Challenging the Absurd?

Sartre’s Article on Kafka and the Fantastic

in Sartre Studies International
Jo Bogaerts Université libre de Bruxelles

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In 1943, Jean-Paul Sartre published several important articles of literary criticism on Blanchot, Camus and Bataille. In addition to propounding his own literary views, these articles functioned as a means of marking out his own version of existentialism, which risked being conflated with the Camusian absurd. Whereas Camus, according to Sartre, advocated a detached attitude in the face of the meaninglessness of existence, Sartre maintained that the subject cannot withdraw from the (historical) situation and that existence is ultimately meaningful. One author in particular, Franz Kafka, acts as the figurative ‘prism’ through which Sartre challenges rival versions of existential thinking. He does so by introducing the concept of le fantastique (the fantastic) on account of Kafka’s work. In so doing, Sartre not only rebutted the dominant interpretation, according to which Kafka was an absurd author, but also uncovered a historical critique implicit in the Prague author’s work.

Contributor Notes

Jo Bogaerts is a postdoctoral researcher at the Université libre de Bruxelles and a member of the university’s Centre de recherche en philosophie. His main publications deal with the intersection of literature and philosophy, existentialism and Kafka. Currently, he is working on the life and works of the French literary critic and psychoanalyst Marthe Robert. Email:

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Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture