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.