an unprecedented phenomenon in literary history. In the seventeenth century the harmony between the man of letters and his readers was perfect; in the eighteenth century the author had two equally real publics at his disposal and could rely upon one or the other as he pleased. In its early stages, romanticism had been his public

117

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

a vain attempt to avoid open conflict by restoring

this

and by depending upon the aristocracy against the liberal bourgeoisie. But after 1850 there was no longer any means of covering up the profound contradiction which opposed bourgeois ideology to the requirements of literature. About the same time a virtual public was beginning to take form in the deeper layers of society; it was already waiting to be revealed to itself because the cause of free and compulsory education had made some progress. The Third Republic was soon to sanction the right of all men to read and write. What was the writer going to do? Would he choose the masses over against the elite, and would he attempt to recreate for his own duality profit the duality of publics?

At first sight, it seemed so. By means of the great movement of ideas which from 1830 to 1848 were brewing in the marginal zones of the bourgeoisie, certain writers had the revelation of their virtual public. They adorned them, under the name of "The People," with mystic graces.
It would be the instrument of salvation. But, as much as

they loved it, they hardly knew it and above all they did not come from it. Sand was Baronne Dudevant; Hugo, the son of a general of the Empire; even Michelet, the son of a printer, was still far removed from the silk-

weavers of Lyons or the textile-weavers of Lille. Their socialism when they were socialists was a by-product of bourgeois idealism. And then the people were much rather the subject of certain of their works than their

chosen public. Hugo, to be sure, had the rare fortune of penetrating everywhere. He was one of the only, perhaps the only one of our writers

who was really popular. But the
118

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? others had incurred the

hostility of the bourgeoisie with-

out creating a working-class public in compensation. To convince oneself of this fact all one need do is compare the

importance which the bourgeois University accorded to
Michelet, an authentic genius and a prose- writer of great class, and to Taine, who was only a cheap pedant, or to

Renan, whose "fine style" offers all the examples you want of meanness and ugliness. This purgatory in which the bourgeois class let Michelet vegetate was without compensation; the "people" that he loved read him for a

and then the success of Marxism pushed him into oblivion. In short, most of these authors were the losers in

while,

come off. They attached their to it. None of them, except Hugo,

a revolution that didn't

name and

their destiny

really left their

The

mark on

literature.

backed away from the perspective of an unclassing from below which would have made them sink straight down as if a rock had been tied around their necks. They had no lack of excuses the time others, all the others,

:

wasn't ripe, there was no real bond which attached them to the proletariat, that oppressed class couldn't absorb

know how much

needed them; their decision to defend it had remained abstract; whatever their sincerity might have been, they had "brooded" their work,

it

didn't

it

over miseries which they had understood with their head without feeling them in their heart. Fallen from their

haunted by the memory of an affluence which they should have refused to accept, they ran the risk of forming "a white-collar proletariat" on the margin class of origin,

of the real proletariat, suspect to the workers and spurned by the bourgeois, whose demands had been dictated by
119

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and resentment rather than large-mindedness and who had ended by turning against both groups/

bitterness

Besides, in the eighteenth century, the necessary lib-

required by literature were not distinguished from the political liberties which the citizen wanted to win; erties was necessary for the writer to become a revolutionary was to explore the arbitrary essence of his art and to make himself the interpreter of its formal demands; when the revolution which was in the making was bourgeois, literature was naturally revolutionary because the first discovery which it made of itself revealed to it its all that

connections with political democracy. But the formal liberties which the essayist, the novelist, and the poet were to defend had nothing in common with the deeper needs of the proletariat.

The

latter

was not dreaming

of de-

manding political freedom, which, after all, it did enjoy, and which was only a mystification. 2 As for freedom of thought, for the time being the proletariat was not concerned with it. What it asked for was quite different from these abstract liberties. It wanted the material improvement of its lot, and more deeply, and more obscurely too, the end of man's exploitation by man. We shall see later that these demands were of the same kind made by the art of writing conceived as a concrete and historical phenomenon; that is, as the particular and timely appeal which, by agreeing to historicize himself, a in regard to all
1.

mankind

to the

men

man

launches

of his time.

This was somewhat the case of Ju; es Valles, though a natural magnanim-

ity constantly struggled within him against bitterness.
2. I not unaware that workers defended political

am

democracy

against

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte much more than did the bourgeois, but that wa because they thought that by means of it they would be able to bring about structural reforms.

120

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?
But

in the nineteenth century literature

engaged

itself

from

religious ideology

bourgeois ideology. Thus, ple, it

set itself

had

just dis-

and refused

up

to serve

as being, in princi-

independent of any sort of ideology. As a

result, it

abstract aspect of pure negativity. It had not yet understood that it was itself ideology; it wore itself out

retained

asserting

its

its

autonomy, which no one contested. This saying that it claimed it had no privileged

amounted to subject and could treat any matter whatever. There was no doubt about the fact that one might write felicitously about the condition of the working

class;

but the choice

of this subject depended upon circumstances, upon a free decision of the artist. One day one might talk about a

provincial bourgeoise, another day, about Carthaginian mercenaries. From time to time, a Flaubert would affirm

the identity of form and content, but he drew no practical conclusion from it. Like all his contemporaries, he

drew his definition of beauty from what the Winckelmanns and Lessings had said almost a hundred years earlier and which in one way or other boiled down to presenting it as multiplicity in unity. It was a matter of capturing the iridescence of the various and imposing a strict unity upon it by means of style. The "artistic style" of the Goncourts had no other meaning. It was a formal method of unifying and embellishing any materials, even the most beautiful.

How

could anyone have then conceived that there might be an internal relationship between the demands of the lower classes and the principles of the art of writing? Proudhon seems to have been the only one to have surmised it. And of course Marx.

But they were not

men

of letters. Literature,
121

still

com-

WHAT pletely absorbed itself its

own

IS

LITERATURE?

by the discovery of

subject. It

its

had passed

to the reflective pe-

methods, broke

its

tried to determine experimentally

its

riod;

it

tried out

its

autonomy, was to

former molds, and

own

laws and to

forge new techniques. It advanced step by step toward the current forms of the drama and the novel, free verse, and the criticism of language. Had it discovered a specific

would have had to tear meditation on itself and derive its content, it

away from its esthetic norms from itself the nature of this content.

At the same

by choosing to write for a virtual public, authors would have had to adapt their art to the capacities of the readers, which would have amounted to determining it according to external demands and not according to

its

time,

own

essence. It

would have had

to give

of the exquisite forms of narrative, poetry, and even reasoning, for the sole reason that they would be

up some

inaccessible to readers without culture. It seemed, therefore, that literature

would be running the

risk of relapsing

into alienation. Hence, the writer, in all honesty, refused to enslave literature to a public and a determined sub-

But he did not perceive the divorce which was taking place between the concrete revolution trying to be born and the abstract games he was indulging in. This time it was the masses who wanted power, and as the masses had no culture or leisure, any would-be literary ject. technique, put the works it inspired out of their range and served the interests of social conservatism. revolution,

by refining

its

Thus, he had to revert to the bourgeois public.
122

The

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? writer tried hard to break

all relations

with

it,

but by re-

from below, his break was condemned to remain symbolic; he played at it tirelessly; he showed it by his clothes, his food, the way he furnished his home, and the manners he adopted, but he did not do it. It was the bourgeoisie which read him. It was the bourgeoisie alone which maintained him and decided his fame. In vain did he pretend that he was getting perspective in order to consider it as a whole. Had he wanted to judge it, he would first have had to leave it, and there was no other way to leave it than by trying out the interests and way of life of another class. Since he did not bring himself to do this, he lived in a state of contradiction and dishonesty since he both knew and did not want to know for whom he was writing. He was fond of speaking of his solitude, and rather than assume responsibility for the public which he had slyly chosen, he confusing to be unclassed

cocted the notion that one writes for himself alone or for

God.

He made

prayer, an

of writing a metaphysical occupation, a examination of conscience, everything but a

communication.

He

frequently likened himself to one he vomited forth words under the

possessed, because, if sway of an inner necessity, at least he

was not giving them.

But that did not keep him from carefully polishing his writings. And moreover, he was so far from wishing harm to the bourgeoisie that he did not even dispute its right to govern.

Quite the contrary. Flaubert recognized its right and mentioned it by name, and his correspondence after the

Commune, which

frightened

him

123

so,

abounds in disgrace-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

1

abuse of the workers. And, as the artist, submerged in his milieu, was unable to judge it from without, as his reful

jections

were ineffectual

states of

mind, he did not even

notice that the bourgeoisie was an oppressing class in fact, he did not at all consider it as a class, but rather as a
;

natural species, and

if

he ventured

to describe

it,

he did so

in strictly psychological terms.

Thus the bourgeois writer and the damned (maudit] writer moved on the same level; their only difference was that the first practised white psychology and the sec1.

I

resist

in

have so often been accused of being unfair

to

I cannot anyone can verify

Flaubert that

the pleasure of quoting the following texts which

the correspondence:
"Neo-catholicism on one hand and socialism on the other have stultified

France. Everything moves between the Immaculate Conception and the workers* lunch-boxes" (1868).
"The first remedy would be to put an end to universal suffrage, the shame

human mind" (September 1871).
"I'm worth twenty Croisset voters" (1871).
"I have no hatred for the communards for the reason that

of the

I don't

hate

mad

dogs" (Croisset, Thursday, 1871).
"I believe that the crowd, the herd, will always be hateful. The only ones important are a small group of spirits, always the same, who pass the torch from hand to hand" (Croisset, September 8, 1871).

"As

to the

Commune, which

is

on

its

last legs, it's

the last manifestation

Middle Ages."
"I hate democracy (at

of the

least what it is taken to mean in France), that is, the exaltation of grace to the detriment of justice, the negation of law, in

short,

anti-sociability."

"The Commune re-instates murderers."
"The people is an eternal minor, and the scale since
"It's

it

is

it

will always

be

at

the bottom of

number, mass, the unbounded."

not important for a lot of peasants to know how to read and no longer but it's infinitely important that a lot of men like Renan

listen to their priest,

or Littr6 live and be listened to. Our salvation is now in a legitimate aristocracy. I mean by that a majority which will be composed of something other

than mere figures." (1871).
"Do you believe that if France, instead of being governed, in short, by the mob, were in the power of the mandarins, we would be in this mess? If, instead of having wanted to enlighten the lower classes, we had been concerned with educating the upper ones?" (Croisset, Wednesday, August 3rd,
1870).

124

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

ond, black psychology. For example, when Flaubert declared that he called "anyone who thought basely bourhe was defining the bourgeois in psychological geois, 5'

and

idealistic terms, that

is,

in the perspective of the

ideology which he pretended to reject. As a result, he rendered a signal service to the bourgeoisie. He led back

and the maladjusted, who might the proletariat, by convincing them that

to the fold the rebellious

have gone over to one could cast off the bourgeois in himself by a simple inner discipline. All they had to do was to practice high thinking in private and they could continue to enjoy their goods and prerogatives with a peaceful conscience. They

could

still

live in

bourgeois fashion, and enjoy their

in-

comes in bourgeois fashion, and frequent bourgeois drawing-rooms, but that would all be nothing but appearance.
They had raised themselves above their kind by the nobility of their feelings. By the same token he taught his confreres the trick which could allow them, at any rate, to

finds

its

The

maintain a good conscience; for magnanimity most fitting practice in the practice of the arts.

solitude of the artist

up not only a

was doubly a fake

:

it

covered

real relationship with the great public but

an audience of specialists. Since the government of men and goods was abandoned to the bourgeoisie, the spiritual was once again separated from also the restoration of

A

sort of priesthood once again sprang up. the temporal.
Stendhal's public was Balzac, Baudelaire's was Barbey

d'Aurevilly; and Baudelaire, in turn, made himself the public of Poe. These literary salons took on a vague collegiate atmosphere; voice, with

an

one "talked literature" in a hushed

infinite respect;

125

one debated whether the

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

musician derived more aesthetic joy from his music than the writer from his books. Art again became sacred to the extent that itself it

turned aside from

a sort of

communion

life.

It

even

set

of saints; one joined

across the centuries with Cervantes, Rabelais,

up

hands

and Dante.

identified himself with this monastic society.

One

for

The

so to speak, priesthood, instead of being a concrete and, geographical organism, became a hereditary institution,

whose members were dead except one, the last in point of time, who represented the others upon earth and who epitomized the whole college.
These new believers, who had their saints in the past, a club,

all

of

The

divorce of the temporal and spiritual led to a deep modification of the idea of it had been not so glory. From the time of Racine on, also had

much

their future

life.

the revenge of the misunderstood writer as the nat-

ural prolongation of success in an immutable society. In the nineteenth century it functioned as a mechanism of

overcompensation. "I shall be understood in 1880," "I
55
shall win my trial on appeal; these famous words prove that the writer had not lost the desire to practise a direct

and universal action within the framework of an integrated collectivity. But as this action was not possible in the present, one projected into an indefinite future the compensatory myth of a reconciliation between the writer and his public. Moreover, all this remained quite vague; none of these lovers of glory asked himself in what sort of

he would be able to find

his

recompense. They took pleasure in dreaming that their great-nephews merely would profit from an internal betterment for having come society at a later time into

an older world. That was the way
126

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?

who

Baudelaire,

dressed his

didn't worry about contradictions, often

wounded

his

by considering

pride,

posthumous

renown, although he held that society had entered a period of decadence which would end only with the disappearance of the

human

race.

Thus, for the present, the writer relied on an audience of specialists as for the past, he concluded a mystic pact
;

with the great dead as to the future, he
;

made

use of the

of glory. He neglected nothing in wrenching himself free from his class. He was up in the air, a stranger to

myth

his century, out of his element,

acting had but one goal bolic society

damned. All

this play-

to integrate himself into a

:

which would be

like

an image

tocracy of the old regime. Psychoanalysis these processes of identification of

is

which

sym-

of the aris-

familiar with artistic think-

ing offers numerous examples the sick person who needs the key of the asylum in order to escape and finally comes to believe that he himself is the key. Thus, the writer, who needed the favor of the great to unclass himself,
:

ended by taking himself for the incarnation of the whole nobility, and as the latter was characterized by its parasitism it was the ostentation of parasitism which he chose for his style of living.

consumption. As

He made

himself the martyr of pure

we have

pointed out, he saw no objection to using the goods of the bourgeoisie, but on condition that he was to spend them, that is, transform them into unproductive and useless objects. He burned them, so to speak, because fire purifies everything. Moreover, as

he was not always

and

he had

he composed a strange life for himself, both extravagant and needy, in which a calculated improvidence symbolized the rich, 127

as

to live well,

WHAT mad liberality

IS

LITERATURE?

which was denied him. Outside of

art,

found nobility in only three kinds of occupation.

he

First,

a useless passion and because women, as Nietzsche said, are the most dangerous game. Also in witness who travel, because the traveler is a perpetual in love, because

it is

remain-

to another without ever passes from one society in an industrious ing in any because as a foreign consumer of parasitism. Sometimes, collectivity, he is the very image

war too, because it is an immense consumption of men and goods.
The contempt with which trade was regarded in aristocratic and warlike societies was again met with in the writer. He was not satisfied with being useless, like the courtiers of the Old Regime; he wanted to be able to in trample on utilitarian work, to smash it, burn it, damage unconstraint of the lords who it; he wanted to imitate the had their hunting parties ride across the ripe wheat. He cultivated in himself those destructive impulses of which little later
Baudelaire has spoken in The Glass-maker.

A

he was to have a particular liking for instruments which were defective, worthless or no longer in use, half retrieved by nature, and which were like caricatures of instrumentality. It was not a rare thing for him to consider his own life as a tool to be destroyed. In any event,

he risked

it

and played

served his purpose.

to lose: alcohol, drugs, everything

The

height of uselessness, of course,
"art for art's sake" to symbolism, in-

was beauty. From cluding realism and the Parnassians, all schools agreed that art was the highest form of pure consumption. It taught nothing, it reflected no ideology, and above all, it refrained from moralizing. Long before Gide wrote it,
128

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?
Flaubert, Gautier, the Goncourts, Renard, sant had in their own way said that "it

and Maupasis with good

sentiments that one produces bad literature."
For some, literature was subjectivity carried to the ab-

which the black vines of their sufferings and vices writhed and twisted. Lying at the bottom of a world as in a dungeon, they passed beyond it and dispelled it by their dissatisfaction, which revealed other worlds to them. It seemed to them that their heart was different enough so that the picture of it which they drew solute, a bonfire in

might be resolutely barren. Others

set

themselves

up

as the

impartial witnesses of their age, but nobody noticed that they were testifying. They raised testimony and witness to the absolute ; they offered to the

empty sky the tableau

of the society about them. Circumvented, transposed, unified, and caught in the trap of an artistic style, the events

were neutralized and, so to speak, put in parentheses; realism was an "epoche." Here impossible truth joined hands with inhuman Beauty "beautiful as a marble dream." Neither the author, insofar as he wrote, nor the reader, insofar as he read, any longer belonged to this world: they were transformed into pure beholding; they considered man from without; they strove to see him from the point of view of God, or, if you like, of the absolute void. But after all, I can still recognize myself in the of the universe

purest lyricist's description of his particularities. And if the experimental novel imitated science, was it not utilizable as science

was? Could

it

not likewise have

its

social

applications?
The extremists wished, for fear of being serviceable, that their works should not even enlighten the reader
129

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

transmit their ex heart; they refused to last analysis the work would be entirel perience. In the

about his

own

The

logics were entirely inhuman. gratuitous only if it crea conclusion of all this was the hope of an absolute

a quintessence of luxury and prodigality, not utiliza be ble in this world because it was not of the world and

tion,

cause

it

recalled nothing in

it.

Imagination was conceive*

an unconditioned faculty of denying the real and th of the universe objet d'art was set up on the collapsing
There was the heightened artificialism of Des Esseintes the systematic deranging of all the senses, and finally th< concerted destruction of language. There was also si as that icy silence, the work of Mallarme silence of M. Teste for whom all communication lence: or

th*

was im

pure.

The extreme

point of this brilliant and mortal

liter

ature was nothingness. Its extreme point and its deepei essence. There was nothing positive in the new spiritual

was a pure and simple negation of the temporal
In the Middle Ages it was the temporal which was the

ity. It

Inessential in relation to spirituality; in the nineteentt

century the opposite occurred: the Temporal was primary and the spiritual was the inessential parasite whicF

gnawed away

at

ft

and

tried to destroy

it.

tion of denying the world or

It

was a

ques-

Of

denying consuming Flaubert wrote to disentangle himsel] by consuming from men and things. His sentence surrounds the object, it it.

it.

immobilizes

and breaks

back, changes into stone and petrifies the object as well. It is blind and deaf, without arteries; not a breath of life. deep silence sepseizes

it,

it

its

A

arates

it

from the sentence which follows;
130

it falls

into the

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

prey along in this infinite fall. Once described, any reality is stricken from the inventory; one moves on to the next. Realism was nothing else but this great gloomy chase. It was a matter of setting void, eternally,

mind

one's

and drags

its

at rest before anything else.

Wherever one

went, the grass stopped growing. The determinism of the naturalistic novel crushed out life and replaced human actions by one-way mechanisms. It had virtually but one subject: the slow disintegration of a man, an enterprise, a family, or a society. It was necessary to return to zero.

One

took nature in a state of productive disequilibrium and one wiped out this disequilibrium; one returned to an equilibrium of death by annulling the forces with which he was confronted. When, by chance, he shows us the success of an ambitious man, it is only appearance; Bel Ami does not take the strongholds of the bourgeoisie by assault he is a gauge whose rise merely testifies to the col;

lapse of a society.

And when symbolism

discovered the

between beauty and death, it was merely making explicit the theme of the whole literature of a half century. The beauty of the past, because it is close relationship

gone; the beauty of young people dying and of flowers which fade; the beauty of all erosions and all ruins; the

supreme dignity of consumption, of the disease which consumes, of the love which devours, of the art which kills; death is everywhere, before us, behind us, even in the sun and the perfumes of the earth. The art of Barres is a meditation on death a thing is beautiful only when it is
55
"consumable, that is, it dies when one has enjoyed it.
:

which was particularly approthese princely games was the moment. Because

The temporal priate for

structure

131

WHAT it it

IS

LITERATURE?

passes and because in itself it is the image of eternity, is the negation of human time, that three dimensional

A

time of work and history. great deal of time is needed to build; a moment is enough to hurl everything to the ground. When one considers the work of Gide in this perspective, one cannot help seeing in it an ethics strictly reserved for the writer-consumer. What is his gratuitous act

not the culmination of a century of bourgeois comedy and the imperative of the author-gentleman: Philoctete if bow, the millionaire squanders his banknotes, Bernard steals, Lafcadio kills and Menalque sells gives away

his

his belongings.

This destructive movement was to go to

its

logical con-

sequence: "The simplest surrealist act," Breton was to write twenty years later, "consists of going down into the street, revolver in hand, and firing into the crowd at

random

you can." It was the last term of a process. In the eighteenth century liter-

as long as

long dialectical ature had been a negativity; in the reign of the bourgeoisie it passed on to a state of absolute and hypostasized

Negation. It became a multicolored and glittering process of annihilation. "Surrealism is not interested in paying

much

attention ... to anything whose end is not the annihilation of being and its transformation into an internal

and blind

brilliance

which

is

no more the

soul of ice than

of fire," writes Breton once again. In the end there nothing left for literature to do but to contest itself. That

it is is is

what

writers

it

had

name

of surrealism. For seventy years been working to consume the world; after

did in the

1918 one wrote in order to consume literature: one squandered literary traditions, hashed together words,
132

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? threw them against each other to make them shatter. Literature as Negation became Anti-literature; never had it been more literary: the circle was completed.

During the same time, the

writer, in order to imitate

the lighthearted squandering of an aristocracy of birth, had no greater concern than that of establishing his irresponsibility.

He

began by

setting

up the

rights of genius

which replaced the divine right of the authoritarian monto the extreme, archy. Since Beauty was luxury carried since it was a pyre with cold flames which lit up and and consumed everything, since it was fed by all forms of deterioration and destruction, in particular suffering and death, the artist, who was its priest, had the right to demand in its name and to provoke, if need be, the unhappiness of those close to him. As for him, he had been burning for a long time; he was in ashes; other victims

were needed to feed the flames. Women in particular: they would make him suffer and he would pay them back with interest. He wanted to be able to bring bad luck to everyone around him.

And

if

there were

no means of

set-

he would accept offerings. Admirers, male and female, were there so that he might ting off catastrophes,

set fire to their hearts

or spend their

money without

gratitude or remorse. Maurice Sachs reports that his maternal grandfather, who had a fanatical admiration for Anatole France, spent a fortune furnishing the Villa

Said.

When

he

died,

Anatole

France

uttered

this

funeral eulogy: "Too bad! He was decorative." By taking money from the bourgeois, the writer was practising his priesthood, since he was diverting a part of their wealth in order to send

it

up

in smoke.

133

And by

the

same token

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

he placed himself above all responsibilities whom could he be responsible to? And in the name of what? If his work aimed at constructing, he could be asked to give an accounting. But since it declared itself to be pure de:

struction,

escaped judgment.

it

At the end of the century all this remained somewhat confused and contradictory. But when literature, with surrealism, made itself a provocation to murder, one saw the by a paradoxical but logical sequence,

writer,

explicitly

the principle of his total irresponsibility. To tell the truth, he did not make his reasons clear; he took in the bushes of automatic writing. But the motives

setting

up

refuge are evident

a parasitic aristocracy of pure consumption, whose function was to keep burning the goods of an industrious

:

and productive

society,

could not come under

the jurisdiction of the collectivity he was destroying. And as this systematic destruction never went any further than scandal, this

amounted

in the last analysis, to saying that

the primary duty of the writer was to provoke scandal and that his inalienable right was to escape its consequences.

The

bourgeoisie let

monkey

shines.

What

him carry on; did it

matter

if

it

smiled at these

the writer scorned

This scorn wouldn't lead to anything since the bourgeoisie was his only public. It was the only one to whom it? he spoke about it; it was a secret between them; in a way, it was the bond which united them. And even if he won the popular audience, what likelihood was there of discontent of the masses by showing that bourgeois thinking was contemptible? There was not the slightest chance that a doctrine of absolute consumption stirring up the

134

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? could fool the working classes. Besides, the bourgeoisie knew very well that the writer secretly took its part: he needed it for his aesthetic of opposition and resentment;

he wanted provided him with the goods he consumed; to preserve the social order so that he could feel that as a he stranger there he was a permanent fixture. In short, it was a rebel, not a revolutionary.
As for rebels, they were right in the bourgeoisie's line.
In a sense, it even became their accomplice; it was better keep the forces of negation within a vain aestheticism, a rebellion without effect; if they were free, they might have to interested themselves

And what on behalf of the oppressed

classes.

then, bourgeois readers understood, in their way, the writer called the gratuity of his work; for the

latter this

was the very essence of

spirituality

and the

heroic manifestation of his break with the temporal; for

work was fundamentally inoffensive; it was an amusement. They doubtless preferred the literature of Bordeaux and Bourget but they did not think that it was bad if there were useless books; they distracted the mind from serious preoccupations; they the former a gratuitous

with the recreation

it

needed for

its

general well-being. Thus, even while recognizing that the work of art could serve no purpose, the bourgeois public still

provided

it

found means of

The

utilizing

writer's success

it.

was

built

upon

this

misunderstand-

ing; as he rejoiced in being misunderstood, it was normal for his readers to be mistaken. Since literature had be-

hands an abstract negation which fed on ithe must have expected them to smile at his most

come self, in his

cutting insults

and say

55

"it's

only literature;

135

and

since

it

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

was a pure contestation of the spirit of seriousness, he must have been pleased that they refused on principle to take him seriously. Thus, they found themselves, even though it was with scandal and without quite realizing it, in the most "nihilistic" works of the age. The reason was that even though the writer might have put all his efforts into concealing his readers from himself, he could

never completely escape their insidious influence. A shame-faced bourgeois, writing for bourgeois without admitting it to himself, he was able to launch the maddest ideas; the ideas were often only bubbles which popped up

on the surface of his mind. But his technique betrayed him because he did not watch over it with the same zeal. It expressed a deeper and truer choice, an obscure metaphysic, a genuine relationship with contemporary society. Whatever the cynicism and the bitterness of the chosen subnineteenth-century narrative technique offered the
French public a reassuring image of the bourgeoisie. Our

ject,

authors, to be sure, inherited for having perfected

it,

but they were responsible

it.

appearance, which dates from the end of the Middle
Ages, coincided with the first reflective meditation by
Its

which the novelist became conscious of his art. At first he told his story without putting himself on the stage or meditating on his function because the subjects of his tales were almost always of folk or, at any rate, collective origin, and he limited himself to making use of them. The social character of the matter he worked with as well as the fact that it existed before he came to be concerned with him

the role of intermediary and was enough to justify him; he was the man who knew it conferred upon

136

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?

the most charming stories

them

orally, set

them down

and who, instead of in writing.

He

invented

telling little ;

he gave them style; he was the historian of the imaginary.
When he himself started contriving the fiction which he published, he found himself. He discovered simultaneously his almost guilty solitude and unjustifiable gratuity, the subjectivity of literary creation. In order to mask them from the eyes of others and from his own as well, in order to establish his right to tell these stories, he wanted to give his inventions the

the

power

appearance of truth. Lacking

to preserve the almost material opacity

characterized

which

them when they emanated from the

col-

he pretended that at least they did not originate with him, and he managed to give them out as memories. To do that he had represented himself lective imagination,

works by means of a narrator of oral tradition and at the same time he inserted into them a fictitious audience

in his

which represented in the

Decameron

his real public,

whom

their

such as the characters

temporary

exile puts cu-

riously in the position of learned people and who in turn take up the role of narrator, audience, and critic. Thus,

after the age of objective and metaphysical realism, when the words of the tale were taken for the very things

which they named and when

its

substance was the uni-

came

word

that of literary idealism in which the has existence only in someone's mouth or on some-

one's

pen and

verse, there

refers

back in essence

to a speaker to

whose

presence it bears witness, where the substance of the tales is the subjectivity which perceives and thinks the universe,

and where the

novelist, instead of putting the reader

directly into contact with the object, has

137

become con-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

scious of his role of mediator

and embodies the media-

tion in a fictitious recital.

Since that time the chief characteristic of the story which one gives to the public has been that of being alachieved, set in order, pruned, and the clarified; or rather, of yielding itself only through

ready thought, that

is,

it. That is thoughts which one retrospectively forms about why the tense of the novel is almost always the past,

whereas that of the

epic,

which

is

of collective origin,

is

frequently the present.

Passing from Boccaccio to Cervantes and then to the
French novels of the seventeenth and eighteenth centhe proceedings grow complicated and become episodic because the novel picks up along the way and in-

turies,

1

corporates the satire, the fable, and the character sketch.
The novelist appears in the first chapter; he announces,

he questions his readers, admonishes them, and assures them of the truth of his story. I shall call this "primary
5

Then, secondary characters intervene along the way, characters whom the narrator has met and who

subjectivity/

interrupt the course of the plot to tell the story of their own misfortunes. These are the "secondary subjectivities"

supported and restored by the primary subjectivity. Thus, certain stories are re-thought and intellectualized to the
2
second degree. The readers never experience the direct
Two Sticks, for example, Le Sage novelizes the charLa Bniyere and the maxims of La Rochefoucauld; that is, he binds them together by the slender thread of a plot.
2. The procedure of writing the novel in the form of letters is only a variation of what I have just indicated. The letter is the subjective recital of an event; it refers back to the one who wrote it and who becomes both actor and witnessing subjectivity. As to the event itself, although it is recent, it is already
1.

In The Devil on

acters of

re-thought and explained: the letter always supposes a lag between the fact
(which belongs to a recent past) and its recital, which is given subsequently and in a moment of leisure.

138

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? the narrator has been surprised by of its occurrence, he does not com-

onrush of the event; it moment

at the

if

them; he simply informs them of it. As to the novelist, since he is convinced that the only since he lives in reality of the word lies in its being said, municate his surprise to

a polite century in which there still exists an art of conversation, he introduces conversationalists into his book in order to justify the words which are read there; but

by words that he represents the characters whose
1
function is to talk, he does not escape the vicious circle.

since

Of

it is

the

authors

of

the

nineteenth

century brought their efforts to bear on the narration of the event.

They

course,

tried to restore part of

its

but for the most part they again took

technique and adapted

it

and

violence,

up the

idealistic

freshness

to their needs.

Authors as

dis-

Barbey d'Aurevilly and Fromentin make use of it constantly. In Dominique, for example, one finds a primary subjectivity which manipulates the levels of a secondary subjectivity and it is the latter which makes the tale. The procedure is nowhere more manifest than similar as

Maupassant. The structure of his short stories is almost invariable we are first presented with the audience, a brilliant and worldly society which has assembled in a in ;

drawing-room after dinner. It is night-time, which dispels fatigue and passion. The oppressed are asleep, as are the rebellious; the world is enshrouded; the story unfolds.
In a bubble of light surrounded by nothing there remains this elite

which

stays

awake, completely occupied with

its

1. This is the reverse of the vicious circle of the surrealists who try to destroy painting by painting. In this case one wants to have literature's letters of credit given by literature.

139

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

ceremonies. If there are intrigues or love or hate among its members, we are not told of them, and desire and

anger are likewise

stilled;

these

men and women

are

and in occupied in preserving their culture and manners recognizing each other by the rites of politeness. They the calm of represent order in its most exquisite form; concurs in night, the silence of the passions, everything of the censymbolizing the stable bourgeoisie of the end and tury which thinks that nothing more will happen

which

believes in the eternity of capitalist organization.

Thereupon, the narrator

is

introduced.

He

is

a middle-

aged man who has "seen much, read much, and retained
53
much, a professional man of experience, a doctor, a milHe has reached the itary man, an artist, or a Don Juan. time of life when, according to a respectful and com-

man

freed from the passions and considers with an indulgent lucidity those he has experienced. fortable myth,

is

calm, like the night. He tells his story with detachment. If it has caused him suffering, he has made honey from this suffering. He looks back upon it and con-

His heart

is

sub specie aeternitatis.
There was difficulty to be sure, but this difficulty ended long ago; the actors are dead or married or comforted. siders it

as

it

really was, that

is,

Thus, the adventure was a brief disturbance which is over with. It is told from the viewpoint of experience and

Order triumphs; order is everywhere; it contemplates an old disorder as if the still waters of a summer day have preserved the memory of the ripples which have run through it. Moreover, had there even been this disturbance? The evocation of an abrupt change would

wisdom;

it is

listened to

from the viewpoint

140

of order.

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE? nor frighten this bourgeois sociey. Neither the general the doctor confides his recollections in the raw state;

the they are experiences from which they have extracted moment they quintessence, and they warn us, from the start talking, that their tale has a moral. Besides, the

explanatory; it aims at producing a psychological law on the basis of this example. law, or, as Hegel says, the calm image of change. And the change itself, that is,

story

is

A

the individual aspect of the anecdote, is it not an appearance? To the extent that one explains it, one reduces the entire effect to the entire cause, the unforeseen to the expected and the new to the old. The narrator brings the same workmanship to bear upon the human event as,

according to Myerson, the nineteenth-century scientist brought to bear upon the scientific fact. He reduces the diverse to the identical.

And

if,

from time

to time,

he

maliciously desires to maintain a slightly disquieting tone in his story, he dispenses the irreducibility of the change

most carefully, as in those fantastic tales in which, behind the inexplicable, the author allows us to suspect a whole causal order which will restore rationality in the universe. Thus, for the novelist who is a product of this

change is a non-being, as it is for Parmenides, as Evil is for ClaudeL Moreover, even should it exist, it would never be anything else than an individual stabilized society

calamity in a maladjusted soul.
It is not a question of studying the relative movements of partial systems within a system in motion society, but of considering from the viewpoint of absolute rest the absolute movement of a relatively the universe

isolated partial system.

