singular universal

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French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's term for what it is that sets apart great writers like Gustave Flaubert—they are the singular instance of that which is universal. Sartre develops this concept in his five-volume work on Flaubert L'Idiot de la famille: Gustave Flaubert de 1821 á 1857 (1971), translated as The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert 1821–57 (1981), which begins with the question: what can we know about a person? He argues that every detail about a person's life, from the most mundane to the most momentous, is at some deep level profoundly homogenous, which is to say all are parts of a greater whole. Every person is a product of their history, Sartre argues, and at the same time a producer of their own history; as a result, the universal is always singular and the singular always universal.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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