In Les Mots, the fatherless Sartre (‘Jean Sans-père’, to parody the title he had originally envisaged) records that: ‘Rather than the son of a dead man, I was given to understand that I was a miracle child’ (Les Mots, 13). This ‘good fortune of belonging to a dead man’ (14), he recalls a little further on, assured his status as ‘[a] marvel … a conspicuous favour of destiny, … a gratuitous and always revocable gift’ (14-15). The first delightful yet ambiguous consequence of this abstract provenance is an ‘incredible’, and sometimes unbearable, ‘lightness of being’ (13). A later and more menacing consequence is that the ‘imaginary child … from six to nine years old’, living in and through the ‘imagination [of his] intellectual exercises’ (92), discovered when he went to bed at night that he was becoming ‘a solitary adult, without father and mother, without hearth and home, almost without a name’ (94).
Sartre's Resistance myth, The Flies (1943), and Camus's contemporaneous modern tragedy, The Misunderstanding (1944), show remarkable similarities in conception, composition, themes, characters, relationships and intrigue. However, from the moment when the plots converge—each protagonist choosing to remain in his precarious new situation—they also diverge diametrically: Camus's Jan is doomed to reified passivity and death; Sartre's Oreste is galvanised into decisive action and new life. Does Camus's orientation toward nihilistic despair translate a negative assessment of his war-time role as an intellectual, and Sartre's much more positive disposition equally represent his affirmation of writing as a valid resistance activity?
Ingrid Galster (ed.), Sartre devant la presse d’Occupation: Le dossier cri- tique des ‘Mouches’ et ‘Huis clos’. Textes réunis et présentés par Ingrid Galster. Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, collection ‘Interférences’, 2005, 474pp. ISBN 2-7535-0103-3. €23 (paper- back).
Sartre's evocation of ideological socialism in Dirty Hands' protagonist Hugo, as opposed to the pragmatism of the realist, Hoederer, found an attentive audience in April 1948. The means are justified by the ends, Hoederer insists, although that means “getting one's hands dirty.“ Eighteen months later, Camus produced Les Justes, which offers an implicit rebuttal of Sartre's position. Kaliayev-like Hugo, an idealist and an intellectual-is rebuked by his hard-line colleague, Fedorov, for failing to throw his grenade at the Archduke's carriage merely because he was accompanied by children. Kaliayev's vindication of the individual's moral conscience, even in the midst of collective action, counters Hoederer's position. For Camus, the ends do not necessarily justify the means; there are always lines to be drawn in the name of an ethical stance which, ultimately, protects human dignity from the allure of morally compromised “progress.“ Consideration of each playwright's notion of authenticity, as embodied in their respective protagonists, leads us to consider whether Sartre had, in effect, anticipated Kaliayev in the person of Hugo and foreshadowed his critique of Camus's L'Homme révolté, which led to their definitive quarrel.
Benedict O'Donohoe and Terry Keefe
Walter Redfern, Sartre: ‘Huis clos’ and ‘Les Séquestrés d’Altona’, Grant & Cutler, ‘Critical Guides to French Texts’, no. 111, 1995, 81 pp. ISBN 0-7293-0383 7. Review by Benedict O'Donohoe
Sartre on the World Wide Web: A Brief Review by Terry Keefe