Intermediate French III/Advanced: Situating Sartre

Advanced, Intermediate—Year

“Hell is other people,” famously declares Garcin at the end of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit. Perhaps no other line from 20th-century French literature has been so often quoted, appropriated, and misread as this proclamation on the fundamental relationship between self and the other. The statement’s popularity has contributed to a received image of Sartre as the standard bearer of a literature of angst, an avatar of antisociability. Yet this popular vision is often at odds with Sartre’s position as the preeminent public intellectual of postwar France, an author who thrust himself into public life by actively engaging with authors, philosophers, and politicians alike. In attempting to understand this apparent tension, this course will proceed in two directions. First, we will study Sartre’s major works of theatre, prose, and philosophy in order to better understand some of the central components of his own thought and writing, such as absurdity, bad faith, nausea, and committed literature. Second, we will read Sartre’s work in conjunction with, and in opposition to, other writers, including Camus, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Sarraute, Beckett, Genet, Césaire, Fanon, Bataille, and Barthes. We will focus, in particular, on those writers about whom Sartre wrote in his literary criticism, essays, and biographies in order to place Sartre among the literary trends of his time. Throughout the course, we will pay close attention to the following subjects: existentialism, the absurd, allegory, politics and literature, the antinovel, feminism, anticolonialism and antiracism. In this course, students will review the finer points of French grammar, improve their writing skills through regular assignments, and develop tools for literary analysis and commentary. Course conducted in French.