This article focuses on the relation between philosophy and literature in early Sartre, showing how his literary writing can be seen as philosophically significant by interpreting Sartre as practising a variant of phenomenological method. I first clarify Sartre’s approach to phenomenological method by comparing and contrasting it with Husserl’s. Despite agreeing that philosophy is a reflective descriptive study of essences, Sartre sees no use for phenomenological reduction and free variation. I then consider the philosophical function of Sartre’s literary works, arguing that, although these cannot reliably convey philosophical theories, their significance lies in describing concrete situations that ground reflective theoretical concepts. However, this grounding function can be understood only if Sartre is seen as realising Husserl’s phenomenological method – including phenomenological reduction and free variation – more fully than he acknowledges. Finally, I address two challenges to my view and briefly assess the value of literary phenomenology as a philosophical method.
Andrew Inkpin is a lecturer in contemporary European philosophy at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses mainly on phenomenological approaches to meaning, particularly in language and pictorial representation. Recent publications include Disclosing the World: On the Phenomenology of Language (MIT Press, 2016).