That
141

is,

one

sets

up

absolute

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

landmarks in order to determine it, and consequently one knows it in its absolute truth. In an ordered society it which meditates upon

with

rites,

man

a

its

evokes the

eternity

and celebrates

phantom

of a past dis-

with a wave of his magic wand and it with old-fashioned glitter, embellishes it easiness, dispels

makes it he graces, and at the moment when

order,

is

about to cause un-

the eternal hierarchy of causes and laws.
In this magician who frees himself from history and life understanding them and who is raised above his ausubstitutes for

it

by

dience by his knowledge and experience

we

recognize the
1

whom we

spoke about earlier.
If we have spoken at some length about Maupassant's narrative procedure it is because it constituted the basic

loftly aristocrat

technique for

all

the French novelists of his

own

generathe generations

succeeding one, and of all since. The internal narrator is always present. He may reduce himself to an abstraction; often he is not even extion, of the

designated; but, at any rate, it is through his subWhen he does not jectivity that we perceive the event. plicitly appear at all, it a useless device;

The

is

it

not that he has been suppressed like is that he has become the alter ego of

with his blank sheet of paper in front of him, sees his imagination transmuted into exname but at the periences. He no longer writes in his own the author.

latter,

mature and sober man who has witnessed the circumstances which are being related. dictation of a

1. When Maupassant writes Le Horla, that is, when he speaks of the mddness which threatens him, the tone changes. It is because at last something is going to happen. The man is overwhelmed, crushed something horrible he no longer understands; he wants to drag the reader along with him into
;

But the twig is bent; lacking a technique adapted to madness, death, and history, he fails to move the reader.

his terror.

142

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE?
Daudet, for example, obviously had the mind of a

drawing-room raconteur who infuses into his style the twists and friendly casualness of worldly conversation, who exclaims, grows ironical, questions, and challenges his audience: "Ah! how disappointed Tartarin was! And
55
do you know why? You won't guess in a million years!
Even realistic writers who wished to be the objective historians of their time preserved the abstract scheme of the

method; that milieu, a

is,

in all their novels there

common

plot,

which

is

is

a

common

not the individual and

historical subjectivity of the novelist but the ideal

universal one of the tale is

man

and

of experience. First of all, the

laid in the past: the ceremonial past, in order to

put some distance between the events and the audience; the subjective past, equivalent to the memory of the storyteller; the social past, since the plot does not belong to that history without conclusion which is in the making but to history already

made.

Janet claims, that memory is distinguished from the somnambulistic resurrection of the past in that the latter reproduces the event, whereas the
If it

is

true, as

former, indefinitely compressible, can be told in a phrase or a volume, according to need, it can well be said that novels of this kind, with their abrupt contractions of time followed by long expansions, are precisely memories.

Sometimes the

novelist lingers to describe a decisive

mo-

ment; at other times he leaps across several years: "Three years flowed by, three years of gloomy suffering. ." He permits himself to shed light on his characters' present
.

by means of their future: "They did not think at the time that this brief encounter was to have fatal conse143

WHAT quences. .

."

And from

since this present

time of

IS

LITERATURE?

his point of

view he

and future are both

memory has

is

not wrong,

past, since the

lost its irreversibility

and one can

backward and forward.
Besides, the memories which he gives us, already worked upon, thought over, and appraised, offer us an immediately assimilable teaching; the feelings and actions are cross it

often presented to us as typical examples of the laws of the heart: "Daniel, like all young people...," "Eve was quite feminine in that she habit, common among

.

.

.,"

"Mercier had the nasty

civil-service clerks

.

.

."

And

as

these laws cannot be deduced a priori nor grasped by intuition

nor founded on experimentation which

is

scientific

and capable of being universally reproduced, they refer the reader back to a subjectivity which has produced these recipes from the circumstances of an active life.
In this sense it can be said that most of the French novels of the Third Republic aspired, whatever the age of their real author and much more so if the author was very young, to the honor of having been written by

quinquagenarians.

whole period, which extends over several generations, the plot is related from the point of view of the absolute, that is, of order. It is a local change in a system at rest; neither the author nor the reader runs any risk; there is no surprise to be feared; the event is a thing

During

this

of the past; it has been catalogued and understood. In a stable society which is not yet conscious of the dangers

which has a morality at its disposal, a scale of values, and a system of explanations to integrate its local changes, which is convinced that it is beyond which threaten

it,

144

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

historicity

and that nothing important

any more,

in a bourgeois

laid out like a

gealed in

its

France

checkerboard by

industrial methods,

will ever

happen

the last acre, secular walls, con-

tilled to its and

resting

on the glory

Revolution, no other fictional technique could be possible. New methods that some writers attempted to of its

introduce were successful only as curiosities or were not followed up. Neither writers, readers, the structure of the collectivity, nor

its

1 myths had any need of them.

Thus, whereas literature ordinarily represents an integrating and militant function in society, bourgeois society at the end of the nineteenth century offers the un-

precedented spectacle of an industrious society, grouped around the banner of production, from which there issues a literature which, far from reflecting it, never speaks to it about what interests it, runs counter to its ideology, identifies the Beautiful

with the unproductive, refuses to

1. Among these procedures I shall first cite the curious recourse to the style of the theatre that one finds at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one in Gyp, Lavedan, Abel Hermant, etc. The novel was written in

dialogue form. The gestures of the characters and their actions were indicated in italics and parenthetically. It was evidently a matter of making the readei contemporaneous with the action as the spectator is during the performance.

This procedure certainly manifests the predominance of dramatic art in polite society around 1900. In its way it also sought to escape the myth of primary subjectivity. But the fact that it was abandoned shows sufficiently that it did not solve the problem. First, it is a sign of weakness to ask for help from a neighboring art, a proof that one lacks resources in the very domain of the art he practices. Then, the author did not thereby keep from entering into the

consciousness of his characters and having the reader enter with him. He simply divulged the intimate contents of the consciousness in parentheses and italics, with the style and typographical procedures that are generally used for stage directions. In effect, it was an attempt without a future. The authors who used it had a vague feeling that new life could be put into the novel

by writing it in the present. But they had not yet understood that it was not possible if one did not first give up the explanatory attitude.
More serious was the attempt to introduce the interior monologue of Schnitz-

145

WHAT allow itself to

IS

LITERATURE?

be integrated, and does not even wish to

be read.

The

authors are not to be blamed; they did what they could; among them are some of our greatest and purest writers. And besides, as every kind of human behavior

an aspect of the universe, their attitude has enriched us despite themselves by revealing gratuity as one of the infinite dimensions of the world and as a possible goal of human activity. And as they were artists, their work covered up a desperate appeal to the freediscloses to us

dom

of the reader they pretended to despise. It pushed contestation to the limit, even to the point of contesting

us a glimpse of a black silence beyond the massacre of words, and, beyond the spirit of seriousness, itself; it gives

the bare and empty sky of equivalences; it invites us to emerge into nothingness by destruction of all myths and all ler (I am not speaking here of that of Joyce which has quite different metaphysical principles. Larbaud, who, I know, harks back to Joyce, seems to me much rather to draw his inspiration from Les Lauriers sont coup&s and from
Mademoiselle Else). In short, it was a matter of pushing the hypothesis of a

primary subjectivity to the limit and of passing on to realism by leading idealism up to the absolute.
The reality which one shows to the reader without intermediary is no longer the thing itself the tree, the ashtray but the consciousness which sees the thing; the "real" is no longer only a representation, but rather the representation becomes an absolute reality since it is given to us as an immediate datum. The inconvenient aspect of this procedure is that it encloses us in an individual subjectivity and that it thereby lacks the intermonadic universe; besides, it dilutes the event and the action in the perception of one and then the other.

Now,

the

common

characteristic of the fact

and the action

is

that

they escape subjective representation which grasps their results but not theii living movement. In short, it is only with a certain amount of faking that one reduces the stream of consciousness to a succession of words, even de-

formed ones. If the word is which in essence transcends draws itself, is forgotten, and
But if it presents itself as

given as an intermediary signifying a reality language, nothing could be better; it withdischarges consciousness upon the object. the psychic reality, if the author, by writing,

146

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? scales of value;

it

discloses to us in

man

a close and secret

relationship with the nothing, instead of the intimate relationship with the divine transcendence. It is the liter-

ature of adolescence, of that age useless and w ithout responsibility, r by on his parents, wastes his family's

when

the young

man, still supported and fed money, passes judgment

and takes part in the demolition of the serious universe which protected his childhood. If one bears in mind that the festival, as Caillois has well shown, is one of those negative moments when the collectivity his father,

consumes the goods it has accumulated, violates the laws of its moral code, spends for the pleasure of spending, and destroys for the pleasure of destroying, it will be seen that literature in the nineteenth century was, on the margin

which had the mystique of sava great sumptuous and funereal festival, an invitation

of the industrious society ing, claims to give us an ambiguous reality which is a sign, objective in esand a that is, insofar as it relates to something outside itself sence then he that is, as an immediate psychic datum thing, formal in essence can be accused of not having participated and of disregarding the rhetorical law which might be formulated as follows: in literature, where one uses signs, it is not necessary to use only signs; and if the reality which one wants to signify is one word, it must be given to the reader by other words. He can

be charged, besides, with having forgotten that the greatest riches of the psychic life are silent. We know what has happened to the internal monologue; having become rhetoric^ that is, a poetic transposition of the inner silent as well as verbal it has life today become one method among others of the novelist. Too idealistic to be true, too realistic to be complete, the crown of the subjectivistic technique. It is within and by means of technique that the literature of to-day has become conscious of itself, that is, that literature is a double surpassing, toward the objective and toward it is

this

rhetorical, of the technique of the internal monologue. But for that necessary that the historical circumstance change.
It is evident that the writer continues to-day to write in the past tense.

the is it

It

not by changing the tense of the verb but by revolutionizing the techniques of the story that he will succeed in making the reader contemporary with the is etory.

147

WHAT to burn

sions, it LITERATURE?

in a splendid immorality, in the fire of the pas-

even unto death.

found

IS

its

When

I

come

belated fulfillment and

its

to say later

on that

end in Trotskyising

surrealism, one will better understand the function

it

as-

sumes in a too closed society it was a safety value. After all, it's not so far from the perpetual holiday to the per:

manent

revolution.

However, the nineteenth century was the time of the writer's transgression and fall. Had he accepted unclassing from below and had he given his art a content, he would have carried on with other means and on another plane the undertaking of his predecessors. He might have helped literature pass from negativity and abstraction to concrete construction; without losing the autonomy which the; eighteenth century had won for it and which there was no longer any question of taking away from it, it might have again integrated itself into society; by clarifying and supporting the claims of the proletariat, he would have attained the essence of the art of writing and would have understood that there is a coincidence not only between formal freedom of thought and political democracy, but also between the material obligation of choosing man as a perpetual subject of meditation and social democracy.
His style would have regained an inner tension because

he would have been addressing a

split public. By trying consciousness of the working class while giving evidence to the bourgeois of their own iniquity, his works would have reflected the entire world. He would

to

awaken the

have learned to distinguish generosity, the original source

work of art, the unconditioned appeal to the reader, from prodigality, its caricature he would have abandoned of the

;

148

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

the analytical and psychological interpretation of "human nature" for the synthetic appreciation of conditions.

perhaps impossible; but he went about it the wrong way. It was not necessary for him to get on his high horse in a vain effort to escape all class de55 termination, nor to "brood over the proletariat, but on
Doubtless

it

was

difficult,

the contrary to think of himself as a bourgeois who had broken loose from his class and who was united with the

oppressed masses by a solidarity of interest.
The sumptuousness of the means of expression which

make

us forget that he betrayed literature. But his responsibility goes even further; if the

he discovered should not

authors had found an audience in the oppressed classes, the divergence of their points of view and the

perhaps

would have helped produce in the masses what someone has very happily called a movement of ideas, that is, an open, contradictory, and dialectical ideology. Without doubt, Marxism would have tridiversity of their writings

umphed, but it would have been colored with a thousand nuances; it would have had to absorb rival doctrines, digest them, and remain open. We know what happened; two revolutionary ideologies instead of a hundred before
:

the Interna1870, the Prudhonians in the majority in tional, then crushed by the defeat of the Commune; Marx-

adversary not by the power of the Hegelian negativity which preserves while it surpasses, but because external forces pure and simple suppressed

ism triumphing over

its

one of the forms of the antinomy. It would take a long time to tell all that this triumph without glory has cost

Marxism;

for

want of

contradiction,

it

has

lost life.

Had it

been the better, constantly combatted, transforming
149

it-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

order to win, stealing its enemies' arms, it might have been identified with mind; alone, it became the
Church, while the gentlemen-writers, a thousand miles self in

away,

themselves guardians of an abstract spir-

made

ituality.

Will anyone doubt that I am aware how incomplete and debatable these analyses are? Exceptions abound, and
I know them, but it would take a big book to go into them.

have touched only the high spots. But above all, one should understand the spirit in which I have undertaken this work. If one were to see in it an attempt, even superlose all signifficial, at sociological explanation, it would
I

icance. Just as for Spinoza, the idea of a line segment roabstract and tating about one of its extremities remains false if

one considers

it

outside of the synthetic, concrete,

and bounded idea of circumference which contains, comthe considerations repletes, and justifies it, likewise here, main arbitrary if they are not replaced in the perspective of a work of art, that is, of a free and unconditioned apand peal to a freedom. One cannot write without a public without a certain public which historwithout a myth circumstances have made, without a certain myth of literature which depends to a very great extent upon the demand of this public. In a word, the author is in a situaical

tion, like all

man

other men. But his writings, like every hu-

project, simultaneously enclose, specify,

this situation,

even explain

it

and

idea of a circle explains and sets

up

and surpass

up, just as the that of the rotation of set it

a segment.

Being situated istic of freedom.

is

an

To

essential

and necessary character-

describe the situation
150

is

not to cast

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

law aspersion on the freedom. The Jansenist ideology, the of the three unities, and the rules of French prosody are not art; in regard to art they are even pure nothingness, since they can by no means produce, by a simple combina-

a good tragedy, a good scene, or even a good line. But the art of Racine had to be invented on the basis of these; not by conforming to them, as has been rather foolishly

tion,

and by deriving exquisite difficulties and necessary constraints from them, but rather by re-inventing them, by conferring a new and peculiarly Racinian function upon the division into acts, the cesura, rhyme, and the said, ethics of Port Royale, so that it is impossible to decide whether he poured his subject into a mould which his age

imposed upon him or whether he really elected this techwhat nique because his subject required it. To understand

Phedre could not be, it is necessary to appeal to all anthroto pology. To understand what it is, it is necessary only read or listen, that is, to make oneself a pure freedom and to give one's confidence generously to a generosity. The we have chosen have served only to situate the

examples freedom of the writer in different ages, to illuminate by

demands made upon him the limits of show by the idea of his role which the pub-

the limits of the his appeal, to

fashions for itself the necessary boundaries of the idea which he invents of literature. And if it is true that the

lic

essence of the literary work is freedom totally disclosing and willing itself as an appeal to the freedom of other

men,

it is

by hiding from screened forms of oppression, the fact that they were free, have

also true that the different

all

the opinions

men

or part of this essence from authors. Thus,

which they have formed about
151

their profes-

FOR

WRITE?

already the beginning of change, as the work taken in the totality of its exigencies, is not a sim-

sentation of art,

WHOM DOES ONE

is

ple description of the present but a judgment of this present in the name of a future, finally, as every book con-

an appeal,

tains self. The

this

universe

is

awareness of

self is

not contested in the

a surpassing of

name

of simple

consumption, but in the name of the hopes and sufferings of those who inhabit it. Thus, concrete literature will be a

from the synthesis of Negativity, as a power of uprooting given, and a Project, as an outline of a future order; it be the Festival, the flaming mirror which burns everything reflected in it, and generosity, that is, a will free invention, a gift.

But

if

it

to

is

be able to

ally

two complementary aspects of freedom, it is not enough to accord the writer freedom to say everything; he must write for a public which has the freedom of changing everything; which means, besides suppression of these classes, abolition of all dictatorship,

constant renewal of

frameworks, and the continuous overthrowing of order once it tends to congeal In short, literature is, in essence, the subjectivity of a society in permanent revolution. In

would go beyond the antinomy of word
Certainly in no case would it be regarded

such a society

and action. as an act; it

is

it

false to say that the

author acts upon his

readers; he merely makes an appeal to their freedom, and in order for his works to have any effect, it is neces-

sary for the public to adopt

them on

their

own account

by an unconditioned decision. But in a collectivity which constantly corrects, judges, and metamorphoses itself, the written work can be an essential condition of action, that is, the

moment

of reflective consciousness.
159

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? of the

world insofar as the world

inessential creation

on the margin

is

His work;

it is

an

of a

major Creation; a pure reflection. praise, psalm, offering,
By the same token literature falls into alienation; that is, since it is, in it is

any case, the reflectiveness of the social body, since it remains in the state of non-reflective reflectiveness, it mediatizes

remains the retrieves the world, but by losing itself. But

the Catholic universe but for the clerk
;

immediate

;

it

it

must necessarily reflect itself on pain of annihilating itself with the whole reflected universe, the three examples which we have studied showed a as the reflective idea

movement is, its

of the retrieving of literature by itself, that transition from the state of unreflective and im-

mediate reflection to that of reflective mediation. At concrete and alienated,

it

liberates itself

first

by negativity and

passes to abstraction; more exactly, it passes in the eighteenth century to abstract negativity before becoming in

and early twentieth century absolute negation. At the end of this evolution it has cut all its bonds with society; it no longer even has a public. "Every one knows," writes Paulhan, "that there are two literatures in our time, the bad, which is really unreadable and the good, which is not read."
(it is widely read)
But even that is an advance; at the end of this lofty isolation, at the end of this scornful rejection of all effithe late nineteenth

the destruction of literature by itself; at the terrible "it's only literature;" then, that literary

cacity there first, is

same Paulhan calls terrorism, which is born at about the same time as the idea of parasitic gratuity, and as its antithesis, and which runs all

phenomenon which

the

through the nineteenth century, contracting as
153

it

goes a

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

thousand irrational marriages and which finally bursts forth shortly before the first war. Terrorism, or rather the terrorist complex, for it is a tangle of vipers. One might as such distinguish, first, so deep a disgust with the sign leads in all cases to preferring the thing signified to the word, the act to the statement, the word conthat

it

ceived as object to the word-signification, that is, in the last analysis, poetry to prose, spontaneous disorder to comliterature one exposition; second, an effort to make life to pression among others of life, instead of sacrificing literature; and

third, a crisis of the writer's

moral con-

the sad collapse of parasitism. Thus, without for a moment conceiving the idea of losing its formal science, that

is

autonomy, literature makes itself a negation of formalism and comes to raise the question of its essential content.
To-day we are beyond terrorism and we can make use experience and the preceding analyses to set down the essential traits of a concrete and liberated literature. have said that, as a rule, the writer addressed all of its

We

men. But immediately afterward we noted that he was read only by a few. As a result of the divergence between the real public and the ideal public, there arose the idea of abstract universality. That is, the author postulates the constant repetition in an indefinite future of the handful of readers which he has at present. Literary glory pecuresembles Nietzsche's eternal recurrence; it is a recourse to the struggle against history; here, as there, liarly time seeks to compensate for the failure in space (for the author of the seventeenth century, a recurrence ad infinitum of the gentleman; for the one of the infinity of

nineteenth century, an extension ad infinitum of the club
154

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

and the public

of writers

WRITE?

of specialists).

But

as

it is self-

evident that the effect of the projection into the future of the real and present public is to perpetuate, at least in the representation of the writer, the exclusion of the

majority of men, finity of

unborn

addition, this imagining of an inreaders is tantamount to extending the as, in

actual public by a public made up of merely possible men, the universality which glory aims at is partial and abstract. And

as the choice of the public conditions, to

a certain extent, the choice of subject, the literature which has set up glory as its goal and its governing idea

must

also

remain abstract.

The term

"concrete universality" must be understood, on the contrary, as the sum total of men living in a given society. If the writer's public

could ever be extended to

the point of embracing this totality, the result would not be that he would necessarily have to limit the reverberations of his

work

to the present time, but rather

he would

oppose to the abstract eternity of glory, which is an impossible and hollow dream of the absolute, a concrete and finite duration which he would determine by the very

choice of his subjects, and which, far from uprooting him from history, would define his situation in social time.

As a matter

of fact, every

human

project outlines a cer-

by its very motto: if I'm going to sow, I'm putting a whole year of waiting before me if I get married, my venture suddenly causes my whole life to rise up tain future

;

me; if I launch out into politics, Fm mortgaging a future which will extend beyond my death. The same before with writing. Already, under the pretense of belaureled immortality, one discerns more modest and more con155

WHAT IS LITERATURE? crete pretensions. The aim of The Silence of the Sea was to lead the French to reject the enemy's efforts to get them to collaborate. Its effectiveness and consequently its actual public could not extend beyond the time of the occupation. The books of Richard Wright will remain alive as

long as the negro question is raised in the United States.
Thus, there is no question as to the writer's renouncing the idea of survival quite the contrary, he is the one who
;

decides

he

it;

will survive so long as

he

acts.

Afterward,

honorary membership, retirement. Today, for having wanted to escape from history, he begins his honorary

it's

membership the day he is

after his death,

sometimes even while

alive.

Thus, the concrete public would be a tremendous feminine questioning, the waiting of a whole society which the writer would have to seduce and satisfy. But for that the public would have to be free to ask and the writer

That means that

to answer.

of one

no case must the questions up those of other milieus;

in

group or class cover

we would

relapse into the abstract. In short, actual literature can only realize its full essence in a class-

otherwise,

Only in this society could the writer be aware that there is no difference of any kind between his subject and his public. For the subject of literature has always less society.

been

man

in the world.

However, as long as the virtual a dark sea around the sunny little

public remained like beach of the real public, the writer risked confusing the interests and cares of man with those of a small and favored

group. But, if the public were identified with the concrete universal, the writer would really have to write about the

human

totality.

Not about the
156

abstract

man

of all the

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? ages and for a timeless reader, but about the whole his age and for his contemporaries. As a

result,

man of

the literary

antinomy of lyrical subjectivity and objective testimony would be left behind. Involved in the same adventure as his readers

and

situated like

them

in a society without

cleavages, the writer, in speaking about them, would be speaking about himself, and in speaking about himself

would be speaking about them. As no aristocratic pride would any longer force him to deny that he is in a situation, he would no longer seek to soar above his times and bear witness to it before eternity, but, as his situation would be universal, he would express the hopes and anger of all men, and would thereby express himself completely, not as a metaphysical creature like the medieval clerk, nor as a psychological animal like our classical writers, nor even as a social entity, but as a totality emergthat

is,

ing into the world from the void and containing within it all those structures in the indissoluble unity of the hu-

man condition; literature would really be anthropological, in the full sense of the term.

quite evident that in such a society there would be nothing which would even remotely recall the separation
It

is

of the temporal and the spiritual. Indeed, we have seen that this division necessarily corresponds to an alienation

man

and, therefore, of literature; our analyses have shown us that it always tends to oppose a public of of professionals or, at least, of enlightened amateurs, to the undifferentiated masses. Whether he identifies himself

with the Good and with divine Perfection, with the Beautiful or the True, a clerk is always on the side of the oppressors.

A watchdog or a jester
157

:

it is

up

to

him

to choose.

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

M. Marcel

M. Benda

has chosen the cap and bells and the kennel; they have the right to do so, but

if

literature

one day to be able to enjoy its essence, the writer, without class, without colleges, without salons, without excess of honors, and without indignity, will be thrown into is among men, and the very notion of clerkship will appear inconceivable. The spiritual, moreover, always rests upon an ideology, and ideologies are freedom when they make themselves and oppression when they are made. The writer who has attained full self -consciousness will therefore not make himself the guardian of any spiritual hero; he will no longer know the centrifugal movethe world,

ment whereby certain of eyes away from the world established values ;

he

will

turned their

his predecessors

to contemplate the

know

that his job

is

heaven of not adora-

tion of the spiritual, but rather spiritualization.
Spiritualization, that else to spiritualize,

is,

And

renewal.

nothing

else to

colored and concrete world with

its

there

renew but weight, is

nothing

this multi-

its

opaqueness, zones of generalisation, and its swarm of anecdotes, and that invincible Evil which gnaws at it without ever its being able to destroy

it.

The

writer will renew

it

as

is,

the raw, sweaty, smelly, everyday world, in order to submit it to freedoms on the foundation of a freedom. Liter-

ature in this classless society would thus be the world

aware of

itself,

suspended in a free

act,

and

offering

it-

the free judgment of all men, the reflective selfawareness of a classless society. It is by means of the book

self to

that the

members

of this society

bearings, to see themselves

and

would be able

to get their

see their situation.

But as

the portrait compromises the model, as the simple pre158

FOR WHOM DOES ONE WRITE? already the beginning of change, as the work taken in the totality of its exigencies, is not a sim-

sentation of art,

is

of this presple description of the present but a judgment ent in the name of a future, finally, as every book con-

an appeal,

tains self. The

this

universe

is

awareness of

a surpassing of

self is

not contested in the

name

of simple

consumption, but in the name of the hopes and sufferings of those who inhabit it. Thus, concrete literature will be a a power of uprooting from the synthesis of Negativity, as
Project, as an outline of a future order; it will be the Festival, the flaming mirror which burns

given,

and a

that is, a everything reflected in it, and generosity, free invention, a gift. But if it is to be able to ally these two complementary aspects of freedom, it is not

enough to accord the writer freedom to say everything; he must write for a public which has the freedom of changof ing everything; which means, besides suppression classes, abolition of all dictatorship,

constant renewal of

frameworks, and the continuous overthrowing of order once it tends to congeal. In short, literature is, in essence, the subjectivity of a society in permanent revolution. In

would go beyond the antinomy of word and action. Certainly in no case would it be regarded as an act; it is false to say that the author acts upon his readers; he merely makes an appeal to their freedom, and in order for his works to have any effect, it is necessary for the public to adopt them on their own account by an unconditioned decision. But in a collectivity which such a society

it

constantly corrects, judges, and metamorphoses itself, the written work can be an essential condition of action, that is, the

moment

of reflective consciousness.
159

FOR

WHOM DOES ONE

WRITE?

Thus, in a society without classes, without dictatorship, and without stability, literature would end by becoming conscious of

itself;

would understand that form and

it

content, public and subject, are identical, that the formal freedom of saying and the material freedom of doing

complete each other, and that one should be used to de-

mand

the other, that

the person

when

it

it

best manifests the subjectivity of

translates

most deeply

collective needs

and, reciprocally, that its function is to express the concrete universal to the concrete universal and that its

appeal to the freedom of men so that they may realize and maintain the reign of human freedom. To be

end

is

to

sure, this

but

is

Utopian. It

is

possible to conceive this society,

we have no practical means at our disposal of realizing

has allowed us to perceive the conditions under which literature might manifest itself in its fullness and purity.
Doubtless, these conditions are not fulfilled today; and it

it.

It

today that we must write. But if the dialectic of literature has been pushed to the point where we have been

is

able to perceive the essence of prose and of writing, perhaps we may at this time attempt to answer the only

question which is urgent for us: what is the situation of the writer in 1947; what is his public; what are his myths;

what does he wanf to write about; what can he and what ought he write about?

160

IV

SITUATION OF THE WRITER
IN
I

who

1947

am

speaking about the French writer, the only one has remained a bourgeois, the only one who has

language which a hundred and years of bourgeois domination have broken, vulgarslackened, and stuffed with "bourgeoisisms," each of

to adjust himself to a fifty ized,

and abandon. The American writer has often practiced manual occupations be-

which seems a

little

sigh of ease

fore writing his books; he goes back to them.

two

novels, his vocation seems to be

Between

on the ranch,

in

the shop, in the city streets; he does not see in literature

a means of proclaiming his solitude, but an opportunity of escaping it. He writes blindly, out of an absurd need to

and anger, somewhat as the Midwest farmer writes to the New York radio commentators to pour out his heart to them. He muses less about glory than he dreams of fraternity. He does not invent his manner against tradition, but for want of one, and in certain ways his most extreme audacities are naivetes. rid himself of his fears

new in his eyes, everything is yet no one before him has spoken of the skies or
The world

is

161

to

be

said,

the crops.

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

it rarely appears in New York, and if he goes there, himself up only on the run, or, like Steinbeck, he locks

He is months and he's quits for the year, a year which he will pass on the highways, in the work-yards, or in the bars. It is true that he belongs to "guilds" and Associafor three

purely to defend his material interests. has no solidarity with other writers; he is often sep-

but that

tions,

He

is

arated from them by the length or breadth of the conti1 nent nothing is more remote from him than the idea of college or clerkship; for a while he is feted and then
;

is

lost

take a

and

forgotten; he reappears with a

new book

to

new plunge/

Thus, at the mercy of twenty ephemeral glories and twenty disappearances, he drifts continually between the working-class world, where he goes to seek adventures, and his middle-class readers (I don't dare call them bourgeois; I very much doubt whether there is bourgeoisie in the United States), hard, brutal, young, and lost, who tomorrow

will take the

same plunge

as he.

In England, the intellectuals are less integrated into the collectivity than we; they form an eccentric and slightly

much

cantankerous caste which does not have

with the

rest of the population.

The

reason

is,

contact

first

of

all,

American literature is still in the stage of regionalism.
When I was passing through New York in 1945, I asked a literary agent to get the rights of translation of Miss Lonelyhearts, a. work by Nathanael
West. He did not know the book and came to a gentleman's agreement with the author of a certain Lonelyheart, an old maiden lady who was very surprised that someone was thinking of translating her into French. He learned
1,

2.

his mistake and, continuing his search, he finally found West's publisher who admitted that he did not know what had become of the author. I urged them to investigate

and

finally they learned that

West had died

several years earlier

an automobile accident. It seems that he still had a bank-account in New
York and the publisher was still sending him checks from time to time.

in

162

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 luck; because remote predehardly deserve prepared the Revolution,

that they have not cessors whom we

had our

the class in power, after a century and a half, still does us the honor of fearing us a little (very little) ; it treats us
London who do not have these tactfully. Our confreres in memories do not frighten anyone; they are con-

glorious sidered quite harmless ;

and then, club

life is less

suitable

for spreading their influence than salon life has been in about spreading ours. Among themselves, the men speak

or horses, never about literature, whereas our matrons, who practised literature as an acbusiness, politics,

women,

complishment, helped, by their receptions, to bring

to-

gether politicians, financiers, generals, and men of letters.
The English writers make a virtue of necessity and by

aggrandizing the oddness of their ways attempt to claim as a free choice the isolation which has been imposed upon

them by the

structure of their society*

Even in

Italy,

where

the bourgeoisie, without ever having counted for much, has been ruined by fascism and defeat, the condition of the writer, needy, badly paid, lodged in dilapidated palaces too vast and grandiose to be heated or even furnished, at grips with a princely language too supple, is far removed from ours.

pompous

to be

Thus, we are the most bourgeois writers in the world.
Well housed, decently dressed, not so well fed, perhaps; but even that

is

significant: the bourgeois spends less

his food, proportionally,

for his clothes

than the workman;

and lodging. All

on

much more

of us, moreover, are

steeped in bourgeois culture; in France, where the baccalaureat is a hall-mark of the bourgeoisie, it is not permissible to plan to write without being at least a bachelor.
163

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

In other countries, the dreamy-eyed possessed twist and squirm under the sway of an idea which has seized them from behind and which they never manage to look in the having tried everything, they end by trying to pour their obsession on paper and to let it dry there with the ink. But as for us, we were used to literature long face. After

before beginning our

To

us

it

seemed natural

in a civilized society, like trees in a

for books to

grow

garden. It much that

because

is

novel.

first

we

loved Racine and Verlaine too

fourteen years old, we discovered, during the evening study period or in the great court of the lycee, our vocation as a writer. Even before having

when we were

that found ourselves at grips with a work of our own monster, so drab, so smeared with our own sticky juices, such a gamble we had been brought up on literature already made, and we naively thought that our future writings would issue from our mind in the finished state in which we found those of others, with the seal of col-

and the pomp which comes from secular consecration, in short, like national resources. For us, the ultimate transformation of a poem, its last toilette lective recognition

for eternity, was, after having appeared in magnificent illustrated editions, to end by appearing in small type in

a hard-covered book bound in green canvas, whose clean smell of ink and pulp seemed to us the very perfume of the Muses, and to move the dreamy sons with ink-stained fingers of the future bourgeoisie. Breton himself, who

wanted

to set fire to culture, got his first literary shock in class one day when his teacher was reading Mallarme to him. In short, for a long time

destination of our

work was

we thought

that the final

to furnish literary texts for the

164

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947
French explication classes of 1980. Later on, five years would be just about long enough after our first book for us to be shaking hands with all our confreres. Centralization has grouped us all in Paris. With a bit of luck, a busy

American might

join us all in twenty-four hours, to

in twenty-four hours, our opinions about

know,

UNRRA,

the

UNO, UNESCO, the Henry Miller affair, and the atomic in twenty-four hours, a trained cyclist might cirfrom Aragon to Mauriac, from Vercors to Cocculate

bomb;

teau, stopping off to see Breton in Montmartre, Queneau a report of the in Neuilly, and Billy at Fontainebleau

scruples

and points

which are part of our those manifestoes, one of

of conscience

professional obligations, one of those petitions or protests to Tito for or against the return of Trieste, the annexation of the Saar, or the use of V3's in future warfare,

by which we

like to

show that we belong

to our century; in twenty-four hours, without

a

cyclist,

piece of gossip goes all about our college and returns all broidered upon to the one who launched it.

em-

We

almost

all

can be seen together in certain

a or cafes, at the

Pleiade concerts, and, in certain strictly literary circumstances, at the English Embassy, From time to time, one of us

who

has been overworking has

we

it

announced that

go to see him; we advise him that it's all for the best, that one can't write in
Paris, and we see him off with our envy and our best he's leaving for the country;

all

wishes; as for us, an aged mother, a young mistress, or an urgent job keeps us in town. He leaves with the reporters of Samedi-Soir his retreat.

He

who are going along to photograph

gets bored;

he which writers from

he comes back. "After

says, "there's only Paris." It

is

165

Paris to

all/'

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

the provinces, if they are well-off, come to practise regionalism; it is Paris where the qualified representatives of

North African

literature

have chosen to express their

Our path is cut out for us; for the haunted Chicago Irishman who suddenly decides to write as a last recourse, the new life which he is tackling is a nostalgia for Algiers.

no point of comparison. It is a block of dark marble which will take him a long time to hew into shape but we knew, from the time we were adolescent, the memorable and edifying features of great lives; fearful thing with

;

our father did not disapprove of our vocation, knew from the time we were fourteen, in the fourth

even

we

if

grade of the lycee, how one replies to recalcitrant parents, how much time the author of genius has to remain un-

known, at what age

normal for glory to crown him, how many women he should have and how many unhappy loves, whether it is desirable that he mix in politics, and when; everything is written down in books; it is enough to bear it well in mind. Romain Holland had it is

proved at the beginning of the century in Jean Christophe that one can achieve a rather good likeness by combining the features of a few famous musicians. But one can devise other

schemes r

Rimbaud,

to begin a

m

it's

not bad to start one's

Goethean return

life like

to order in one's

throw oneself at fifty, like Zola, into a public debate. After that, you can choose the death of Nerval, thirties, to

Byron, or Shelley. Naturally, of realizing

each episode in

it

all its

will not

be a matter

violence, but rather of

way a serious tailor indicates the fashion without servility. I know several among us, and not the least, who have thus taken the precaution of giving their
Indicating

it,

the

166

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 a turn and an allure both typical and exemplary, so that if their genius remains doubtful in their books, it

lives

might at least shine forth in their behavior. Thanks to these models and recipes, from our childhood on the career of a writer seemed to us magnificent, though without surprises; one is promoted partly by merit, partly by seniority. That's what we are. In other respects, saints, heroes, mystics, adventurers, angels, enchanters, executioners, victims, as you like. But, first of all, bourgeois.

