(1905 – 1980)
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (Paris, France, June 21, 1905 – Paris, France April 15, 1980) was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.
Sartre wrote successfully in a number of literary modes and made major contributions to literary criticism and literary biography. His plays are richly symbolic and serve as a means of conveying his philosophy. The best-known, Huis-clos (No Exit), contains the famous line “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” usually translated as “Hell is other people.”
Sartre was the main proponent of the philosophical concept of existentialism, primarily based on the idea that people, as humans, are “condemned to be free”. This concept, which Sartre formulated as a unique and self-contained philosophical theory in his work Existentialism and Humanism (L’existentialisme est un humanisme, 1946, originally presented as a lecture in October 1945), relied upon his position that there is no creator, and is illustrated using the example of the paper cutter. Sartre said that if one considered a paper cutter, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: i.e., an essence; that, however, human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus: “existence precedes essence”. This formed the basis for his assertion that since one cannot explain a human being’s own actions and behaviour by referencing any specific human nature, humans are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. “We are left alone, without excuse.” Sartre maintained that the concepts of authenticity and individuality have to be earned but not learned.
As a junior lecturer at the Lycée du Havre in 1938, Sartre wrote the novel La Nausée (Nausea), which, even prior to the publication of Sartre’s theoretical treatises from the 1940s, serves in some ways as an early manifesto of existentialism and remains one of his most famous books. Taking a page from the German phenomenological movement, he believed that our ideas are the product of experiences of real-life situations, and that novels and plays can well describe such fundamental experiences, having equal value to discursive essays for the elaboration of philosophical theories such as existentialism. Based on that premise, the novel concerns a dejected researcher (Roquentin) in a town similar to Le Havre who becomes starkly conscious of the fact that inanimate objects and situations remain absolutely indifferent to his existence. As such, they show themselves to be resistant to whatever significance human consciousness might perceive in them. This indifference of “things in themselves” is closely linked with the later notion of “being-in-itself” in his 1943 essay Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (L’être et le néant: Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique), whose main purpose is, similarly, to assert the individual’s existence as prior to the individual’s essence; i.e., to demonstrate that free will exists.
Aside from the groundbreaking Nausea, Sartre’s major work of fiction was the Roads to Freedom trilogy which charts the progression of how World War II affected Sartre’s ideas. In this way, Roads to Freedom presents a less theoretical and more practical approach to existentialism than many of his other works.
His writings have influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and still continue to influence these disciplines. Sartre has also been noted for his relationship with the prominent feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir, who rejected his proposal for marriage on more than one occasion.
He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature and refused it, saying that he always declined official honors and that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution”.
Major Awards and Honors
Nobel Prize for Literature
- 1964 – Declined.
- La Nausée (1938)
(Nausea; The Diary of Antoine Requentin)
- Le Mur (1939)
(The Wall, and Other Stories)
- Les Chemins de la Liberté
(The Roads of Freedom)
L’Âge de Raison (1945)
(The Age of Reason)
Le Sursis (1945)
La Mort dans l’Âme (1949)
(Iron in the Soul; Troubled Sleep)
- Intimacy, and Other Stories (1956)
- Oeuvres Complètes (1988)
- La Reine Albemarle, ou, Le Dernier Touriste (1991)
– Unfinished; published posthumously.
Plays and Screenplays
- Les Mouches (1942)
- Huis-Clos (1944)
(The Vicious Circle; No Exit)
- Morts sans Sépulture (1946)
(Men without Shadows; The Victors)
- La Putain Respectueuse (1946)
(The Respectful Prostitute)
- L’Engrenage (1946)
(In the Mesh)
- Les Jeux Sont Faits (1947)
(The Chips Are Down)
- Théâtre (1947)
- Les Mains Sales (1948)
A/K/A: Crime Passionel
(The Red Gloves; Dirty Hands)
- Orphée Noir (1948)
- Le Diable et le Bon Dieu (1951)
(Lucifer and the Lord; The Devil and the Good Lord)
- Kean (1953)
(Kean, or Disorder and Genius)
– Adapted from Alexandre Dumas Père (Sr.).
- Nekrassov (1955)
- Les Séquestres d’Altona (1959)
(Loser Wins; The Condemned of Altona)
- Bariona (1962)
- Les Troyennes (1965)
(The Trojan Women)
– Adapted from Euripides.
- Typhus (1944)
- All the Treasures of the Earth
- Les Sorcières de Salem
– Adapted from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
- Situations I: Critiques Littéraires (1947)
- Situations II: Littérature et Engagement (1948)
- Situations III (1949)
- Situations IV (1964)
- Situations V: Colonialisme et Néo-Colonialisme (1964)
(Colonialism and Neocolonialism)
- Situations VI: Problèmes du Marxisme I (1966)
- Situations VII: Problèmes du Marxisme II (1967)
- Situations VIII: Autour de 1968 (1972)
- Situations IX: Mélanges (1972)
- Situations X: Politique et Autobiographie (1976)
(Life Situations: Essays Written and Spoken)
- L’Imagination (1936)
(Imagination: A Psychological Critique)
- Esquisse d’une Théorie des Émotions (1939)
(The Emotions: Outline of a Theory; Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions)
- L’Imaginaire: Psychologie Phénomenologique de l’Imagination (1940)
(The Psychology of Imagination)
- L’Être et le Néant: Essai d’Ontologie Phénoménologique (1943)
(Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology)
- L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme (1946)
(Existentialism and Humanism; Existentialism)
- La Transcendance de l’Égo: Esquisse d’une Description phénomenologique (1957)
(Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness)
- Critique de la Raison dialectique (1960)
(Critique of Dialectical Reason: Theory of Practical Ensembles)
- Marxisme et Existentialisme (1962)
(Between Existentialism and Marxism)
– With others.
