At a time when a "return to Sartre" is being heralded in France and elsewhere in preparation for the celebration of the centennial of his birth, it seems appropriate to ponder the nature and tenor of this renewal. To which aspects of Sartre's work are we returning as the centennial approaches, and are we doing so with fresh eyes or with the same critical prejudices that have obscured our appreciation of this work in the past? If one looks for answers to Bernard-Henri Lévy (aka BHL), the principal instigator of this current renewal, with specific regard to the genre that interests us in these pages—the theater—one is going to be sorely disappointed. For while Lévy considers Sartre "the first [writer]—the only [writer]—to know how to split himself equally well between being a theoretician and an accomplished storyteller," he lavishes this praise solely on the theory and practice of Sartre's novels: "The concept of engagement is not a political concept stressing the social duties of the writer; it is a philosophical concept highlighting the metaphysical powers of language. … Sartre … has never really written a novel with a [totalizing] thesis or message" (BHL 85, 86).
Dennis A. Gilbert
My article focuses on Le Théâtre existentialiste (Existentialist Theater) by Simone de Beauvoir, recently translated and published in the volume of the Beauvoir Series on her literary writings. The first part introduces the original sound recording of this text and the circumstances behind its possible production in New York City in 1947 and my discovery of it at Wellesley College in 1996. The second part analyzes the divisions of Beauvoir's remarks as she presents Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and their principal plays from the period of the Occupation: The Flies, No Exit, and Caligula. The third part then evaluates certain of Beauvoir's key concepts in terms of how they were able to define adequately the substance of existentialist theater for a postwar American audience and whether they remain valid for a more contemporary theatrical public some six decades later.
The Genesis of Sartre’s Theatrical Career in Writings to, with, and by Beauvoir
Dennis A. Gilbert
This article looks to delineate Jean-Paul Sartre’s entry into the field of drama and the genesis of his prominent theatrical career. While Sartre spoke and wrote a great deal on this subject in interviews with theater critics and articles on theater, the most revealing sources of this information can be found in writings to, with, and by Simone de Beauvoir. This article therefore examines the exchange of letters between Sartre and Beauvoir, her wartime diary, an article and a recording by her from the 1940s, her autobiography, and the lengthy conversations between the two from 1974. The result will shed significant light on the evolution of Sartre’s interest in theater from his childhood, to his adolescence, and during the decade that preceded the creation of his first extant play, Bariona, in 1940.
The Russian Teatr Interviews of 1956 and 1962
Dennis A. Gilbert and Diana L. Burgin
Sartre’s scattered commentaries and remarks on theater, published in a variety of media outlets, as well as in the most unlikely of essays (spanning philosophical texts, biographies, and literary criticism), were finally assembled late in Sartre’s career and published in one volume, Un Théâtre de situations (Sartre on Theater), put together by Michel Contat and Michel Rybalka in 1973. Inevitably, a number of later or missing theatrical documents then came to light, and an updated edition of Un Théâtre de situations appeared in 1992. There still remained, however, other documents on theater which for one reason or another were not included in the later volume. Two of these documents are published interviews that Sartre gave to the Russian theater journal, Teatr, in 1956 and 1962. It is those virtually unknown interviews by Sartre on theater that we are pleased to publish here for the first time in English translation.