There's no shame in admitting it. And different from one another only in the way we each assume this common situation. In

one wanted to make a sketch of contemporary it wouldn't be a bad idea to distinguish three

fact, if

literature,

generations. The first is that of the authors who began to produce before the war of 1914. By now they have fin-

ished their career,

and

their future books,

even though

be masterpieces, will hardly be able to add to their fame; but they are still alive, they think and judge, they may

and their presence determines minor literary currents which must be taken into account. The main thing, it seems to me,

that in their persons and by their works, they opened the way to a reconciliation between literature and the bourgeois public. It should first be noted that is they drew the greater part of their resources from something quite other than their writings. Gide and Mauriac

have property, Proust had independent means, Maurois comes from a family of manufacturers; others came to

from the

Duhamel was a a teacher, Claudel and Giraudoux were doctor, Romains, in the diplomatic service. The reason was that, except for literature liberal professions:

167

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

one could not support himself by literature in the period when they began writing. Like politics
55
under the Third Republic it could only be a "marginal

successful tripe,

occupation, even if concern of the one

it

ended by becoming the principal

who

practised

it.

Thus, literary per-

from the same milieu as political personnel; Jaures and Peguy came from the same school; Blum and Proust wrote in the same reviews.
Barr&s carried on his literary campaigns and his electoral campaigns on the same front. As a result, the writer could no longer consider himself as a pure consumer; he directed sonnel were

drawn by and

large

the production or supervised the distribution of goods or he was a civil-servant; he had duties toward the State; in short, a

whole part of him was integrated into the bour-

geoisie; his behavior, his professional relationships, his

and his concerns were bourgeois; he bought, sold, ordered, and obeyed; he entered the charmed circle of courtesy and ceremony. Certain writers of this period have a well-founded reputation for greed which is belied by the appeals which they have launched in their writings. I don't know whether this reputation is justified. It obligations, proves, all the same, that they know the value of the divorce we pointed out between the author

public

is

now

in the author's very soul.

money; and his

Twenty

years

symbolism he had not forgotten about the absolute gratuity of art, but at the same time he was involved in after A

the utilitarian cycle of means-ends and ends-means. producer and destroyer at the same time. Divided between the spirit of seriousness that he has to observe at Cuver-

Frontenac, Elbeuf, and, when he has to represent
France, at the White House, and the holiday spirit of con-

ville,

168

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 testation that

he finds as soon as he

sits

down

before a

blank sheet of paper; incapable of embracing bourgeois ideology without reserve as well as of condemning without recourse the class to which he belongs.

him

concern was

saves

in this

sole

What

embarrassment is that the bourgeoisie itself has changed it is no longer that fierce rising class whose
;

thrift

and the

possession of goods.

The

and grandsons of successful peasants and shopkeepare born into money; they have learned the art of

sons ers spending. is The

utilitarian ideology,

without at

all

disap-

A hundred years

relegated to the

background. pearing, of uninterrupted reign have created traditions; bourgeois childhoods in the great country house or in the chateau

bought from a ruined noble have acquired a poetic depth; the "men of property" have less recourse in their prosperity to the spirit of analysis; they, in turn, ask

the spirit of

synthesis to establish their right to govern; a synthetic

bond is established between the proprietor thus poetic and the thing possessed.
Barres was the

first to

invent

it;

the bourgeois

is

one

with his property. If he remains in his province and on his estate,

something passes into him from the gentle

from the silvery quivering of the poplars, from the mysterious and slow fecundity of the soil, from the rapid and capricious nervousness of the skies; in assimilating the world, he assimilates its depth; foot-hills of his region,

henceforth, his soul has substrata, mines, gold-lodes, veins,
1
underground sheets of petroleum. Henceforth the ralli^
Les rallies : "Royalists and imperialists who have Ac1. Translator's note cepted the Republic." This term will appear hereafter in the text.

169

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

writer has his path cut out for him; to save himself will save the bourgeoisie depthwise.

Of course, he will not serve

utilitarian ideology.

he

He will

necessary, its severe critic, but he will disclose all the gratuity in the exquisite hothouse of the bourgeois

even be,

if

soul, all the spirituality

which he needs

to practise his art

with a good conscience, Instead of reserving this symbolic aristocracy, which he won in the nineteenth century, for himself and his confreres alone, he will extend

it

to the

whole bourgeoisie. About 1850, an American writer showed, in a novel, an old colonel sitting in a Mississippi steamboat; for a moment he was tempted to ponder the innermost recesses of the souls of the passengers about him. He soon dismissed this preoccupation, saying to himor approximately, "It
55
trate too far into himself. self, first

not good for man to peneThat was the reaction of the

is

bourgeois generation.

About 1900 the machine was reversed in France: was understood that one would find the seal of God the human

heart, provided

he sounded

it

in

it

deeply enough.
Estaunie speaks about secret lives. The postal-clerk, the blacksmith, the engineer, the departmental treasurer, all have their nocturnal and solitary fetes. Consuming pas-

and wild conflagrations dwell deeply within them. this author, and a hundred others, we were learn to recognize in stamp and coin collecting all the

sions

In the wake of to nostalgia for the beyond, all the Baudelairean dissatisfaction. For I ask you, why would one spend his time and

money acquiring

medallions, were

caring for the friendship of

and power? And what

is

men

more
170

not that he was past and the love of women it gratuitious than a

stamp

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 collection? Not everybody can be a Leonardo or a Michel

Angelo, but those useless stamps pasted on the pink pages of an album are a touching homage to all the nine muses; it is the very essence of destructive consumption.

Others saw in bourgeois love a desperate appeal mounting toward God. What is more disinterested, what is more poignant than an adultery? one's mouth

after coitus,

is it

And

that taste of ashes in

not negativity

itself

and the

contestation of all pleasures? Others went even further.
They discovered a divine grain of madness not in the

weaknesses of the bourgeoisie but in

its

very virtues.

We

were shown that the oppressed and hopeless life of the mother of a family was so absurd and so lofty in its obstinacy that all the extravagances of the surrealists apyoung author peared as common sense in comparison.

A

who underwent

the influence of these teachers without

belonging to their generation and

who

has since changed his mind, if I may judge by his behavior, once said to me,
"Is there any madder wager than conjugal fidelity? Isn't

Show me a madder and more magnificent blasphemy. You can see the trick; it's a matter of beating the great destroyers on their own ground. You name Don Juan and I answer by Orgon; it braving the Devil and even God?
35

more

and more despair in raising a family than in seducing a thousand and one women. You offer Rimbaud, I come back with Chrysale; there's more pride and Satanism in assuming that the there's generosity,

more

cynicism,

a chair than in practising the systematic deranging of the senses. And so that there will be no doubt about it, the chair which is given to our perchair that one sees

ception

is

is

only probable; to assert that
171

it is

a chair, one

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

to the infinite

must take a leap

and suppose an

concordant representations. Doubtless, the

infinity of

vow

of con-

the sophism bejugal love also involves a virgin future; and so to speak, gins when one presents these necessary,

natural inductions that

man makes

against time

and

to

insure his tranquillity as the most audacious defiances, the most desperate contestations.

Be that

as

it

may, that

is

how

the writers I

am

talking

about established their reputation. They addressed a new a strict generation and explained to it that there was

and beequivalence between production and consumption tween construction and destruction; they demonstrated that order

was a perpetual

boring monotony.

They

festival

and disorder the most

discovered the poetry of daily

life,

virtue enticing, even disturbing, and painted the bourgeois epic in long novels full of mysterious and per-

made

turbing smiles. That was all their readers asked for; when one is honest out of self-interest, virtuous out of pusillanimity, and faithful out of habit, it is agreeable to hear it said that he surpasses a professional seducer or a high-

Around 1924, I knew a young man of good family who was infatuated with literature, particularly contemporary authors. He acted quite mad when

wayman

it

in boldness.

was the thing

the bars

when

it

gorged himself on the poetry of was d la mode, flashily paraded a mis-

to do,

and then, when his father died, prudently took over the family factory and followed the straight and narrow.
He has since married an heiress; he doesn't deceive her, or, if he does, it's only on the sly, when he takes a trip.
In short, the most faithful of husbands. Just about the time he got married, he drew from his reading the fortress,

172

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

mula that was

to justify his life:

"One shoiJd do what

5

everyone else does/ he wrote to me one day, "and be like no one else." You can guess that I regard that as the

most abject garbage and the justification of all sorts of dishonesty. But it sums up rather well, I think, the ethics

which our authors sold

their public.

They

justified

them-

do what everyone else does, that is, sell Elbeuf cloth or Bordeaux wine according to the conventional rules, take a wife with a dowry, visit your parents regularly, and your in-laws and the friends of your in-laws you Ve got to be like no one else, that is, save your soul and your family's by fine writings which are both destructive and respectful. I shall call the ensemble of these works an alibi literature. selves with

it first

of all

:

youVe got

to

:

It rapidly

supplanted that of the hireling writers. Since

war

before the

first

more than

incense.

the governing classes needed alibis

The marvelous

was an sprang from him;

of Fournier

a whole line of bourgeois fairies in each case it was a matter of leading each reader approximately to that obscure spot of the most bourgeois alibi; dreams meet and melt in a desperate desire for the impossible, where all the events of the most human everyday existence are lived as symbols, where the soul where

all

devoured by the imaginary, where the whole man is no longer anything but a divine absence. People are sometimes astonished that Arland was the author of both real is

Foreign Lands and Order; but they shouldn't be. The so noble dissatisfaction of his first heroes has meaning only if one experiences it at the heart of a strict order; it is not at all a matter of revolting against marriage, the profes-

173

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and the social disciplines, but of delicately going beyond them by means of a nostalgia which nothing can desire for anything. satisfy because at bottom it is not a
Thus, order is there only to be transcended, but it must sions, be there. There you have

it,

justified

established. It's certainly better to contest

and it solidly re-

by a dreamy

melancholy than to overthrow it by arms. I shall say as much about the Gidian restlessness, which later became confusion, God

and the Mauriacian

sin,

the place from which

always a matter of putting daily life in parentheses and living it scrupulously but without soiling one's hands; it is always a matter of proving that man is is

absent. It

is

worth more than

love

his life, that love

is

much more than

and the bourgeois much more than the bourgeois.

In the greater writers there is, of course, something else.
In Gide, in Claudel, in Proust, one finds the real experience of a man, a thousand directions. But I have not wanted to draw a picture of a period but rather to show
1
a climate and isolate a myth.

The second course, this

is

generation comes of age after 1918. Of a very rough classification since we are in-

cluding Cocteau,

who

Marcel Arland, whose

started before the war, whereas

book, to my knowledge, does not antedate the armistice, has definite affinities with the writers

first

whom we have just spoken

about.

The

obvious

absurdity of a war whose true causes it took us thirty years to know leads back the spirit of Negativity. I am not goIn Jouhandeau the bourgeois souls have the same quality of the marbut often this marvelous changes sign; it becomes negative and
Satanic. As you might well imagine, the black masses of the bourgeoisie are still more fascinating than its permissible displays. 1.

velous;

174

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 ing to enlarge upon this period "of decompression," as
Thibaudet has so well named it. It was all fireworks;

now

that

that

we seem

that

its

it

has fallen, so to know

it

much

has been written about

thoroughly. All

we need

most magnificent rocket, surrealism,

note

ties in

it is with

the destructive tradition of the writer-consumer. These turbulent young bourgeois wanted to ruin culture because they were cultivated; their chief enemy was Heine's

Monnier's Prudhomme, and Flaubert's bourin short, their papa. But the violence of the pre-

philistine,

geois,

ceding years had brought them to radicalism. Whereas their predecessors had confined themselves to combatting the utilitarian ideology of the bourgeoisie by consumption, they more deeply identified the quest of the useful with the

human

project, that

Consciousness

is,

with the conscious and voluntary

bourgeois, the self is bourgeois. Negativity should devote itself, in the first place, to that nature which, as Pascal says, is only a first layer of custom. The

life.

is

thing to be done is to eliminate the conventional distinctions between conscious and unconscious life, between first dream and waking. This means solved. There

is,

that subjectivity

in effect, the subjective

when we

is

dis-

recog-

moment

they appear, that our thoughts, our emotions, and our will come from us, and when we believe both that it is certain that they belong to us and only nize, the

probable that the external world is guided by them.
The surrealist took a hearty dislike to that humble certainty

on which the

stoic

based his

ethics. It displeased

him both by the limits it assigns us and the responsibilities it places upon us. Any means were good for escaping consciousness of self

and consequently of
175

one's situation in

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

He

adopted psychoanalysis because it presented consciousness as being invaded by parasitical outbourgrowths whose origin is elsewhere; he rejected "the the world.

work because work implies conjectures, a perpetual recourse to hypotheses, and projects, thus, the subjective. Automatic writing was, above all, destruction of subjectivity. When we try our hand at it, we are us apart; spasmodically cut through by clots which tear we are ignorant of their origin; we do not know them geois idea" of

before they have taken their place in the world of objects

and we must then perceive them with foreign eyes. Thus, it was not a matter, as has too often been said, of substituting their unconscious subjectivity for consciousness, but rather of showing the object as a fitful glimmering at the

heart of an objective universe. But the surrealist's second matter of step was to destroy objectivity in turn. It was a

exploding the world, and as dynamite was not enough, as, on the other hand, a real destruction of the totality of existants was impossible, because it would simply cause

from one

this totality to pass state, one had to do

ticular objects, that

real state to another real

his best rather to disintegrate par-

is,

to

do away with the very structure

of objectivity in these objects-evidences. Evidently this operation cannot be~tried out on real existants which are

already given with their indeformable essence. Hence, one will produce imaginary objects, so constructed that their

We

are given a first objectivity does away with itself. draft of this procedure in the false pieces of sugar which actually cut in marble and which suddenly revealed themselves as having an unexpected weight. The

Duchamp visitor who weighed them

in his
176

hand was supposed

to

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 a blazing and instantaneous illumination, the selfdestruction of the objective essence of sugar. It was necesfeel, in

sary to let him know the deception of all being, the malaise, the off-balance feeling we get, for example, from trick gadgets, when the spoon abruptly melts in the tea-cup, when

the sugar

(an inverse hoax to the one

constructed) rises to the surface and floats. It was hoped that by means of this intuition the whole world

Duchamp

would be exposed as a radical contradiction. Surrealist painting and sculpture had no other aim than to multiply these local and imaginary explosions which were like holes through which the entire universe would be drained out. The paranoiacally critical method of Dali was only a perfecting and complication of the procedure. It also professed to be an effort "to contribute to the total discredit of the to reality." Literature also

make language go through

the

did

its

best

same kind of thing and

by telescoping words. Thus, the sugar refers the marble and the marble to the sugar; the limp

to destroy to world of

watch

it

limpness; the objective destroys itself and suddenly refers to the subjective, since one disqualifies reality and is pleased to "consider the contests itself

by

its

very images of the external world as unstable and transi55 tory and to "put them into the service of the reality of

our mind.

55

But the subjective then breaks down in

its

turn and allows a mysterious objectivity to appear be-

hind

it.

All this without even starting a single real destruction.
Quite the contrary; by means of the symbolic annulment of the self by sleep and automatic writing, by the

symbolic annulment of objects by producing evanescent
177

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

by the symbolic annulment of language by producing aberrant meanings, by the destruction of painting by painting and of literature by literature, surrealism objectivities, pursues this curious enterprise of realising nothingness

by too

much

fullness of being. It

is

always by creating,

by adding paintings to already existing paintings and books to already published books, that it deeach of stroys. Whence, the ambivalence of its works: that is,

them can pass

for the barbaric

and magnificent inven-

an unknown being, of an extraordinary phrase, and, as such, can become a voluntary contribution to culture; and as each of them is a project for antion of a form, of

nihilating all the rest by annihilating itself along with

it,

surface, a Nothingness which is
Nothingness glitters only the endless fluttering of contradictions. And the esprit which the surrealists wish to attain on the ruins of sub-

on

its

which

not possible to have an inkling otherwise than by the accumulation of self-de-

jectivity, this esprit of

it is

structive objects, also sparkles cal and

flickers in the recipro-

and congealed annihilation of

things.

It is neither

Hegelian Negativity, nor hypostasized Negation, nor even
Nothingness, though it bears a likeness to it; it would be

more

correct to calLit the Impossible or,

if

you

like,

the

imaginary point where dream and waking, the real and the fictitious, the objective

and the

subjective, merge.
Confusion and not synthesis, for synthesis would appear

an articulated

dominating and governing its internal contradictions. But surrealism does not desire

as

existence,

the appearance of this novelty which

have to

contest. It

wants to maintain

ervating tension which

is

it

would again

itself in

the en-

produced by an unrealizable
178

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 intuition. At

least

Rimbaud wanted

to see a

drawing-

wants to be perpetually on the point of seeing lake and drawing-room; if, by chance, he encounters them, he gets disgusted or he

room

in a lake; the surrealist

bed with the blinds drawn.
He ends up by doing a lot of painting and writing but he never actually destroys anything. Moreover, Breton recognized this in 1925 when he wrote: "The immediate gets scared

and

gets into

reality of the surrealist

revolution

is

not so

much

to

change anything whatever in the physical and

aporder of things as to criticize a movement in parent the mind." The destruction of the universe is the object of a subjective enterprise very like what has always been called philosophical conversion. This world, perpetually

annihilated without one's touching a grain of wheat or sand or a feather of a bird, is quite simply put in parentheses. It has not been sufficiently noted that the con-

and poems-objects of surrealism were the manual realization of the sterilities by which structions, paintings

the sceptics of the third century B.C. justified their perpetual "epoche." After which, Carneades and Philo sure of not compromising themselves by an imprudent adherence, lived like everybody else. In the same way,

the surrealists, once the world

is

destroyed and miracu-

destruction, can shamelessly give full play to their immense love of the world. This world, the world of every day, with its trees and roofs, its lously preserved

women,

its

by

its

sea-shells,

and

its

flowers, but

haunted by

the impossible and by nothingness, is what is called the surrealist marvelous. I can not keep myself from think-

ing of that other parenthesis by which the rallie writers
179

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

of the preceding generation destroyed bourgeois life and it with all its nuances. Isn't the surrealist

preserved

marvelous that of The Wanderer (Le Grand Meaulnes), but radicalized? Certainly its passion is sincere, as are its hatred of and disgust with the bourgeois class. But the situation has not changed: one must save oneself or by a symbolic breakwithout breaking anything, wash oneself of the original contamination without ing giving

The

up the advantages root of the matter

find an eagle's nest.

of one's position.

that once again one has to

is

The

surrealists,

than their fathers, count on the radical

more ambitious and metaphysical

destruction which they are initiating to confer upon them a dignity a thousand times superior to that of the

no longer a matter of escaping from the bourgeois class; one must leap out of the human condition. It is the family patrimony that these sons want to squander, it is the world. They have come parasitic aristocracy. It

back to parasitism as

and

is

to a lesser evil,

abandoning every-

common

consent; but by they have never been satisfied with being parasites on the bourgeoisie; their ambition has been to be parasites thing, studies

on the human

professions,

Metaphysical as it may be, it is clear that they have been unclassed from above and that their preoccupations have strictly forbidden them from race. finding a public in the working class. Breton once wrote:
5
"Marx said, Transform the world. Rimbaud said,
9

'Change life. For us, these two orders are one and the same." That would be enough to reveal the bourgeois intellectual For it is a question of knowing which change precedes which. For the militant Marxist there is no
180

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN

1947

can permit radical transformations of thought and feeling. If Breton thinks that he can pursue his inner experiences on the margin of revolutionary activity and parallel to it, he is condoubt that

demned

social transformation alone

in advance, for that

would amount

to saying

that a freedom of spirit is conceivable in chains, at least for certain people, and, consequently, to making revolution less urgent. This is the very betrayal of which rev-

have always accused Epictetus and of which
Politzer not long ago accused Bergson. And if it is maintained that Breton intended in this text to announce a

olutionaries

of the social progressive and interlinked metamorphosis state and the intimate life, I answer by citing this other

that there is a passage: "Everything leads us to believe certain point in the mind from which life and death,

the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the communicable and the incommunicable, the high and

One the low, cease to be regarded as contradictory. would be wasting his time looking for any other motive
.

.

in surrealist activity than the

hope of determining this point." Is this not a proclamation of divorce from a working-class public more than from a bourgeois public? For the proletariat, engaged in struggle, must at every moment, in order to bring its undertaking to a successful conclusion, distinguish the past from the future, the real from the imaginary, and life from death. It is not

by accident that Breton has cited these contraries; they categories of action; revolutionary activity, more than any other, needs them. And just as surrealism has

are

all

radicalized the negation of the useful in order to transform it into a rejection of the project and the conscious
181

WHAT life, it

LITERATURE?

radicalizes the old literary claim of gratuity in

make

a rejection of action by destroying categories. There is a surrealist quietism. Quietism

order to its IS

of

it

and permanent violence; two complementary aspects of the same position. As the surrealist has deprived himself of the means of planning an enterprise, his activity is reduced to impulsions in the immediate. We find here a heavier and duller version of the Gidean moment.
That's not surprising; there is quietism in all parasitism and the favorite tempo of consumption is the moment.
Yet, surrealism declares itself revolutionary and offers its hand to the Communist Party. It is the first time since the Restoration that a literary school explicitly claims

kinship with an organized revolutionary movement. The reasons are clear: these writers, who are also young people, want, above all, to destroy their family, their uncle the general, their cousin the cure, as Baudelaire in 1848 saw in the February revolution an opportunity to set fire to the house of General

Aupick;

if

they were born poor,

they have also certain complexes to liquidate, envy and fear; and then they are also rebelling against external constraints: the recently ended war, with

ship, military service, taxes,

army-ridden

its

censor-

legislature,

and

the general eye-wash; they are all anti-clerical, neither more nor less than Combes and the pre-war radicals, and all they are nobly disgusted with colonialism and the war in
Morocco. These indignations and hatreds are capable of being expressed abstractly by a conception of radical

Negation which, a fortiori, will bring about, without there being any need of making it the object of a particular act of will, the negation of the bourgeois class.

182

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

And

youth being the metaphysical age par excellence, as Auguste Comte well noted, this metaphysical and abstract expression of their revolt is evidently the one

they are choosing in preference. However, it is also the one which leaves the world strictly intact. It is true that they also add a few sporadic acts of violence, but at most, these scattered acts of violence succeed in pro-

voking scandal. The best they can hope for is to set themselves up as a primitive and secret society on the

model of the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, they get so far as to want others to take upon themselves, on the margin of their spiritual experiences, the forceful execution of acts of concrete destruction. In short, they would like to

be the clerks of an ideal society whose temporal func1 tion would be the permanent practice of violence. In this way, after having praised the suicides of Vache and

Rigaut as exemplary acts, after having presented gratuitous massacre ("firing into the crowd") as the simplest surrealistic act, they

summon

to their aid the yel-

low peril. They do not see the profound contradiction which opposes these brutal and partial destructions to the poetic process of annihilation which they have undertaken. Indeed, every time a destruction is partial, it is a means for attaining a positive and more general end.
Surrealism stops at this means; it makes it an absolute

end;

it

refuses to go further.

abolition
1.

To make

violence as a dation, and

it

to

On

the contrary, the total

dreams of does not harm anybody precisely

oneself the clerk of violence implies that one deliberately adopts that is, one has common recourse to intimi-

method of thought,

the principle of authority; one haughtily refuses to demonstrate what gives the dogmatic texts of the surrealists a purely

discuss. This is

formal but disturbing resemblance to the political writings of Charles Maurras.

183

WHAT because it

is

total.

It

IS

is

LITERATURE?

an absolute located outside of

And

brings into the picture, among the realities to abolish, the end which, in the eyes of Asiatics or revolutionaries, justifies the violent means history, a poetic fiction.

to

it

which they are forced to have recourse.
As for the Communist Party, hounded by the bourgeois

police, very inferior in

number

to the Socialist Party, with

no hope of taking power except in the distant future, new, uncertain in

its tactics, it is still

in the negative phase.

win over the masses, bore from within among the socialists, and incorporate the elements that it will be able to detach from the collectivity which repulses
Its

job

it;

its

is

to

intellectual

arm

is

criticism.

Thus,

it

is

not

dis-

which it is no longer need it;

inclined to see in surrealism a temporary ally getting ready to reject when it will for negation, the essence of surrealism,

The

is

only a stage for

not willing even for a moment to consider automatic writing, induced sleep, and objective the C.P.

latter

is

chance, except in so far as they may contribute to the disintegration of the bourgeois class. Thus, it seems that

we have

re-encountered that community of interests between the intellectuals and the oppressed classes which

was the good fortune of the authors of the eighteenth century. But this is only an appearance. The deep source of the misunderstanding lies in the fact that the surrealist is

very

little

concerned with the dictatorship of the

proletariat and sees in the Revolution, as pure violence, the absolute end, whereas the end that communism pro-

poses to that end

the taking of power, and by means of justifies the blood it will shed. And then the

itself is it bond between surrealism and the
184

proletariat

is

indirect

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

and

action

upon

The

strength of a writer lies in his direct the public, in the anger, the enthusiasm, and

abstract.

the reflections which he

stirs

up by

his writings. Diderot,

Rousseau, and Voltaire were in constant contact with the bourgeoisie because it read them. But the surrealists

have no readers in the proletariat; there is just a bare chance of their communicating with the party from the outside, or rather with its intellectuals. Their public is the cultivated bourgeoisie; the C.P. this and uses them simply to stir up trouble in

elsewhere,

knows

among

Thus, their revolutionary doctrines

ruling-class circles.

remain purely theoretical (since they change nothing by their attitude), do not help them gain a single reader,

and find no echo among the workers; they remain the parasites of the class they insult; their revolt remains

on the margin of the revolution. Breton finally recognizes this himself and returns to his independence as a clerk.
He writes to Naville: "There is not one of us who does not wish for the passing of power from the hands of the bourgeoisie to those of the proletariat. In the meantime, it is none the less necessary that the experiences of the inner life continue and, of course, with no external control,

even Marxist.

.

.

The two problems

are essentially

55

distinct.

The

opposition will be accentuated when Soviet Russia and consequently the French Communist Party pass to the phase of constructive organization;

surrealism,

having remained negative in essence, will turn away from them. Breton will then draw near the Trotskyists precisely

because the

latter,

a hounded minority, are

at the stage of critical negation.

185

The

still

Trotskyists, in their

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

turn, will use the surrealists as

an instrument of

dis-

integration; a letter from Trotsky to Breton leaves no doubt about the matter. If the Fourth International too

had been able to pass to the constructive phase, it clear that it would have been the occasion of a break.

is

Thus, the bourgeois writer's first attempt to reconcile himself with the proletariat remains Utopian and abstract because he

is

not seeking a public but an

ally,

because he preserves and reinforces the division of the temporal and spiritual and because he maintains himself within the limits of a clerkship. The agreement on principle between surrealism and the C.P. against the bourgeoisie does not

go beyond formalism; it is the formal idea of negativity which unites them. In fact, the negativity of the

Communist Party

essary, historical

moment

in

its

is

temporary;

it is

a nec-

great enterprise of social

reorganization; surrealist negativity, whatever one may say about it, remains outside of history, in the moment

and

in the eternal simultaneously;

and

it

is

the absolute end

Breton somewhere asserts the identity, or at least parallelism with reciprocal symbolization, of

of

life

mind

in

its

art.

struggle against

its

bug-bears and the prole-

tariat in its struggle against capitalism, to asserting the "sacred mission" of the

the fact

which amounts proletariat. But

that this class conceived as a legion of destroying angels, and which the C.P. defends against the approaches of the surrealists like a wall, is really only a is quasi-religious myth for the authors, one which plays, for the tranquillization of their conscience, a role anal-

ogous to that of the myth of the people in 1848 for the writers of good will.
186

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

The in its

time:

originality

of

the

surrealist

movement

resides

attempt to appropriate everything at the same unclassing from

above, parasitism, aristocracy, the metaphysic of consumption, and alliance with revolutionary forces. The history of this attempt has shown that it was doomed to failure. But fifty years earlier it

would not even have been conceivable; the only relation a bourgeois writer could have had at that time with the working class was to write for it and about it. The thing that permits dreaming, be it only for a moment,, of concluding a temporary pact between an intellectual aris-

tocracy and the oppressed classes is the appearance of a new factor the party as a mediation between the middle classes and the proletariat.
:

I

understand well enough that surrealism with

its

ambiguous aspect of literary chapel, spiritual college,
1
church, and secret society is only one of the post-war products. One would have to speak of Morand, Drieu la Rochelle, and a host of others. But if the works of
Breton, Peret, and Desnos have seemed to us the most representative, the fact

is

contain the same

Morand

traits.

that

the traveler, the wayfarer. tions He

all is the others implicitly the consuming type,

nullifies national tradi-

by putting them into contact with each other ac-

cording to the old procedure of the sceptics and Montaigne; he throws them into a basket like crabs, and, without commentary, leaves it to them to tear each other apart. It
1.

a matter of achieving a certain

A

that

is

it

of

gamma

point,

resemblance to Action Frangaise of which Maurras was Able to say was not a party but a conspiracy. And don't the punitive expeditions the surrealists resemble the pranks of the young royalist henchmen?

187

WHAT highly akin to the

IS

gamma

LITERATURE? point of the surrealists,

whence

and

abolish

differences of custom, language,

interests

Here speed plays the role of the paranoiac-critical method. Gallant Europe is the nullification of countries by the railroad; Nothing each other in the

total indistinctness.

but the Earth, the nullification of continents by the airplane. Morand has Asiatics go about in London, Americans in Syria, and Turks in Norway; he shows our customs as seen through these eyes, as Montesquieu did by

those of Persians, which is the surest way of removing their raison d'etre. But at the same time he arranges it so that these visitors have lost much of their pristine purity and

are already thorough 'traitors to their customs without

having completely adopted ours; at this particular moment of their transformation each of them is a battlefield

where the exotic and picturesque and our rationalistic mechanism are being destroyed by each other. His books, full of tinsel and trinkets and strange, lovely names, nevertheless, ring the knell of exoticism; they are at the origin of a whole literature which aims at doing away with local color, either by showing that the distant cities we dreamed

familiar

and

of in our childhood are as hopelessly to the eyes of their inhabitcommonplace

ants as the Saint Lazare Station

and the

Eiffel

are to ours, or by letting us perceive the comedy, and absence

of faith behind ceremonies

which

Tower hokum, travelers

of past centuries described for us with the utmost respect, or by revealing to us through the worn-out screen of oriental or African picturesqueness the universality of capitalist mechanism and rationalism. In the end noth-

ing else

is

left

but the world, similar and monotonous
188

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 everywhere. this

I

have never

felt

procedure so keenly as

of 1938, between

I

the deeper

meaning of

did one day in the

Mogador and

Sufi,

when

I

summer

was

in a

bus which passed a veiled Mohammedan woman who was riding a bicycle. A Mohammedan woman on a bike
!

There you have a realists or

self-destructive object

which the

sur-

Morand can

mechanism dreams which one

precise

equally well lay claim to. The of the bicycle contests the idle harem

ascribes to this veiled creature as she

passes by but at the

same moment what remains

of the

voluptuous and magical darkness between the painted eyebrows and behind the low forehead contests, in turn,

mechanism;

it

gives us a feeling that behind capital-

standardization, there

ist

is

something beyond, which, though chained and conquered, is yet virulent and be-

witching.

Phantom

exoticism, the surrealist impossible, all three cases the real

and bourgeois dissatisfaction: in breaks down; behind it one tries

to

maintain the

irritat-

ing tension of the contradictory. In the case of the traveling writers the ruse is obvious they suppress exoticism because one is always exotic in relation to someone,
:

and they don't want

to be;

they destroy history and

traditions in order to escape from their historical situation; they want to forget that the most lucid conscious-

ness

is

always grafted on to something; they want to

fect a fictitious liberation

by means of an abstract

ef-

inter-

nationalism and to achieve, by means of universalism,

an

aristocratic detachment.

Drieu, like Morand, sometimes makes use of selfdestruction by exoticism: in one of his novels, the Al-

hambra becomes an

arid provincial park under a
189

mo-

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

But through the literary destruction of the and bitterobject, of love, over twenty years of follies ness, he was pursuing the destruction of himself; he was the empty valise, the opium smoker, and in the end, the notonous vertigo
Gilles,

sky.

death drew him into National Socialism. the squalid and glib novel about his life, shows of he was the enemy brother of the surrealists.
His Nazism, which also was only an appetite for universal conflagration, proved, in practice, to be as inclearly that

communism

effectual as the

of Breton.

Both of them

are clerks. Both of them, innocently and without ulterior motives ally themselves with the temporal. But the surrealists are healthier; their myth of destruction covers up an enormous and magnificent appetite; they want to destroy everything but themselves, as is shown

and drugs. Drieu, gloomy and more genuine, meditated upon his death; it was because of self -hatred that he hated his country and mankind. They all were after the absolute, and as they were by their horror of

hemmed

disease, vice,

in everywhere by the relative, they identified

the absolute with the impossible. They all hesitated between two roles: that of proclaimers of a new world

and that

of gravediggers of the old. But as to discern signs of decadence in post-war

it

was

easier

Europe than

those of renewal, they chose to be gravediggers. And to soothe their conscience they restored to a place of honor the old Heraclitean myth according to which life is

born from death. They were aginary gamma

point,

all

haunted by that im-

the only steadfast thing in a

world in movement, when destruction, because terly and

hopelessly destruction,
190

is

it is

ut-

identified with ab-

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

They were all fascinated by violence, wherever it might come from; it was by violence that they wanted to free man from his human condition. That solute construction.

why

is

they joined hands with extreme parties by gra-

them apocalyptic aims. They were all duped: the Revolution has not come off and Nazism has been beaten. They lived in a comfortable and lavish period when despair was still a luxury. They condemned tuitously ascribing to

their country because they

were

still

insolent with vic-

they denounced war because they thought the peace would be a long one. They were all victims of the disaster of 1940: the reason is that the moment for tory; action it. had come and

Some

that none of

them were armed

killed themselves, others are in exile; those

have returned are exiled among

us.

