As seen in his enthusiastic praise of John Dos Passos's 1919, Sartre evaluated literary works by how effectively they aim to play a role in fundamental social change. This essay has two goals. One is to show that Sartre's endorsement of committed literature is not undercut if literature fails to play a role in fundamental social change and the other is to show at least some of the ways in which committed literature is successful. Both goals are pursued through a consideration of the literary works of Kurt Vonnegut and Don DeLillo. The former was mentioned briefly but favorably by Sartre in 1971 and the latter, while lacking such direct ties to Sartre, was accused of “sandbox existentialism.” I read both writers as arguments in favor of Sartre's instrumentalist take on literature.
This article attempts a full appreciation of interdependence in Sartre's thinking about practical freedom. The result is an account that opens Sartre's thinking on practical freedom to more than just the empowerment of individuals and groups. Ultimately, this means privileging, perhaps paradoxically, a vision of practical freedom that is greater by being more limited. The trajectory for this attempt is Sartre's 1971 diagnosis of America as “full of myths,” which provokes a critical examination of a vision of freedom in independence. The attempt is then fleshed out through encounters with notions that linger at the fringes of Sartre's thought, namely, happiness, progress, equality and the possibility of everything.