Existential Biography

  • Michael Scriven


The term ‘existential biography’ is itself problematical. Alternative designations for Sartre’s biographies spring readily to mind. Literary or post-literary biography, for example, would be a relatively acceptable title bearing in mind Sartre’s obsessive preoccupation with literature. Critical biography is equally possible. Sartre himself emphasizes the critical aspect of his literary project, and the term would highlight the uncompromising attitude that Sartre adopts towards his biographical subjects as well as the critical historical juncture at which the biographies were produced. Marxist or neo-Marxist biography also merits consideration. Sartre stresses the Marxist methodology of L’Idiot de la famille. Attempts to justify a personal choice of label are manifestly of little interest. Suffice it to say that my understanding of Sartre’s work leads me to the conviction that the term ‘existential’ is more globally representative of the significance of Sartre’s biographies than the alternatives offered above. The Marxist perspective is only really visible in the last biography on Flaubert. Equally, the term ‘literary’ fails to communicate adequately, I feel, the potentially subversive element in Sartre’s thinking. Critical biography is a credible option although it fails to highlight the ideological and particularly methodological nature of the biographies.


Communist Party Literary Form Philosophical System Methodological Nature Literary Project 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    S. Doubrovsky, ‘J. -P. Sartre et le mythe de la raison dialectique’, Nouvelle revue française (Sept, Oct, Nov 1961).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    R. Aron, Marxismes imaginaires (Gallimard, 1970).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    M. Poster, Existential Marxism in Post-war France: from Sartre to Althusser (Princeton University Press, N. J., 1975).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    See P. Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (New Left Books, London, 1976) pp. 75–8.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    J.-P. Sartre and M. Sicard, ‘Entretien’, Sartre Inédit, Obliques, 18–19 (1979) p. 14.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    O. Todd, Un Fils rebelle (Grasset, 1981) p. 90.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    P. Sollers, ‘Un Fantasme de Sartre’, Tel Quel, 28 (1967) pp. 84–6.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    See H. Barnes, The Literature of Possibility: A Study in Humanistic Existentialism (Tavistock Publications, London, 1961) pp. 339–40;Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    I. Murdoch, Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (Collins Fontana, London, 1967) p. 26;Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    G. Bauer, Sartre and the Artist (University of Chicago Press, 1969) pp. 88, 173.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    P. Machérey, ‘An Interview with Pierre Machérey’, Red Letters, 5 (Summer 1977) p. 7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Scriven 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Scriven
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathUK

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