They were

for

who

the pro-

claimers of catastrophe in the time of the fat cows; in the time of the lean cows they have nothing more to
1

say.
1.

These passionless remarks have stirred up impassioned whirlwinds. Howfrom convincing me, the defenses and the attacks have made me more

ever, far

convinced than ever that surrealism has lost its timeperhaps temporarily liness. As a matter of fact, I find that most of its defenders are eclectics. It is made out to be a cultural phenomenon "of high importance," an "exemplary" attitude, and an attempt

is being made to integrate it on the
q.t. into bourgeois humanism. If it still had any life in it, would it be willing to spice the slightly stale rationalism of M. Alqui6 with the Freudian pepper? In the last analysis, it is a victim of the idealism which it has so fought against; the Gazette des lettres, Fontaine, and Carre/our are stomach pockets which

just can't wait to digest

it.

a Desnos could have read in 1930 the following lines of M. Claude
Mauriac, a young spark-plug of the Fourth Republic: "Man fights against man without realizing that the joint effort of all minds should first be brought to bear against a certain skimpy and false conception of man. But surrealism has known this and has been crying it aloud for twenty
As an enterIf

years. prise of knowledge, it proclaims that everything about the traditional modes of thinking and feeling has to be re-invented," he would certainly have pro99 tested; surrealism was not an "enterprise of knowledge; he specifically

191

WHAT IS LITERATURE? understand the world; we quoted Marx's famous phrase: "We do not want to want to change it;" he never wanted this "joint effort of minds" which pleasde Gaulle's Rassemantly recalls the Rally of the French People [General blement Populaire Francais]. Against this rather silly optimism he always affirmed the strict connection between inner censorship and oppression; if there to be a joint effort of all minds (that expression minds, in the plural, hardly surrealistic!) it would come after the Revolution. In his heyday he would not have tolerated anyone's brooding over him that way in order to like the Communist Party in this respect understand him. He considered that everything that was not totally and exclusively for him was against him.
Is he aware today of the way he is being maneuvered? In order to enlighten him, I shall therefore reveal to him that M. Bataille, before publicly inform-

had

is

from us, had notified ing Merleau-Ponty that he was withdrawing his article him of his intentions in a private conversation. [M. Merleau-Ponty is a member of the editorial board of Les Temps Modernes of which M. Sartre is which the present work was originally serialized.] This had then declared, "I have serious charges to make we must unite against communism." That should be sufagainst Breton, but ficient! I think that I show more esteem for surrealism by harking back to the time of its ardent life and by discussing its aim than by slyly trying to

editor-in-chief

and

in

champion

of surrealism

assimilate

it.

It

is

true that

it

is

not going to thank

me

for

it,

for, like

all

affirms the continuity of its views in order to mask their hark back to its perpetual change and therefore does not at all like anyone to declarations. Many of the texts I meet with today in the catalogue previous of the surrealist exhibition (Surrealism in 1947) and which are approved by totalitarian parties,

the chiefs of the

it

movement

are closer to the gentle eclecticism of

M. Claude

Mauriac than to the bitter revolts of the first surrealism. Here, for example, are a few lines of M. Pastoureau: "The political experiment of surrealism which has caused it to revolve around the Communist Party for some ten lock years is very plainly conclusive. To attempt to continue it would be to itself up in the dilemma of compromise and ineffectualness. To follow the
Communist Party in the way of the collaboration of classes to which it is comcontradictory to the motives which in the past pushed surrealism and v/hich are as much immediate demands in the domain of the mind and especially in that of morals as the pursuit of the distant end which is Ihe total liberation of man. And yet, it is obvious

mitted

is

into undertaking political action

that the politics on which one might base the hope of seeing the aspirations of the proletariat realized is not that of the so-called left opposition to the

Surrealism whose
Communist Party nor that of the little anarchist groups. role is to demand innumerable reforms in the domain of the mind, appointed and, in particular, ethical reforms, can no more participate in a political ac.

.

is necessarily immoral in order to be effective than it can parunless by renouncing the liberation of man as a goal to be attained, ticipate, in a political action which is necessarily ineffectual because respectful of

tion

which

does not have to violate. Thus, it retires into tend to fulfill the same demands and to hasten again the liberation of man, but by other means." principles which itself. it

thinks

it

Its efforts will

192

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN

1947

(Analogous texts and even identical phrases will be found in "Inaugural
Break," a declaration adopted June 21, 1947 by the group in France. Cf. pp. 8-11.)

The reader

will note, in passing, the

recourse to morals. Will

we some day

word "reform" and the extraordinary read a periodical entitled "Surrealism

in the Service of Reform"? But above all, this text established surrealism's break with Marxism: everybody now agrees that one can act on superstructures without the economic substructure's being modified. An ethical and

reformist surrealism wanting to confine its action to changing ideologies: that of idealism. What these "other means" are remains to

smacks dangerously

be determined. Is surrealism going to offer us new scales of values? Is it going to produce a new ideology? Not a bit; surrealism is going to busy itself, "pursuing its old-time objectives, in weakening Christian civilization and in preparing the conditions for the coming of the eventual Weltanschauung" even PasIt is still, obviously, a matter of negation. Western civilization toureau admits it is moribund; a tremendous war threatens it and will attend to burying it; our time calls for a new ideology which permits man to live; but surrealism will continue to attack the "Christian-Thomist stage" of civilization. And how can it be attacked? By the pretty lollipop of the 1947
Exhibition? Let's rather go back to the real surrealism, that of the Point du
Jour, of Nadja, of the communicating vessels.

Alquie and Max-Pol Fouchet stress above everything was an attempt at liberation. According to them, it is

else the fact that it

a matter of asserting the rights of the human totality without omitting anything, be it the unconscious, the dream, sexuality, or the imaginary. I am in complete agreement with them. That is what surrealism wanted; that is certainly the greatness

should again be noted that the "totalitarian" idea is animates the Nazi, the Marxist, and, today, the "existentialist" attempt. It must certainly go back to Hegel as the common source

of its enterprise. It typical of the age;

it

But I discern a serious contradiction at the origin of surrealism: to use Hegelian language, this movement had the concept of totality
(that is what is striking in the famous phrase of Breton, "freedom, color of man") and realized something quite different in its concrete manifestations. of all these efforts.

The

totality

of

man

is,

indeed, necessarily a synthesis, that

is,

the organic

and schematic unity of all his secondary structures. A liberation which proposes to be total must start with a total knowledge of man by himself (I am not trying to show here that it is possible; it is known that I am profoundly convinced that it is). That does not mean that we must know or that we can know a priori, the whole anthropological content of human reality, but that we can first reach ourselves in both the deep and manifest unity of our behavior, our emotions, and our dreams. Surrealism, the fruit of a particular epoch, was embarrassed at the start by anti-synthetic survivals: first, the analytic negativity which is practised on everyday reality. Hegel writes of scepticism: "Thought becomes perfect thought annihilating the being of the world in the multiple variety of its determinations, and the negativity of free self-consciousness

becomes

real negativity

. .

this multiform configuration of life scepticism corresponds to the realization of this

the heart of

at
>

193

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

consciousness, to the negative attitude in regard to the being who is the other; of fact, what apthus, it corresponds to desire and to work.*' As a matter of the negative spirit pears to me essential in surrealist activity is the descent into work: sceptical negativity becomes concrete; Duch amp's pieces of sugar as well as the fox-table are works, that is, concrete and painstaking destruc-

what scepticism destroys only in words. I shall have as much to say for desire, which is one of the essential structures of surrealist love, and which is, as we know, desire of consuming, of destroying. We see the distance tion of

that has been covered; it exactly resembles the Hegelian avatars of conscious ness: bourgeois analytics and idealistic destruction of the world by digestion.
The attitude of the ralli4 writers deserves the name Hegel gave to stoicism:
"It is only a concept of negativity; it raises itself

above

this life like the spirit

of the master." Surrealism, on the contrary, "penetrates this life like the spirit of the slave." This is certainly its value and, without any doubt, that is the way it can hope to join hands with the worker who experiences his freedom in work. However, the worker destroys in order to construct. By destroying the tree he constructs beams and boards. Thus, he learns the two aspects of is a constructive negativity. Surrealism, borrowing its methods from bourgeois analysis, inverts the process; instead of destroying in order

freedom, which to construct,

alienated;

it

it is

constructs

compounded

in

order to

in a process

destroy.

and the destruction be directly conceived as an end in

as the construction is real

may

also

contestation of sugar, according to the object is necessarily iridescent because

Its

whose end is construction

is

always

annihilation. However,

symbolic, the surrealist object
"marble sugar" or a

itself. It is

way one it is

looks at

represents

the

topsy-turvy and because, as such, it contains within itself tion. That is what permits its constructor to claim that he

The human its own it. is

surrealist

order

as

contradic-

both destroying

the real and is poetically creating a super-reality beyond reality. In fact, the super-real thus constructed becomes one object among others in the the crystallized Indication of the possible destruction of world or it is

only the world. The fox-table of the last Exhibition is as much a syncretic effort to imbue our flesh with a vague sense of woodiness as it is a reciprocal con-

by the living and the living by the inert. The effort of the surrealists aims to present these two aspects of their production in the of the same movement. But the synthesis is lacking; the reason is that

testation of the inert

unity

our authors do not want it. They are content with presenting the two moments as blended in an essential unity and, at the same time, as being ach essential, which does not remove the contradiction. And doubtless the expected result achieved: the created object arouses a tension in the mind of the spectator, it is this tension which is, strictly speaking, the surrealist instant; the itself given thing is destroyed by internal contestation, but the contestation is and

in turn contested by the positive character and the concrete being-there of the creation. But this irritating iridiscence of the imbepossible is, at bottom, nothing, unless it be Ac irreconcilable divergence

and the destruction are

tween the two terms of a contradiction. We have a case of technically provoking Baudelairean dissatisfaction. We have no revelation, no intuition of a

194

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 new no seizure of matter or content, but only the purely formal conmind as a surpassing, an appeal, and an emptiness. I shall again apply to surrealism Hegel's formula on scepticism: "In (surrealism) object, sciousness of the

experiences itself as a consciousness contradicting
Will it at least turn in on itself? Will it bring about a philosophical conversion? Will the surrealist object have the concrete efficiency of the hypothesis of the evil genius? But a second preconception of surrealism intervenes at this point: I have shown that it utterly rejects sub-

consciousness within itself

actually

itself."

jectivity as the free arbiter. Its deep love of materiality (the object and the unfathomable support of its destructions) leads it to profess materialism.
Thus, it immediately covers up the consciousness which it for a moment discovered; it substantiates contradiction. It is no longer a matter of tension of subjectivity but of an objective structure of the universe. Read The Com" municating Vessels: the title as well as the text shows the regrettable absence of any mediation; dream and waking are communicating vessels; that means that there is a merging, an ebb and flow but not a synthetic unity. I know perfectly well what will be said: "But this synthetic unity has to be made and that is precisely the aim which surrealism sets up for itself." "Surrealism," says Mezer, "starts from realities distinct from the conscious and the uncon-

towaid the synthesis of those components." All well and but with what does it propose to do it? What is the instrument of good; mediation?
To see a whole merry-go-round of fairies whirling around a pumpkin (even if it is possible, which I doubt) is to mix dream and reality; it is not to unify scious and goes

new form which would

it, transformed and surpassed, are always on the level of contestation; the real pumpkin supported by the entire real world contests these fading fairies which run about its rind; and vice-versa, the fairies contest

them

in a

retain within

elements of the dream and the real In fact,

we

the gourd. There remains consciousness, tne only witness, the only recourse, this reciprocal destruction; but it is not wanted. Whether we paint or

of

sculpt our dreams, it is sleep which is eaten by waking: the scandalous object, retrieved by the electric lights, presented in a closed room, in the midst of

other objects, two yards and ten inches from one wall and three yards and from another, becomes a thing of the world (I place myself here in the surrealist hypothesis which recognizes the same nature in the use

fifteen inches

as in the perception. It is evident that there would not even be any use in discussing the matter if one thought, as I do, that these natures are radically distinct) insofar as it is a positive creation and only escapes insofar as it is

a pure negativity. Thus, surrealist

man

is

an addition, a mixture, but never

a synthesis.
It is

no accident that our authors owe so much

to psychoanalysis; it ofof "complexes" precisely the model of those contradictory and multiple interpretations which they everywhere make use of and which are without real cohesion. It is true that "complexes'* exist But

fered them under the

name

what has not been sufficiently observed is that they can exist only on the foundation of a previously given synthetic reality. Thus, for surrealism the total man is only the sum total of all his manifestations. Lacking the synthetic

195

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

idea, they have organized whirligigs of contraries; this flutter of 'being and non-being might have been able to reveal subjectivity, just as the contradiction of the sensible sent Plato back to intelligible forms; but their rejection of the subjective has transformed man into a plain haunted house: in that vague atrium of consciousness there appear and disappear self-destructive ob-

which are exactly similar to things. They enter by the eyes or by the back door. Powerful disembodied voices ring out like those which announced the death of Pan, This odd collection brings to mind American neo-realism even more than it does materialism. After this, as a substitute for the synthetic unifications which are effected by consciousness, one will conceive, by participation, a sort of magical unity which manifests itself capriciously and which will be called objective chance. But it is not the inverted image of human activity. One does not liberate a collection; one makes an inventory of it.
And surrealism is just that an inventory. It is only a matter of fighting against the discredit into which certain portions of the human condition have fallen. Surrealism is haunted by the ready-made, the solid; it abhors geneses and births; it never regards creation as an emanation, a passing from the jects potential to the act, a gestation; it is the surging up ex nihilo, the abrupt appearance of a completely formed object which enriches the collection. At

bottom, a discovery. So how could it "deliver man from his monsters"? It has perhaps killed the monsters, but it has also killed man. It will be said that there remains desire. The surrealists have wanted to liberate human desire, they have proclaimed that man was desire. But that is not quite true; they have proscripted a whole category of desires (homosexuality, vices, etc.), without ever justifying this proscription. Then, they have judged it conformable to their hatred of the subjective never to come to know desire except by its products, as psychoanalysis does too. Thus, desire is still a thing,

a collection. But instead of referring back from things (abortive acts, objects of oneiric symbolism, etc.) to their subjective source (which, strictly speaking, is desire) the surrealists remain fixed upon the thing. At bottom, desire is paltry and does not in itself interest them, and then it represents the rational explanation of the contradictions offered by complexes and their products.
One will find very few and rather vague things in Breton about the unconscious and the libido. What interests him a great deal is not raw desire but crystallized desire, what might be called, to borrow an expression of Jaspers, the emblem of desire in the world. What has also struck me among the surrealists or ex-surrealists

whom

I

have known has never been the magnificence
They have led lives which were modest

of their desires or of their freedom.

and full of restraints; their sporadic violence made me think rather of the spasms of a maniac than of a concerted action; as for the rest, they were solidly harpooned by powerful complexes. As far as freeing desire goes, it has always seemed to me that the great roaring boys of the Renaissance or even the Romantics did a great deal more. You may say that, at least, they are great poets. Fine; there we have a meeting-ground. Some naive people have said that I was "anti-poetic" or "against poetry." What an absurd phrase! As well say that I am against air or against water. On the contrary, I recognize in no uncertain terms that surrealism is the only poetic movement of the

196

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 half of the twentieth century; I even recognize that in a certain way contributes to the liberation of man. But what it liberates is neither desire nor the human totality, but pure imagination. Now, the fact is that the purely admission imaginary and praxis are not easily reconciled. I find a touching of this in a surrealist of 1947, whose name seems predisposed to the utmost first it

honesty:
"I

must recognize (and probably

I

am

not alone

among

those

who

are not

my

between feeling of rebellion, easily satisfied) that there is a divergence the reality of my life, and the fields of the battle of poetry which I may be waging, which the works of those who are my friends help me to wage. Despite them, despite myself, I hardly know how to live.
Does recourse to the imaginary, which is a criticism of the social order, which is a protestation and a hastening of history, risk burning the bridges which connect us with other men and, at the same time, with reality? I know that there can be no question of freedom for man himself." Yves

Bonnefoy,* Surrealism in 1947, P. 68).
But between the two wars surrealism spoke in a quite different tone. And it's something quite different that I attacked above concerning the surrealists' singthose ing political manifestoes, their bringing judgment to bear against

among them who did not

stick to the line, their defining a

method of

social

action, their entering the C.P. and leaving it with a flourish, their rapprochement with Trotsky, and their concern about clarifying their position with

regard to Soviet Russia. It's hard for me to believe that they thought they were acting as poets. It may be objected that man is a whole and that he is not to be divided up into a politician and a poet. I agree, and 1 will even

add that I am more at ease for knowing that there are authors who make conscious and reflective efpoetry a product of automatism and politics a iort. But after all it is a truism; it is both true and false. For if man is one and the same, if, in a way, his mark is found everywhere, that does not at

mean that the activities are identical; and if, in each case, they bring the whole mind into question, one need not conclude that they do so in the same way, nor that the success of one justifies the failures of the other.
Besides, does one think that he would be flattering the surrealists by telling them that they have been carrying on political activity as poets? who wants to mark the unity of his
Still, it is reasonable for a writer life and his work to show by a theory the community of aims of his poetry and his practice. But the fact is that this theory can itself only belong to all that is the only thing 1 prose. There is a surrealist prose, and in the pages that are under attack. But surrealism is ing was consider-

hard to pin presents itself as completely involved in if you call it to account, it starts screaming reality, struggle, and life; and that it's pure poetry and that you're murdering it, and that you don't know what poetry is all about. This is shown rather clearly in the following anec-

down;

it

is

Proteus. Sometimes

dote which everyone
*

it

knows but which

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.

is

pregnant with meaning: Aragon had

Bonnefoy

(la

bonne

foi)

good

faith,

honesty. This will explain M. Sartre's play on words in the sentence immediately preceding the quotation.

197

WHAT

On

IS

LITERATURE?

the margin of the prodigal children of the rallies

unexpectedness and madness in their father's house than on the mountain footpaths and the

who found more

the desert, on the margin of the great tenors of despair, of the prodigal youths for whom the hour for returning to the fold had not yet struck, there flourished trails of

a discrete humanism. Prevost, Pierre Bost, Chamson, Aveline, and Beucler were about the same age as Breton and

Drieu. Their debuts were brilliant; Bost was

still

a lycee

boy when Copeau performed his The Imbecile; Prevost, at the cole Normale, was already notorious. But they remained modest in their budding glory; they had no taste for playing the Ariels of capitalism.

They did not

pre-

written a poem which rightly appeared as a provocation to murder; there was talk of legal prosecution; whereupon, the whole surrealist group solemnly asserted the irresponsibility of the poet; the products of automatism were not to be likened to concerted undertakings. However, to anyone who had some experience with automatic writing, it was apparent that Aragon's poem was of a quite different kind. Here was a man quivering with indignation, who, in clear and violent terms, called for the death of the oppressor; the oppressor was stirred to action, and all at once he found before him nothing more than a poet who woke up and rubbed his eyes and was amazed that he was being blamed for his dreams. This is what has just happened again: I attempted a critical examination of the totality of the fact "surrealism" as an engagement in the world, insofar as surrealists were attempting, by means of prose, to make its meanings clear. I was answered that I am harming poets and that I misunderstand their "contribution" to the inner life. But really, they didn't give a rap about the inner life; they wanted to shatter it, to break down the walls between subjective and objective, and to wage the Revolution on the side of the proletariat.

To conclude: surrealism is entering a period of withdrawal; it is breaking
Marxism and the C.P. It wants to demolish the Christian-Thomist edifice stone by stone. Very well, but I should like to know what public it

with

expects to reach. In other words, in what souls it expects to ruin western civilization. It has said over and over again that it could not affect the workers directly and that they were not yet accessible to its action. The facts show

bition?

On

that they are right: the other hand, how

how many workers visited the 1947 Exhimany bourgeois? Thus, its purpose can only

to destroy the last remnants of the Christian myths in the minds of the bourgeois who form their public. That was what I wanted to show.

be negative:

/

198

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 tend to be either

damned

or prophetic.

When

Prevost

was asked why he wrote, he answered, "To earn living." The phrase shocked me

my

at the time because the

remnant of the great literary myths of the nineteenth century were still trailing in my head. Nevertheless he was wrong. One does not write to earn his living. But what I took for facile cynicism was actually a will to think toughly, lucidly, and, if need be, disagreeably. These authors, in complete reaction against satanism and angelism, wanted to be neither saints nor beasts, only men. last Perhaps they were the

who

first

writers since romanticism

did not think of themselves as aristocrats of con-

sumption but rather as workmen in a room, binders or lacemakers.

They did not

like

book-

consider literature

as a trade in order to give themselves license to sell their

wares to the highest bidder, but, on the contrary, to reestablish themselves, without humility or pride, in an industrious society.

One

and then he who clientele. So they too

learns a trade,

has no right to scorn his launched a reconciliation with the public. honest to believe they had genius and to practises it

rights, they trusted

much more

to

Much demand too its hard work than to

inspiration. They lacked perhaps that absurd confidence in their destiny, that iniquitous and blind pride which
1

great men.
They all had that strong self-seeking culture which the Third Republic gave to its future civil-servants. Thus, almost all of them became characterises civil-servants, administrative officers in the
1.

Which has

particularly characterised

them for the

last

Senate and hundred years

because of the misunderstanding which has separated them from the public and has obliged them to decide upon the marks of their talent themselves.

199

WHAT
Chamber,
they came

IS

LITERATURE?

and curators of museums. But, as the most part from modest backgrounds

teachers, for they were not concerned with using their ability to defend bourgeois traditions. They never enjoyed that culture as a historic property; they saw in

only a precious instrument for becoming men. Besides, they had in Alain a master and thinker who detested history. Convinced, like

him, that the moral problem

saw

society in

is

an instantaneous

it

the

same

in all ages, they

cross-section.

Hostile to psychology as well as to the historical sciences, sensitive to social injustice but too Cartesian to believe in the class struggle, their only concern their trade, against passions

and

was

to practise impassioned errors and

will and without weakness against myths, by using reason. They liked the common people, the Parisian work-

men, the craftsmen, the petty bourgeois, the clerks, the wayfarers, and the care they took in telling the stories of these individual destinies sometimes led them into flirting with populism. But this sequel to naturalism was different in that they never admitted that social and psychological determinism formed the web and woof of these humble existences. And, differing from the point of view of socialist realism, they did want to see their heroes as hopeless victims of social oppression. In each case, these moralists applied themselves to showing the role of will, patience, and effort, presenting deficiencies as faults

and

rarely took an interest in exceptional careers, but they wanted to make people see that it is possible to be a man even in adversity.

success as merit.

They

To-day several of them are dead; others are silent or produce only at long intervals. By and large it can be said
200

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 that the writers whose debuts were so brilliant

and who

around 1927 were able to form a "club of those under thirty" have almost all fallen by the wayside. To be sure, individual accidents must be taken into account, but the requires a more general explanation. Indeed, they lacked neither talent nor inspiration, and from the point of view which concerns us, they must fact is

so striking that

it

they renounced the proud solitude of the writer; they liked their public; they did not attempt to justify the privileges which they acquired;

be regarded as precursors:

they did not meditate upon death or upon the impossible; rather they wanted to give us rules for living. They were

widely read, certainly much more than the surrealists.
Yet, if one wishes to mark the chief literary tendencies

between the two wars with a name, it is of surrealism that one will think. What is the reason for their failure? believe explained, paradoxical as it may seem, by the public which they chose for themselves. About
1900, on the occasion of its triumph in the Dreyfuss affair,
I

it is

an industrious and liberal petty bourgeoisie became conscious of itself. It was anti-clerical and republican, antiracist, individualistic, rationalistic

of

its institutions, it

overthrow them. felt itself

was ready

to

and

progressive.

Proud

modify them but not

did not scorn the proletariat, but it too close to it to be conscious of oppressing it. It
It

lived moderately, sometimes uneasily, but it aspired not so much to wealth, or to inaccessible greatness, as it did

improve its way of life within very narrow limits. Above all, it wanted to live. To live by that it meant to choose to :

a trade, to practise it conscientiously and even passionately, to maintain a certain initiative in one's work, to
201

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

to express political representatives, itself freely in state matters, and to raise its children with

control effectively

its

was Cartesian in that it distrusted improvements which were too abrupt and in that, contrary to the romantics who have always hoped that happiness would burst upon them like a catastrophe, it dreamed rather of dignity. It

world. mastering itself than of changing the course of the
55
This class, which has been happily baptized "average, teaches its

sons that there

is

no need

for too

much and

enemy of the good. It is well disposed demands of the working-class provided that

that the best

the

is

toward the these remain on a strictly professional level. It has no hisbourtory and no historical sense, since, unlike the upper nor traditions, nor, unlike the geoisie, it has neither a past

have immense hope for the future.
As it does not believe in God, but needs very strict imwhich it enperatives to give meaning to the privations

working

class,

dures, one of

does

its

a lay morality.

it

intellectual concerns has

The

university,

been

to establish

which belongs completely

to this average class, strove for

twenty years without

success to achieve this through the writings of Durkheim,
Brunschvicg, and Alain. Now, these professors were, directly or indirectly,, the masters of the writers we are now

young people, born of the petty bourgeoisie, taught by petty-bourgeois professors, prepared at the Sorbonne or in the great schools for petty-bourgeois considering. These

professions, returned to their class write. Better

still,

they never

left

when it. they began to
They carried over

morality but improved and subtilized into their novels and short stories, a morality which everybody was this familiar with but whose principles

202

no one has ever

dis-

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

They dwelt upon the

covered.

beauties

and the

risks,

of the profession; they sang love but rather of conjugal friendship and

upon the austere grandeur not of

mad

that enterprise in

common which

is

They

marriage.

founded their humanism upon profession, friendship, social solidarity, and sport. Thus, the petty bourgeoisie which already had its political party, Radical Socialism,

League for Human Rights, its secret society, Freemasonry, and its daily paper, UOeuvre, had writers, and even a literary weekly, which was called, symbolically, Marianne. Chamson, Bost, Prevost, and its mutual aid

society, the

their friends wrote for a public of civil-servants, univer-

higher clerks, doctors, and so on. They literature Radical Socialist. sity people,

Now Radicalism
By 1910

has been the great victim of this war.

had realized its program. For thirty years it on its momentum. By the time it found its was already living on its past. To-day it has

it

has lived writers made

it

definitely disappeared. trative personnel

When

the reform of the adminis-

and the separation of church and

state

had been accomplished, Radical Socialist politics could become only a matter of opportunism; in order to maintain itself for a single moment it presupposed social and international peace. Two wars in twenty-five years and the aggravation of the class struggle have been too much for it; the party has not resisted, but even more than the

party it is the Radical Socialist spirit which has been the victim of circumstances.

These

who

who

did not fight in the first war and did not see the second one coming, who did not want writers, to believe in the exploitation of

203

man

by man, and

who

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

rather bet on the possibility of living honestly and

whom

estly in capitalist society,

which had become

mod-

their class of origin

deprived of the feeling for history without giving them, in compensation, a metaphysical absolute, did not have a sense of the tragic in their public

one of the most tragic of all eras, nor that of death when death threatened all Europe, nor that of Evil when so brief a moment separated them from the most cynical attempt to debase them. They limited themselves, in all honesty, to

which were ordinary and without greatness, while circumstances were forging careers which were exceptional in Evil as well as in Good. On the eve of a poetic springtime more apparent, to be sure, than real their lucidity dispelled within them that double-dealing which is one of the sources of poetry; their morality, which could support the soul in daily life, which perhaps had supported it during the first world war, was restories of lives

vealed as inadequate for great catastrophes. In such times man turns toward Epicureanism or Stoicism and these authors were neither Stoics nor Epicureans

1

or he

asks for help from irrational forces, and they had chosen to see no farther than the boundary of their reason. Thus, history stole their public

from them

the Radical Socialist party. ine, out of disgust, lacking

as

it

stole voters

from

They remained silent, I imagpower to adopt their wisdom

to the follies of

Europe. After twenty years of plying their craft and finding nothing to tell us in the time of misfortune, they have wasted their labor.

So there remains the third generation, our own, which
1.

PreVost declared, more than and corrected by Alain.

once,

revised

204

his

sympathy for Epicurianism

as

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 began to write after the defeat or shortly before the war.
I do not want to talk about it before saying something about the climate in which it appeared. First, the literary climate Each

:

rallies, extremists,

and

of these stars exerted, in

radicals peopled our sky. its way,

own

its

influence

upon our world, and all these influences, combining, managed to form about us the strangest, most irrational, and most contradictory idea of what literature is. We breathed in the air of

which I shall our time. Whatever the

did actually

this idea,

make

call objective,

with

effort these writers

to distinguish themselves

from one an-

works were reciprocally contaminated in the minds of the readers where they co-existed. Moreover, other, their

the differences are sharp and deep, their works have common traits. It is striking, at first, that neither the

if

radicals nor the extremists

were concerned with

history,

although one side aligned itself with the progressive left and the other with the revolutionary left. The first were

on the level of Kierkegaardian repetition; the second were on that of the moment; that is, the aberrant synthesis of eternity

and the

infinitesimal present. In

an age

when we were being crushed by

the pressure of history the literature of the rallies alone offered some taste for

history and some historical sense. of justifying privileges they

But

as

it

was a question

envisaged only the action of the past on the present in the development of societies.
Today, we know the reasons for these refusals, and that they are social the surrealists are clerks, the petty bourgeoisie has neither traditions nor future, the upper bourgeoisie has done with conquest and aims at
:

maintaining

itself.

But these diverse attitudes were compounded to
205

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

to which literature produce an objective myth according

had to choose eternal subjects or at the very which were not of the moment. And then our

least those

elders

had

the one only one fictional technique at their disposal, inherited from the French nineteenth century. Now, there is none more hostile to a historical view of society.

Thus,

rallies

and

radicals have used the traditional

moralists and technique; the latter because they were intellectuals and wanted to understand matters by their

served their purposes. By its systematic denial of change it was better able to bring out the perenniality of bourgeois virtues. Behind the vain, causes, the

former because

it

us catch a glimpse of that fixed and mysterious order, that motionless poetry that they wished to reveal in their works. Thanks to this technique,

forgotten turmoils

it let

new

Eleatics wrote against the age, against change; they discouraged agitators and revolutionaries by making them see their enterprises in the past even before they

these

had begun.

We learned it by reading their books,

was our only means of expression. About the time we were beginning to write, good minds were calculating the "optimum time 35 at the end of which a historical event might and at first

it

be the object of a novel. Fifty years that, it appeared, was too much; one no longer enters into the thing. Ten that wasn't enough; one does not have enough perspec-

we were gently led to see

tive.

Thus,

dom

in literature the king-

of untimely considerations.

Moreover, these hostile groups made alliances among themselves; sometimes the radicals became reconciled with the

rallies.

After

all,

they had in
206

common

the ambi-

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 tion of reconciling themselves with the reader

and of

honestly serving his needs. Doubtless their clienteles differed appreciably, but one passed continually from one to the other,

and the

left

wing of the public of the

ralli6s

formed the right wing of the radical public. On the other hand, if the radical writers sometimes went along for a

way with

traditional politics,

if,

when

the Radical So-

party joined the Popular Front, they all decided together to collaborate in Vendredi, they never concluded an alliance with the extreme literary left, that is, with cialist the surrealists.

The

extremists,

on the contrary, have

though reluctantly, with the

this in

common,

that they both hold a certain ineffable be-

rallies,

that the object of literature

is

yondness which can only be suggested and that it is essentially the imaginary realization of the unrealizable. This particularly palpable when we are dealing with poetry.
Whereas the radicals banished it, so to speak, from literature, the novels of the rallies were steeped in it. This is one of the most important in contemporary literary history, has often been noted; the reason for it has not

fact,

been given.

What

the bourgeois writers really wanted to prove was that there is no life so bourgeois or so humdrum that it has not its poetic beyondness. They considered themselves catalysts of bourgeois poetry.

At the same time the artistic activity

extremists identified all forms of

with poetry, that

is,

with the inconceivable

beyondness of destruction. Objectively,

this

tendency was

expressed at the moment we were beginning to write by the confusion of genres and the mistaken notion of what
207

WHAT the novel

is

essentially.

LITERATURE?

IS

And

it is

not rare, even to-day, for

accuse a work of prose of lacking poetry.
This whole literature is literature with a thesis, since

critics to

these writers, though they vigorously protest to the con-

defend ideologies. Extremists and rallies profess to despise metaphysics. But how shall we name those trary, all

endlessly repeated declarations that

man

is

too large for

himself and, by a whole dimension of his being, escapes psychological and social determinations?

As not to the radicals, while proclaiming that literature

made with

alizing.

fine feelings, their chief concern

In the objective mind,

mendous

was mor-

translated by treoscillations of the concept of literature: it is

pure gratuity itself is

it is

all this is

teaching;

and being reborn from

it

its

exists

only by denying ashes; it is the exquisite,

the impossible, the ineffable beyond language it is an austere profession which addresses a specific clientele, tries to clarify its needs,

and

The

strives to satisfy

them. It

is

then come along and try, for their convenience, to unify these opposite concepts; they invent the notion of the message, which we terror, it is rhetoric.

critics

spoke of earlier.
Everything, to be~sure,

is

a message. There

and of

is

a message

what they were unwilling to say, what criticism made them say in spite of themselves. Whence a new theory is added to the preceding ones; in these delicate and self -destroying works where the word is only a hesitant guide which stops half-way and lets the reader continue on his way alone and whose truth is quite beyond language, in an undifof Gide, of

Chamson,

of Breton,

208

course,

it is

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 ferentiated silence,

always the unintentional contribution of the writer which has chief importance.

A work

is

it is

never beautiful unless

it

in

some way escapes

author. If he paints himself without planning to, if his characters escape his control and impose their whims its the words maintain a certain independence under his pen, then he does his best work. Boileau would

upon him,

if

be completely dumbfounded

if

he read

this

kind of state-

ment, which one frequently finds in the articles of our critics: "the author knows too well what he wants to say; he is too lucid; the words come too easily; he does whatever he wants with his pen; he is not dominated by his
55

subject.