- Choix de Textes (1962)
- Essays in Aesthetics (1963)
- Question de Méthode (1963)
(Search for a Method; The Problem of Method)
- The Philosophy of Existentialism (1965)
- The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (1965)
- Of Human Freedom (1967)
- Essays in Existentialism (1967)
- The Wisdom of Jean-Paul Sartre (1968)
- Textes Choisis (1968)
- Vérité et Existence (1990)
- Existential Psychoanalysis (1997)
Literary Criticism, Politics, Society
- Réflexions sur la Question Juive (1946)
(Anti-Semite and Jew; Portrait of the Anti-Semite)
- Baudelaire (1947)
- Cahiers pour une Morale (1947-1948)
(Notebooks for an Ethics)
- Qu’est-ce que c’est la Littérature? (1949)
(What Is Literature?; Literature and Existentialism)
– First published in Situations II.
- Entretiens sur la Politique (1949)
– With David Rousset and Gerard Rosenthal.
- Saint Genet, Comédien et Martyr (1952)
(Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr)
- L’Affaire Henri Martin (1953)
- Literary and Philosophical Essays (1955)
– Excerpts from Situations I and III.
- Literary Essays (1957)
– Excerpts from Situations I and III.
- Andre Masson: Vingt-Deux Dessins sur le Thème du Désir (1961)
– Author of text.
- Sartre on Cuba (1961)
- On Genocide (1968)
– With commentary on the International War Crimes Tribunal by Sartre’s adopted daughter, Arlette El-Kaïm-Sartre.
- Le Fantôme de Staline (1956)
(The Ghost of Stalin; The Spectre of Stalin)
- Les Communistes et la Paix (1964)
(The Communists and Peace)
– First published in Situations VI.
- Les Communistes ont Peur de la Révolution (1969)
- Das Vietnam Tribunal (1970)
– Editor, with Bertrand Russell.
- War Crimes in Vietnam (1971)
– With Vladimir Dedijer.
- L’Idiot de la Famille (1971)
(The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1857)
- Un Théâtre de Situations (1973)
(Sartre on Theater)
- Oeuvres Romanesques (1981)
- Mallarmé, la Lucidité et sa Face d’Ombre (1986)
(Mallarmé, or the Poet of Nothingness)
- Écrits de Jeunesse (1990)
Memoirs, Journal, Correspondence, Interviews
- Sartre par Lui-Même (1959)
(Sartre by Himself)
- Les Mots (1963)
(The Words; Words)
- Lettres au Castor et a Quelques Autres (1984)
- Volume 1: 1926 – 1939
(Witness to My Life: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir)
- Volume 2: 1940 – 1963
(Quiet Moments in a War: The Letters of Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir, 1940 – 1963)
- – With Simone de Beauvoir.
- Volume 1: 1926 – 1939
- Le Scénario Freud (1984)
(The Freud Scenario)
- Carnets de la drôle de Guerre (1983)
- The War Diaries of Jean-Paul Sartre (1985)
- La Cérémonie des Adieux; Entretiens avec Jean-Paul Sartre: Août–Septembre 1974 (1987)
- Notes from a Phony War (1995)
- L’Espoir Maintenant (1991)
(Hope Now: The 1980 Interviews)
– With Benny Lévy.
A Selection of Quotes
Huis clos (No Exit)
“L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
(“Hell is other people.”)
“I think of death only with tranquility, as an end. I refuse to let death hamper life. Death must enter life only to define it.”
Existentialism is a Humanism
“We will freedom for freedom’s sake, in and through particular circumstances. And in thus willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon our own. Obviously, freedom as the definition of a man does not depend upon others, but as soon as there is a commitment, I am obliged to will the liberty of others at the same time as my own. I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim.”
“What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world-and defines himself afterward.”
Being and Nothingness
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
L’imagination (Imagination: A Psychological Critique)
“Imagination is not an empirical or superadded power of consciousness, it is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom.”
“Be quiet! Anyone can spit in my face, and call me a criminal and a prostitute. But no one has the right to judge my remorse.”
Jupiter: I am not your king, impudent larva? Who then has created you?
Orestes: You. But you should not have created me free.”
Les Mains sales
Karsky: I met your father last week. Are you still interested in hearing how he is doing?
Karsky: It is very probable that you will be responsible for his death.
Hugo: It is virtually certain that he is responsible for my life. We are even.”
“It is the good children, Madame, who make the most terrible revolutionaries. They say nothing, they do not hide under the table, they eat only one sweet at a time, but later on, they make Society pay dearly for it!”
Le diable et le bon dieu
“When the rich wage war it’s the poor who die.”
“What then did you expect when you unbound the gag that muted those black mouths? That they would chant your praises? Did you think that when those heads that our fathers had forcibly bowed down to the ground were raised again, you would find adoration in their eyes?”
The Age of Reason
“She smiled and said with an ecstatic air: “It shines like a little diamond.”
“This moment. It is round, it hangs in empty space like a little diamond; I am eternal.
- The UK Sartre Society
- Jean Paul Sartre’s Nobel Prize biography
- Jean-Paul Sartre in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- “Existentialism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Jean-Paul Sartre’s biography at the Kirjasto Authors’ Calendar
- Jean-Paul Sartre at Britannica.com
- Reviews and blog posts related to Jean-Paul Sartre on this blog, Lioness at Large