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Challenging the Absurd?

Sartre’s Article on Kafka and the Fantastic

Jo Bogaerts

Keywords: the absurd; Albert Camus; the fantastic; Franz Kafka; Jean-Paul Sartre; Maurice Blanchot; politics

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.

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