Unfortunately, everybody is in agreement on this point.
For the rallies, the essence of the work is the poetry, thus, the beyond and, by an imperceptible gliding, which escapes the author himself, the part of the Devil. For the surrealist the only valid

Even the art is

mode

of writing

is

radicals, following Alain, insist that a

never finished until

resentation

and that

it

that every lasting

Well and good,

is

correct,

it,

infinitely

amounts

to

reader's role in the constitution of the

work; but at the time short, the objective

of

has become a collective repthen contains, by virtue of all

This idea, which, moreover,

making evident the

work

it

that generations of readers have put into more than at the moment of its conception.

is

automatism.

it

helped increase the confusion. In

myth inspired by these work has its secret.

contradictions

were a secret of fabrication; but no, it starts at the point where technique and will leave off. Something from above is reflected in the work of art if it

209

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and breaks like sunlight on the waves. To put it briefly, from pure poetry to automatic writing the literary climate is Platonism. In this mystical epoch which is without or rather dishonestly mystical, a major literary current leads the writer to surrender before his work as faith, a political current leads

him

to surrender before the

party. It is said that Fra Angelico painted on his knees; if that is true, many writers resemble him, but go much

further than he; they think that one's knees to write well.

it is

enough

to write

on

When we

were still schoolboys on the lycee benches or in the Sorbonne amphitheatres, the leafy shadow of the itself beyond spread

and deceptive sible purity.

fied

and the

over literature.

We

knew

the bitter

taste of the impossible, of purity, of

We

felt

Ariels of accomplishment.

one could save

impos-

ourselves to be in turn the unsatis-

We

believed that

by art, and then, the following term, that one never saved anything and that art was the lucid and desperate balance sheet of our perdition.
We swung between terror and rhetoric, between literhis life

ature-as-martyrdom and literature-as-profession. If someone were to amuse himself by carefully reading our writings he would doubtless find there, like scars, the traces of these varying temptations but he would have to have

time to waste.

That is

very far away from us now. However, since it is by writing that the author forges his ideas on the art of writing, the collectivity lives on the literary concepall tions of the preceding generation,

and the

have understood them twenty years

late are quite

to use

them

as touchstones to

210

critics

who

happy

judge contemporary works.

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

The

literature of the period

between the wars has a

hard time of it these days. Georges Bataille's reflections on the impossible do not have the value of the slightest surrealistic tract. His theory of expense is a feeble echo of great days which are past. Lettrism is a substitute prod-

and conscientious imitation of Dadaist exuberance. One's heart is no longer in it; one feels the application and the haste to succeed. Neither Andre Dhotel nor
Marius Groult are worth Alain Fournier. Many former surrealists have joined the Communist Party like the
Saint Simonians who, around 1880, turned up on boards of directors of big business. Neither Cocteau nor Mauriac nor Green has any challengers Giraudoux has a hundred, but all mediocre. Most of the radicals are silent. The reason is that the gap has been revealed not between the author and his public which, after all, would be in the great literary tradition but between the literary myth and the historical reality. uct, a flat

;

We

gap about 1930, quite a while
1
before publishing our first books. It was about this time that most Frenchmen were stupefied on discovering
1. If

started feeling this

I

did not speak of Marlaux or Saint-Exupry earlier,

it

is

because

they belong to our generation. They were writing before we were and are doubtless a little older than we. But whereas we needed the urgency and the physical reality of a conflict in order to discover ourselves, Malraux of recognizing as early as his first work that we were at

immense merit

had the war and

of producing a war literature when the surrealists and even Drieu were devoting themselves to a literature of peace. As to Saint-Exupery, against the subjectivism and the quietism of our predecessors he was able to sketch the

chief features of a literature of

work and

tool. I shall

show

later that

he

is the

precursor of a literature of construction which tends to replace the literature of consumption. War and construction, heroism and work, doing, having and it will be seen, at the end of this chapter, that these are the chief being literary

and philosophical themes of today. Consequently, when can speak of them too.

I believe that I

211

I

say "we",

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

their historicity.

that

man

plays

They had, and wins or

of course, learned at school loses in the womb of univer-

but they did not apply it to their own case.
They thought in a vague sort of way that it was all right for the dead to be historical. The striking thing about sal history,

they always unfold on the eve of the great events which exceed forecasts, disappoint expectations, upset plans, and bring new lights to bear on the years that have gone by. We have here a case of lives of the past is that

trickery, a perpetual juggling, as

if

men were

all

like

Charles Bovary who, discovering after his wife's death the letters she had received from her lovers, all at once

saw twenty years

of conjugal happiness

which had

al-

ready been lived slipping away.
In the century of the airplane and electricity we did not think that we were exposed to these surprises. It

seem

we were on

the eve of anything.
On the contrary, we had the vague pride of feeling that it was the day after the last disruption of history. Even if didn't to us that

by German re-armament, we thought that we were moving on a long, straight road and we felt certain that our lifetime would be uniquely woven of individual circumstances and marked by scientific discoveries and happy reforms.

we were

at times disturbed

From 1930
Nazism, and

on, the world depression, the coming of the events in China opened our eyes. It

seemed as if the ground were going to fall from under us, and suddenly, for us too, the great historical juggling began. The first years of the great world Peace suddenly had to be regarded as the years between wars. Each sign of promise which we had greeted had to be seen as a
212

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

Each day we had lived revealed its true face; we had abandoned ourselves to it trustingly and it was leading us to a new war with secret rapidity, with a rigor threat. hidden beneath

its

nonchalant

airs.

And

our

life

as

an

in-

had seemed to depend upon our efforts, our virtues, and our faults, on our good and bad luck, on the good and bad will of a very small number of people, seemed governed down to its minutest details by obscure and collective forces, and its most private circumstances seemed to reflect the state of the whole world. dividual which

All at once

we

felt

ourselves abruptly situated.

The detachment which our

predecessors were so fond

had become impossible. There was a collective adventure which was taking form in the future and which would be our adventure. That was what would later permit our generation, with its Ariels and its Calibans, to be dated. Something was awaiting us in the future shadow, something which would reveal us to of practising

ourselves, perhaps in the illumination of a last

moment,

before annihilating us. The secret of our gestures and our most intimate designs lay ahead of us in the catas-

trophe to which our names would be attached.
Historicity flowed in upon us; in everything

we

touched, in the air we breathed, in the page we read, in the one we wrote; in love itself we discovered, like a taste of history, so to speak, a bitter and ambiguous mixture of the absolute and the transitory. What need

had we

patiently to construct self-destructive objects since each of the moments of our life was subtly whisked away from us at the very time that we were enjoying it, since each prevent that

we

lived with gusto, like

213

an ab-

WHAT solute, have

IS

LITERATURE?

was struck with a

secret death,

its

meaning outside

of

itself,

seemed

to us to

for other eyes

which

yet seen the light, and, in a way, to be already past in its very presence? Besides, what did surrealist destruction, which leaves everything in place, matter to us,

had not

when a

destruction by sword thing, surrealism included?

and

fire

threatened every-

Miro who painted a Destruction of
Painting. But incendiary bombs could destroy the painting and its destruction together. We would no longer have dreamed of crying up the exquisite virtues of the bourgeoisie. To do that we would have had to believe that they were eternal, but did we know whether the
French bourgeoisie would exist tomorrow? Nor of teaching, as the radicals had done, the means of leading in peace-time the life of an honest man, when our greatest care was to know whether one could remain a man in
It

was, I believe,

war-time.

The

pressure of history suddenly revealed to us the interdependence of nations. An incident in Shanghai was

a scissor-stroke in our destiny, but at the same time it replaced us, in spite of ourselves, in the national col-

We

very soon had to realize that the traveling of our elders, their sumptuous voyages abroad, and the lectivity. whole ceremonial of tourism on the grand scale, was an illusion. Everywhere they went they carried France with them. They travelled because France had won the war and the exchange was favorable. They followed the franc.
Like the franc, they had more access to Seville and
Palermo than to Zurich and Amsterdam.

As

for us,

when we were
214

old enough to

make our

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 world tour, autarchy had killed off the novels about the

grand tour, and then, we no longer had the heart to

With a perverse taste for standardizing the world, they amused themselves with finding the imprint of capitalism everywhere. We would have found, without any difficulty, a much more obvious uniformity travel. cannons everywhere.

And

then, whether travellers or

which threatened our country, we had understood that we were not citizens of the world since we could not make ourselves be Swiss,
Swedish, or Portuguese. The destiny of our works themselves were bound to that of a France in danger. Our elders wrote for idle souls, but for the public which we, in our turn, were going to address the vacation was over. It was composed of men of our sort who, like us, were expecting war and death. For these readers withnot, in the face of the conflict

out leisure, occupied without respite with a single concern, there was only one fitting subject. It was about their

war and

their death that

integrated into history, we a literature of historicity.

we had

to write. Brutally re-

had no choice but

to

produce

But what makes our position original, I believe, is that the war and the occupation, by precipitating us into a world in a state of fusion, perforce made us rediscover the absolute at the heart of relativity itself. For our predecessors the rule of the game was to save everybody,

because suffering is atoned for, because nobody is bad voluntarily, because man's heart is unfathomable, beshared equally. That meant that literature apart from the Surrealist extreme left which tended to establish a sort of simply spread mischief cause divine grace

is

215

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

moral relativism. Christians no longer believed in hell.
Sin was the place devoid of God; carnal love was love of God gone

astray.

As democracy tolerated all opinions, even those which aimed expressly at destroying it, republican humanism, which was taught in the schools, made tolerance the primary virtue. Everything would be tolerated, even intolerance. Hidden truths had to be recognized in the silliest ideas, in the vilest feelings. For Leon Brunschvicg,

who all his life assimilated, and who shaped three genera-

the philosopher of the regime,

and integrated, tions, evil and error were only false shows, fruits of separation, limitation, and finiteness. They were annihilated as soon as one overthrew the barriers which compartmentalized systems and collectivities. unified, The

radicals followed Auguste Comte in this, that they held progress to be the development of order; thus, order

was already

there, in posse, like the hunter's

illustrated puzzles. It

was only a matter

cap in the

of discovering

That was how they passed their time; it was their spiritual exercise. They thereby justified everything it. starting with themselves.

The Marxists

at .least recognized the reality of opprescapitalist imperialism, of the class struggle and

and misery. But the effect of dialectical materialism, as I have shown elsewhere, is to make Good and Evil vanish conjointly. There remains only the historical process, and sion then Stalinist

communism

does not attribute so

much

im-

portance to the individual that his sufferings and even his death cannot be redeemed if they help to hasten the

day when power

is

seized.

216

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

The

notion of Evil, which had been abandoned, had
Antifallen into the hands of some Manichaeans
Semites, fascists, anarchists of the right justify their bitterness, their envy,

and

who

used

it

to

their lack of un-

derstanding of history. That was enough to discredit it.
For political realism as for philosophical idealism Evil was not a very serious matter.

We

have been taught to take it seriously. It is neither our fault nor our merit if we lived in a time when

was a daily

Chateaubriand, Oradour, the
Rue des Saussaies, Tulle, Dachau, and Auschwitz have all demonstrated to us that Evil is not an appeartorture

ance, that

knowing

fact.

cause does not dispel it, that it is as a confused idea is to a clear one,

its

not opposed to Good that is not the effects of passions which might be cured, of a fear which might be overcome, of a passing aberra-

which might be excused, of an ignorance which might be enlightened, that it can in no way be diverted, brought back, reduced, and incorporated into idealistic humanism, like that shade of which Leibnitz has written tion necessary for the glare of daylight.
Satan, Maritain once said, is pure. Pure, that is, without mixture and without remission. have learned to that it is

We

know

this horrible, this irreducible purity. It blazes forth

and almost sexual rapport between the executioner and his victim. For torture is first of all a matter of debasement. Whatever the sufferings which have been in the close

endured,

it

is

the victim

who

decides, as a last resort,

what the moment is when they are unbearable and when he must talk. The supreme irony of torture is that the sufferer, if he breaks down and talks, applies his will as
217

WHAT a man

to

IS

LITERATURE?

denying that he

is

a man, makes himself the

accomplice of his executioners and, by his

own movement,

precipitates himself into abjection. The executioner is aware of this; he watches for this weakness, not only be-

cause he will obtain the information he desires, but be-

prove to him once again that he is right in using torture and that man is an animal who must be led with a whip. Thus, he attempts to destroy the humanity in his fellow-creature. Also, as a consequence, in himself; he cause will

it

knows that the groaning, sweating, filthy creature who begs for mercy and abandons himself in a swooning consent with the moanings of an amorous woman, and who yields everything and is even so carried away that he improves upon his betrayals because the consciousness that he has done evil is like a stone around his neck dragging

him

still

that he self as

farther down, exists also in his own image and is bearing down upon himthe executioner

much

as

upon

he wishes, on his own degradation, he has no other

his victim. If

account, to escape this total recourse than to affirm his blind faith in an iron order

which

like

short, to

a corset confines our repulsive weaknesses

commit man's

destiny to the hands of

in

inhuman

powers.

A moment

comes when torturer and tortured are in accord, the former because he has, in a single victim, symbolically gratified his hatred of all mankind, the latter because he can bear his failing only by pushing it to the limit, and because the only way he can endure his selfhatred

men

along with himself.
Later, perhaps, the executioner will be hanged. Perhaps the victim, if he recovers, will be redeemed. But what will is by hating

all

other

218

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 blot out this

muned

Mass

in

which two freedoms have com-

in the destruction of the

human?

We

knew

that,

was being celebrated everywhere in
Paris while we were eating, sleeping, and making love.
We heard whole blocks screaming and we understood that Evil, fruit of a free and sovereign will, is, like Good, to a certain extent,

it

absolute.

Perhaps a day will come when a happy age, looking back at the past, will see in this suffering and shame one of the paths which led to peace. But we were not on the

We

side of history already made. were, as I situated in such a way that every lived minute

have said, seemed to

us like something irreducible. Therefore, in spite of ourselves, we came to this conclusion, which will seem shock-

ing to lofty souls: Evil cannot be redeemed.
But, on the other hand, most of the resisters, though beaten, burned, blinded, and broken, did not speak. They

broke the circle of Evil and reaffirmed the themselves, for us,

and

human

for their very torturers.

for

They did

without witness, without help, without hope, often even without faith. For them it was not a matter of be-

it

lieving in

man

but of wanting

to.

Everything conspired

discourage them: so many indications everywhere about them, those faces bent over them, that misery within them. Everything concurred in making them beto

were only insects, that man is the impossible dream of spies and squealers, and that they would awaken as vermin like everybody else.
This man had to be invented with their martyrized flesh, with their hunted thoughts which were already invented on the basis of nothing, for betraying them lieve that they

219

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

human nothing, in absolute gratuity. For it is within the that one can distinguish means and ends, values and preferences, but they were still at the creation of the world and they had only to decide in sovereign fashion whether there would be anything more than the reign of the animal within it. They remained silent and man was born of their silence.

We

knew

that every

in the four corners of Paris,

moment

man was

of the day, a hundred times

destroyed and reaffirmed.

Obsessed as

we were by

these tortures, a

week did not

we

did not ask ourselves: "Suppose I were tortured, what would I do?" And this question alone carried us to the very frontiers of ourselves and of the human.

go by that

We oscillated denies itself

between the no-man's-land where mankind and the barren desert from which it surges

Those who had immediately preceded us in the world, who had bequeathed us their culture, their wisdom, their customs, and their proverbs, who had built the houses that we lived in and who had marked the

and creates

itself.

routes with the statues of their great men, practiced modest virtues and remained in the moderate regions.

Their faults never caused them to

low that they beneath them who were more guilty,

did not find others^ nor did their merits cause

them

fall so

to rise so high that they

did not see other souls above them whose merit was

men farther than the eye they made use of and which

greater. Their gaze encountered

can reach. The very sayings we had learned from them

"a fool always finds a bigger fool to admire him," "we always need someone smaller than ourselves" their very manner of consoling themselves in affliction

by

telling themselves that,

220

whatever

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 their unhappines,

goes to

and

there

were

others

worse

show that they considered mankind

infinite milieu that

off,

all

as a natural

one could never leave and whose

be touched. They died with a good conscience and without ever having explored their condition. limits could not

Because of

this,

gave them a literature could no longer find it nat-

their writers

of average situations. But we ural to be men when our best friends,

they were taken, could choose only between abjection and heroism, that is, between the two extremes of the human condition, beif

yond which there is no longer anything. If they were cowards and traitors, all men were above them; if heroic, all men were below them. In the latter case, which was the more frequent, they no longer felt humanity as a limitless milieu. It was a thin flame within them which they alone kept alive. It kept

itself

going in the silence

which they opposed to their executioners. About them was nothing but the great polar night of the inhuman and of unknowingness, which they did not even see, which they divined in the glacial cold which transpierced them.
Our fathers always had witnesses and examples available. For these tortured men, there were no longer any,
It was Saint-Exupery who said in the course of a dangerous mission, "I am my own witness." The same for all of them; anguish and forlornness and the sweating of blood begin for a man when he can no longer have any other witness than himself. It is then that he drains the cup, that he experiences his human condition to the bitter end. Of course, we are quite far from having all felt this anguish, but it haunted us like a threat and a promise.
Five years. We lived entranced and as we did not take
221

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

our profession of writer lightly, this state of trance still reflects itself in our writings. We have undertaken to create a literature of extreme situations. I am not at all

we

are superior to our elders. Quite the contrary. Bloch-Michel, who has earned the right to talk, has said that fewer virtues are needed in great cir-

claiming that in this

cumstances than in small.

It is

not for

me

to decide

whether he is right or whether it is better to be a Jansenist than a Jesuit. I rather think that there must be something of everything and that the same man cannot be one

and the other

at the

same

time.

are Jansenists because the age has made us such, and insofar as it has made us touch our limits I shall say that we are all metaphysical writers. I think

Therefore,

we

many among us would deny this

designation or would not accept it without reservations, but this is the result of a misunderstanding. For metaphysics is not a sterile disthat

which have nothing to do a living effort to embrace from

cussion about abstract notions

with experience. It is within the human condition in

its totality.

Forced by circumstances to discover the pressure of history, as Torricelli discovered atmospheric pressure, and tossed by the cruelty of the time into that forlornness from where one can see our condition as man to the very limit, to the absurd, to the night of unknowingness,

we have

a

which we may not be strong enough (this is not the first time that an age, for want of talents, has lacked its art and its philosophy). It is to create a literature which unites and reconciles the metaphysical absolute and the relativity of the historical fact, and which I shall call, for want of a better name, the literature of great circumtask for

222

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947
1

not a question for us of escaping into the eternal or of abdicating in the face of what the unspeakstances.

able

It is

Mr. Zaslavsky

calls in

Pravda the

"historical proc-

55

ess.

The

and which remain our questions are of another order. How can one make himself a man in, by, and for history? Is there a possible synthesis between our unique and irreducible consciousness and our relativity; that is, between a dogmatic humanism and a perspectivism? What is the relationship between morality and politics? How, considering our deeper questions

which our age puts

intentions,

are

we

to take

to us

up the

objective of our acts? can rigorously attack these consequences problems in the abstract by philosophical reflection. But if we want to live them, to support our thoughts by those

We

and concrete experiences which are what novels are, we have at our disposal the technique which I have already analyzed here and whose ends are rigorously op-

fictive

posed to our designs. Specially perfected to relate the events of an individual life within a stable society, it enabled

the

novelist

to

and exthe involutions, and the

record,

describe,

plain the weakening, the vections, slow disorganization of a particular system in the middle of a universe at rest. But from 1940 on, we found our-

midst of a cyclone. If we wished to orient ourselves in it we suddenly found ourselves at grips with

selves in the

1. What are Camus, Marlaux, Koestler, etc. now producing if not a literature of extreme situations? Their characters are at the height of power or

in prison cells, on the eve of death or of being tortured or of killing. Wars, coups d'tat, revolutionary action! bombardments, massacres. There you have their everyday life. On every page, in every line, it is always the whole man

who

is in

question.

223

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

a problem of a higher order of complexity, exactly as a quadratic equation is more complex than a linear. It was a matter of describing the relationship of different partial systems to the total system which contains them when both are in movement and the movements condi-

tion each other reciprocally.
In the stable world of the pre-war French novel, the author, placed at a gamma point which represented abso-

had fixed guide-marks at his disposal to determine the movements of his characters. But we, involved in a system in full evolution, could only know relative movements. Whereas our predecessors thought that they could keep themselves outside of history and that they had soared to heights from which they could judge events as lute rest,

they really were, circumstances have plunged us into our time. But since we were in it, how could we see it as a

whole? Since we were situated, the only novels we could dream of were novels of situation, without internal narrators or all-knowing witnesses. In short,

if

we wished

to

give an account of our age, we had to make the technique of the novel shift from Newtonian mechanics to generalized relativity; we had to people our books with minds that were half lucid and half overcast, some of which we

might consider with more sympathy than others, but none of which would have a privileged point of view either

upon the event or upon himself. We had to present creatures whose reality would be the tangled and contradictory tissue of each one's evaluations of all the other charhimself included acters and the evaluation by all

the others of himself, and who could never decide from within whether the changes of their destinies came from
224

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 their own

efforts,

from

their

own

faults, or

from the

course of the universe.
Finally,

we had

to leave doubts, expectations,

unachieved throughout our works, leaving

it

and the

up

to the

reader to conjecture for himself by giving him the feeling, without giving him or letting him guess our feeling, that his view of the plot and the characters was merely one

among many

others.

But, on the other hand, as I have just pointed out, our very historicity reinstated us because from day to day we

were living that absolute which it had seemed at first to take away from us. If our plans, our passions, and our acts were explicable and relative from the viewpoint of past history, they again took on in this forlornness the uncertainty and the risks of the present, their irreducible density. We

were not unaware of the fact that a time would
:ome when historians would be able to survey from all ingles this stretch of time which we lived feverishly iiinute by minute, when they would illuminate our past
3y our future and would decide upon the value of our andertakings by their outcome and upon the sincerity of
)ur intentions by their success. But the irreversibility of

We

xir age belonged only to us. had to save or lose our;elves gropingly in this irreversible time. These events

and we had to do our job n the face of the incomprehensible and the untenable, to

Dounced upon us

like thieves

without evidence, to undertake in un:ertainty and persevere without hope. Our age would be explained, but no one could keep it from having been in)et,

to conjecture

explicable to us.

No

one could remove the bitter
225

taste,

WHAT the taste

it

will

disappear with

The

IS

LITERATURE?

have had for us alone and which

will

us.

novels of our elders related the event as having

taken place in the past. Chronological order permitted the reader to see the logical and universal relationship,

The

change was already understood. A past was delivered to us which had already been thought through. Perhaps two centuries from now an author who may decide to write a historical novel the eternal verities.

slightest

about the war of 1940 may find this a suitable technique.
But if it occurred to us to meditate on our future writings,

we were convinced

that no art could really be ours did not restore to the event its brutal freshness, its biguity, its

unforeseeability,

actual course, to the world ity, and

to

man

am-

did restore to time

if it

its

if it

rich

its

and threatening opac-

his long patience.

We did not want to delight our public with its superiora dead world

we wanted

to take

by the throat.
Let every character be a trap, let the reader be caught in it, and let him be tossed from one consciousness to anity to

it

other as from one absolute and irremediable universe to

another similarly absolute;

let

him be uncertain

of the

very uncertainty of the heroes, disturbed by thfir disturbance, flooded with their present, docile beneath the

weight of their future, invested with their perceptions and feelings as by high insurmountable cliffs. In short,

him feel movement of let that every one of their moods and every their minds encloses all mankind and is, in

time and place, in the

womb

of history and, despite the perpetual juggling of the present by the future, a descent without recourse toward Evil or an ascent toward its 226

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

what works and explains the success we have accorded Kafka's those of the American novelists. As for Kafka, everything has been said: that he wanted to paint a picture of bu-

Good which no

future will be able to contest. This

is

of the reaucracy, the progress of disease, the condition tranJews in eastern Europe, the quest for inaccessible

scendence, and the world of grace when grace is lacking.
This is all true. Let me say that he wanted to describe

But what we were particularly sensitive to was that this trial perpetually in session, which ends abruptly and evilly, whose judges are unknown and the human

condition.

out of reach, in the vain efforts of the accused to know the leaders of the prosecution, in this defense patiently assembled which turns against the defender and figures in the evidence for the prosecution, in this absurd present

which the characters live with great earnestness and whose keys are elsewhere, we recognize history and ourselves in history.

We were far from Flaubert and Mauriac.
Kafka, at the very

least,

a

new way

There was

in

of presenting destinies

which were tricked and undermined at their foundation, which were lived minutely, ingeniously, and modestly, of rendering the irreducible truth of appearances and of making felt beyond them another truth which will always be denied

us.

rewrite him.

One does not imitate Kafka. One does not
One had to extract a precious encourage-

ment from his books and look elsewhere.
As for the Americans, it was not their cruelty or pessimism which moved us. We recognized in them men who had been swamped, lost in too large a continent as we were in history and who tried, without traditions, with
227

WHAT the means

IS

LITERATURE?

available, to render their stupor

in the midst of incomprehensible events.

and forlornness

The

success of

Faulkner, Hemingway, and Dos Passos was not the effect of snobbism, or at least, not at first. It was the defense reflex of a literature which, feeling itself threatened

because

its

techniques and

its

myths were no longer go-

cope with the historical situation, grafted foreign methods upon itself in order to be able to ful-

ing to allow fill its

it

to

new situations. very moment that we were

function in

Thus, at the facing the public, circumstances forced us to break with our predecessors.
They had chosen literary idealism and had presented us with events through a privileged subjectivity. For torical relativism,
2

subjectivities,

us, his-

by positing the a priori equivalent of

restored to the living event

all its

all

value and

2. Of course, some minds are richer than others, more intuitive, or better qualified for analysis or synthesis. Some of them are even prophetic and some are in a better position to foresee because they hold certain cards in their

hand or because they discern a broader horizon. But these differences are a posteriori and the evaluation of the present and the near future remains conjectural. For us too the event appears only through subjectivities. But its transcendence conies from the fact that it exceeds them all because it extends

through them and reveals to each person a different aspect of

itself

and of

himself.

Thus, our technical problem is to find an orchestration of consciousnesses which may permit us t<* render the multidimensionality of the event. Moreover, in giving up the fiction of the omniscient narrator, we have assumed the obligation of suppressing the intermediaries between the reader and the subjectivities the viewpoints of our characters. It is a matter of having him enter into their minds as into a windmill. He must even coincide successively with each one of them. We have learned from Joyce to look for a second kind of realism, the raw realism of subjectivity without mediation or distance.

Which

leads us to profess a third realism, that of temporality. Indeed, if we plunge the reader into a consciousness, if we refuse him all means of surveying the whole, then the time of this consciousness must be

without mediation

imposed upon him without abridgment. page, the reader

This

If

I

pack

six

months

into

a single

jumps out of the book.

last aspect raises difficulties that

228

none of us has resolved and which

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 led us back, in literature, to dogmatic realism by way of absolute subjectivism. They thought that they were justifying, at least apparently, the foolish business of storytelling

by

plicitly or

ceaselessly bringing to the reader's attention, ex-

by

an author.

allusion, the existence of

We hope

by themselves and that their words, instead of pointing backwards toward the one who has designed them, will be toboggans, forgotten, unnoticed, and solitary, which will hurl the reader that our books remain in the air

into the midst of a universe in short, that our books

where there are no witnesses; exist in the

may

things, of plants, of events,

all

and not

at first

manner like of

prod-

We want to drive providence from our works as we have driven it from our world. We should, I believe,

ucts of

man.

no longer define beauty by the form nor even by the matter,

I

but by the density of being.

have shown

how

3
55

"retrospective

literature denotes

the taking of a position from which one surveys the whole of society and how those who choose to narrate from the

viewpoint of past history seek to deny their body, their are perhaps partially insoluble, for it is neither possible nor desirable to limit novels to the story of a single day. Even if one should resign himself to that, the fact would remain that devoting a book to twenty-four hours rather

all

than to one, or to an hour rather than to a minute, implies the intervention of the author and a transcendent choice. It will then be necessary to mask this choice by purely aesthetic procedures, to practice sleight of hand, and, as al-

ways in
3.

art, to lie

From

in order to be true.

this viewpoint, absolute objectivity, that

is,

the story in the third

person which presents characters solely by their conduct and words without explanation or incursion into their inner life, while preserving strict chronological order, is rigorously equivalent to absolute subjectivity. Logically, to be sure, it might be claimed that there is at least a witnessing consciousness, that of the reader. But the fact is that the reader forgets to see himself while

he looks and the story retains for him the innocence of a virgin forest whose trees grow far from sight.

229

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

This leap into the direct effect of the divorce which I have

historicity,

and the

the eternal

is

irreversibility of time.

pointed out between the writer and his public. Vice-versa, it will be understood without difficulty that our decision to re-integrate the absolute into history is accompanied by an effort to confirm this reconciliation of author and

reader which the radicals and the

rallies

had already

undertaken.

When

the writer thinks that he has pathways to the eternal, he is beyond comparison. He has the benefit of an illumination which he can not communicate to the

vulgar throng which crawls beneath him. But if it has occurred to him to think that one does not escape his

by fine sentiments, that there is no privileged consciousness anywhere, that belles-lettres are not lettres de noblesse, that the best way to be bowled over by one's age is to turn one's back on it or to pretend to be above class and that one does not transcend it by running away from it but by taking hold of it in order to change it, that is, by going beyond it toward the immediate future, then he is writing for everybody and with everybody because the problem which he is trying to solve by means of his it, own talents is everybody's problem. Besides, those among us who collaborated in the underground newspapers addressed themselves in their articles to the whole com-

munity. We were not prepared for this kind of thing and we turned out to be not very clever; the literature of resistance did not

But

this

produce anything to get excited about. experience made us feel what a literature of the

concrete universal might be.

In these anonymous

articles

230

we

practised, in general,

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 only pure negativity. In the face of a manifest opposition and the myth it was shaping from day to day to sustain

Most

of the time our job was to criticize a political action, to denounce an arbitrary measure, to warn against a man or against propaspirituality

itself,

ganda, and

was

dissent.

when we happened

had been deported or

shot,

it

to glorify someone who was for having had the

courage to say no. Against the vague and synthetic notions

which were crammed

into us

day and night, Europe,

Race, the Jew, the anti-bolshevik crusade,

we had

to re-

awaken the old spirit of analysis which alone was capable of tearing them to pieces. Thus, our function seemed a humble echo of the one which the eighteenth-century writers had so brilliantly fulfilled. But as we could not address the oppressor, as Diderot and Voltaire could, except by literary fiction, be it only to have made them ashamed of their oppression, as we never had relations with them, that we

we were

tising

did not have the illusion of these authors

escaping our oppressed condition by prac-

our profession.

On

the contrary, from within oppression itself we depicted to the oppressed collectivity of which we were

part skill, its

anger and

more

talent,

With more luck, more more cohesion, and more drive, we its hopes.

might have been able to write the interior monologue of occupied France. Moreover, even if we might have managed it, there would have been no reason for glorifying

The National Front grouped its members
Those among us who worked for the Re-

us inordinately.

by profession. sistance in their specialty could not ignore the fact that the doctors, the engineers, and the railway workers were, 231

WHAT IS LITERATURE? in their speciality, doing a job of far greater importance.
Whatever the case may be there was the risk that after

was easy

the liberation this attitude, which

for us be-

cause of the great tradition of literary negativity, might turn into systematic negation and might once again bring about the divorce of writer and public; because

we were

at war,

we

glorified all

forms of destruction;

desertions, refusals to obey, derailing of trains, setting

harvests on

fire,

and criminal

The war was

over.

By

attacks.

persisting in this attitude,

we

might have joined the surrealist group and all those who make of art a permanent and radical form of destruction. But 1945 does not resemble 1918. It was fine to invoke the flood upon a victorious and smug France which thought that it would dominate Europe. The flood

What

remains to be destroyed? The great metaphysical destruction of the other post-war period was carried on joyously, in a spirit of unleashed explosion. has come.

To-day, there ship. is

the threat of war, famine,

We are again super-charged.

and

dictator-

1918 was holiday- time.

A

bonfire might be built of twenty centuries of culture and accumulations. To-day the fire would go out by itself or would refuse to catch. It will be a long time before

the holiday season comes round again.
In this age of lean cows, literature refuses to link

its

destiny to that of consumption, which is too precarious.
In a rich oppressive society art can still be taken for

the supreme luxury because luxury seems the mark of civilization. But to-day luxury has lost its sacred character.

The

enon of

black market has turned

it

into a

phenom-

social disintegration. It has lost the aspect of

232

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 half "conspicuous consumption" which made up charm. One hides himself in order to consume; one

its

at the top of the social
An art of pure consumphierarchy, but on the margin. tion would be neither here nor there. It would no longer isolates himself;

one

is

no longer

be supported by solid luxury, whether culinary or sartorial. It might just barely provide a handful of privileged souls with solitary escapes, onanistic pleasures,

and the opportunity to miss the old sweetness of living.
When the whole of Europe is preoccupied before nations deeverything else with reconstruction, when in order to export, literprive themselves of necessities ature, (which, like the tions and saves

itself,

Church, adapts

itself to all situa-

come what may)

reveals

its

other

Writing is not living. Neither is it running away from life in order to contemplate Platonic essences and the archetype of beauty in a world at rest. Nor is it face. be slashed, as by swords, by words which, unfamiliar and not understood, come up to us from behind. It is the practising of a profession, a profession

letting oneself

which requires an apprenticeship, sustained work, professional consciousness, and the sense of responsibility.
It is not we who have discovered these responsibilities.
Quite the contrary. For a hundred years the writer has been dreaming of giving himself to his art in a sort of innocence, beyond Good and Evil, and, so to speak, before the fall. It is society which has just laid our burdens and our duties on our shoulders. It must think that we are quite formidable since it condemned to death a hundred of us who collaborated with the enemy while it left

manufacturers

who were

guilty of the

233

same crime

at

WHAT liberty. It is said

IS

LITERATURE?

nowadays that

it

the Atlantic wall than to talk about

was better it, I

to build

don't find that

particulary scandalizing.

To be

sure,

it is

because

we

are pure consumers that

the collectivity proves to be pitiless toward us. An author shot is one mouth less to feed. The least important pro-

ducer would be a greater not saying that this

is just.

loss to the nation.

On

the contrary,

1

And

I

am

opens the

it

to all abuses, to censorship, to persecution. But we ought to rejoice that our profession involves some dan-

way

gers.

When we

wrote clandestinely, the

Kiinimal, but for the printers they

made me

ashamed. At

risks for us

were

were considerable.

taught us to practise a sort of verbal deflation. When each word might cost a life, you ought not take time off to play
It

often

the cello.

You go

feel

as fast as possible.

least it

You make

it

snappy.

The war of 1914 precipitated the crisis of language. I tfould readily say that the war of 1940 has revalorised it.
But it is to be hoped that in taking up our names again,
/ye were taking risks on our own account. After all, a oof-mender will always be running a great many more.
In a society which insists upon production and restricts consumption to wfaat iterature is

is

strictly necessary,

evidently gratuitous.

Even

if

the

work of

the

writer

1. I sometimes wonder whether the Germans, who had at their disposal a undred means of knowing the names of the members of the National Writers lommittee, did not spare us. We were pure consumers for them too. Here the recess is inverted. The diffusion of our newspapers was highly limited. It
'ould have been more inexpedient in regard to the supposed politic of collaboraion to arrest Eluard or Mauriac than dangerous to let them whisper in freedom,
'he Gestapo doubtless preferred to concentrate its efforts on the underground
>rces and the members of the Maquis whose acts of real destruction troubled more than our abstract negativity. Doubtless, they arrested and shot Jacques ecour. But at the time Decour was not yet very well known.

234

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 strongly stresses the

work that he puts

into

it,

even

if

he

points out, and rightfully, that this work, considered in itself, involves the same faculties as that of an engineer

or doctor, the fact remains that the created object

is

not

compared with goods. This gratuity, far from grieving us, is our pride, and we know that it is the image of to be

freedom.

The work

of art

end and because

is

gratuitous because

it is

an absolute

the spectator as a categorical imperative. In addition, although it neither it presents

itself to

can nor wants to be production by

itself, it

wants to rep-

resent the free consciousness of a productive society, that is, to reflect production upon the producer in terms of

freedom, as Hesiod did in the past. It is not, to be sure, a matter of picking up the thread of that boring literature of work of which Pierre Hamp was the most

solemn and soporific representative. But as this type of reflection is both a summons and a surpassing, it is necessary to manifest to the men of this age the principles, aims, and inner constitution of their productive activity, at the

same time that we show them

their

works and days. one aspect of freedom, constructivethe other. Now, the paradox of our age is that

If negativity

ness

is

is

constructive freedom has never been so close to

becoming and never has it been so profoundly alienated. Never has work more powerfully manifested its productivity, and never have workers been more swindled out of its products and its significance. Never has homo faber better understood that he has made history and never has he felt so powerless before history. conscious of

itself

235

WHAT
Our

job

is

IS

LITERATURE?

cut out for us. Insofar as literature

is

negativity it will challenge the alienation of work; insofar as it is a creation and an act of surpassing, it will present man as creative action. It will go along with him in his effort to pass

beyond

a better situation. If

it is

his present alienation

toward

true that to have, to make,

and

prime categories of human reality, it might be said that the literature of consumption has limited itself to the study of the relations which unite being to having. The sensation is presented as enjoyment, which is to be are the

philosophically false, and the one who knows best to enjoy himself is the one who exists most. From

Culture of the Self to

The

how
The

Possession of the World, in-

cluding Earthly Nourishments and Barnabooth's Journal, to be

is

to appropriate.

The work

of art,

an outcome of similar

pleasures,

it-

pretends to be enjoyment or promise of enjoyment.
So the circle is completed. We, on the contrary, have been led by circumstances to bring to light the relationself

ship between being and doing in the perspective of our historical situation. Is one what one does? What he makes

where work is alienated? What should one do, what end should he choose today? And how is it to be done, by what means? What are the relationships between ends and means in a society based on violence?
The works deriving from such preoccupations can not aim first to please. They irritate and disturb. They ofof himself? In present-day society,

fer themselves as tasks to be discharged. They urge the reader on to quests without conclusions. They present us

with experiences whose outcomes are uncertain.
236

The

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 torments and questions, they can not be enjoyment for the reader, but rather questions and torments.
If our results turn out successful, they will not be diverfruits of

but rather obsessions. They will give not a world
55
"to see but to change.
On the other hand, this old, used, sore, sniveling world

sions,

will lose

nothing thereby. Since Schopenhauer

assumed that objects are revealed in

when man

silences in his heart the

it

has been

their full dignity

wish for power.

It is

consumer that they yield their secrets. It is permitted to write about them only in moments when one has nothing to do about them. The fastidious descriptions of the last century were a rejection of utility. One did not touch the universe; one took it in raw, with the to the idle

eyes.

The

writer, in opposition to bourgeois ideology,

chose to speak to us df things at the privileged moment when all the concrete relations which united him with the objects were broken, save the slender thread of his gaze, and when they gently undid themselves to his eyes,

untied sheaves of exquisite sensations.
It was the age of impressions, impressions of Italy, of
Spain, of the Orient. The man of letters described these landscapes, which he absorbed consciously, at the indefinable moment between the end of the taking-in and

the beginning of the digestion, when subjectivity come to impregnate the object but before its acids

had had begun to eat into it, when fields and woods are still fields and woods and already a state of soul. A glazed and polished world inhabited bourgeois books, a world for sojourns in the country, which tinges us with a decent see it from our gaiety or a well-bred melancholy.

We

237

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

windows; we are not in

When

the novelist peoples it with peasants, they are in contrast with the vacant shadow of the mountains and the silvery sheen of the rivers. it.

work digging their spades we are made to see them dressed up in

While they are hard

into the earth,

at

These workers, lost in this seventhEiffel day universe, resemble the academician of Jean whom Provost introduced into one of his caricatures and who excused himself by saying, "I'm in the wrong their clothes.

Sunday

cartoon." Or, perhaps they too have been transformed into objects

into objects

and

states of soul.

doing reveals being. Each gesture traces out forms on the earth. Each technique, each tool, is

For

us,

new a way

that opens upon the world; things have as many are no longer aspects as there are ways of using them.

We

with those

who want

who want changing it

to

change

that

it

but with those

to possess the world, it, and

it

is

to the very plan of

reveals the secrets of

its

being.

One

best, says Heidegger, when one uses the nail, when one drives it into the

knows the hammer it to hammer. And wall, and the wall when one

drives the nail into

Saint-Exupery has opened the way for

shown

that, for the pilot, the airplane
1
chain of mountains at perception. A

seventy-five miles an hour flight is a tangle of snakes. thrust their

trying to

and

in the

us.

it.

He

has

an organ of three hundred

is

new

perspective of

settle

down, grow dark, hard and calcinated heads against the sky,

do damage,

They

to strike.

Speed with

its

astringent

power gathers the folds of the earthly gown and hems them in. At fourteen thousand feet above, the obscure
1.

See

particularly Earth of

Men.

238

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 pulls which draw San Antonio toward

New York

shine

like rails.

After him, after Hemingway,

how

could

we dream

of

We

must plunge things into action. Their describing? density of being will be measured for the reader by the multiplicity of practical relations which they maintain with the characters. Have the mountain climbed by the smuggler, the customs-officer, and the guerilla, have it
2

flown over by the aviator and the mountain will suddenly surge from these connected actions and jump out of your book like a jack-in-the-box. Thus, the world and man reveal themselves by undertakings. And all the

we might speak

undertakings

single one, that of

making

of reduce themselves to a

history.

So here we

are, led

by the hand to the moment when the literature of must be abandoned to inaugurate that of praxis.
Praxis as action in history and on history; that

exis

is,

as

a synthesis of historical relativity and moral and metaphysical absolute, with this hostile and friendly, terrible

and

derisive

world which

it

reveals to us.

There

is

our

do not say that we have chosen these austere paths. There are surely some among us who are carrying within them some charming and heart-breaking love story which will never see the light of day. What can we do subject. I

about

not a matter of choosing one's age but of choosing oneself within it.

The

it? It is

literature of production

will not

make

which

is

being proclaimed

us forget the literature of consumption,

its

not pretend to surpass it, and maybe it will never equal it. No one is dreaming of claiming that
2. Like Hemingway, for example in For Whom the Bell Tolls. antithesis; it should

239

WHAT because of

it

we

IS

LITERATURE?

Maybe

the essence of the art of writing.

disappear soon. seems hesitant; stolen bottom and

shall get to the very

it

realize

even

will

The

generation which is following us many of its novels are about sad and those like

holidays,

during the

parties

occu-

danced between two alerts pation when young people while drinking cheap wine to the sound of pre-war records. In that case, it will be a revolution

phonograph that didn't

manage

come

off.

to establish itself,

it

even

if

this literature

will pass like the other,

does

and

history of the next decades will record the alternating from one to the

the other will return,

few

And

other.

That

will

and perhaps the

mean

that

men

botched up another Revolution of

The

will

have

definitely

infinitely greater

im-

that only in a socialist collectivity would literature, having finally understood its essence and having made the synthesis of praxis and exis, of

portance.

fact

is

negativity and construction, of doing, having, and being, deserve the name of total literature. While waiting, let have our work cut out for us. us cultivate our garden.

We

Indeed, to recognize literature as a freedom, to replace spending by giving, to renounce the old aristocratic lie of our elders,

and

to

want

to launch, through all our

works, a democratic appeal to the whole of the collectivity is not the whole story. We still have to know who reads us and whether the present state of affairs does not relegate our desire of writing for the "concrete universal" to the rank of Utopias. If our desires could be realized, the twentieth-century writer would occupy be-

tween the oppressed and those

who

oppress

them an

analogous position to that of eighteenth-century authors
240

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 between the bourgeois and the aristocracy, to that of
Richard Wright between the blacks and the whites, read

by both the oppressed and the oppressor, furnishing the oppressor with his image, both inner and outer, being conscious with and for the oppressed of the oppression, contributing to the formation of a constructive and revolutionary ideology. Unfortunately, these are anachronistic hopes; what was possible in the time of Proudhon

and Marx is so no longer. So let us take up the question from the beginning, and without any preconceived conclusions let us take an inventory of our public.

From

this point of view, the situation of the writer

has never been so paradoxical. It seems to be

made up

On

the asset

of the most contradictory characteristics.

appearances, vast possibilities; on the whole, an enviable way of life. On the debit side, only this: that literature is dying. Not that talent or good brilliant side,

has no longer anything to do in contemporary society. At the very moment that we are discovering the importance of praxis, at the moment that will we

is

lacking, but

are beginning to have

literature

We

it

might

be,

our public collapses

no longer know

At

some notion for literally

glance, to be sure, it of the past ought to envy our first what a total and disappears.

of

whom

to write.

would seem as if writers
1
lot.
Malraux once said,

1. But don't let us exaggerate. In gross, the situation of the writer has improved. But, as will be seen, chiefly by extra-literary means (radio, movies, journalism) which were not available formerly. The one who can't or won't

means must

have recourse

to

these

tough time of

it.

"It is extremely rare for

enoUgh

practise a second profession or have a me to have coffee to drink and

cigarettes," writes Julien Blanc

April 27, 1947). "Tomorrow

I

("Grievances of a Writer," Combat, won't put any butter on my bread, and the

druggist's price for the phosphorous

which

241

I

lack

is

preposterous

.

.

.

since

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?
5

are profiting from the suffering of Baudelaire/ I don't think that that's quite true, but it is true that Bau-

"We

and that we, without havwhether ing proven our merit, without even knowing delaire died without a public

we

ever will prove

might be tempted our fault;

it's all

it,

have readers

all

over the world.

to blush at this, but, after all,

the result of circumstances.

One

it is

not

The pre-war

war deprived national publics of their annual contingent of foreign works. Today people are
On
catching up. They're gobbling up double mouthfuls. autarchies and the

decompression. The states are in on it. I have shown elsewhere that in the conquered or ruined countries literature has recently begun to be considered as an article for export. This literary market this point

alone there

is

was expanded and regularized when the got busy with

dumping

(for

protectionism

it.

We

collectivities

find there the usual procedures:

example, the American Overseas editions), of Cen(in Canada, in certain countries

Europe), international agreements. The countries flood each other reciprocally with "Digests," that is, as tral name

of literature already digested, of are literary pap. In short, belles-lettres, like the movies, in the process of becoming an industrialized art. To be

the

sure,

we

indicates,

benefit: the plays of Cocteau, of Salacrou,

of Anouilh are being performed everywhere.

I

and

could

1943 I have undergone five serious operations. Very shortly I am going to have a sixth, a very serious one. Being a writer, I have no social security.
I have a wife and child. The state remembers me only to ask for excessive taxes on

my

trifling

royalties.

.

.

It

is

ters

and

given

me

going

to

be necessary for

me

to

And the Society of Men of Let' my hospital expenses. the Authors' Fund? The first will back me up; the second, having last month of four thousand francs. . . Let's forget it." a take steps to reduce

.

gift

242

.

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 any number of works which have been translated into six or seven languages less than three months after their publication. Yet, all this is brilliant only on the cite surface.

Perhaps

we

are read in

New York

or Tel Aviv,

but the shortage of paper has limited our editions in
Paris, Thus the public has been dispersed more than it has increased. Perhaps ten thousand people read us in four or five foreign countries and another ten thousand

a minor preown. Twenty thousand readers war success. These worldwide reputations are far less well established than the national reputations of our in our

know, paper is coming back. But at the same moment, European publishing is entering a crisis; the volume of sales remains constant. elders. I

Even though we might have a certain amount of celebrity outside of France, there would be no reason for rejoicing; it would be an ineffectual glory. Nations today are separated by differences of economic and military potential more surely than by seas or mountains. An idea can descend from a country with a high potential toward a country with a low potential for example, from America to France it can not rise. To be sure, there are so tacts, that

many newspapers,
Americans

so

many

finally get to

international con-

hear about the

lit-

erary or social theories that are circulating in Europe, but these doctrines are exhausted in their ascent; virulent in a country with a weak potential, they are in a languid

We

when

know that intelthey reach the summit. lectuals in the United States gather European ideas into a bouquet, inhale them for a moment, and then toss them state away because the bouquets wither more
243

quickly there

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

than in other climates. As for Russia, she gleans and takes what she can easily convert into her own substance.
Europe is conquered and ruined; she is no longer master of her destiny;

and that

is

the reason

why

her ideas can

no longer make their way. The only concrete circuit for the exchange of ideas passes through England, France, the Northern countries, and Italy.
It is true that our reputations are far more widespread than our books.

We make

contact with people, without

by new means, with new angles of incidence. Of course, the book is still the heavy infantry which clears and occupies the terrain. But literature has its airplanes, its Vi's and VYs which go a even wanting to do

so,

great distance, upsetting and harassing, without bringing about the actual decision. First, the newspaper. An author used to write for ten thousand readers. He is

given the

critic's

column

hundred thousand even the radio.

No

in a weekly

if

and he has three

his articles are worthless.

Exit, one of

my

plays,

banned

in

Then

England

by the theatre censors, was broadcast four times by the
B.B.C. On a London stage it would not have found, even making the improbable assumption that it would tators. mom

than twenty to thirty thousand specThe drama broadcast of B.B.C. automatically pro-

be a success,

me

with a half-million. Finally, the movies. Four million people frequent the French movie houses. If we vided recall that at the beginning of the century

reproached Gide for publishing tions, the success of

The

his

Paul Souday

works in limited edi-

Symphony will enable we have covered.

Pastoral

us to measure the distance that

However, of the columnist's three hundred thousand
244

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN readers, hell

curiosity to

be lucky

buy

if

a few thousand have

his works, into

best of his talent.

The

1947

the

which he has put the

others will learn his

name

for

a hundred times on the second page of the magazine like that of the physic which they've seen a hundred times on the twelfth. The Englishmen who

having read

it

would have gone to see No Exit in the theatre would have done so with a knowledge of why they were going, on the basis of the reviews and mouth to mouth criticism, and with the intention of judging the work. When my
B.B.C. listeners were turning on their radios they were unaware of the existence of the play or of me. They wanted to hear, as usual, the Thursday drama broadcast. As soon as it was over, they forgot it, as they did the preceding ones.

In the movie houses, the public is attracted by the names of the stars, then by the name of the director,

by that of the writer. The name of Gide recently entered certain heads by invasion, but I am sure that it is curiously married there with the beautiful face and }f i last of all

Michele Morgan. It is true that the film has caused few thousand copies of the work to be sold, but in the

new

readers the latter appears as a more or ess faithful commentary on the former. The wider the

*yes of its

public that the author reaches, the less deeply does iffect it, the less he recognizes himself in the influence

he he thoughts escape him; they become distorted ind vulgarized. They are received with more indifferlas;

his

and scepticism by bored and weary souls who, bemuse the author can not speak to them in their "native ence anguage"

still

consider literature as a diversion.
245

What

WHAT remains is

IS

LITERATURE?

formulas attached to names.

reputations extend

much

And

since our

farther than our books, that

than our merits, whether great or small,

we need

is,

not

see in these passing favors which are granted us the sign of a first awakening of the concrete universal but quite

simply that of a literary inflation.
That would be nothing; it would be enough, in short, to be on guard; after all, it depends on us for literature not to be industrialized. But there readers but

no

1

public.

In

1

is

worse;

780 the oppressing

we have

class alone

had an ideology and political organizations. The bourgeoisie had neither party nor political self-consciousness.
The writer worked for it directly by criticizing the old myths of monarchy and religion, and by giving it a few elementary notions whose content was chiefly negative, such as those of liberty, political equality, and habeas corpus. In 1850 the proletariat, in the presence of a conscious bourgeoisie which was provided with a systematic ideol-

ogy, remained formless

and obscure

to itself,

pervaded by

vain and hopeless anger. The First International had only scratched its surface. Everything remained to be done.

The

We

writer could have addressed the workers directly. have seen that he missed his chance. But at least he

served the interests of the oppressed class unintentionally

and even unknowingly by practising

his negativity

on

bourgeois values. Thus, in either case, circumstances permitted him to testify for the oppressed before the oppressor and to help the oppressed become conscious, of themselves. The

essence of literature found

1. Aside, of course, from Catholic "writers."
"writers" I speak about them later on.

246

As

itself

for the so-called

in ac-

Communist

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 cord with the exigencies of the historical situation. But has today everything is reversed. The oppressing class lost its ideology; its self -consciousness vacillates; its limits are no definable; it up and it calls

longer clearly the writer to the rescue.

opens

The

oppressed

class,

cramped

down by a rigorous ideology, becomes a closed society. One can no longer communicate with it without an intermediary. The fate of the bourgeoisie in a party

to

tied

up with European supremacy and colonialism. is losing its colonies at a time when Europe is ceasing little govern its destiny. It is no longer a matter of

was
It

and

tied

or the kings carrying on wars for Rumanian petroleum
Bagdad railroad; the next conflict will necessitate an

equipment that the entire Old World is incapable of furnishing. Two world powers, neither of which is bourgeois and neither of which is European, are of disputing the possession of the universe. The triumph one means the advent of statism and international buindustrial

reaucracy; of the other, the coming of abstract capitalism. Everybody a civil servant? Everybody an employee?

The

bourgeoisie will be lucky if it can keep the illusion of the sauce with which it will be eaten. It knows today

represented a moment in the history of Europe, a stage in the development of techniques and tools and that it has never been the measuring rod of the world.

that

it

Besides, the feeling

it

had of

its

essence

and

its

mission

has been shaken, undermined, and eroded by economic crises with consequent internal fissures, displacements, and landslides. In certain countries has been dimmed.

It

stands like the facade of a building which has been gutted; in others, great sections of it have collapsed into it 247

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

the proletariat. It can no longer be defined by the possession of goods, of which it has less and less each day,

nor by political power, which it shares almost everywhere with new men who have sprung directly from the proletariat. At present it is the bourgeoisie which has taken

on the amorphous and gelatinous aspect which characterizes oppressed classes before they have become conscious of their state. In France

we

discover that

it

is

behind in equipment and in the organization of heavy industry. Whence, the crisis in our birth-rate, an undeniable sign of regression. Besides, the black fifty years

market and the occupation have caused forty percent of its wealth to pass into the hands of a new bourgeoisie which has neither the morals, the principles, nor the goals of the old one. Ruined, but

still

oppressive, the

European bourgeoisie barely manages to keep governing, and with modest means. In Italy, it keeps the workers in check because it is supported by the coalition of the
Church and misery. Elsewhere, it makes itself indispensable because it supplies the technical staffs and administrative personnel.

And

then, above

closed.

The

Elsewhere again, all, it

rules

by dividing.

the era of national revolutions

is

revolutionary parties do not want to over-

turn this worm-eaten carcass.

They even do what they
At the first sound of crack-

can to prevent its collapsing. ing there would be foreign intervention and perhaps the world-wide conflict for which Russia is not yet ready.

An

object of everybody's solicitude, doped by the U.S.A., by the Church, and even by the U.S.S.R., at the mercy of the changing fortune of the diplomatic game, the

bourgeoisie can neither preserve nor lose
248

its

power with-

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 out the concurrence of foreign powers. It

man"

of contemporary Europe. Its agony

is

may

the "sick last a long

time.

As a

ideology is collapsing. It justified proposmosis which diffuses erty by work and also by that slow into the soul of the possessors the virtues of the things result, its

possessed.

The

possession of property was, in

merit and the finest self-culture.

coming symbolic and

collective.

But,

One no

its

property

eyes, is a

be-

longer possesses

The things but their signs or the signs of their signs. argument of "work-merit" and that of "enjoyment-culture" have turned

flat.

Out

of hatred of the trusts

and

bad conscience which abstract property induces, many turned toward fascism. Summoned by their the wishes,

it

came, replaced the

trusts

by a system of direc-

and the system remained. The so bourgeois gained nothing. If they still possess, they do harshly and joylessly. They considered wealth as an unfaith. Neither do justifiable state of fact; they have lost torship, then disappeared,

much

confidence in that democratic regime which was their pride and which collapsed at the first they retain

push. But as national socialism in turn collapsed just

when

they were about

to rally to

it,

they no

longer

believe either in Republic or Dictatorship. Nor in Progress; it was fine when their class was on the way up;

now

no longer concerned with the notion; it would be heart-breaking for them to think that other men and other classes will ensure it.
Their work brings them into no more direct contact with actual matter than before, but two wars have made them discover fatigue, blood and tears, violence, and evil. that it

is

declining, they are

249

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

only destroyed their factories but have caused fissures to appear in their idealism as well.

The bombs have not

was the philosophy of savings; it loses all meaning when the savings are compromised by inflation and threats of bankruptcy. To quote Heidegger roughly,
Utilitarianism

"The world

is

revealed at the horizon of instruments

When

you use a tool, you do so to produce a certain modification which is itself the means of bringing about another, and so on. Thus, you are engaged in a chain of means and ends whose scope

which are out of order."

escapes you, and you are too absorbed in the details of your action to question its final ends. But if the tool should break, the action is suspended and you see the

whole chain. So with the bourgeois; his instruments are out of order; he sees the chain and knows the gratuitous-

As long as he believed in them without them, and as long as he was working over the

ness of his ends.

seeing nearest links with his head down, they justified him; now that they hit him right between the eyes, he discovers that he

is

unjustifiable.

The whole world

likewise his forlornness in the world.

shame its own

too.

Even

for those

principles,

it is

is

Anguish

who judge

it

disclosed is born.

in the

1

and

And

name

of

manifest that the bourgeoisie has

been guilty of three betrayals: at Munich, in May '40, and under the Vichy government. Of course, it corrected itself; many Vichyites of the first hour were in the re1. I admit without difficulty the Marxist description of "existentialist" anguish as a historical and class phenomenon. Existentialism, in its contemporary form, appears with the decomposition of the bourgeoisie, and its origin is bourgeois. But that this decomposition can disclose certain aspects of the certain metaphysical intuitions does not

human condition and make possible mean that these intuitions and this

disclosure are illusions of the bourgeois consciousness or mythical representations of the situation.

250

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 realized that they had to fight against the occupier in the name of bourgeois nationalism. And it is true that the Communist Party hesitated sistance in '42.

They

year; it is true that the Church hesitated until the Liberation. But both of them have enough

more than a

strength, unity,

and

demand faults. The

discipline to

bourgeoisie has carries about the wounds in-

that they forget their past

forgotten nothing. It

of their initiates

still

upon it by one of its sons, the one it was most proud of. By condemning Petain to life imprisonment, it flicted feels that it

has put

itself

behind bars.

It

might apply words of Paul Chack, an officer, a Catholic, and a bourgeois, who, because he blindly followed the orders of a Catholic and bourgeois marshal of France, to itself the

was accused before a bourgeois tribunal under the government of a Catholic and bourgeois general, and who, stupefied by this sleight-of-hand, kept mumbling through55 out the trial, "I don't understand. Harassed, without

a future, without guarantees, without bourgeoisie, justification, the

which objectively had become the

sick

man,

has subjectively entered the phase of the guilty con-

members are bewildered; they shuttle between anger and fear, which are two kinds of flight. The best of them still try to defend, if not their

science.

Many

of

its

goods, which in a good many cases have gone up in smoke, at least the real bourgeois conquests: the universality of laws, freedom of expression, habeas corpus.
It is

who form

our public.

Our

only public. They in reading the old books, that literature, by understood, its

they

nature,

They turn

is

ranged on the side of democratic freedoms.

to it; they

beg

it

to give

251

them

reasons for living

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

and hoping, a new

ideology. Perhaps never since the eighteenth century has so much been expected of the writer. We

have nothing to tell them. In spite of themselves, they belong to an oppressing class. Victims, doubtless, and innocent, but, still and all, tyrants and guilty. All we can

do

is

is,

advance a

unhappy conscience

reflect their

ciples.

bit further the

in our mirrors, that

decomposition of their prin-

We have the thankless job of reproaching them for when they have become maledictions. Ourbourgeois, we have known bourgeois anguish. We

their faults selves have had that harassed soul. But since the characteristic of an unhappy conscience is to want to tear itself away from the state of unhappiness, we cannot remain tranquilly in the bosom of our class, and since it is no longer possible for us to leave it with a flap of our wings by giving ourselves the appearance of a parasitic aristocracy, we must be its gravediggers, even if we run the risk of

burying ourselves along with it.
We turn toward the working class which to-day, like the bourgeoisie in 1 780, might constitute for the writer a revolutionary public. It

a virtual public, but it is worker of 1947 has a social and is still

singularly present. The professional culture. He reads technical, union, ical journals.

He

his position in the

He

has lived

all

and

polit-

has become conscious of himself and

world and he has

much

to teach us.

the adventures of our time, in

in 1917, in Budapest, in grad, and in the Maquis.

Moscow

Munich, in Madrid, in StalinAt the time that we are discovering in the art of writing freedom in its two aspects of negativity and creative surpassing, he is trying to free
252

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 himself and, by the same token, to free all men from oppression forever. As a member of the oppressed, he may see the object of his anger reflected by literature in its aspect of negativity; as a producer and revolutionary, he

par excellence, the subject of a literature of praxis. We share with him the duty of contesting and destroying; he is, demands the

right to

make

history at the

moment

that

We

we

are not yet familiar are discovering our historicity. with his language; neither is he with ours; but we already also know that in know the means of reaching him.

We

Russia he engages in discussion with the writer himself and that a new relationship between the public and the writer has appeared there which is neither a passive and

female waiting nor the specialized criticism of the intellectual. I do not believe in the "Mission" of the prole-

endowed with a state of grace; it is made up of men, just and unjust, who can make mistakes and who are often mystified. But it must be said without hesitation that the fate of literature is bound up with that tariat, nor that

it is

of the working class.
Unhappily, these men, to

whom we

must speak, are

separated from us by an iron curtain in our own country; they will not hear a word that we shall say to them. The majority of the proletariat, straight- jacketed by a single party, encircled by a

propaganda which

isolates

it,

forms

a closed society without doors or windows. There is only one way of access, a very narrow one, the Communist desirable for the writer to engage himself in it?
If he does it out of conviction as a citizen and out of dis-

Party. Is

it

gust with literature, very well, he has chosen. But can he become a communist and remain a writer?
253

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

C.P. aligns its politics with that of Soviet Rusbecause this is the only country in which one finds the

The sia is true rough draught of a socialist organization. But if it that Russia began the social revolution, it is also true that she has not ended it. The retardation of her industry, her

lack shortage of supervisory personnel, and the masses' of culture have prevented her from realizing socialism by herself and even from imposing it upon other countries by

the contagion of her example. If the revolutionary movement which started from Moscow could have spread to

other nations,

it

would have continued

proportion to the ground tained within the Soviet frontiers, itself in

to evolve in Russia

gained outside. Conit congealed into a de-

it

and conservative nationalism because it had to save, at any cost, the results it had achieved. At the the very moment when it was becoming the Mecca of working classes, Russia saw that it was impossible, on one hand, for her to assume her historical mission and, on the other, to deny it. She was forced to withdraw into fensive apply herself to creating supervisors, to catch up on her equipment, and to perpetuate herself by an authoritarian regime in the form of a revolution at herself, to

As the European parties which derived from her, and which were preparing for the coming of the proletariat, were nowhere strong enough to take the offensive, she had to use them as the advance bastions of her dea

standstill.

fense.

But as they could serve her, in regard to the masses,

only by fostering revolutionary politics, and as she has never lost hope of becoming the leader of the European

circumstances should some day show themselves more favorable, she has left them their red flag and proletariat if

254

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 their faith.

Thus the

forces of the

World Revolution have

been diverted to the maintenance of a revolution in a state of hibernation. as it

Still it

must be acknowledged

that, insofar

has honestly believed in the possibility, even though

remote, of seizing power by insurrection, and insofar as it has made it its business to weaken the bourgeoisie

and

to bore

from within the

Socialist Party, the C.P. has

practiced a negative criticism of capitalistic institutions and regimes which has maintained the outer appearances of freedom. Before 1939

it

made

use of everything:

pam-

phlets, satires, bitter novels, Surrealistic violence, over-

whelming evidence regarding our colonial methods. Since
1944 things have become aggravated; a collapsing Europe has simplified the situation. Two powers remain standing, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. each one frightens the other.
From fear, as we know, comes anger, and from anger,
;

blows.

Now, the U.S.S.R. is the less strong. Hardly out of a war which she had feared for twenty years, she still has to temporize, to catch up in the armament race, to retighten the dictatorship internally, and, externally, to assure herself of allies, vassals, and positions.

The

changed into diplomacy. It must have Europe on its side. Thus, it must appease the bourgeoisie, lull it to sleep with fables, and at any cost keep it from throwing itself into the Anglo-Saxon camp revolutionary tactic

is

L

out of fright. The time has quite passed when
Humanit&
could write: "Every bourgeois who meets a workman
>

53

Never have the Communists been so powerful in Europe, and yet never have the chances of a revolution been slighter. If the party should somewhere ought to be scared.

255

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

consider the possibility of seizing power, this attempt would be nipped in the bud. The Anglo-Saxons have at their

a hundred ways of

annihilating it, even without having recourse to arms, and for that matter the Soviets would not look upon it very favorably. If, disposal by chance, the insurrection succeeded, it would simply it finally vegetate without spreading. If by some miracle became contagious, it would risk being the occasion of a third world war. Thus, it is no longer for the coming of the proletariat that the Communists are preparing in their war. If respective nations, but for war, plain and simple victorious, the U.S.S.R. will spread

the nations will

its

regime to Europe;

beaten, it's all up parties. To reassure the

fall like ripe fruit; if

with her and the Communists to bourgeoisie without losing the confidence of the masses,

govern while appearing to keep up the offensive, and to occupy positions of command without letting that's the politics of the C.P. Beitself be compromised permit it

to

tween 1939 and 1940 we were the witnesses and victims of the decay of a war; today we are present at the decaying of a revolutionary situation.
If it should be asked whether the writer, in order to reach the masses, should offer his services to the Com-

answer no. The politics of Stalinist Comincompatible in France with the honest prac-

munist Party,

munism

is

I

tice of the literary craft.

A

party which

is

planning rev-

olution should have nothing to lose. For the C.P. there is something to lose and something to handle circumspec-

As its immediate goal can no longer be the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat by force, but rather that of safeguarding a Russia which is in danger, it tly. 256

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 presents an ambiguous appearance. Progressive and revolutionary in its doctrine and in its avowed ends, it has

now

become conservative seized power,

soning,

tained

it

and the it, those

in

its

means. Even before

it

has

has adopted the turn of mind, the reaartifices of those

who

feel that

it is

who have

long since at-

escaping them and

who

There is something in common, and it is not talent, between Joseph de Maistre and
M. Garaudy. And generally it is enough to skim through

want

to maintain themselves.

a piece of Communist writing to pick out at random a

hundred conservative procedures: persuasion by repetition, by intimidation, by veiled threats, by forceful and scornful assertion, by cryptic allusions to demonstrations that are not forthcoming, by exhibiting so complete and superb a conviction that, from the very start, it places itself above all debate, casts its spell, and ends by becoming contagious; the opponent is never answered; he is discredited; he belongs to the police, to the Intelligence
Service; he's a fascist. As for proofs, they are never given, because they are terrible and implicate too many people.

upon knowing them, you are told to stop right there and to take someone's word for the accusation. "Don't force us to bring them out; you'll be sorry if you do". In short, the Communist intellectual adopts the attitude of the staff which condemned Dreyfuss on
If

you

insist

secret evidence.

He

also reverts, to be sure, to the

Ma-

nichaeism of the reactionaries, though he divides the world according to other principles. For the Stalinist a ras. an incarnation of evil, like the Jew for MaurEverything that comes from him is necessarily bad.

On

the other hand, the possession of certain

Trotskyist

is

257

titles

serves

WHAT as a seal of approval.

IS

LITERATURE? this sentence of

Compare

Joseph
3

de Maistre, "The married woman is necessarily chaste/ with this one of a correspondent of Action, "The com35 munist is the permanent hero of our time. That there let me be the first
Communist Party
So what? Has no married woman ever been

are heroes in the

admit it. weak? No, since she to is

married before God.

And

is

it

become a hero? Yes, since the
C.P. is the party of heroes. But what if someone cited the name of a Communist who sometimes was not all he should be? It s because he wasn t a real Communist.
In the nineteenth century one had to give all sorts of guaranties and lead an exemplary life in order to cleanse enough to enter the Party to

3

3

oneself in the eyes of the bourgeois of the sin of writing, for literature is, in essence, heresy. The situation has not

now

the Communists, that is, the qualified representatives of the proletariat, who as a matter of principle regard the writer as suspect. Even

changed except that

it is

though he may be irreproachable in his morals, a Communist intellectual bears within him this original defect that he entered the party freely; he was led to this decision by a thoughtful reading of Capital, a critical examination of the historical situation, an acute sense of justice and generosity, and a taste for solidarity; all this is proof of an independence which doesn't smell so very good.
:

He

entered the party by free choice; therefore, he can
4
leave it. He entered because he had criticized the politics of his class of origin; therefore, he will be able to criticize that of the representatives of his class of adoption. But in
4.
is

The worker has joined

less

the C.P. under the pressure of circumstances. suspect because his possible choices are more limited.

258

He

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 the very action by which he inaugurates a new life, there is a malediction which will weigh upon him all through this life.

for

From

the

secret,

of ordination there begins

Kafka has described in which the judges are unknown and the dossiers where the only definitive sentences are condemna-

him a long trial,

for us,

moment

tions. It is

similar to the one

not up to his invisible accusers to give proof

of his crime, as

is

customary in

justice;

it is

for

him

to

prove his innocence. As everything he writes can be held against him and as he knows it, each of his works presents the ambiguous character of being both a public appeal in the name of the C.P. and a secret plea for his own cause.
Everything that, from the outside, for the readers, seems a chain of peremptory assertions, appears within the
Party, in the eyes of the judges, as a

attempt at

self -justification.

When

he appears most perhaps then most

to us

and most effective, he is
Sometimes it seems to us and perhaps he too be-

brilliant guilty. humble and clumsy

that he has been raised into the hierarchy of the Party and that he has become its spokesman, but he is being tested or tricked; the levels are faked; when lieves it

he thinks he's high up, he's far down. You can read his writings a hundred times but you'll never be able to de^ cide as to their real importance. When Nizan, who was in charge of foreign politics for Ce soir, was in all honesty trying his utmost to prove that our only chance for salvation lay in a Franco-Russian pact, his secret judges, who let him talk on, already knew about
Ribbentrop's conversations with Molotov. If

he thinks that he can get out of it by a corpselike obedience, he is mistaken. He is expected to have wit, pungency, lucidity, and inventiveness.
259

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

But at the same time that these are required of him, he

is

penalized for these virtues, for they are, in themselves, tendencies toward crime. How is he to practice the critical spirit? The flaw is in him like the worm in a piece of

He

can please neither his readers, his judges, nor himself. In the eyes of everyone and even of himself he is fruit. only a guilty subjectivity which deforms Knowledge by reflecting it in his troubled waters. This deformation can

be useful; as

his readers

make no

distinction

between what

comes from the author and what from the

"historical

process," it is always possible to disclaim him. It is taken for granted that he dirties his hands in his job, and as his mission articles still

is

to express C.P. politics

remain when the

line

from day

to day, his

has long since changed,

and these are what the opponents of Stalinism refer to when they want to show its contradictions or versatility.
Thus, the writer is not only presumed guilty in advance; he is charged with all past faults, since his name remains attached to the errors of the Party, and he

is

the scapegoat

of all the political purges.

Nevertheless, for a long time

it is

if

not impossible that he

he learns to keep

may

hold out

his qualities in leash

when

they run the risk of pulling him too far. Yet he must not use cynicism. Cynicism is as serious a vice as good will. Let him know

how

to

keep

his eyes shut; let

him

see

what need not be seen, and let him forget sufficiently what he has seen in order never to write about it, yet let him remember it sufficiently so that in the future he may avoid looking at it; let him carry his criticism far enough to determine the point where it should be brought to a halt, that is, let him go beyond this point in order to be
260

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 able in the future to avoid the temptation of going beyond it, but let him know how to detach himself from this prospective criticism, to put it in parentheses, and to regard it as null and void; in short, let him at all times be aware

bounded everywhere by magic frontiers, by mists, like the primitives who can count up to twenty and are mysteriously denied the power of going any further. This artificial fog which he must be always ready to spread between himself and risky evidence, we shall call, very simply, dishonesty. But we're not that the

mind

is

finite,

through yet let him avoid speaking too often about dogmas; it's not good to show them in broad daylight; the works of Marx, like the Bible of the Catholics, are dan:

gerous to the one who approaches them without a director of conscience; there is one in each cell; if doubts or scruples arise

it is

should you put too

to

him

that one must go

many Communists

and

talk.

Nor

in your novels or

on

the stage; if they have faults, they run the risk of displeasing; if too perfect, they bore. Stalinist politics has no desire to find its

image

in literature because

it

knows that a

already a contestation. One can get out of it by
55
painting the "permanent hero en profil perdu by making him appear at the end of the story to draw conclu-

portrait

is

or by everywhere suggesting his presence but without showing it, as Daudet with the Arlesienne. As far as sions, possible, avoid bringing

dated.

The European

up the

revolution; that's rather

proletariat

no more governs

its

destiny than does the bourgeoisie; history is written elsewhere. It must be slowly weaned of its old dreams, and the

perspective of insurrection must be gently replaced by that of war. If the writer conforms to all these prescrip261

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

be in greater favor on that account. He's a useless mouth; he doesn't work with his hands. He knows it; he suffers from an inferiority complex; he is

tions,

he

will not

almost ashamed of his craft and puts as much zeal into bowing before the workers as Jules Lamaitre put into bowing before the generals around 1900.

During

which

Marxist doctrine

this period, the

is

has been withering away; for want of inquite intact ternal controversy, it has been degraded to a stupid determinism. Marx, Lenin, and Engels said any number of times that explanation by causes had to yield to the dialectical process.

But the

admit of being

dialectic does not

put into the formulas of a catechism. An elementary scientism is being spread. History is accounted for by juxtapositions of causal and linear series. Shortly before the war, Politzer, the last of the great minds of French

Communism, was
55

forced to teach that "the brain secretes

an endocrine gland secretes hormones; when the Communist intellectual today wants to interpret history or human behavior, he borrows from bourgeois ideolthought

as

ogy a deterministic psychology based on mechanism and the law of interest.

But there

is

worse.

The

conservation of the C.P.

is

to-

day accompanied by an opportunism which contradicts it. It is not only a matter of safeguarding the U.S.S.R., but it is

geoisie.

also necessary to deal tactfully

Thus, they talk

religion, morality.

up the idea

And

its

language: family, country, have not thereby given

as they

of weakening

it,

ground by improving upon this tactic is to

with the bour-

they try to fight its principles.

it

on

The

its

own

result of

superimpose two contradictory conserv262

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

and Christian moralism.
The truth is that once you abandon all logic, it is not so difficult to pass from one to the other because both suppose the same sentimental attitude; it is a matter of holding fast to positions which are threatened, of refusing to discuss, and of masking fear behind anger. But the point is that the intellectual, by definition, must also use logic. atisms, materialist scholasticism

Therefore, he

is

asked to cover up the contradictions by

sleight-of-hand. He must do his best to reconcile the irreconcilable, to unite by force ideas which repel each other,

and

to cover

style

up the

soldering by glittering layers of fine

to say nothing of the task

which has

fallen to

him

only recently, that is, to steal the history of France from the bourgeoisie, to annex the great Ferre, little Bara,
Saint Vincent de Paul, and Descartes. Poor Communist intellectuals. They have

origin only to find

it

fled the ideology of their class of again in the class they have chosen.

family, country no more laughing at it, they've to sing it. I imagine that they must often rather want got to let loose, but they are chained. are allowed to

Work,

They

who have reand who represent nothing.
They'll start naming illustrious writers. To be sure, I recognize the fact that they had talent. Is it an accident if they no longer have any? I have shown above that the work of art, which is an absolute end, is opposed in esroar at phantoms or against some writers

mained

free

sence to bourgeois utilitarianism.

Do

they think that

it

can accommodate

itself to Communist utilitarianism? In a genuinely revolutionary party it would find the propitious climate for its blossoming because the freedom of

man and

the coming of the classless society are likewise
263

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

absolute goals, unconditioned exigencies which literature can reflect in its own exigency. But the C.P. today has

entered the infernal circle of means. It must take and keep key positions, that is, means of acquiring means. When

when means

are swarming like gnats as far as the eye can see, the work of art in turn becomes a means. It enters the chain. Its ends and its principles be-

ends withdraw,

come takes governed from the outside. It by the belly or the short hairs. The writer main-

external to

man

it.

It

is

appearance of talent, that is, the art of finding words which gleam, but something is dead within. Liter5 ature has changed into propaganda. Yet it is someone tains the

M. Garaudy, a Communist and a propagandist, who accuses me of being a gravedigger. I could return the inlike

sult,

but

I

prefer to plead guilty;

if I

could do

so, I

would

bury literature with my own hands rather than make it serve ends which utilize it. But why the excitement?
Gravediggers are honest people, certainly unionized, perhaps Communists. Fd rather be a gravedigger than a lackey. we are still free, we won't join the C.P. watchdogs. The fact that we have talent does not depend upon us, but as we have chosen the profession of writing, each
Since

responsible for literature, and whether or not it becomes alienated does depend upon us. It is sometimes

of us

is

claimed that our books reflect the hesitations of the petty bourgeoisie which decides for neither the proletariat nor for capitalism. That's false; we've made up our minds.

We
5.

is it

are then told that our choice

is

ineffectual

and ab-

In Communist literature in France, I find only one genuine writer. Nor accidental that he writes about mimosa and beach pebbles.

264

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 stract, that

it is

an

intellectual

game

if it is

not accom-

panied by our adhesion to a revolutionary party. It is true that today in France one can hardly reach the worknot through the Party. But only loose thinking can identify their cause with the C.P.'s. Even if, as citizens, we can in strictly specific circumstances support ing classes

if

with our votes, that does not mean that we should serve it with our pens. If the two alternatives are its politics

really the bourgeoisie

and the

C.P., then the choice

is

im-

For we do not have the right to write for the oppressing class alone, nor to join forces with a party which asks us to work dishonestly and with a bad conscience. possible. Insofar as the

Communist Party

channelizes, almost in

an entire oppressed class which irresistibly leads it to demand, for fear of being
"outflanked on the left," such measures as peace with the spite of itself, the aspirations of

Viet

Nam

or the increase of salaries inclined to avoid

which

its

whole

we

are with this party against the bourgeoisie; insofar as certain well-intentioned bourgeois circles recognize that spirituality must be political line

is

simultaneously a free negativity and a free construction, we are with these bourgeois against the G.P. Insofar as a opportunistic, conservative, and deterministic ideology is in contradiction with the very essence of literature we are against both the C.P. and the bourgeoisie.

scurvy,

That means clearly that we are writing against everybody, that we have readers but no public. Bourgeois who have broken with our class but who have remained bourgeois in our morals, separated from the proletariat by the Communist screen, we remain up in the air; our good will serves no one, not even us; we are in the age of the un265

WHAT discoverable public. the current.

IS

LITERATURE?

Worse

still,

we

are writing against

authors of the eighteenth century helped make history because the historical perspective of the moment was revolution and because a writer can and ought to

The

align himself on the side of revolution if it is proven that there is no other means of bringing an end to oppression.
But the writer today can in no case approve of a war, be-

cause the social structure of

war

is

dictatorship, because

always a matter of chance, and because, whatever happens, its costs are infinitely greater than the its results are

gains,

and

finally

because war alienates literature by mak-

ing it serve the propagandistic hullabaloo.
Since our historical perspective is war, since

we

are

asked to choose between the Anglo-Saxon and the Soviet blocs, and since we refuse to prepare for war with either

one or the other,

we have

fallen outside of history

and are

speaking in the desert. We are not even left with the illusion of winning our case by means of an appeal; there will

be no appeal, and we know that the posthumous fate of our works will depend neither upon our talents nor our efbut upon the results of future conflicts. In the event of a Soviet victory, we will be passed over in silence until forts, we

die a second time; in the event of

an American

victory,

the best of us will be put into the jars of literary history

and won't be taken out again.

A

is

clear-sighted view of the darkest possible situation in itself already an optimistic act. It implies, in effect,

that the situation can be thought about, that is, that are not lost in a dark forest and that, on the contrary,

can break away from

it,

at least in spirit, that

266

we we we can

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 examine it

and thus already go beyond

resolutions in the face of

it,

even

if

it

and take up our

these resolutions are

begin the moment we are repulsed and excommunicated by the Churches, when the

hopeless.

Our engagement must

art of writing, wedged in between different propagandas, seems to have lost its characteristic effectiveness. It is not

a question of adding to the exigencies of literature, but simply of serving them all together, even without hope.

our virtual readers, that is, the social categories which do not read us, but which might. I do not think that we have made much headway among teachi

.

First, let us list

They have already served as inter1 mediaries between literature and the masses. By now, most of them have already chosen. They dispense the which ers,

is

a pity.

Christian or the Stalinist ideology to their pupils, according to the side they have taken. However, there are still

These are the ones who must be reached. A great deal has been written about the petty bourgeoisie, distrustful and always mystified, so ready, in its bewilderment, to follow fascist agitators. I do not
2
think that much has been written for it except propaganda tracts. Yet it is accessible through certain of its ele-

some who are

hesitating.

ments. Finally, more remote, difficult to distinguish, and still more difficult to touch are those popular factions

which have not joined up with communism or which detach themselves from it and risk falling into resigned indifference or formless discontent. Outside of that, nothing.

The

They have caused Hugo

1.

work
2.

peasants hardly read

I

of

to

though

slightly

more than

be read. More recently they have spread the

Giono in certain areas.

except the abortive attempt of Prevost and his contemporaries. I have

spoken of them above.

267

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

they did in 1914. The working class is locked up. Such are the data of the problem; they are not encouraging, but we

must adapt ourselves

How

to them.

we

incorporate some of our potential readers into our actual public? Books are inert. They
2.

shall

upon those who open them, but they can not open by themselves. There can be no question of popularizing; we would be literary morons, and in order to keep literature from falling into the pitfalls of propaganda we would be throwing it right in ourselves. So we must act have recourse to new means. They already exist; the
Americans have already adorned them with the name
55
of "mass media; these are the real resources at our the newsdisposal for conquering the virtual public paper, the radio, and the movies. Naturally, we have to squelch our scruples. To be sure, the book is the

most ancient of forms; to be sure, we will always have to return to it. But there is a literary art of radio, film, editorial, and reporting. There is no need to

noblest, the

The film, by its very nature, speaks to crowds; to them about crowds and about their destiny. popularize. it speaks
The radio surprises people at the table or in bed, at the moment when they are most defenseless, in the almost

organic abandon "of solitude. At the present time, it makes use of its opportunity in order to fool them, but it is

their

also the

good

moment when one might

better appeal to faith; they have not yet put on or have laid

aside the personality with which they face the world.
We've got one foot inside the door. must learn to

We

speak in images, to transpose the ideas of our books into these new

languages,
268

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947
It

by no means a matter of

is

letting

our works be

adapted for the screen or the broadcasts of the French
Radio. We must write directly for the movies and the air-

The

arise

which

have mentioned above from the fact that radio and movies are machines.

waves.

difficulties

I

Since considerable capital is at stake, it is inevitable that they are today in the hands of the state or of conservative corporations. They apply

to the writer

under a

sort of

misapprehension; he believes that they are asking him for his work, which they are not concerned with, whereas all they want of

him

is

which

his signature,

pays.

And

since in this respect he is so lacking in practical sense that, in general, they can't persuade him to sell one without the other, at least they try to get him to please and to assure the stockholders of their profits or to be per-

and serve the

suasive

cases, they

politics

demonstrate to him

ductions have

more

they put him wise

of

bad

In both

state.

bad proand when

statistically that

success than

to the

the

good

ones,

taste of the public,

he

is

re-

quested to be so good as to submit to it. When the work is finished, in order to be sure that it's bad enough they

hand

it

over to mediocrities

who

cut out what's beyond

them.

But

this is exactly the point that

we have

to fight

improper for us to stoop in order to please on the contrary, our job is to reveal to the public its own about. It

is

;

by little, to form it so that it needs to read. We must appear to be giving in and yet must make ourselves indispensable and consolidate our positions, if

needs and,

possible,

by

little

facile successes; then,

we must

take advan-

tage of the disorder in the governmental services and the
269

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

incompetence of certain producers to turn these arms against them. Then the writer will launch out into the unknown; he will speak in the dark to people he does not

whom

no one has ever spoken except to lie.
He will lend his voice to their anger and their worries.
Through him, men whom no mirror has ever reflected, who have learned to smile and weep like blind men, know, to

without seeing themselves, will suddenly find themselves before their image. Who could dare claim that literature

on the contrary it will gain. The whole numbers and fractions which formerly were the whole of arithmetic today represent only a small sector of the science of numbers. The same with literature: "total literature," if ever it sees the day, will have its algebra, its irrational and imaginary numbers. Let it not be said that these industries have nothing to do with art. After all, printing is also an industry, and the authors of former times conquered it for us. I do not think that we shall ever have the full use of the "mass media" but it would be a fine thing to begin conquering it for our sucwill lose thereby? I think that

cessors.

make

In any case, what

use of

it,

we must

is

certain

is

that

if

we do

not

resign ourselves to be forever

writing for nobody but the bourgeois.
3.

Bourgeois,

intellectuals,

teachers,

non-communist

workers; granting that we touch all these disparate elements, how are we going to make a public out of them, that is,

an organic unity of readers,

listeners,

and spec-

tators?

Let us bear in mind that the himself in some

way

man who

reads strips

of his empirical personality

and

es-

capes from his resentments, his fears, and his lusts in
270

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 order to put himself at the peak of his freedom. This freedom takes the literary work and, through it, mankind, for absolute ends.

It sets itself

up

an unconditioned the author, and to

as

exigence in relationship to itself, to possible readers. It can therefore be identified with

Kantian good will which, in every circumstance, treats man as an end and not as a means. Thus, by his very exigence, the reader attains that chorus of good wills which Kant has called the City of Ends, which thousands of readers all over the world who do not know

moment, helping to maintain.
But in order for this ideal chorus to become a concrete society, it must satisfy two conditions: first, that readers each other

are, at every

replace this theoretical acquaintance with each other, insofar as they are all particular examples of mankind, by

an

intuition or, at the very least,

by a presentiment of

their physical presence in the midst of this world; second,

remaining solitary and uttering appeals in the void, which, in regard to the human condition in that, instead of

general, affect no one, these abstract good wills establish real relations among themselves when actual events take place, or, in other terms, that these non-temporal

good

wills historicize themselves

while preserving their purity, and that they transform their exigences into material and timely demands. Lacking the wherewithal, the city of

each of us only while we are reading; on from the imaginary life to real life we forget this passing abstract, implicit community which rests on nothing. ends lasts for

Whence, there

arise

what

I

might

call

the two essential

mystifications of reading.

When

a young communist while reading Aurelien,
271

WHAT IS LITERATURE? when a Christian have a moment of

student, while reading

The Hostage,

aesthetic joy, their feeling envelops a universal exigence; the city of ends surrounds them with its phantom

walls.

But during

this

time the works are

supported by a concrete collectivity

Communist

in one case, the

Party, in the other, the

community of the them and which manifests its

which sanctions presence between the lines: the priest has spoken of it from the pulpit, UHumanite has recommended it. The faithful student never feels alone

a sacred character. It

when he

reads.

The book dons

an accessory of the cult. Reading becomes a rite, more precisely, a communion. On the other hand if a Nathanael should open Les Nourritures
Terrestres, as soon as he gets into the swing of the book he launches the same impotent appeal to the good will of men. The city of ends, magically evoked, does not refuse is enthusiasm remains essentially solitary.
The reading in this case is disjunctive; he is turned against his family, against the society about him; he is to appear. Yet, his

cut off from the past and the future to be reduced to his naked presence in the moment; he is taught to descend

within himself in order to recognize and take stock of his

most particular

desires.

Our Nathanael

pays no heed to

the possibility that somewhere else in the world, wherever it may be, there may be another Nathanael plunged in the is

same reading and the same

addressed only to him.

done, he

mutual

transports.

When

all

The message

has been said and

invited to reject the book, to break the pact of exigences which unite him to the author; he has is found nothing but himself, himself as a separate entity. As Durkheim might have put it, the solidarity of
272

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947
Claudel's readers

is

organic and that of Gide's me-

chanical.

In both cases, literature runs very serious risks. When the book is sacred, it does not draw its religious virtue

from its intentions or its beauty, but rather receives it from without, like a seal, and as the essential moment of the reading in this case is the communion, that is, the symbolic integration into the community, the written work passes to the inessential, it really becomes an accessory of the ceremony. The example of Nizan shows this rather clearly: as a communist, he was read with

fervor by the communists;

and dead,

it

now

would not occur

to

that he

any

is

an apostate,

Stalinist to pick

up

books again; to these biased eyes they now offer nothing but the image of treason. But as in 1939 the reader

his

of

The Trojan Horse and The Conspiracy addressed an

unconditioned universal appeal for the union of all free men, as, on the other hand, the sacred character of these

works was, on the contrary, conditional and temporary and implied the possibility, in the event of the excommunication of their author, of rejecting them like sacrificial offerings that

them

had been

defiled, or simply of for-

the C.P. changed its line, these two contradictory implications destroyed the very meaning of the
1
reading. There's nothing surprising in that, since we getting if

have seen the communist writer himself ruin the very

meaning

of writing; the circle

is

completed.

1. This contradiction is met with everywhere, particularly in communist friendship. Nizan had many friends. Where are they? Those he was most fond of belonged to the C.P. These are the ones who revile him today. The

only ones

who remain

faithful are not in the Party.

community with its excommunicative power friendship which are person to person relationships.
Stalinist

273

The reason is is

that the

present in love and

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

Must we

therefore be satisfied with being read in secret, almost by stealth? Must the work of art mature

the depths of solitary souls? Here again I think that I discern a contradiction: we have discovered in the work of art the presence of all man-

like

a

fine, ripe vice in

kind; reading

is

a commerce of the reader with the

author and with other readers;

how can it

be, at the

same

an invitation to segregation?
We do not want our public, however numerous it may be, to be reduced to the juxtaposition of individual readers nor to have its unity conferred upon it by the time, transcendent action of a Party or a Church, Reading should not be mystical communion any moi;e than it

should be masturbation, but rather a companionship.
On the other hand we recognize that the purely formal recourse to abstract good wills leaves each one in his original isolation. However, that is the point from which

we must

one

loses this

conducting wire, he

is

lost in

the wilds of propaganda or in the egopleasures of a style which is a matter of "purely

suddenly tistical start; if

35

personal taste. It is therefore up to us to convert the and this city of ends into a concrete and open society

by the very content of our works.
If the city of ends remains a feeble abstraction, it is because it is not realizable without an objective modification of the historical situation, Kant, I believe,

saw

this

very well, but sometimes he counted on a purely subjective transformation of the moral subject and at other times he despaired of ever meeting a good will on this earth. In fact, the contemplation of beauty might well arouse in us the purely formal intention of men treating

274

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947

futile

would reveal

be utterly in practice since the fundamental structures of our

as ends, but this intention

society are

of ethics;

if

still

oppressive.

am

I

Such

is

itself to

the present paradox

absorbed in treating a few chosen per-

sons as absolute ends, for example, my wife, my son, my friends, the needy person I happen to come across, if
I

am

bent upon

I shall

spend

fulfilling all

my life

my

duties

I shall

doing so;

toward them,

be led

to pass over

in silence the injustices of the age, the class struggle,

colonialism, Anti-Semitism, etc., and, finally, to take ad-

vantage of oppression in order to do good. Moreover, the former will be found in person to person relationships and,

more do subtly, in

will

my very intentions. The

be vitiated at the

good that

roots. It will

radical evil. But, vice versa,

revolutionary enterprise I risk

I try to

be turned into

throw myself into the having no more leisure for

if I

worse still, of being led by the logic personal relations of the action into treating most men, and even my friends,

we

with the moral exigence which the aesthetic feeling envelops without meaning to do so,

as means.

But

if

start

We

we

are starting on the right foot. must historicize the reader's good will, that is, by the formal agency of our work, we must, if possible, provoke his intention of treating men, in every

case, as

an absolute end and, by

the subject of our writing, direct his intention upon his neighbors, that is, upon the oppressed of the world. But

we

shall

have accomplished nothing

do not show him

work

that

it is

and

in the very

if,

in addition,

warp and weft

of the

quite impossible to treat concrete

as ends in

we

men

contemporary society. Thus, he will be led by the hand until he is made to see that, in effect, what he
275

WHAT IS LITERATURE? by man and that the city of ends which, with one stroke, he has set we up in the aesthetic intuition is only an ideal which wants is

to eliminate the exploitation of

man

evoluapproach only at the end of a long historical tion. In other words, we must transform his formal good will into a concrete and material will to change this world shall conby specific means in order to help the coming of the crete society of ends. For good will is not possible in this intention of makage, or rather it is and can be only the tension ing good will possible. Whence, a particular

which must manifest

itself in

our works and which

re-

motely recalls the one I mentioned in regard to Richard
Wright. For, a whole section of the public which we wish to win over

relationships,

consumes

its

good and another whole

still

will in person to person section, because

it

be-

longs to the oppressed classes, has given itself the job of obtaining, by all possible means, the material improve-

ment

of

its lot.

Thus,

we must

at the

same time teach

one group that the reign of ends cannot be realized without revolution and the other group that revolution is conceivable only

if it

prepares the reign of ends. It

is

which if we can keep it up perpetual tension will realize the -unity of our public. In short, we must militate, in our writings, in favor of the freedom of the this person and the socialist revolution. It has often been claimed that they are not reconcilable. It is our job to

show

We

they imply each other. were born into the bourgeoisie, and this class has

tirelessly that

taught us the value of its conquests: political freedom, habeas corpus, etc. We remain bourgeois by our culture, our way of life, and our present public. But at the same
276

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 time the historical situation drives us to join the proletariat in order to construct a classless society. No doubt that for the time being the latter is not very much concerned with freedom of thought; they've got other fish to fry. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, pretends not

even to understand what the words "material freedom"

mean. Thus, each

class can, at least in this regard, pre-

serve a good conscience, since terms of the antinomy.

it is

unaware of one of the

But we others, though we have nothing to mediate at present, are none the less in the position of mediators.
Pulled from both sides, we are condemned to suffer this double exigence as a Passion. It is our personal problem as well as the drama of our age. It will, of course, be said that this antinomy which tortures us is merely due to dragging around the remains of bourgeois ideology which we have not been able to shake off; on the other hand, it will be said that we have a case of revoluour

still

tionary snobbism and that we want to serve ends for which it is not designed.

make

literature

That would not

be too bad, but these voices find responsive echoes in some of us who have unhappy consciences. Therefore, it

would be well minds: ties

it is,

for us to impress this truth upon our perhaps, tempting to abandon formal liber-

deny more completely our bourgeois but that would be enough to discredit funda-

in order to

origins,

mentally the project of writing. It might be more simple for us to disinterest ourselves in material demands in
55

order to produce "pure literature with a serene conscience, but we would thereby be giving up the idea of

choosing our readers outside of the oppressing
277

class.

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

Thus, opposition must also be overcome for ourselves and within ourselves. Let us first persuade ourselves that it it

can be overcome: literature in itself proves this, since is the work of a total freedom addressing plenary

freedoms and thus in

own way,

manifests the totality condition as a free product of a creative

human activity. And if, on

of the

its

the other hand, a full solution

yond the powers of most of

us, it

is

is

be-

our duty to over-

come

the opposition in a thousand detailed syntheses.
Every day we must take sides: in our life as a writer, in our articles, in our books. Let it always be by preserving

freedom as an effective synthesis of formal and material freedoms. Let this freedom manifest itself in our novels, our essays, and our plays. And if our characters do not yet enjoy it, if they live in our time, let us at least be able to show as our guiding principle the rights of total

them not to have it. It is not enough to denounce abuses and injustices in a fine style, nor to make a brilliant and negative psychological study of the bourwhat

it

costs

geoisie,

nor even to

let

order to save literature.

our pens serve social parties in

We

must take up a position

our literature, because literature

is

in

in essence a taking of

We

must, in all domains, both reject solutions which are not rigorously inspired by socialist principles and, at the same time, stand off from all doctrines and

position.

movements which consider

socialism as the absolute end.

In our eyes it should not represent the final end, but rather the end of the beginning, or, if one prefers, the last means before the end which is to put the human person in possession of his freedom. Thus, our works should

278

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 be presented to the public in a double aspect of negativity

and

construction.

We

are familiar with the great tradition of critical literature which goes back to the end of
First, negativity.

the eighteenth century; it is concerned with separating by analysis that which specifically belongs to each notion

from what tradition or the mystifications of the oppressor have added to it. Writers like Voltaire or the Encyclopedists considered the practice of this criticism as one of their essential tasks. Since the matter

and the

tool of the

writer are language, it is normal for writers to think of cleaning their instrument. This negative function of literature was, to tell the truth, ignored in the following cen-

probably because the class in power made use of these concepts which had been established on their behalf tury, by the great writers of the

past,

and because there was,

at

the beginning, a kind of equilibrium among its institutions, its aims, the kind of oppression it practised, and

the it is

meaning

it

gave to the words

it

used.

For example,

clear that in the nineteenth century the

word

"free-

dom" never

designated anything but political freedom and that the words "disorder" or "license" were reserved for all other forms of freedom. Similarly, the word revolution necessarily referred to a great historical revolution, the

one of

'89.

And

as the bourgeoisie,

eral convention, neglected the

revolution,

name

as,

in

its

history,

by a very gen-

economic aspect of this it barely mentioned the

Gracchus Baboeuf and the views of Robespierre and Marat so that it might give its official respect to
Desmoulins and the Girondists, the result was that any political insurrection which succeeded could be desigof

279

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

nated a revolution, and that

this

denomination could be

applied to the events of 1830 and 1848 which, at bottom, merely brought about a simple change of the directing personnel. This narrowness of vocabulary caused the picture to lack certain aspects of the historical, psychological, and philosophical reality, but as these aspects were not manifest

by themselves, as they corresponded

to a dull malaise

in the consciousness of the masses or the individual rather

than to effective factors of social or personal life, one was struck by the dry property of the words and by the

immutable clearness of the significations rather than by their insufficiency. In the eighteenth century to write a
Philosophical Dictionary was secretly to undermine the class in power. In the nineteenth, Littre and Larousse were positivistic and conservative bourgeois; their dictionaries aimed solely at verifying and settling matters. The crisis of language which marked the literature between the two wars was the result of the fact that after a silent maturation, neglected aspects of the historical and psychological reality passed abruptly to the first level. Yet, we have the same verbal apparatus at our disposal for

naming them. Perhaps cause in most cases cepts and changing

it is

it

may

not be too serious be-

only a matter of deepening con-

definitions.

For example, when we

have rejuvenated the meaning of the word "Revolution" by pointing out that what should be designated by this vocable is

a historical

phenomenon involving the change

of the regime of property, the

sonnel,

and the recourse

change of

to insurrection,

political per-

we

shall

have

proceeded, without great effort, to the rejuvenation of a
280

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947
French language, and the word, impregnated with a new life, will be off to a new start. It must be noted, however, that the fundamental job to be done on language is of a synthetic nature, whereas in Voltaire's sector of the

was analytic; it is necessary to enlarge, to the troop of deepen, and to open the doors and to let new ideas enter while controlling them as they pass by. century it

In other words, to be anti-academic. exUnfortunately, what complicates our job in the treme is that we are living in a century of propaganda.

In 1914 the two opposing camps were arguing only the there question of God; it still wasn't too serious. Today, are five or six

enemy camps which want

to wrest the

are what exert key-notions from each other because these the most influence on the masses. It will be recalled how

Germans preserved the external aspect, the title, the arrangement of articles, and even the typographical character of the pre-war French newspapers and used them to diffuse ideas which were entirely opposed to those the which we were accustomed to find in them. They thought that we would not notice the difference in the pills since the coating did not change. The same with words: each party shoves them forward like Trojan horses, and we let them

meaning

enter because they make the nineteenth-century of the words shine before us. Once they are in

place, they

open up, and strange, astounding meanings

spread out within us like armies; the fortress is taken before we are on guard. Thereafter, neither conversation

nor argument

is

any longer

this quite clearly; to

word freedom

possible. Brice

Parain saw

quote him roughly, "If you use the

in front of

me,
281

I start

fuming, I approve,

WHAT

LITERATURE?

IS

or I contradict, but I don't understand what you mean
53
by it. So we're talking in the dark. That's true, but it's

a modern

evil.

In the nineteenth century Littre's dic-

tionary might have gotten us together; before this war we could have had recourse to the vocabulary of Lalande.

Today, there

is

no longer an

arbiter.

Nevertheless, we are all accomplices because these slippery notions serve our dishonesty. That's not all ; linguists

have often noted that in troubled periods words preserve

A

barbaric the traces of the great human migrations. army crosses Gaul, the soldiers amuse themselves with the native language, and so it stays twisted for a long time. Our own still bears the marks of the Nazi invasion.

The word "Jew" formerly designated a man; perhaps French anti-Semitism had

certain type of

given it a slight pejorative meaning, but it was easy to brush it off. Today one fears to use it; it sounds like a threat, an insult,

or a provocation. The word "Europe" formerly referred to the geographical, economic, and political unity of the

Old Continent. Today, it preserves a musty smell of
Germanism and servitude. Even the innocent and abstract

term "collaboration"

hand, as Soviet Russia

is

On

in disrepute. the other now at a standstill the words is which the communists used before the war have also stopped short. They stop in the middle of their meaning, just as the Stalinist intellectuals do in the middle of their thought, or else they get off on side-paths. The transformations of the word "Revolution" are quite significant in this respect. In an earlier chapter I quoted the saying of a journalist who was a collaborator: "Stand firm! That's the motto of the Nationalist Revolution." To which I
282

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 one which comes from a communist in"Produce! That's the real Revolution!" tellectual: Things have gone so far that recently in France one could

now add

this

have read on the election posters "To vote for the Com1 munist Party is to vote for the defense of property."
Vice-versa, who is not a socialist today? I remember a
:

all of

writers' congress

to use the

was too

word

them

which refused

leftists

socialism in a manifesto "because

discredited."

And

so complicated that I

the linguistic reality

still

is

it

today

do not know whether these

authors rejected the word for the reason they gave or because it was so down at the heel that it scared them.

Moreover, we know that in the United States the term
1.

And

the idea of

freedom? The fantastic criticisms that have been made

of existentialism prove that people no longer mean anything by it. Is it their fault? Here is the P.RJL, antidemocratic and antisocialist, recruiting former fascists, former collaborators and former P.S.F.'s. Yet it calls itself the Republican Party of Freedom (Parti republic ain de la libert). If it, it means that you are therefore against freedom. But the refer to freedom;

only

it

is

Hegelian freedom, which

is

you are against communists also an assumption of

A

necessity. And the surrealists too, who are determinists. young simpleton said to me one day, "After The Flies, in which you spoke splendidly about the freedom of Orestes, you betrayed yourself and you betrayed us by writing

Being and Nothingness and by failing to set up a deterministic and mahumanism." I understand what he meant: that materialism delivers man from his myths. It is a liberation, I agree, but in order the better to enslave him. However, from 1760 on, some American colonists defended slavery in the name of freedom: if the colonist, citizen, and pioneer wants to buy a negro, isn't he free? And having bought him, isn't he free to use him? terialistic The argument has remained. In 1947 the proprietor of a public swimming pool refused to admit a Jewish captain, a war hero. The captain wrote letters of complaint to the newspapers. The papers published his protest and con-

"What a wonderful country America is! The proprietor of the pool was free to refuse admittance to a Jew. But the Jew, a citizen of the United
States, was free to protest in the press. And the press, which, as everybody cluded: knows,

is free,

is free."

mentions the incident without taking

The only

trouble

is

that the

everybody

meanings and a hundred others is used without anyone's thinking he ought to indicate the meaning he gives it in each case.

different

that

sides. Finally,

word freedom which covers these very

283

WHAT IS LITERATURE? communist designates any American citizen who does not vote for the Republicans, and in Europe the word fascist means any European citizen who does not vote for the communists.

To

confuse things

must add that French conservatives

still

more,

we

state that the Soviet

which, however, subscribes neither to a theory of race, nor a theory of anti-Semitism, nor a theory of war is one of national socialism, whereas on the left

regime

it is

said that the United States

which

is

a capitalist

democracy with a loose dictatorship of public opinion borders on fascism.

The
If

function of a writer

words are

that,

many

modern

sick, it is

up

is

to call a spade

to us to cure

them. Instead of

writers live off this sickness. In

literature

a spade.

a cancer of words. It

many

cases

perfectly all right to write "horse of butter" but in a sense it amounts to doing the same thing as those who speak of a fascist is United States or a

is

Stalinist national socialism.

There

is

nothing more deplorable than the literary practice which, called poetic prose and which consists of using words for the obscure harmonics which resound about them and which are made up of vague meanings
I believe,

is

which are in contradiction with the clear signification.
I know: the purpose of a number of writers was to destroy words as that of the surrealists was to destroy conjointly the subject and the object; but it was the extreme point of the literature of consumption. But today, as I have shown, it is necessary to construct. If one starts deploring the inadequacy of language to reality, like
Brice Parain, one makes himself an accomplice of the

enemy, that

is,

of propaganda.

284

Our

first

duty as a writer

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 thus to re-establish language in its dignity. After all, would have to be quite vain we think with words.

is

We

are concealing ineffable beauties which unworthy of expressing. And then, I distrust

to believe that

the

word

is

we

the incommunicable;

When

it

it

is

the source of

all

violence.

seems impossible to get others to share the cer-

which we enjoy, the only thing left is to fight, to burn, or to hang. No. We are no better than our life, and it is by our life that we must be judged; our thought is no better than our language, and it ought to be judged by the way it uses it. If we want to restore their virtue to words, we must carry on a double operation; on the one hand, an analytical cleaning which rids them of their adventitious meanings, and, on the other hand, a synthetic enlargement which adapts them to the historical situation. If an author wished to devote himself completely to this job, there would be more than enough for a whole lifetime. With all of us working on it together, we shall do a good job of it without too much trouble.
That is not all, we are living in the age of mystifications. Some are fundamental ones which are due to the structure of society; some are secondary. At any rate, the tainties social order

today rests upon the mystification of consciousness, as does disorder as well. Nazism was a mystification; Gaullism is another; Catholicism is a third. At

no doubt that French communism is a fourth. Obviously we could pay no attention to it and do our work honestly without aggressiveness. But as the writer addresses the freedom of his reader, and as each mystified consciousness, insofar as it is an accomplice of the mystification which enchains it, tends the present there can be

285

WHAT to persist in its state,

IS

we

LITERATURE?

will

be able to safeguard

litera-

undertake the job of de-mystifying our the writer's duty is to take public. For the same reason sides against all injustices, wherever they may come ture only

if

And

from.

did not set

we

would have no meaning if we our goal the eventual coming of freedom

as our writings

up

as

important in each case to the fact that there have been violations of formal

by means of socialism, stress and personal

liberties

it

is

or material oppression or both.

view we must denounce British politics in Palestine and American politics in Greece as well as

From

this point of

the Soviet deportations.

And

if

we

are told that

we

are

acting as if we were quite important and that it is quite childish of us to hope that we can change the course of the world, we shall reply that we have no illusions about it is fitting that certain things it, but that nevertheless be said, even though it be only to save our faces in the

have the eyes of our children, and besides we do not crazy ambition of influencing the State Department, but rather the slightly less crazy one of acting upon the opinion of our fellow citizens.

Yet, lessly we must

and

great inkwell explosions carewithout discernment. In each case we must con-

not

let off

Former communists would like to make us see Soviet Russia as enemy number one because she has corrupted the very idea of socialism and has transformed the dictatorship of the proletariat into the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. Consequently, they would like us to devote all our time to stigmatizing its extortion and its violence; at the same time they point out to us that capitalist injustices are highly obvious and are not likely to sider* the

aim

in view.

286

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 deceive anyone; thus, we would be wasting our time exposing them. I am afraid that I surmise only too well the interests which this advice serves. Whatever the putative violence may be, still, before passing judgment upon it, advisable to consider the situation of the country which commits it and the perspectives in which it has it is

would

be necessary to prove, for example, that the present machinations of the Soviet government are not, in the last analysis, dictated by its desire to protect the revolution which has stalled and to

committed

"hold on

5 '

it.

It

until the

first

moment when

it

will

be possible to

resume its march forward. Whereas American antiSemitism and negrophobia, our own colonialism and the attitude of the powers in regard to Franco, often lead to

spectacular but which aim none at perpetuating the present regime of the ex-

injustices

the less

which are

man

less

by man.

be said that everybody knows this. That may be true, but if nobody says it, what good does it do us to know it? Our job as a writer ploitation of

is

It will

world and to bear witness to it. Bewere proven that the Soviet Union and

to represent the

sides,

even

if it

Communist Party are pursuing genuinely revolutionary ends, that would not exempt us from judging the the one regards freedom as the principle anji the goal of all human activity, it is equally false that one must judge the means by the end and the end by the means. Rather, the end is the synthetic unity of the

means.

If

means employed. Thus, there are means which risk destroying the end which they intend to realize because by their mere presence they smash the synthetic unity which they wish to enter.
287

WHAT

IS

LITERATURE?

The attempt has been made

determine by quasimathematical formulas the conditions under which a means may be called legitimate; in these formulas are into

proximity, and what its returns are in regard to the cost of the means employed. One might think that we were back at Bentham

cluded the probability of the end,

and the arithmetic formula of

this

its

of pleasures. I

am

not saying that a

kind might not be applied in certain

example, in the hypothesis, itself quantitative, in which a certain number of lives must be sacrificed to cases, for

save others. But in the majority of cases the problem is quite different; the means employed introduce a qualita-

end and consequently are not measurable. Let us imagine that a revolutionary party tive alteration into the

militants in order to protect them against uncertainties, crises of conscience, and adverse propaganda. The end pursued is the abolition of a regime

systematically lies to

its

of oppression; but the lie

oppression. May one perpetuate oppression with the pretext of putting an end to it? Is it necessary to enslave man in order the better to free

Not

him?

It will

is itself

be said that the means

is

transitory.

helps create a lied-to and lying mankind; for then the men who take power are no longer those who if it

and the reasons one had for abolishing oppression are undermined by the way he deserve to get hold of

goes about abolishing

it;

it.

Thus, the

politics of the

munist Party which consists of lying to calumniating, of hiding promises the goal which it is

is

at

war

own

troops, of

its

defeats

and

its faults,

it

pursues.

On

the other hand,

war

com-

and every revolutionary one can not tell soldiers the whole

easy to reply that in

party

its

Com-

288

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 here a question of measure. No ready-rnade formula will excuse us from an examination in each particular case. It is up to us to make this examitruth.

Thus,

we have

nation. Left to

itself,

politics

always takes the path of

goes downhill. The masses, duped by propaganda, follow it. So who can represent to the government, the parties, and the citizens the means least resistance, that

is,

it

that are being employed, if not the writer? That does not mean that we must be systematically opposed to the use of violence, I recognize that violence, under what-

ever form

it

may

manifest

itself, is

a setback. But

it is

an inevitable setback because we are in a universe of violence; and if it is true that recourse to violence against violence risks perpetuating it, it is also true that it is the certain newsonly means of bringing an end to it.

A

paper in which someone wrote a rather brilliant article saying that it was necessary to refuse any complicity with violence wherever it came from had to announce the following day the first skirmishes of the Indo-Chinese war. I should like to ask the writer to-day how we can refuse to participate indirectly in all violence. If you say nothing, you are necessarily for the continuation of the

war; one

always responsible for what one does not try to prevent. But if you got it to stop at once and at any would be at the origin of some massacres and price, you you would be doing violence to all Frenchmen who have interests is

down

there. I

am

not, of course, speaking of born of compromise. Violence

compromises, since war is for violence; one must make a choice, according to other principles. The

politician will

portation of troops

is

possible,

289

wonder whether

trans-

whether by continuing

WHAT the war he

IS

LITERATURE?

will alienate public opinion,

what the

inter-

national repercussions will be. It is incumbent upon the writer to judge the means not from the point of view of an abstract morality, but in the perspectives of a pre-

which is the realization of a socialist democracy.
Thus, we must mediate upon the modern problem of ends and means not only in theory but in each concrete cise goal

case.

Evidently, there is a big job to be done. But even if we consume our life in criticism who can reproach us? The task of criticism has

become

total; it

man. In the eighteenth century the

engages the whole

was forged; the analytical reason was enough to

simple utilization of clean the concepts; to-day

when

tool

necessary both to clean and to complete, to push to their conclusions notions which have become false because they have stopped it is

along the way, criticism is also synthetic. It brings into action all our faculties of invention; instead of limiting itself to

making use

of a reason already established

by two centuries of mathematics, on the contrary, it is this criticism which will form modern reason so that, in the end, it has creative freedom as its foundation. Doubtless, will not

bring about a positive solution. But what does today? tsee all about us only absolute formulas, patchwork, dishonest compromises, outdated and hastily it by

itself

refurbished myths. Even if we did nothing but puncture all these inflated wind-bladders one by one, we would

be well deserving of our readers.

However, around 1750 criticism was a direct preparation for changing the regime since it contributed to the weakening of the oppressing class by dismantling its
290

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 ideology. The case today is not the same since the concepts to be criticized belong to all ideologies and all

camps. Thus,

no longer negativity alone which can even if it finally does become a positivity. it is

serve history
The individual writer

may

limit himself to his critical

but our literature as a whole must be, above all, construction. That does not mean that we must make task, our business, individually or as a group, to find a new ideology. In every age, as I have pointed out, it is literature in its entirety which is the ideology because it it constitutes the synthetic and often contradictory of everything which the age has been able to to enlighten

situation

we have

totality

produce

taking into account the historical

itself,

and the

1

talent.

But since we have recognized

produce a literature of praxis, we ought purpose to the very end. We no longer have time to describe or narrate; neither can we limit that to

to stick to our

ourselves to explaining. Description, even though it

be

is

psychological, pure contemplative enjoyment; explanation is acceptance, it excuses everything. Both of them assume that the die is cast. But if perception itself is action,

if,

for us, to

show the world

is

to disclose

it

in the

perspectives of a possible change, then, in this age of fatalism, we must reveal to the reader his power, in each

concrete case, of doing and undoing, in short of acting. The present situation, revolutionary by virtue of the fact that it is unbearable, remains in a state of stagnation because men have dispossessed themselves of their own destiny; 1.

Europe

is

Because, like Mind,

abdicating before the future conflict it is

of

the type of

"detotalized totality."

291

what

I

have elsewhere called

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 seeks less to prevent it than to range itself in advance in the camp of the conquerors. Soviet Russia considers itself to be alone and cornered, like a wild boar sur-

and

rounded by a fierce pack ready to tear it apart. The
United States, which does not fear the other nations, is infatuated with its own weight; the richer it is, the

Weighed down with fat and pride, it be rolled toward war with its eyes closed. As

heavier itself it is.

lets

for

are writing for only a few men in our own counBut we must try and a handful of others in Europe. go seek them where they are, lost in their age like needles us, we

and we must remind them of their power.
Let us take them in their job, in their family, in their serviclass, and in their country, and let us examine their tude with them, but let it not be to push them deeper into it; let us show them that in the most mechanical gesture in a haystack,

of the worker there

is

already the complete negation of

factual oppression; let us never envisage their situation as data but as a problem; let us point out that it keeps its

form and

its

boundaries of infinite

possibilities, in

a word,

has no other shape than what they confer upon it by the way they have chosen to go beyond it; let us teach them both that they are victims and that they are responsible for everything, that they are at once the opthat

it

pressed, the oppressors, and the accomplices of their own oppressors and that one can never draw a line between

what a man submits to, what he accepts, and what he wants; let us show that the world they live in is never defined except in reference to the future which they project before them, and since reading reveals their freedom to them, let us take advantage of it to remind them that this
292

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 future in which they place themselves in order to judge the present is none other than that in which man rejoins

himself and finally reaches himself as a totality by the coming of the City of Ends, for it is only the presentiment of Justice

which permits us

injustices, that

is,

to put

it

to be shocked

by particular

precisely, to regard

them

as

them to see things from the viewpoint of the City of Ends so they may understand their age, let us not allow them to remain in ignorance of the aspects of this age which favor the realizing of injustices; finally, in inviting

their aim.

The theatre was formerly a theatre of "characters."
More or less complex, but complete, figures appeared on the stage, and the situation had no other function than to put these characters into conflict and to show how

each of them was modified by the action of the others. I have elsewhere shown how important changes have taken place in this domain; many authors are returning to the theatre of situation. No more characters; the heroes are freedoms caught in a trap, like all of us. What are the

Each character will be nothing but the choice of an issue and will equal no more than the chosen issue. It is to be hoped that all literature will become moral and problematic like this new theatre. Moral not moralizing; let it show simply that man is also a value and that the questions he raises are always moral. Above all, let it show the inventor in him. In a sense, each situation is a issues? there are walls everywhere. I've expressed myself poorly: there are no issues to choose. An issue is in-

trap

And

each one, by inventing his own himself. Man must be invented each day.

vented.

293

issue, invents

WHAT
The point is

that all

IS

is

LITERATURE?

lost if

we want to

choose between

which are preparing for war. To choose the
U.S.S.R. is to give up civil liberties without even being able to hope to gain material freedom; the retardation of its industry prohibits it, in case of victory, from organthe powers

Europe; hence, indefinite prolongation of dictatorship and misery. But after the victory of the United States, when the C.P. would be annihilated and the working izing class discouraged, disoriented,

since

it

if I

may

risk

a neol-

when

capitalism would be more pitiless would be master of the world, can any one believe

atomized,

ogism

and

that a revolutionary movement which would start from zero would have much chance? But aren't there unknown factors to be reckoned with? That's just it I reckon with what I know. But who is forcing us to choose? Does one
!

make

between given wholes simply because they are given, and by siding with the stronger? In that case in 1940 all Frenchmen should have sided with Germany as the collaborators proposed. really history by choosing

obvious that, on the contrary, historical action can never be reduced to a choice between raw data,

Now,

it is

has always been characterized by the invention solutions on the basis of a definite situation. Re-

but that of new

it

is pure and simple empirism. Man spect for "wholes has long since gone beyond empiricism in science, ethics, and individual life; the fountain-makers of Florence
55

"chose between wholes

55
;

Toricelli invented the weight

say that he invented it rather than discovered it because when an object is concealed from all eyes, one

of air

I

must invent discover it.

it

out of whole cloth in order to be able to

When

it is

a question of historical
294

fact,

why,

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 out of what inferiority complex, do our realists deny this faculty of creation which they proclaim everywhere else?

almost always the man who in the face of a dilemma suddenly causes a third term to appear, one which up to that time had been invisible. It

The

historical agent

is

must be made between the U.S.S.R. and the Anglo-Saxon bloc. As for socialist Europe, there's no "choosing" it since it doesn't exist. It is to be made.
Not by starting with the England of Mr. Churchill, nor even with that of Mr. Bevin, but by starting on the continent, by the union of all countries which have the same problems. It will be said that it is too late, but what does is true that a choice

anyone know about it? Has anyone even tried? Our relations with our immediate neighbors always take place through Moscow, London, or

New

know

that there are direct ways? be and as long as circumstances

tunes of literature are tied cialist Europe, that

and

is,

York; doesn't anyone

Whatever the case may do not change, the for-

up with the coming

of a so-

of a group of states with a

demo-

each of which, while waiting for something better, would be deprived of part of

cratic

collectivist structure,

sovereignty for the sake of the whole. The hope of avoiding war dwells in this hypothesis only; in this hypothesis only will the circulation of ideas remain free and its will literature

again find an object and a public.

and quite
Quite a number of jobs at the same time disparate. It's true. But Bergson has well shown that the eye an extremely complicated organ

if

you regard

it

a juxtaposition of functions appears somewhat simple if it is replaced in the creative movement of evoluas

295

WHAT tion. The same with

IS

LITERATURE?

the writer;

if

you enumerate by

themes which Kafka develops and the questions he raises in his books, and if you then go back to the

analysis the

beginning of his career and consider that for him these were themes to be treated and questions to be raised, you will be alarmed. But that's not the way he's to be taken.

The work

Kafka

a free and unitary reaction to the
Judaeo-Christian world of Central Europe. His novels are a synthetic act of going beyond his situation as a man, as of is

a Jew, as a Czech, as a recalcitrant fiance, as a tubercular etc., as were also his handshake, his smile, and that gaze

which critic Max

Brod

they break

down

Under

the analysis of the into problems; but the critic is

so admired.

wrong; they must be read in movement.
I have not wanted to hand out extra assignments to the writers of my generation. What right would I have to do so, and has anybody asked

me

to?

for the manifestoes of a school. I scribe a situation with

demands.

A

its

Nor do

have merely

perspectives,

literature of praxis

have any

I

is

its

tried to de-

threats,

coming

taste

and

its

into being in

the age of the unfindable public. That's the situation. Let each one handle it in his own way. His own way, that is,

own

own

technique, his own subjects. If the writer is imbued, as I am, with the urgency of these problems, one can be sure that he will offer solutions to

his

style, his

them

in the creative unity of his work, that is, in the in1 distinctness of a movement of free creation.

There

is

no guarantee that

literature

is

immortal.

Its

1. Camus' The Plague, which has just been published, seems to me a good example of a unifying movement which bases a plurality of critical and constructive themes on the organic unity of a single myth.

296

SITUATION OF THE WRITER IN 1947 chance today,

its

only chance,

is

the chance of Europe, of

and of peace. We must play it. too bad for us. But also, too bad for

socialism, of democracy,
If

we

writers lose

it,

As I have shown, the collectivity passes to reflection and meditation by means of literature; it acquires an unhappy conscience, a lopsided image of itself which it constantly tries to modify and improve. But, after all, the art of writing is not protected by immutable decrees of Providence; it is what men make it; they choose society. it

in choosing themselves. If

it

were

to turn into

pure

propaganda or pure entertainment, society would wallow in the immediate, that is, in the life without memory of hymenoptera and gasteropods. Of course, all of this is not very important. The world can very well do without literature. But it can do without man still better.

297

INDEX
Abstract Universality,
Acharnians, the, 85
Achilles, 85

Baboeuf, Gracchus, 279
Bach, 31
Bagdad, 247

154

Balzac, 325

Action Frangaise, 187
Aesthetic Joy, 58, 59
Aesthetic Purism, 27

Bara, 263

Barbey, d'Aurevilly, 125, 139
Barres, 168, 169
Bastille, the, 107

Africa, 78
Alain, 200, 202, 204, 209
Algiers, 71, 166

Battaille, George, 85,

Aihambra, 31
Alquie, 191, 193

B. B.

America, 243, 283
American Neo-Realism, 196
Americans, the,
Amsterdam, 214

192,

68,

C.,

244, 245

Beaumarchais, 94
Bel Ami, 131

188, 268

Bella, 29

Analysis, 104
Angoule'me, 68

Benda, 65, 67,
Bentham, 288

Anouilh, 242
Antiquity, 92, 108
Aragon, 165, 198

86, 108, 158

Bergotte, 29

Ariel,

Bergson, 16, 181, 295
Bernard, 132
Berrichon, Paterae, 28

75

Beucler, 198
Bevin, 296

Arland, Marcel, 173, 174
Arlesienne, the, 261
Artificialism, 130
Artistic Style,

211

Baudelaire, 80, 125, 127, 128, 182,
242

Bible, the, 261

121

Billy,

165

Blanis, Abbe", 57

Asiatics, the, 188
Augier, fimile, 117

Bloch Michel, 222
Blum, 168

August the fourth, 107
Aupick General, 182

Boccaccio, 138
Boileau, 209

Aurelien, 271

Auschwitz, 217
Austria, 57

Bolshevism, 73

Bonnefoy, Yves, 197
Bordeaux, 34, 117, 135, 173

Aveline, 198

299

INDEX
Bost, Pierre, 198, 203
Bourget, 117, 135

Claudel, 141,

167,

174,

273

Bovary, Charles, 212

Cocteau, 165, 174, 211, 242
Combes, 182

Breton, 18, 132, 164, 165, 179-181,
185-187, 190, 192, 193, 198, 208

Commune, the, 123, 124
Communist Party, 182,

Brod, Max, 296

192,

Bruges, 101
Brunschvicg, Leon, 202, 216
Budapest, 252

184-186,

288, 294

251,

197,

258-260,

253-256,

262, 264, 265, 272, 273, 283, 287,

Comte, Auguste, 183, 216
Concrete Universality, 155

Byron, 166

Condorcet, 107
Copeau, 198
Caillois,

147

Corneille,

87,

116

Camus, 223, 296
Canada, 242

Courier, P. L., 94
Croisset, 124

Carneades, 179

Cuverville,

168

Catharians, the, 30
Catherine, 101
Catholic universe, the, 153
Catholicism, 285

Dali,

Cathos, 94

Dante, 126

Causality, 55

Daudet, 143, 261
Decameron, the, 137

Dachau, 217

"Causality without cause", 55
Celine, 94

177

Cendrar, Blaise, 107
Central Europe, 242, 296

Decour, Jacques, 234
Democracy, 65
Descartes, 54, 87, 263

Cervantes, 126, 138
Cezanne, 56

Desmoulins, 279

Chack, Paul, 251

Desnos, 187, 191

Des

198, 203, 208

Chamson,

Esseintes, 130

Determinism, 116, 130

Charlus, 42

Dhotel, Andre, 211

Chateaubriand, 32, 217
Chicago, 166

Diderot, 102, 107, 185, 231

China, 212

Dos

Don

Juan, 140, 171

Passos, 228
Dostoievsky, 113

Christianity, 83

Revolution, the, 83
Chrysale, 171

Christian

Dreyfuss, 257

Church,

Drcyfuss Affair, 201
Drieu la Rochelle,

the,

85,

88,

89,

94,

99,

64,

190, 198, 211

102, 103, 111, 150, 233, 247, 251,

267

Duchamp,

176, 177, 194

Churchill, 295

Duhamel, 167

City of Ends, 271, 272, 276, 293

Dumas

300

fils,

117

187,

189,

INDEX
Durkheim, 202, 272

Freedom,
76,

Jean, 288
Eiffel Tower, 188

48, 49-58, 56-67,

86,

Eiffel,

114,

Eleatics, the, 206

98,

104,

106,

70, 74,

107,

112,

283, 285

Elbeuf,

168,

116, 120, 150,

151, 158-160,

181, 285, 240, 252, 271, 278, 282,

173

French Academy,

Eluard, 234

Frenchmen,

Encyclopedists, the, 107, 279
Engels, 262
England, 162, 244, 295

the, 89

Fromentin, 189
Frontenac, 168

Epicurianism, 204

Garaudy, 257, 264

Epictetus, 181
Estaunig, 170

Gaul, 282
Gaulle, General de, 192

Estienne, Charles, 35 fitiemble, 75, 76

GauUism, 285
Gautier, 49, 129
Genet, 49

Euripides, 49

Europe,

the, 78

78, 190, 204, 231-233, 244,

Gerard, 84

247, 249, 256, 279, 282, 284, 291-

the, 65, 73, 234, 281

Germans,

293, 295, 297

Germany, 294

Existentialism, 250, 283

Gestapo, the, 234
Gide, Andr6, 34, 71, 128, 182, 167,
174, 208, 244, 245, 273

Fabrice, 57
Fabrizio, 23

Giono, 267
Giraudoux, 26, 167, 211
Girondists, the, 279

Faulkner, 228
Fenelon, 97

Fernandez, 27

Gobineau, 82

Ferr, 263

God,

First International, the, 246

19,

23, 52, 85,

88,

111,

112,

123, 129, 152, 170, 171, 174, 202,

Flaubert, 121, 123, 124, 125, 129,
180, 175, 227

215, 281

Golgotha, 9, 19
Goncourts, the, 121, 129
Greece, 286

Florence, 15, 294
Fontainebleau, 165

Fontanin, Daniel de, 71
Fouchet, Max-Pol, 193

Green, 211
Greuze, 11

Fournier, Alain, 178, 211
Fra Angelico, 210

Grignan,

Mme.

de, 87

Groult, Marius, 211
Gyp, 145

France, 57, 69, 82, 124, 145, 163,
168, 170, 214, 215, 281, 232, 243,

244, 248, 256, 263-265

France, Anatole, 138
Franco, 287

Hamp,

Frederick, 101

Hegel,

Pierre, 285

Hector, 35

3OI

12, 141, 198, 194,

195

INDEX
Klee, 35
Koestler, 72, 228

Hegelian Freedom, 288
Hegelian

149

Negativity,

Ku Klux

Heidegger, 40, 238, 250
Heine, 175
Hemingway, 228, 289

Klan, 183

La Bruyere,

Hermant, Abel, 145

Lafcadio,

Hesiod, 235

89, 97, 138

La

Fontaine, 84
Lamaitre, Jules, 262

History, 86, 37
Hitler, 19, 74

Language,

Holy Story, 85
Hugo, 118, 267

Humanism,

44,

46,

9,

12, 13, 16, 20, 24, 25,

176,

68,

the, 78

Lenin, 262

Indo-China, 78
Indo-Chinese war, the, 289

Leonardo, 171

Le Sage, 138

101

Lessing, 121
Lettrism, 211

149

the,

Italy, 163, 237, 244, 247

L'Humanit, 272
Lille,

Edmond,

118

L'Ing6nu, 69
Littr, 280

Jacob, 112
Jaloux,

138

16

Leiris,

the,

93,

Leibnitz, 217

Inferiority complex, 81, 295

International,

280,

Larousse, 280
Lavedan, 145

Idealism, 116, 118
Image, 17, 18, 85

Intellectuals,

234,

Larbaud, 146

La Rochefoucauld,

Indies,

177,

281

223

84,

132

117

London,

Janet, 148

71,

102,

163,

188,

244,

295

Jansenists, the, 222

Louisiana, 78

Janus, 36
Jaspers, 196

Louis

Jaures, 168

Lyons, 118

Jeremiah,
Jesuits,

78,

the,

Jews, the,

Napoleon

Bonaparte,

120

80
26,

64, 80,

93,

222

Madelon, 94
Madrid, 252

227

Jouhandeau, 174
Jour dan, 19

Maistre, Joseph de, 257, 258
Mallarmd, 168, 164
Malraux, 80, 34, 211, 228, 241
Manicheans, 217

Journalism, 241
Joyce, 146, 228

Manicheism, 72
Marcel, 158

Kafka, 45, 227, 259, 296
Kant, 46, 48, 271, 274

Maquis,

302

the,

234, 252

INDEX
Marat, 279
Maritain, 217

Morand,

Martin du Gard, Roger, 71
Marx, 121, 180, 192, 241, 261, 262
Marxism, 119, 149, 193, 198

Moscow, 252, 254, 295
Movies, the, 241, 244, 269
Munich, 250, 252

Marxists, the, 216
Material freedom, 277

Myerson, 141
Myth, the, 35, 36

Materialism, 196
Matriarchate, 53

Maupassant, 72, 139, 142
Mauriac, Claude, 165, 167,
192, 211, 227, 234
Maurras, Charles, 183,
Maurois, 167

188, 189

187,

Morocco, 182
Mosca, 23

Nathanael, 29, 71, 272
National Socialism, 67,

191,

187, 257

Naville,

190

185

Nazis, the, 64

Nazism,

Mecca, 254
Mechanism, 262

73, 190, 191, 212,

103,

Negativity,

Menalque, 29, 71, 132
M6r6, Chevalier de, 87
Merleau Ponty, 8, 192

Neo-Ca tholicism,

Message, 27, 28, 81-33
Metamorphosis, 53

New

285

153,

159,

Nerval, 166
Nevilly, 165

Mezer, 195

121,

174, 175, 186, 193, 231, 236, 246,

252, 279, 291

160,

71,

161, 239, 243,

295

171

Michelangelo,
Michelet, 118, 119
Microm6 gas, 69

Middle Ages, the,
Miller, Henry, 165
Mind, the, 114
Miro, 214

York,

1 24

Nicole,

93

Nietzsche, 128, 154
99,

124,

Nizan, 259, 278

186

North African

literature, 166

Norway, 188

Misanthrope, the, 94
Mississippi,

Oedipus Complex, 31

170

Ohnet, 117
Oradour, 217

Mogador, 189
Molotov, 259

Monarchy,

the, 88,

Orestes, 283
Orgon, 171

92, 94

Monnier, 175

Orient, the, 237

Morgan, Michele, 245
Montaigne,

32, 34,

Oronte and Chrysale, 94

187

Montesquieu, 188
Montmartre, 166
Montoire, 74

Pailleron, 117

Moralism, 263
Morals, 96

Palermo, 214
Palestine, 286

303

INDEX
Paris, 165, 166, 219, 220, 248

Queneau, 165

Parmenides, 141

Quietism,

182,

211

Parain, Brice, 24, 281, 284
Parnassians, the, 49, 128
Pascal, Blaise, 26, 34, 75, 87, 116,
175

Rabelais, 126

192

126, 151, 164

Paulhan, 153

Racine, 27,
Radio, 241

P6guy, 168

Ralltewriter, 169, 194

Peret, 187

Rambouillet,

Pastoureau,

de,

87

50

Realism, 128, 129, 228, 229
Reformation, the, 109

Regionalism, 162
119, 124

Phedre, 96
Philaminte, 94
Philo, 179

Renan,

Renard, 129
Renaissance, the,

Emmanuel, 19

196

Restoration, the,
Rheims, 101

132

Picasso, 11, 15, 17
Pierre,

Mme.

Raskolnikov, 45,

Persians, the, 188
Perspectivism, 223
Petain, 73, 74, 251

Philoctete,

96,

182

Ribbentrop, 259

Object, 16
Plato, 29, 196
Platonism, 210

Richard The Third, 29

Poe, 125

Rimbaud,

Phrase

Rigaut,

183
18, 28, 32, 166, 171, 179,

180

Poetry, 11, 35, 37, 122, 154, 196,
197, 207

Rimbaud,

Poland, 19

Robespierre, 279

Politzer, 181, 262
Pope, the, 84

Rolland, Romain, 166
Remains, 167

Populism, 200
Port Royale, 151

Romanticism,

Marcel,

117,

88,

117,

199

Rousseau, 81, 32, 42, 107, 185
Russia, 244, 248, 253, 254, 256

Pr^cieuses, the, 93, 94

Provost,

Isabelle, 28

198,

199,

203, 204, 238, 267
"Prodigal Son", 11

Prose,

11,

20,

25,

26, 35,

36,

Saar, the, 165

65,

Sachs, Maurice, 183
Sade, 31

154, 197

Proudhon, 121, 241
Proust, 42, 167, 168, 174
Provins, 68

Saint-vremonde,

27, 87

Saint-Exup6ry, 211, 221, 288
Saint Lazare Station, 188

Prudhonians, the, 149
Psychologism, 116
Psychoanalysis, 127, 176

Pol Roux, 18
Saint Vincent de Paul, 268
Saint

304

INDEX
Salacrou, 242

Tainc, 74, 119
Tartarin, 143
Tel Aviv, 243

San Antonio, 239
Sand, Baronne Dudevant, 118

Terrorism, 153, 154
Teste, M., 29, 130

Sanseverina, 23
Sartre, Jean

Paul, 75

Scholasticism, 263

"The Hostage", 272
Thibaudet, 175
Third Republic, the, 118, 144, 168,
199

Schopenhauer, 237

Tintoretto,

Secularization, 86,

Tito, 165

Satan, 21T

Satanism,
Schnitzler,

199

171,

146

87

Seriousness, 186, 146

Mme.

Sevigne,
Seville,

294

Total Literature, 240, 241
Traditionalism, 91
Trieste, 165

Shakespeare, 29

Trojan War, 35

Shanghai, 214
Shelley, 166

Trotsky, 186, 197
Tulle, 217

Siegfried, 29
118,

18

Torricelli, 222,

de, 87

214

Socialism,

9,

Turks, the, 188

124

Socialist Party, 184
South Carolina, 78

Soviet Russia, 185,

197, 282,

United States,

286,

156, 243, 248, 255,

283, 284, 292

287, 292

Soviets, the, 256

Universalization, 87

Spain, 237

Universal man, 104

Spartakus, 78
Spinoza, 150

Utilitarianism,

Spirituality,

U.

S.

S.

R.,

111,

248,

116,

255,

294, 295

103

Spiritualization, 168
Stalingrad, 252
Stalinist

Communism,

67, 216,

Vache, 183

256

Steinbeck, 162

Vatery, 20, 29, 37

Stendhal, 32, 125
Stoicism, 204

Valles, Jules, 94, 120

Souday, Paul, 244

Value, 49, 67
Van Gogh, 57

Sufi, 189

Vauvernargues, 116

Surrealism,

132,

184,

148,

Vercors, 72, 73, 74, 165
Verlaine, 164

178,

181-184, 186, 187, 191-198, 214
Swann, 29

Vermeer, 56
Vestal, 75

Style, 92
Syria, 188

Vichy, 250

305

250,
256,

268
262,

INDEX
Viet, Nam, 265
Virginia, 78
Voltaire, 102, 185, 231, 279, 281

Xantippc, 29
Xenophon, 29

West, Nathanael, 162

White House,

Zaslavsky, 228

the, 168

Richard, 77,
107, 166, 241, 276

Wright,

78,

79,

Zola, 166

80,

Zurich, 214

306

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